A guide to unusual car noises

Why is my car making a strange noise?

Unusual noises coming from your car tend to be a warning sign that something’s not right.

To be on the safe side, we recommend you get your car checked by a garage if you hear any new engine sounds – even if you’re not sure where exactly the sound's coming from or how serious it is.

If you ignore a strange noise and continue driving your car, you run the risk of making a small issue much worse, which could lead to a hefty repair bill later down the line. And you might even end up breaking down.

Although a garage can quickly diagnose what’s causing a strange noise in your car, it’s always helpful to have an idea of where the problem lies so you can point them in the right direction.

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In this article:


Common car noises you might hear

There are some car noises that are more common to hear than others.

  • Grinding gears - this could mean that your clutch is worn and may need replacing, but can also indicate a bigger issue with your gear linkage or transmission.
  • Scraping brakes - hearing a scraping or grinding noise when you apply the footbrake usually means your brake pads are worn and may need replacing, but it can also be caused by a simple stone stuck in the brakes.
  • Clunking or rattling - clunks and rattles can be signs of a variety of problems with your car. For example, rattles when driving over speedbumps or potholes can mean something’s loose under your car, such as your exhaust pipe or a suspension part.
  • Rumbling - a rumbling noise can mean there’s an issue with your wheel bearings (the part that connects the wheel and the axle).

Why is my car making a noise when accelerating or cruising?

A squeaking or squealing sound when you’re accelerating or cruising can mean there’s a problem with one of your engine’s drive belts. 

Damaged or shredded drive belts can be extremely dangerous. We recommend you get any squeaks or squeals checked as soon as possible.

Slapping noises when accelerating usually mean one or more of your tyres is flat or under-inflated. Check your tyre pressure is at the right level for your car – if the noise continues, book your car in at a garage for further investigation or contact your breakdown provider if you don’t think it’s safe to drive.

If you hear a roaring noise when you accelerate, it can mean your silencer has stopped working, which might indicate a larger problem with your exhaust system.

A loud hissing or whooshing noise could indicate an air leak on turbocharged vehicles. This is usually accompanied by a slight power loss on acceleration. Have the problem checked by a garage or if it's really bad, contact your breakdown provider.

If you’ve got issues with your suspension, a loose exhaust pipe, or even just a stone stuck underneath your car, you’re likely to hear rattles or clunks while cruising or accelerating. Pay attention to where the rattles are coming from, as this will help a garage identify where the problem lies.

If you can hear a tapping noise from the engine, this might mean your oil level is too low. Check the type of oil that’s needed for your car then top it up, using the dipstick to check you’ve put the right amount in. Be careful not to overfill the oil, as this can also cause damage.

Why is my car making a noise when I use the brakes?

Noises when braking usually mean there’s an issue with a part of your braking system.

Grinding, squeaking and squealing noises can mean there’s a problem with your brake pads, most likely that they need replacing.

A clicking noise likely means there’s a problem with your braking component system or there’s something stuck in your brakes. 

In both situations, we recommend a visit to the garage to get your brakes checked.

Why is my car making a noise when it turns?

If you experience a grinding noise when turning your steering wheel, your power steering fluid might be low. You can top this fluid up yourself, but make sure you buy the correct fluid for your vehicle. It’s a good idea to get the system checked as low fluid means there must be a leak.

Why is my car making a noise when the engine’s off?

It’s common to hear a clicking noise after you turn your engine off – in most cases, this is just the sound of the engine cooling down and so is nothing to worry about.

Hissing or sizzling, on the other hand, can indicate a larger problem like a leak. Don’t investigate leaks yourself as you could end up getting hurt. Instead, we recommend taking your car to a garage as a mechanic will have the right safety gear to do an inspection.

Why is my car making a noise when it reverses?

A clicking noise when reversing is caused by the brake pads shifting into position to be ready for a new direction of travel. This can usually be fixed by adding some calliper grease to the brakes – ask a garage to help with this one.

Why is my car making a noise when it idles?

Clicking sounds coming from the engine when you first start and turn off your car are normal and are just the sound of the engine warming up and cooling down.

If a clicking or tapping noise persists after your engine has been on for a while, this could be a sign of low oil levels or low oil pressure. Check the type of oil that’s needed for your car then top it up, using the dipstick to check you’ve put the right amount in.

If the clicking or tapping persists, take your car to a garage.

What can I do myself to keep on top of car maintenance?

Performing regular checks on key parts of your vehicle can help keep your vehicle in good working order, and prevent expensive repairs later down the line.

In particular, we’d recommend regularly checking your oil and coolant levels, and topping up where necessary.

Read our top car maintenance tips.

Not sure what’s wrong? Book a vehicle check

If you’re hearing noises coming from your car but you’re not sure what’s causing them, book in for a vehicle check. If you book through Smart Care, you’ll get:

  • Parts and labour guaranteed for 1 year or up to 12,000 miles
  • Free vehicle collection and return.
  • AA approved garages.
  • Quick and easy online booking and payment.
  • Fair, transparent pricing.

Every garage in our network is independent and trustworthy. Before a garage can become AA approved, we thoroughly inspect it to ensure it fully meets our quality, service and training standards. We then carry out full audits annually, as well as ad-hoc spot checks.

AA approved MOTs, services and repairs at a local garage near you

Book with Smart Care and get fixed pricing with no hidden extras, plus parts and labour guaranteed for 1 year or up to 12,000 miles.