Skip to main content

Car repairs guide: This is what those strange noises your car is making mean

Is you car rattling, squealing or squeaking?

2025 Toyota Camry hybrid engine.Car repairs and their associated costs are one of day-to-day life’s biggest annoyances. Out of nowhere, you can find your savings account or credit card hit for thousands of dollars as you attempt to keep your daily driver on the road. While many issues are flagged by warning lights, some can fly under the radar for a while. Then, all of a sudden, you hear a squealing noise while driving or a ticking engine noise and know something’s off.

Proper maintenance can help minimize the number of issues you experience, but it can’t eliminate them completely. Luckily there are other indicators that something might be wrong, including some telltale sounds. Here are a few of the more common noises a vehicle may make and what said noises might indicate. Quickly identifying problems and fixing them early can save you money and keep you safe, so remember to keep an ear out if you want to spot potential car issues.

car brake pads
Byrd Setta / Adobe Stock

A high-pitched squeal while braking

Brakes are designed to emit a high-pitched, very annoying squeal when they are approaching the end of their service lives. What is known as a “wear indicator” is built into the pad below a certain level and will irritate your eardrums until you fix the issue. While annoying, this is preferable to finding out your brakes are worn due to the fact they simply don’t work anymore.

Changing brake pads is one of the easiest vehicle maintenance tasks, so if you want to get your hands dirty, it’s a great place to start. Just make sure you buy the correct pads and insert them the correct way around.

Car belt altinator
Kreingkrai Luangchaipreeda / Pixabay

A squeaking from under the hood

Squeaking sounds can be a little disconcerting, but if a squeaking noise while driving is coming from under the hood, then it’s nearly guaranteed that a belt is the culprit. Belts tend to be pretty important. For example, your serpentine belt drives both the alternator and the water pump, so your engine will be in a lot of trouble if it fails.

A few things can make a belt squeak, with improper tension being a common cause. This can be due to a failing tensioner, or if it happens shortly after you’ve changed a belt, then the tension has been set incorrectly. Dirt or grease contaminating the belt can cause a squeak, as can the belt itself stretching out or wearing down.

Changing out a belt is a relatively easy job and something you can do yourself if you’re confident enough. Otherwise, a garage won’t charge much to do the job for you, and the parts are often very cheap. Said parts can come in kits, so it may make sense to switch out the tensioners and other worn components while you’re doing the job.

2022 Ford Maverick steering wheel and dashboard from outside the vehicle with grass in the back
Joel Patel / The Manual

Steering wheel clicking

If you hear a clicking or popping sound when you rotate the steering wheel, it could potentially indicate a major issue with the steering rack. If the sound only happens on full lock, that could indicate a different issue, but if general steering is generating the sound, then you need to get your rack checked out. Unfortunately, if your steering rack needs replacing, it’s not the cheapest job you can have done on the car — but it’s a necessary one.

Obviously, any fault with the steering system is something you should have fixed immediately. At best, it can affect your ability to control the car, and a two-ton metal box capable of traveling at high speeds is something you definitely want as much control as possible over. There’s also a possibility of the steering system failing completely, and you losing control altogether. Unless you’re lucky enough to be traveling very slowly when this happens, it’s likely to end very badly.

CV joint inside
2427999 / Pixabay

A clicking or whining sound while maneuvering

You spend a surprisingly small amount of time with your wheel fully turned one way or another, so this could be something you fail to initially spot. However, while maneuvering, there’s a good chance you’ll have the steering wheel on full lock, and things will also be quiet enough for you to hear what’s going on.

If everything is normal, you shouldn’t hear much. If, on the other hand, there is a clicking or whining sound coming from the area behind one of your drive wheels, you have a bit of an issue. At the end of each drive shaft is something called a “constant velocity joint,” and said joints can eventually wear down or become damaged. This usually happens when the boot around the CV joint fails, allowing the joint itself to be contaminated with dirt and debris. As a temporary fix, some mechanics will suggest loading the joint with grease to keep it going a while longer. But a full replacement is probably your best option. They aren’t the most expensive parts on a car, and getting to them is usually relatively easy, so don’t worry about a CV joint replacement breaking the bank.

Coil spring car suspension
Marcin / Pixabay

Clunking while driving

When it comes to worrying car sounds, clunking is one of the more common things you can hear and may be difficult to get to the bottom of. It might also be something absolutely benign, like a heavy object bouncing around your trunk. If you notice the clunking tends to happen when the car hits a bump, or narrow it down to an area around a particular wheel, then it could indicate an issue with one of your shock absorbers. It’s best to replace suspension components in pairs, as a failing shock’s twin is probably not too far behind.

If it isn’t the shock making the clunking noise, then the culprit could be a worn sway bar (which is also known as the anti-roll bar in some areas). Wear on the anti-roll bar is less of an issue than a failing shock, and you can probably put the repair on hold, provided the sound doesn’t annoy you too much. Other issues that can cause a clunk are the bushing, end links, or numerous other components. If something is clunking or your car is making a rattling noise — then you know something is probably loose somewhere.

Dave McQuilling
Dave has spent pretty much his entire career as a journalist; this has included jobs at newspapers, TV stations, on the…
What does sport mode do? This car feature explained
Sport mode: Everything you need to know
Close up of instrument cluster in the 2024 Mazda CX-90 with sport mode engaged.

What does sport mode do? This is a question on many people's minds, especially those who have purchased a vehicle within the last 10 to 15 years. Sport mode is usually found in a car as a switch, button, or knob labeled Sport. It is typically within easy reach of the driver's seat. 

If you've never used sports mode before and you're one of the individuals who prefer to know what they're getting into beforehand, then this article is for you. We've discussed what sports mode does and when you should activate it, whether it uses more gas, and which vehicles typically come equipped with it. Armed with this information, you'll better understand if it's a mode you should use on a daily basis when driving. 
What does sport mode do? 

Read more
What we know about Toyota’s new MR2 so far
The new MR2 is not for you
Second generation Toyota MR2

While it may be known for its pickup trucks and hybrids, Toyota also produces world-leading sports cars like the Supra. In 2026, it’s set to revive one of its best-loved mid-engine sports coupes after nearly 20 years. The MR2 was last manufactured in 2007, but a new version will be on sale in Japan in the near future. Here’s what we know about it.

Japanese motoring website Best Car seems to be the main source of information on the upcoming MR2 as things stand. It seems to believe that the coupe will pack 316 horsepower and 304 lb-ft of torque courtesy of the same 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-three engine you’ll find in both the GR Yaris and the GR Corolla. In terms of transmission choices, purists will undoubtedly be pleased that there is a six-speed manual option available. For those uncomfortable with a stick shift, you can still opt for an eight-speed automatic.

Read more
The Porsche 911 hybrid: What you need to know
When can you get your hands on a Porsche 911 hybrid?
Porsche 911 carrera at sunset

Porsche became known as Porsche thanks to its iconic 911 sports car. Although the 911 is a classic in the brand's arsenal, it is no stranger to change. The Porsche 911 is about to experience its most remarkable change to date, possibly even more significant than hopping on the water-cooled bandwagon. 

According to sources, the Porsche 911 992-generation model is set to receive a refresh. This refresh is part of Porsche's move toward cleaner energy vehicles, and as such, the sports car icon is set to begin using a hybrid powertrain in the near future. 

Read more