What your car is trying to tell you


When it comes to cars, no noise is good noise.

"Any noise is an indication of problems," says Bob Cerullo, a master mechanic and columnist for Motor Magazine. "You generally don't get a lot of noises that don't mean a problem."

But listening to what those noises are telling you might help you save a ton of money.

"Catching something fast, frequently it might simply be a matter of adjustment or a gasket or little thing that's wrong," says Deanna Sclar, author of Auto Repair for Dummies. "If you wait until the thing breaks down, then you are looking at major repairs."

And Cerullo and Sclar both urge drivers to be very specific when describing car symptoms to mechanics. This will help you get the most for your repair-shop dollar.

"Say 'I hear this sound. It appears to be coming from the front, the back, whatever,'" says Sclar. "It helps when you go to speak with a mechanic to be able to speak very pointedly."

To help you translate what those noises mean to your car and your wallet, here's an auto-to-English guide for some of the most common auto sounds.

Is there a high-pitched singing sound, a high-pitched squeal, coming from under the hood? That could be a frayed or cracked fan belt, also known as an accessory belt. "If the belt breaks, you're dead on the road," says Sclar.

Another singing suspect "with a similar sound, but a different tune," says Sclar, is the radiator cap. While the fan belt song might have a little rhythm to it, the radiator cap will be one steady note. The noise can also keep going when you shut off your car and could be so faint you won't hear it when the engine is on. A fan-belt noise will stop immediately when you cut the engine.

Since either problem can leave you stranded, get it checked as soon as you hear it.

Ratcheting sound      Click here to listen
If you have front-wheel drive and your car makes a "ticka, ticka, ticka" sound when you turn, it's possible your constant velocity joints have worn out, says Cerullo. You want to get it checked out right away. "It could cause the vehicle to break down," he says.

Ticking      Click here to listen
Do you hear a rhythmic ticking sound while you idle at a light? "That usually means you're low on oil," says Sclar. If adding oil doesn't get rid of the noise, "have your mechanic check your valves," she says.

Clunking from underneath the car
If you hear a clunking sound when you go over a bump, you might have a problem with the shock absorbers or suspension, says Sclar. Get it checked right away. "If it's bad enough, you could lose control of the car," she says.


Roar from the exhaust      Click here to listen
An "rrrrrrrr" sound coming from the exhaust area when you drive means that it's definitely time to get your auto's exhaust system examined. That sound is usually because a rusted-out exhaust pipe has broken through, says Cerullo. In that case, he warns, carbon monoxide could leak into your car or the pipe could break off from the muffler and damage a tire, possibly even causing a blow out.

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