Car Sounds: Listen To What Your Vehicle Is Telling You

Your vehicle has many different “voices”. Some of these sounds you’ll hear frequently, others you won’t be so familiar with. Nonetheless, it’s important to listen carefully whenever your car speaks to you – as each type of voice is telling you a very different story about what’s happening below deck.

Listed below are some of the sounds you may hear when your motor isn’t in the best of health – allowing you to play doctor and use the symptoms to determine the cause of the issue.


A hissing sound in your car often means there may be a leak somewhere. Like a hot pan that’s been thrown underneath cold water, the pipes and parts below your bonnet will sizzle and fizzle when the liquid comes into contact with them. The seriousness of the situation will depend on the specific type of fluid that’s leaking, as it could be anything from the coolant to the liquid created by an overworked engine. The lowdown, however, is that all hissing noises demand immediate attention from a professional, as they could cause your car to grind to a complete halt.


Popping can be a nice sound when it’s coming from the microwave on a winter’s evening. But when you hear a popping sound in your car, it’s usually a pretty bad sign. Often, popping noises are associated with spark plugs – which can become worn out over time. Damaged catalytic converters can also make popping noises, as well as faulty ignition systems. The louder the popping, the more serious the issue.


Perhaps the most unpleasant sound on this list, squealing can happen for a wide variety of reasons.

If you find that your vehicle is screaming whenever you tickle the accelerator, there’s a good chance that a belt has slipped loose. This is usually an easy fix for a mechanic, provided it’s caught early and the belt hasn’t been obliterated beforehand. If your car screams when you slam on the brakes, it could be that the brake pads are on their last legs.

You shouldn’t need much encouragement to take your car into the shop when it starts squealing – to cease the racket if nothing else. Some of the issues associated with this sound can be fixed easily, but the bad ones are really bad, so don’t go taking any chances.


A knocking sound is one of the rarer car noises and is usually accompanied by a sputtering exhaust pipe after you’ve filled up your vehicle with the wrong type of fuel.

If a car is subjected to an unfamiliar substance in the fuel tank, the pistons will go haywire, which is what causes the disconcerting knocking noise that forces you to look at the car as if someone is trying to get inside. Hearing a knocking noise is even less likely with the right type of fuel inside the vehicle, but if it does occur, get to a garage as soon as you can.


A flapping noise – similar to the kind ducks make when they flutter their wings – is often a first indicator that your tires are deflated, so if you hear it you’ll need to pull over and make an inspection as soon as you can. Flat tires are simple to change if you get a pro on the job. Make sure you have within reach the phone number of a reliable towing company.

A flapping noise also suggests there may be a snapped or slipping fan belt – both of which are relatively affordable and unproblematic fixes. However, they do need addressing quickly. Failure to do so can lead to bigger problems in the long run, such as damaged engines – which aren’t quite so simple to repair.


The most terrifying sound your car can produce is an explosive bang from the tailpipe – an issue commonly known as a “car backfire”. Backfires have multiple causes but are often due to a damaged catalytic converter – which will need to be replaced promptly.

It just goes to show – never underestimate the power of listening. Even when it comes to your used car.