The sound of clicking while driving should not be ignored by turning up the radio (guilty). Your car is trying to tell you there’s something wrong and you, Gentle Reader, need to address it. But what exactly is wrong?
A car’s clicking noises can be high-pitched and dry or deep and hollow. The former typically indicates that moving engine parts aren’t properly lubricated, while the latter points to issues with the steering mechanism or a leaking radiator hose.
The above three are the most common reasons for clicking noises from under the hood. I’ll write about each in this article, plus a few other reasons. I’ll give solutions as well, but take note — none of them involve turning up the radio.
Car Making Clicking Noise When Driving – Causes and Fixes
Your car may not make a clicking noise all the time, or you may not hear it all the time. For instance, if the car needs an oil change, you’ll get a dry, raspy tick from the engine at idle speed.
As you drive, you won’t hear the tick as much because, at higher RPM, the ticks are closer together (but they are still happening).
Other times the clicks only happen when you make certain maneuvers, such as turning the wheel or accelerating. Let’s go through some of these instances one by one.
1. Clicking Noise From the Front Wheel When Driving
This usually comes across as a deep, hollow sound — more of a “clock” than a “click.” Dollars to donuts, it’s a steering issue, especially if you only hear it while turning.
The issue could also be one of those listed in my other article — or one of the below.
The CV Joint Has Failed
The constant velocity joint attaches your car’s wheels to the drive shaft, which includes the transmission. There are two outer joints connected to the wheels and one inner joint attached to the transmission.
The component’s job is to keep the wheels turning at the same rate even when they’re in different positions.
CV joints also help push the power from the transmission to the wheels, plus help the shock absorbers let each wheel move independently rather than allowing the whole car to jump when you hit a bump.
A hollow clicking noise from the front wheels while driving, especially while turning, is a good sign that the CV joint is failing. This is because the joint is filled with grease that dampens the noise of its ball bearings.
A corrugated boot keeps the grease from leaking out. If the boot gets torn, out comes the grease, along with lubricant and noise-cancellation for the ball bearings.
CV joints ordinarily fail only when the boot fails. The hollow knock-knock-knock from the front wheels is the result. A CV joint replacement runs around $300.
The Ball Joint Has Failed
A vehicle’s front suspension system has a lot of parts working together to create success. Among these parts are two control arms that move up and down as your vehicle passes over terrain. Attaching the control arms to the wheels are ball joints.
Ball joints can last for over 70,000 miles (1,126,540 km), but when they do decide to retire to the Florida Keys, you’ll hear some clicks or clunks from the front of the vehicle.
These noises will be more prominent as you pass over bumps. You’ll also experience vibration in the steering wheel, difficulty with turning, or “drifting” to one side or the other.
It’s time to have them replaced, which will run you from 200 to 500 dollars, depending on the kind of car you drive and how trustworthy your mechanic is.
2. Car Making Loud Clicking Noise When Accelerating
Fuel injectors atomize fuel (turn fumes or fine spray into a liquid) for a vehicle’s engine. They’re far more efficient than yesterday’s carburetors — and cleaner, too. More fuel moves through the system when you accelerate, giving the car more power.
That’s all fine and good. But now you hear a clicking noise when you accelerate. Why?
Loose or Cracked Spark Plugs
Your car may use from 3 to 12 spark plugs depending on how many cylinders it has. The ignition system creates a spark between the plug’s center and ground electrode, igniting the air/fuel mixture provided by the fuel injector.
Every spark plug has a proper torque it should be tightened to. A loose spark plug or a spark plug with a cracked insulator may ground itself at high engine speeds, creating a ticking noise.
Fixing this is a simple matter of tightening or swapping out the plug. If you need to replace it, ensure the gap setting is per manufacturer specifications.
You can check the valve train by removing the rocker cover. A valvetrain comprises loads of little moving parts, all of which can make ticking noises under acceleration.
Valves with an improper gap setting will click and tick like an old pocket watch. Rather than live with that — and risk permanent damage to your engine — you can use a gap tool to re-adjust the valves. Here’s a video that really makes it look easy:
Pushrods transfer energy (motion) from the camshaft to the valves. To do this, they move up and down with the rotation of the camshaft.
A bent pushrod creates a hollow knock that is easy to hear even when you aren’t accelerating. This is not one of those problems you should ignore because it won’t go away.
It’ll only worsen until the rod breaks away from the engine and ultimately destroys the valves. A thrown rod basically means it’s time for a new engine.
Mechanics replace individual pushrods for about $100 apiece.
Other, Less Scary Causes
Not every odd noise from an engine means the end of the world. Your ticking noise while accelerating can also be caused by a loose engine fan or a worn engine belt. These things are a little easier to replace than a pushrod.
A leaking radiator hose will also cause acceleration noise in the form of a hard, hollow knock. If the hose is completely blown, you have mere seconds to get off the road before the engine fails completely. In any case, get that hose replaced.
3. Loud Clicking Noise When Driving Slow
If you hear a loud clicking noise only while driving slowly, chances are the noise is always there, but the sound of a high-revving engine drowns it out (see the above solutions).
But…there are times when the click occurs only while driving slowly or slowing down.
Loose Brake Pads or Brake Calipers
A vehicle’s brake calipers pinch on the rotors to slow the car down. Should one or more than one come loose, they will emit a clicking noise each time you press the brake pedal. The same goes for the pads, which are attached to the calipers.
Get this fixed by a mechanic at the earliest opportunity. You need to stop all the time, and if the brakes go… things are going to get dicey.
Loose Lug Nuts
Lug nuts hold the wheel onto the car. It’s rare for them to come loose, but the wheel will make funny noises if they do. Here we have a simple matter of tightening them up with a socket wrench.
4. Loud Clicking Noise When Driving Straight
Any of the issues above can also cause loud clicking noises while driving straight. Some problems that cause noises only while driving straight include:
Something Has Punctured the Tire
A clicking noise while driving can result from a foreign object stuck inside one of the tires. If you’ve run over a nail, it could be lodged in the tread and make clicking sounds as it strikes the pavement.
This one’s pretty easy to spot. Just have a peek at the tire to see if something’s stuck there. If there is, don’t yank it out before knowing you have a spare tire handy.
Some garages can patch the hole left behind, but if the object is inside the tire groove, patching will likely not work, and you’ll need to replace the whole tire.
Uneven or Improperly Inflated Tires
If the tires on your car are not the right size or are improperly inflated, the most common thing you’ll notice is poor steering and handling. This being said, the car may also emit clicking or other noises.
Make sure the tires are inflated to the proper pressure. And do make sure the tires are the right size as specified by the manufacturer.
Clicking noises can be serious or easily fixed. At no time should they be ignored. Your favorite song may be on the radio, but the car needs attention.
More often than not, the fix won’t be expensive. But if you don’t attend to it in time, you’ll have to shell out a lot more for a repair or even risk getting into an accident.
To prevent accidents or catastrophic engine failure, have that click checked by a trusted mechanic.