Vehicle Noise – What Do You Hear And When Do You Hear It?

Vehicle Noise - What Do You Hear And When Do You Hear It?
Vehicle Noise - What Do You Hear And When Do You Hear It?

So, hearing unfamiliar vehicle noise, can cause panic in many drivers.

Consequently, many do not know enough about vehicle systems, to know if it’s something to worry about or not.

That’s why, listening to your vehicle, can help you troubleshoot, almost any vehicle noise. Nobody knows your engine better than you do. So, if it starts to sound odd, or even a little different, there could be a problem.

Vehicle noise, is not uncommon, but you probably know, how your vehicle sounds, when it’s running properly.

However, if any, unfamiliar vehicle noise, suddenly becomes part of your everyday driving experience, it’s time to take action. Because, ignoring the symptom, won’t make the problem, magically go away.

Any delay in repair, can provide the time for a problem, to worsen and completely fail. You can often get, a good idea of what’s troubling your vehicle, by listening to it.

What Do You Hear And When Do You Hear It?

So, the best way to start diagnosing any vehicle noise is, to answer the following questions. Consequently, if you can answer all of these questions, you are 90% there:

  • When do you hear the vehicle noise? Is the vehicle moving or stopped?
  • What speed, does the noise occur at?
  • Is it coming from, inside or outside of the vehicle?
  • Is the noise, coming from the front, middle, or rear?
  • Does engine speed, affect the noise?
  • Is the noise, a knock or a rattle?
  • Does the noise get, louder or softer, with  vehicle speed?
  • What is the temperature outside?
  • Is the noise there, on a hot day or cold day?
  • Is the noise, coming from the engine? Locate the engine noise.
  • Does the noise happen, while turning or going straight?
  • Is the noise there, while accelerating or braking?

For now we are going to concentrate on noises, that come from your engine. So, armed with these answers, you are well on your way, to solving your problem.

Common Vehicle Noise You May Hear And Their Possible Causes:

Valve Train Noise

Valve and hydraulic lifter noise, has a ticking sound, that usually quiets down, as you raise the engine (RPM)’s. So, a lifter is what opens and closes, the intake and exhaust valves. Consequently, worn or sticking hydraulic lifters, can cause these noises. Also, a varnish build up on the lifter surfaces, can cause sticking.

Valve Train
Valve Train Noise

Furthermore, low oil pressure, can also be a factor. Adding a detergent additive to the oil, can sometimes stop this noise. If this doesn’t stop the noise, then the worn lifters that continue to make noise, would require replacement.

Timing Chain And Chain Guide Noise

Many of the newer engines, have overhead camshafts, with longer timing chains. A timing chain, connects the crankshaft to the camshaft, to insure the valves open, at the proper time. Hydraulic tensioners, keep the slack tight in these chains. The chains ride against a nylon guide (a chain guide) which, in time, begins to wear.

Timing Chain And Chain Guide
Timing Chain And Chain Guide Noise

As a result, the hydraulic tensioner, can not take up the slack and the timing chain, begins to rattle. Then, the timing chains become so loose, that they whip back and forth against the guides. And, possibly the timing cover. If the oil pressure is correct, then replace of the hydraulic tensioners and chain guides. In addition, a mechanic’s stethoscope is a great tool, to pinpoint this noise.

Detonation, Pre-Ignition (Pinging) Vehicle Noise

You usually hear this noise when, accelerating the vehicle. Most people call this, a pinging or rattling sound. This noise is caused by, an air/fuel mixture in the engine cylinder, being ignited prematurely. Usually, by the heat of compression as the piston is moving up, on the compression stroke. If ignition happens, before the piston reaches the top of its stroke, this is called pre-ignition or pre-detonation. And, can damage the pistons, valves and connecting rods.

Detonation, Pre-Ignition (Pinging)
Detonation, Pre-Ignition (Pinging) Noise

They get damaged, because the fuel igniting too early, produces pressure waves, from the fuel’s explosion in the cylinder. Then, collide with the piston, as it’s moving up. And, that’s also why, you hear, the pinging and rattling noises.

Some of the causes of this condition are, improper fuel octane, engine overheating, improper ignition timing. Also, the (EGR) valve not functioning properly and problems with the computer or knock sensor.

All these conditions, can cause the air fuel mixture in the cylinders to ignite, before it’s supposed to. This creates multiple flame fronts in the cylinder. Then, they fight each other and cause, the pinging and rattling noise. Check your owner’s manual to make sure you’re using, the right grade of fuel. Or, you can switch to a higher grade for a period and see if, the noise goes away. Finally, if it doesn’t, you’ll want to look at these other possible causes.

