By Danielle Spano

Kerplunk, hiss, rurr, bang. Do you just turn up the radio when your car makes a strange noise? Your car is trying to tell you something, and the best thing you can do is listen. The sounds coming from your car can indicate what might be wrong and if a trip to the mechanic is in your future.

First, try to identify where the sound is coming from (under the hood, the wheels, etc.). Then, listen for when the sound occurs (when you start the car, turn or stop) and whether or not it has a pattern. Finally, memorize the sound so you can accurately describe or duplicate it. If possible, safely try to record the sound. Being armed with this information can point a mechanic in the right direction when diagnosing the issue.

With numerous moving parts and functions, automobiles, by their very nature, make noise. The heart of the car is found under the hood, and any unusual sound from that area can mean trouble. A hiss could mean a leak, and a shriek could indicate something wrong with a belt. There are different engine types, so a sound that seems unusual in one model may be normal in another. Typically, you should not hear any one particular sound stand out in the operation of your vehicle. Cars operate on cylinders that come in sets of four, which means that any normal sound will come in multiples of four, or once with each engine revolution. If you hear a single sound that does not fit the pattern, you should visit your mechanic.

Listening to your car can save you a lot of money in unnecessary repairs. Your car alerts you when the time is approaching to replace your brake pads. Listen for a soft high pitched squeal when driving at a slow speed (5 or 10 miles per hour). The sound is the brake sensor, and it should go away when you tap the brakes. Pep Boys recommends immediately replacing your brake pads, or your car will angrily grind as you brake to tell you that damage has been done to the drums and/or rotors, and you now most likely need more than just brake pads. Not all brake sounds mean a bill at the mechanic. According to a German study, a high pitched squeal when braking (typically after rain or in humidity) is often just a vibration sound that, while annoying, is not a problem.

If your car makes noise when making a turn, that can indicate a few different issues. A clacking sound while turning could be a result of a bad CV joint on the front axle. Sometimes, sound is not your only indicator, as you may physically feel a difference as well. Power steering problems are accompanied with groaning when turning the steering wheel and the wheel, itself, becomes difficult to turn.

Pay attention and use all of your senses when operating your car. If you feel shaking, see smoke coming from the exhaust for longer than five minutes of the engine warming or smell something unusual, then make an appointment with a mechanic. “A customer typically knows their vehicle better than we do. But we have to know the right questions to ask the owner to assist the technician in diagnosing the vehicle,” Rachael Wacha, owner of City Auto Repair, said. “It is a good idea to bring your car to the same place consistently so they have a history on the car. Finding a place you can trust is important.”

Yearly Maintenance Schedule for Your Car

Check Frequently: lights, dashboard indicators, tires, washer fluid & oil

Check Quarterly: transmission fluid, battery, belts, air filter, exhaust, hoses, steering fluid

Check Every 6 Months: Chassis lubrication, wiper blades

Check Annually: Brakes, coolant, steering, suspension, alignment