How to Identify Your Car’s Warning Signs

by Matt Solis

When you hear an unusual noise coming from your car (usually a whine, creak or squeal) it’s a warning that its normal operating methods have changed—often for the worse. By paying close attention to these sounds, you can catch minor problems before they become too serious and expensive. Consider the following tips:

Squealing brakes
If you hear high-pitched squealing when you apply your brakes (especially lightly), it’s probably caused by vibration in the brake pads. Minor squealing won’t affect your braking performance and is usually nothing to worry about. If you take your car to an auto repair shop, a mechanic may be able to apply a lubricant and quiet the vibration. However, if you hear a similar squeal while the car is moving but it stops when you step on the brake pedal, it’s a sign that your brake pads have worn down and need to be changed soon.

Squealing under the hood
A squealing noise when you rev your engine is usually caused by a slipping drive belt (commonly known as a serpentine belt). The solution could be as simple as a belt adjustment, but if its sides look shiny, it needs to be replaced. Have your mechanic examine your serpentine belt and replace it if necessary.

Rhythmic thumping
If a thumping noise increases and decreases with the speed of the car, it’s probably a tire problem, such as torn rubber in the tread, a bubble in the sidewall or a flat spot. Have your tires inspected as soon as possible—torn rubber or a bubble could lead to a blowout.

Hissing beneath the hood
Hissing noises are usually vacuum leaks caused by cracked or disconnected vacuum hoses, but they can also appear when your engine is running or idling rough. If the problem is a disconnected hose, you may be able to reconnect it yourself. If you’re unsure of the source of the noise, take your car to a mechanic.

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