Identifying Engine Sounds

Identifying Engine Sounds

Car Sounds

What They Mean

Your car is not just a machine, it is a group of machines all working in tandem. As such, there are several distinct sounds and smells that arise when one or more of these machines breaks down. This article deals with odd sounds; for odd smells, read the companion article, Car Smells: What They Mean. (Please keep in mind that this article is intended to help you identify issues with your vehicle. If you notice any of these symptoms, bring your car in to ACA Auto as soon as safely possible.)

Ticks & Clicks

Small ticks and clicks inside your car are normal. If you drive a fuel injected vehicle, you can hear the injectors click if you listen closely enough. Roller rockers in your valve train will also emit an audible ticking or clicking noise.

Now, if you try to start your car and you hear a ticking noise – and the car doesn’t start – you have an engine problem.


If you hear a grinding noise when you try to start your car, that may be an issue with the starter motor. If you hear a grinding noise when you shift between gears, that’s your transmission talking to you. Another telltale sign of transmission issues is a red spot under your car. This indicates a transmission leak.

Knocking & Pinging

Tapping and popping, also known as “knocking and pinging,” means gasoline is igniting too soon inside the combustion chambers of your engine cylinders. This can lead to very expensive piston damage.


A high-pitched squeal means a belt is cracked and needs to be replaced. Modern belts last a long time but depending on your environment and driving habits, they can experience greater wear and tear. Getting your belt checked is an essential part of car maintenance. When it squeals, it’s talking to you. And what it’s saying is, Get help!

A squeal when you tap your brakes means that your brakes need to be replaced. When your brake pads wear away, they expose a tab of metal. When your brakes clench on that metal, they emit the sound, meaning its time to visit your friendly neighborhood auto mechanics. If you don’t, eventually the squeal will be replaced with a grinding as the brake pad has eroded down to the metal backing plate. This will damage your brake disc and lead to a costly repair bill.


If your handling suddenly worsens and you hear a rude slapping noise, you just popped a tire. You should pull over immediately, and for two reasons. One, because driving on the flat will wreak havoc on your alignment, and two, the loosened tread of the tire can wreak havoc on your car’s paint and body when it spins.

Written by ACA Automotive