How to find common car problems by sound and save money on auto repairs.

Troubleshooting car problems.

Does your car make some strange noise, but only on the first start-up?

Do you hear a sound coming from somewhere under the car or from the wheels when you drive along the road?

To a mechanic, these noises or sounds are signs of common car problems. They can expertly troubleshoot auto problems by recognising what those weird sounds mean. This knowledge is gleaned from hundreds of test drives in all types of cars they are repairing.

Here are a few that apply mostly to cars with a high mileage, but can happen to any car.

Some sounds will be louder on the passenger side, or come from the rear of the car.

Sound that come from the rear are usually brake noise or wheel bearings on front wheel drive cars, and differential whine can be added for rear wheel drive cars. You will notice the sound will be louder on one side.

Remember when looking for suspension noises the passenger side suspension works harder and gets more damage than the drivers side, due to it being on the side nearest the road edge where all the potholes and gutters are.

Alternator Belt tensioner

Don't forget to slightly loosen the other mount bolts to allow the alternator to swing. This tensioner will need to be  wound back to get the belt off, or wound on to tension the belt. If you can see the belt is in good condition re tension the belt.
Don't forget to slightly loosen the other mount bolts to allow the alternator to swing. This tensioner will need to be wound back to get the belt off, or wound on to tension the belt. If you can see the belt is in good condition re tension the belt.

V belt driving alternator

When it comes to screaming, this type of single V-belt is the most likely culprit!
When it comes to screaming, this type of single V-belt is the most likely culprit!

A high pitched screaming sound when you rev the motor cold.

If this sound mostly goes away when you drive for a while, or when the engine is idling without accelerator being pressed. It changes with the engine revs.

  • Most likely.

A loose alternator drive belt.

This noise happens most often when an older car has been standing for a while and the battery is a bit flat, as the alternator is trying to draw a lot of electricity to fill the battery it will put a lot of load on the belt, and if loose, it will slip especially on first start up when the car is cold.

Don't worry you will know the sound. It is high pitched and loud! I think the word "screaming" is the best description.

If the belt is even a bit slack it will make this noise every time you rev the motor quickly when you start up cold in the morning. If it has one of those skinny V belt drive like the one in the photo it should be inspected for any signs of cracking on the inside, or any frayed appearance.

If one belt drives the alternator and everything else as well you can take the opportunity to check the bearing in the water pump, alternator or power steering pump.

  • With the belt off, you can turn all the driven items by hand to ensure they spin freely and don't make any grinding noises.
  • You can also grasp the pulley in your hand, wiggle it to see if there is any up and down movement at all. Check the water pump bearing, the alternator, the power steering pump all the same way.

If there is no up and down movement or noise it is likely that everything is OK, and even someone who is non mechanical can avoid serious problems by doing this check. That is proper preventative maintenance.

To repair yourself.

1. Loosen the alternator mounting bolts, move the alternator until it is fully loose, allowing you to remove the belt.

2. Examine the belt for cracks or fraying.

3. Examine the pulleys for excessive wear.

4. Replace/refit the belt to the alternator.

Adjustment the belt so that it is a little tight. This only takes around 10 minutes with a good set of tools. All bolts must be tightened to specs in your manual.

Serpentine belt.

Serpentine belt.

This type of belt does not usually make a screaming noise. Note: the alternator is on the bottom of this motor.
This type of belt does not usually make a screaming noise. Note: the alternator is on the bottom of this motor.

Serpentine belts.

A serpentine belt is often used to drive everything off the one belt. They usually have a spring loaded tensioner to keep the belt tight.

If a serpentine belt drives your alternator it is unlikely to make the screaming noise unless completely worn out and the tensioner no longer working due to extreme belt stretch.

This is a major problem, as if the belt breaks........ your car cannot be driven without any of the driven components working, as:

  • The engine will overheat.
  • the air-conditioning won't work.
  • the battery will not charge.

If this belt breaks when you are driving, you will see a lot of warning lights!

Stop the car straight away to avoid damage.

If this belt is worn out, it is easy to replace if you use this trick.

  1. Take a digital photo or a set of photos showing the way the belt is running under and over the pulleys before you remove it.
  2. Loosen the tensioner to remove and replace the belt.

A grinding noise coming from the engine.

  • A worn out water pump bearing can be the culprit here.

 It is a constant rumbling sound that changes with engine revs. You will usually see a few drops of radiator fluid leaking from the water pump housing when the bearing goes, it usually takes the seal with it. Look under the car in the morning for a few drops of coloured watery fluid, usually bright green.

