Screeching. Pinging. Popping. Car noises can be scary, but they can be useful too. Paying careful attention to the sounds your car makes can help you diagnose a potential problem before it devolves into an emergency situation. Here are a few of the most common weird car sounds and what they might mean for you.

1. Squeaky brakes
Do your brakes consistently giving you a high-pitched, single-note screech when you apply them? The most common explanation for this phenomenon is a case of worn-out brake pads or, on older vehicles, brake shoes. In fact, most brake pads are designed to give some noise near the end of their life span, as an indication that it’s time to replace them. Other possibilities include overheated brake pads (brakes have been known to squeal when hot from a lot of hard braking or overuse) or brake rotor rust (which might sound less like squealing and more like grinding).

2. Rattling engine during acceleration 
Concerned about a rattling or flapping noise emanating from the front of your engine, especially when you hit the gas? Your tensioner or timing belt may be worn, loose, or out of alignment.

3. (Loudly) ticking engine 
A ticking engine can often indicate a problem with your car’s valve train, although the specific cause of the ticking (like insufficient oil pressure or a failing pump to name a few possibilities) will likely take more time and a visit to an auto mechanic to properly diagnose.

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4. Knocking from under the hood
Hearing a scary knocking or pinging sound coming from under the hood? You may be experiencing a problem with how fuel is being ignited within your engine. There are a few possible explanations that lead to engine knock, among them: using the incorrect spark plugs, using low-quality gasoline in a high-pressure engine, deposits on the walls of your engine’s cylinders, or worn out or loose rod bearings. Knocking engine noises can be serious: don’t delay in having a professional take a closer look.

5. Squealing engine
The next time your engine throws you a loud squeal, consider it time to have the fan belt (aka serpentine belt) checked or replaced. Fan belts tend to loosen over time, which can lead to that unmistakable squealing sound.

6. Thumping exhaust
If your exhaust starts making a thumping or clunking sound, or if it just starts sounding louder than normal, you may have a damaged exhaust system. In addition to being a noisy nuisance, defective mufflers can be dangerous, allowing carbon monoxide to leak into your vehicle. Have thumping sounds investigated by a professional ASAP.

When you car starts sounding crazy, don’t delay. Treat the noises your car makes like symptoms of a larger problem — consult a professional right away for a check-up, maintenance, and peace of mind. And always make sure your auto insurer has your back. Get a free quote today to see how much you could save with Esurance.

Safe and smart | Car safety

about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.