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Different Sounds Under the Hood and What They Mean

Guy Checking Car Engine

Often times when driving, we can feel when something is wrong with our vehicle. With how much time we spend driving everywhere, it can be easy to notice when something feels slightly different or off from how it normally feels.
Harder to identify are the sounds your vehicle can make when something is going wrong. With things like music, the radio, other passengers talking, all going on inside the vehicle, noticing any unusual sounds may be a bit difficult but with a wide variety of problems that could occur under the hood, fortunately there are a lot of telltale sounds to listen for. So listen closely and if you notice any of these sounds on your next drive, be sure to take your vehicle in for maintenance immediately.
The sound: Hissing or sizzling under the hood that you notice when you first turn off your vehicle.
What it could mean: This can indicate that there is some type of coolant or oil leaking onto a heated engine part like the manifold or possibly that a vacuum line is leaking. If you’re hearing a faint and slight hiss over the sound of the engine while it’s on, than it’s a good indication that there is a hose failing. You can also check upon arrival to see if there is any fluid leaking out of your vehicle. It can also be an indication that your engine may be overheating, in any instance, drive with caution and if you think your engine is beginning to overheat, give it a rest for a little while before resuming your travels.
The sound: Loud whining or grinding that you hear while driving.
What it could mean: If it’s coming from under the hood then it could mean that the transmission is beginning to wear. Additionally, a grinding noise will come from a slipping or dragging clutch so if you’re hearing either of those sounds, it’s important to have your vehicle’s transmission checked promptly as this can be a catastrophic malfunction to your vehicle should something inside of the transmission break.
The sound: A repetitive screeching.
What it could mean: Usually a screeching sound like that is the sign of a worn-out belt or pulley that is starting to freeze up on whichever piece of the engine it’s attached to. It’s important to listen for a repetitive pattern to the screeching as it usually begins after each cycle of the belt. Replacing any old and worn belts or pulleys should be a priority as damage to one can lead to damage of the entire engine/transmission.
The sound: Tapping, an unusual piston firing and the sound of metal-to-metal grinding.
What it could mean: Different from the standard noises your engine makes every day, if you’re hearing any of these three noises than there’s a chance that something is significantly wrong. These sounds can indicate that the timing of your engine is off or that your engine may need to be calibrated. If you hear a sound like metal on metal, then your engine could be running low on oil, either through usual wear or by way of an oil leak. If you’re hearing any of these sounds, it’s important to get to a mechanic as quickly as possible and limit using the vehicle to an absolute minimum.
Mechanic Checking Car Issues

The sound: A clunking sound that is happening regularly.
What it could mean: If you’re driving an older vehicle then you may notice a clunking noise when you drive. While not urgent, this is usually attributed to loose or sagging parts like the muffler, the suspension and the shock absorbers. Getting those tightened should be a priority to avoid causing any significant damage with them exposed more than they should be.
By no means are these all of the sounds that your car can make, it’s important if you hear anything that sounds out of the ordinary to listen closely and try to describe the noise as accurately as possible to your mechanic or to let them listen closely themselves. No unusual sound is a simple manner and should be treated with urgency to avoid higher costs and more significant and severe damage. Knowing what to listen for is a great way to stay one step ahead of your vehicle and to keep it running reliably for years to come.