Connecting Rod Noise From Excessive Clearance

Connecting rod noise, is caused by excessive clearance, between the crankshaft and the connecting rod bearing surface. This happens when you have low oil pressure, causing the bearing, to run dry of oil. The oil gets dirty and grit, can wear the surface of the bearings.

Connecting Rod Excessive Clearance
Connecting Rod Noise From Excessive Clearance

The noise is usually heard, when you hold the throttle, at a steady (RPM). If it sounds like a single knock, you can isolate the cylinder. Consequently, by disabling the spark or the fuel injector for each cylinder, one at a time. When the noise goes away or gets much quieter, you have found the problem. Problems like this, require immediate attention, because continued running of the engine in this condition, will damage the crankshaft. And, may even require, a major engine rebuild.

Crankshaft Bearing Vehicle Noise

Low oil pressure, can cause, crankshaft bearing noise. In addition, which damages the bearing surfaces and could eventually, damage the crankshaft itself. This type of noise, is usually described, as a rumbling or thumping sound, deep in the engine, when accelerating.

Crankshaft Bearing Noise
Crankshaft Bearing Noise

You can fix the problem, by replacing the bearings and solving, the oil pressure problem. Bearing shells, are what the crankshaft rotates within. If you continue to run the engine, with this condition, you will most certainly, cause a major engine failure.

Piston Slap Vehicle Noise

Excessive clearance, between the piston skirt and the cylinder wall, will cause this noise. The usual cause of this problem is, cracks in the lower piston skirt. The piston skirt is the lower part of the piston, which develops cracks over time, due to metal fatigue. The noise sounds like, a muffled bell sound or a hollow clatter, deep in the engine. And, is more noticeable, when the engine is cold.

Piston Slap Noise
Piston Slap Noise

Nothing needs to be done, if the noise goes away, when the engine warms up. Consequently, the clearance is reduced, by the expansion of the piston skirt, as the engine comes up to temperature. In many cases, the noise goes away completely.

Piston Pin Noise

Piston pin noise, is similar to valve train noise. The noise is unique, because you will hear a double knocking sound. And, is caused by the lack of oil and excessive clearance, between the piston pin and the piston. A piston pin connects the connecting rod, to the piston.

Piston Pin Noise
Piston Pin Noise

This condition can only be fixed by, replacing the piston pin bushings, possibly even the piston itself. But, you must solve the oil pressure or lubrication problem. Finally, problems like this are usually a result of, worn connecting rod and main bearings, which reduces oil pressure.

Whining, Vehicle Noise

A whining noise when an engine is running, is usually an sign of a bearing, that is ready to fail. This noise will increase, as the engine (RPM)s increase.

There are several items under the hood, that can make this kind of whining sound. The water pump, air conditioner clutch bearing, fan belt idler pulleys or tensioner, alternator and the power steering pump.

These are all possible sources, for whining sounds indicating, future bearing failure. Whining from the power steering pump will get louder, when turning the steering wheel, from side to side. And, the usual cause, is low power steering fluid. The best way to diagnose, the other bearing noises, is with a mechanic’s stethoscope. Failure to repair any one of the items making a whining sound, can result in a vehicle break down.

Squeals And Screeching Vehicle Noise

Squealing or screeching noises coming from your engine, usually means, you have a problem with one of the drive belts. Either the fan or the auxiliary belt, might be slipping, cracked or corroded. But, worn pulleys, could also be causing the belt to slip.

Squeals And Screeching Noise
Squeals And Screeching Noise

In some instances, the water pump could be to blame, putting extra strain on the belt. If the squealing noise is accompanied by, a rise in engine temperature and coolant loss. Consequently, the water pump might have failed.

Loud Rattling, Vehicle Noise

Rattling from underneath the vehicle, could show a loose exhaust bracket or a heat shield. Because, it has worked itself loose and needs, to be replaced or repaired. When the rattling occurs under the hood, this is more serious and needs immediate attention. So, there are a number of causes, for engine rattles. Including, problems with the idler pulley, air conditioning compressor clutch or the belt tensioner.

Low Oil Pressure
Low Oil Pressure

More seriously, if the engine starts to rattle and the oil warning light comes on, while you are driving. Then, pull over as soon as you can safely do so, and shut the engine off. Never ignore any warning signs, as they will always get worse.


So, vehicle noise, is just part of operating a vehicle. Tire treads hum against the asphalt, wind whistles around outside mirrors, plastic bits and pieces in the dashboard. They all make, little squeaks as they rub together and so forth. If it starts to sound odd, or even a little different, there could be a problem. Finally, if any unfamiliar vehicle noise, suddenly becomes part of your everyday driving experience, it’s time to take action.

Thank You !