There's sound, and then there's noise. When it comes to cars, the sound of an engine or a nice exhaust can be pleasing to the ears, but random noises can be worrying. That can also mean one thing: something's about to break, or has broken already.
You try to ignore that noise, turn up the music, hoping it goes away tomorrow. But as the days and weeks drag on, it never leaves the car. So instead of letting it be, why not try to figure out what's wrong. After all, these noises are a car's way of telling you something's wrong. The longer you let it linger, you risk adding more damage to your car.
But what do certain sounds mean? Let us be your guide to becoming a car whisperer.
From the engine
Unless you're running with a loud exhaust, your car's engine should run fairly quietly. Any unwarranted sounds from there can range from a minor fix to major trouble.
A ticking noise can mean several things. The least worrying cause is low oil, but it can also be a sign of low oil pressure caused by a pump that's about to go bad. When the ticking is louder (like a tapping), there is something that needs attending under the hood as soon as possible.
There's also another kind of ticking, and it's called engine knock (local mechanics refer to this as tope or tumotope). It will usually present itself as a profound ticking when you step on the accelerator and will sound like its coming from inside the engine itself, and it is. The noise is caused by ignition at the wrong time, typically earlier than what is optimal. This can be adjusted and fixed, or you can opt for a higher octane fuel to resist it.
Another common noise from the engine is a squeal or squeak (your local mechanic will it iyak or umiiyak). Once you hear that, it's time to replace a belt; as to which one, you'll have to isolate and figure it out. The squeak can also make its presence felt during the rainy season or when you drive over a puddle. It means that a belt is slipping because it got wet.
If your vehicle is equipped with a timing chain, you have to look out for rattles. That's because a timing chain will let out that noise to remind you it's time to change it. If you ignore that, it can snap and essentially cause the engine to eat itself alive.
Under the chassis
While underchassis noises aren't as worrying as the ones coming from the engine, you shouldn't be complacent.
Knocking sounds from the suspension or underchassis (your local mechanic calls this kalampag) can indicate worn rubber pieces such as bushings and mounts. You'll most likely hear these when you go over a speed bump or a pothole. If those components were recently replaced, there might be a bolt or two that needs tightening.
Creaks from the suspension, on the other hand, can be an indicator to tell you that your shock absorbers are on their last legs.
When you hear a loud scratching or squeaking sound when you brake, then that's something that needs to be inspected. If you're lucky, then it's probably just dirt or debris trapped between the pad and the disc, and all it takes is a bit of cleaning. If it's constant and really high-pitched (your local mechanic probably calls it kumimikil), then you may have already consumed most of the pads and have already reached the indicator, hence the sound.
There's another sound you need to be aware of; a humming or droning. It doesn't have anything to do with your suspension. Instead, that noise comes from the wheel bearings. These need immediate attention because a worn-out bearing can seize the rolling wheel and lock it up. That's something you don't want to happen when you're on the highway.
In the car
Noises coming from the car don't just come from the engine or under the chassis. Some of these might come from inside the car. If you notice any sounds that are louder than usual, chances are it's in the car. The most common are squeaks and rattles, which usually means loose trim or just body panels (interior or exterior) rubbing against each other. Sometimes that's normal as a car ages, but sometimes it may be about the quality of the vehicle. Not all are built equally.
There are some noises associated with the A/C. If you hear a loud click whenever the A/C comes on, don't worry; that's most likely the magnetic clutch for your compressor engaging. If you hear that click but the air doesn't get cooler, then you've got a problem with your A/C system. But if there is a buzzing noise, there might be too much refrigerant (AKA: freon, typically R134a or newer) in the system.
If the car has a loud hissing and it seems like it's coming from under you (the driver) then there's a possibility that there's a hole in your exhaust piping under the car (your mechanic will know it as singaw). It's not as big a problem compared to others, but depending on the location of the leak, exhaust fumes might leak into the cabin. Get this fixed right away at a muffler shop; they should be able to plug that hole by welding it shut.
There are times where you might also hear a rubbing sound while driving, particularly when cornering. This could mean either a fender liner has come loose and needs to be refastened, or because your tires are rubbing on something as you turn. If you lowered your car, this will be expected.
If you hear static or a humming sound coming through your speakers, you could have some minor electrical issues that may need sorting; usually a grounded audio system. Often the pitch of the sound will be directly related to the RPM of the engine; the higher the RPM, the higher the pitch.
There are more noises to pay attention to, but these are just a few to get you started. Now take your car out for a spin, turn the radio off and listen carefully. Your car might have been telling you something you haven't noticed for months.
Sound is a car's way of communicating, and it's time to pay attention. This could mean the difference between happy motoring or being stranded out on the road.