Check the rest of the cooling system, it may be badly serviced. Seals often go first when there are particles in the cooling fluid through missed service intervals.

  • a seized alternator bearing. This is easy to spot, as is any noisy belt driven bearing as you will hear where the sound is coming from. If it is seized you will see it not turning the pulley that drives it. Usually a change over service is available for all of the belt driven components on your cars engine, or repair yourself if you know how.

A constant whining noise that changes with engine revs.

  • A disconnected vacuum line.

This can be a caused by a few things, some related to a sloppy or bad last service. Any vacuum line that has not been replaced carefully and routed correctly can fall off. Some mechanics take short cuts and don't bother to ensure the routing of these small hollow vacuum tubes which allows them to be partially closed or fall off their connection.

It makes a constant whistling noise at idle, and you need to check all those tiny rubber lines to see they are all connected. You will see a place to re-attach it close to where it ends. Often the air cleaner has to be removed to see where the rubber tube came from, but not too technical.

Power steering pump.

A worn out or empty (if leaking it probably is worn out) power steering pump.

A worn or empty pump makes a whining noise when you turn the steering, it may also make a constant noise from a damaged bearing which is a rumbling sound when the car is stationary and the steering wheel is not moved so the pump is not being used.

Comments 45 comments

agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

earnestshub, I am glad you mentioned using the correct tools. I have seen many a skinned knuckles caused by using a 'shifter'.

You are offering great tips here and if 'fan belts' were kept tensioned correctly it would save them being replaced so often


Dame Scribe profile image

Dame Scribe 6 years ago from Canada

Teaching our kids these sort of basics would be valuable skills of a lifetime. Great article! :)


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks agvulpes, you are right about tensioning the belts regularly. I look at it as poor servicing myself.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

This is great and timely. My son'car looses water and has to fill up all the time. I will show him that. Thank you.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

You are most welcome my friend Hello, hello!


nicomp profile image

nicomp 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

Great advice. Sometimes a vacuum line falls off or gets knocked off during an oil change or some other repair procedure.

Another good tip: If the check engine light comes on, many auto parts stores will read out the code for you (for free!) because they want to sell you the replacement parts. Even if you don't plan to fix it yourself, it's good info to have before taking the vehicle to a garage.


Jen's Solitude profile image

Jen's Solitude 6 years ago from Delaware

Great explanations about weird sounds coming from cars. Thanks so much!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Good advice nicomp. It's true, they leave vacuum leads off quite often. Getting the code read by a replacement parts store is a great idea. I always feel better if the problem is known to me. Helps to find out why any component failed too.


Rickrideshorses profile image

Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

Vety useful and practical hub. It's so easy to feel disempowered because we don't have a clue what's wrong with cars but the mechanic does. I had my clutch changed recently and when my motor was returned the clutch was fine but the engine had started making a popping sound when the car started - it's still happening especially in now even first gear!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago

Great advice. I'll show this hub to my bf. Although he's a typical guy who knows almost everything about sports, he's an idiot (a lovable one, though) when it comes to cars! LOL


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks Om. I have written heaps of hubs on cars, I hope he reads some of the other ones too!


barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 6 years ago from Queensland Australia

great hub !


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Barry, that is nice to hear. I write a lot about car problems, seen too many of em!


Deborah Sexton 6 years ago

Great article.

My brother used to work on cars and taught me a lot before he died. If I have any car problems, I'll refer back to this hub.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Deborah.

Your brother must be a massive loss Deborah, but knowing you, the best will be made of him by your loving memories.

Nice connection that you have with him.


Deborah Sexton 6 years ago

Yes, thank you Earnest.

This is a very informative Hub and gives more answers than any other trouble shooting website. I am voting it up and making it AWESOME


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Deborah, it is comments like yours that keep me honest!

I love the awesome!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Jen's Solitude, Trying to keep the cost of repairs down sometimes involves taking a look yourself first.


liam 5 years ago

hi my 206 is making a funny noise when clutch is up and louder when down"


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Two words for you liam.

Thrust race.

The clutch thrust bearing probably needs replacing.

