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Identifying those tricky car noises

November 21, 2012
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Car problems are noticed first by the drivers using one or more of their senses: noise, sound, touch, smell or taste. You should not taste anything on your car, so let's concentrate on the first four, and for this lesson, just on noise.

You can quicken the diagnosis by reporting the noise in a way that makes sense to your repairman. Following are some noise descriptions and what they usually mean to someone in the car repair business. I'll throw in some possible causes, which you can use to further irritate your mechanic. If his diagnosis flies in the face of these suggestions, however, he should explain why your case if different from the following. Noises and their possible causes are;

- KNOCKING: A sharp, low sound with a regular beat, like someone knocking on a door. If it comes from the engine it could be connecting rod bearings, which is a very big deal. Mega bucks. But if it comes from the front of the car, and only on sharp turns with a front wheel drive car, it usually is a bad front axle joint, which is not a real biggy. If it comes from the door, someone wants in.

- TAPPING: Similar to knocking but a higher pitch, like tapping a window glass with a key. If it comes from the engine it could be a valve lifter, and might be because you are low on oil. If only when the car is moving it could be a stone or nail caught in a tire. You can remove the stone, but let a tire shop do the nail; the tire might leak when you pull it out. If the noise is from the window, it might be a cop telling you to roll it down.

- THUMPING: This is a noise without a tempo. It may only happen once as you make a move with the car, like turn, accelerate or brake. Something is loose and the action causes movement of the loose part. It might be a bowling ball in the trunk. Yes, it has happened. Professional diagnosis required.

- RATTLING: This is a series of knocks, taps or clicks that comes with an action like hitting a bump in the road. Again, something is loose, possibly a sway bar bushing or shock bushing. Check for kid's toys in the back. Professional diagnosis required.

- SCRAPING: This is a noise like dragging a muffler on the road under the car, or something caught up in a wheel. Should be easy to locate. Comes from driving through hedges and ditches.

- RUMBLING: This is a continuous deep sound, like the echo of distant thunder. If it is only when moving, it might be a bad wheel bearing, or a "cupped" or rough tire tread pattern. If it is from the engine it might be water pump bearings or any other pulley bearings. If from your stomach, you've missed lunch. Professional diagnosis required.

- WHINING: This is a constant high pitch noise like a jet engine winding up. If from an engine it might be a bad alternator, or if only when turning it might be a bad power steering pump. If from the back seat area, it could be one of your kids.

- SQUEAKING: This is like a rusty door hinge. If it has a tempo when moving which varies with speed, it could be universal joints. If it's there while setting still, it could be belt noise, sometimes called CHIRPING. Never put belt dressing on a serpentine (flat) belt. It will cause them to make terrible noises. Better to give a kid a drum set.

- SQUEALING: This is a constant high-pitched sound like an excited two-year-old makes. If it's from the engine, it is probably a slipping belt, caused either by the belt being too loose, or a component being frozen so that the belt cannot spin it. It it's only there when moving, it could be bad brakes. If none of the above, check for a two-year-old in the back seat.

- GRINDING: This is the noise made when steel rubs against steel, or a brick rubs against another brick. If it's especially loud when braking, you have waited too long to have your brakes replaced. You are now ruining your discs and/or drums. You should sign up for "procrastinators anonymous," but not today, of course.

- CONSTANT DRIVING INSTRUCTION NOISE: If coming from your GPS, it could be helpful. If coming from a passenger, rectify by turning up the volume on the stereo. This solution also works on many other noises. For a while.

All of the above descriptions are from the imagination of the author, and any correlation between car noises and family member noises are purely coincidental, and imply nothing about his, or your children, grandchildren or spouses. I swear, Dear.



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