Unfortunately on the 206 the motor will need to come out to get at it. The part itself is cheap enough.


liam 5 years ago

ok thanks m8


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

You're welcome Liam


GoingFastWithMike profile image

GoingFastWithMike 5 years ago from Fishkill, NY

As an LTI graduate this is by far the best thing for anyone trying to figure out an issue with a car in which has a noise. +1


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks Mike! I appreciate that. I may even edit a bit more while I'm here replying to you nice comment.


Biji 5 years ago

Sounds dup dup on my alto steering when passing tru rough road?


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Biji here is a list in order of most to least likely reasons for the dup dup noise.

Air in the strut. (shock absorber) Look for any signs of wetness around the shaft of the hydraulic strut.

A worn or loose suspension component.

Jack the wheel up then pull the wheel top and bottom then left to right to detect the worn component.

Worn suspension rubbers on the strut or sway bar.

A worn pitman arm. You would notice this in the steering being loose.


Nigel 4 years ago

Hi all, my 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander's steering makes a sort of whistling sound but only when the steering is straight. when the wheel is turned it stops...what could this be?

Thanx


Nigel 4 years ago

Sorry just to add to the last post, Its power steering


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

My guess is the power steering pump is the problem. Take the belt off and turn it by hand to see if it feels smooth to turn. The bearing may be floating in the case when it is unloaded.

I would also be suspicious of the bypass valve making a noise. Any leaks?


Molly 4 years ago

This is great! I have been trying to figure out what the noise is in my car..it sounds like something is winding up when accelerating and winding down when decelerating..do you think it is a disconnected vacuum line? It does not make a difference what direction the steering wheel is in. Thanks!


kavidas 4 years ago

Wonderful advice. Thank you so much.


Khangelani 4 years ago

Hi

Yesterday afternoon my Toyota Corolla 2007 started giving a strange sound when starting it up. The sound it's like it says dri dri dri..... when the car goes the sound seem go away but when I stop in a robot or in a stop sign, I hear the sound again.

what could be the problem? Anyone with help. Please, I just need to know if I have to worry about this or not.


Tammy 4 years ago

My car makes a high pitched Squealing noise when i start my car, i leave it idling for 10-15secs (squealing all the time), i switch off and switch back on straight away, and the squealing stops. This happens when i start my car in the morning or if my car has been standing for a cple of hours. It sounds like its coming from the radiator fan, (which was replaced a cple of months ago)


jose 4 years ago

03 Honda civic , my car makes a shaking type of nose , it only stops when I push down on my clutch , dose anyone know what it could be ?


Aless 4 years ago

My dads car makes a whistle sound and then it begins to loose spead no matter how much he accelerates. Literrely turned into a turtle in the freeway. I thought we would become road kill lol. Im guessing I had a near death experience cuz of a brocken or missplaced vacum line tubby thing haha. Oh thankgod for google and you hub. Thnx for posting. Your amazing js :) yor like a car dr.


Jessica 4 years ago

I have a 2001 acura cl 3.2 Just bought it so I guess I could be a little paranoid. There is a slight tumbling sound while idling. should i worry?


Joseph 4 years ago

Thank you so much! I have been trying to figure out why my car is making the noise that it is in combination with the water loss and you have finally given me the answer! I had an inkling it was the water pump but didn't want to put a new one into my 92 corolla just to have it be something else entirely that could potentially kill my car. You are a lifesaver and now I can fix it and stop having to worry I'm going to break down on my way to work!


thrilseker 4 years ago

When my ac is on or when I am driving and I apply the breake pedal my voltmeter drops to 12-12.5v nd car idles low. Is this a vaccume problem or exhust problem or any other issue.


ctaylor3737@yahoo.com 3 years ago

I also have another issued with my 2008 Ford Focus it is starting to Idle rough. When your stopped the whole car shakes and vibrates. It is quite annoying and stops as soon as you accelerate.


me 3 years ago

My car makes a clanging soundin the back underneath when it hits 2nd. Can someone please tell me what it might be?


Me 3 years ago

Refering to the car with the clanging sound, it is a 1992 acura legend


alicia 2 years ago

My car makes a rollercoaster sound when accelerating, idolizing, and turning. 1997 jetta


Dardia 20 months ago

Hello my 2002 ford focus is whistling- sounds like an old locomotive arriving at the polar express? Not sure what's causing this sound. I checked front brakes and just replaced rear brakes. Please help


songezile 19 months ago

thanx alot i just googled what i heard from my car .... and i now know exactly what to fix


samcee 16 months ago

information very useful as to doing it yourself on noisy vehicle sound and it`s probable cause and simple fix. Thanks a lot.

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