Step by step instructions on how to troubleshoot automotive clicking sounds. This article pertains to all non-electric vehicles.

Difficulty Scale: 4 of 10

Tools and Supplies Needed

  • Flashlight
  • Socket set
  • Wrench set
  • Screw driver set
  • Protective eye wear and gloves

Begin with the car on level ground, engine "OFF" in park with emergency brake "ON".

Step 1
- With ignition key "OFF" spin the radiator fan blade by hand, it should freewheel or have little resistance. Next, make sure the fan blade is not contacting the fan shroud, if so re-position the fan motor to allow more clearance and recheck operation.

Step 2
- Lug nuts are used to fasten the tire to the axle. If these lug nuts become loose they can make a clicking noise while the car is being driven. To check for this condition use a lug wrench equipped with the correct size and re-tighten as needed. (Note: If lug nuts have been loose for an extended amount of time, damage to the rim or wheel stud can occur. Its recommended that the lug nuts are tightened to a specific manufacturer torque specification.

Step 3 - An engine depends on clean engine oil to lubricate the internal moving parts, if the engine oil level is low or the oil is dirty it can cause internal engine parts to malfunction. Visit - Abnormal engine noises.

Step 4
- The brake caliper holds brake pads that are applied to the brake rotor. If the caliper becomes loose or if the brake pads are not fitted properly they will make a clicking noise. To check for this condition inspect the brake caliper mounting bolts and brake pad mounting. The brake pads should not move vertically. If so the brake pad shims could have fallen out or the wrong brake pads are installed. Visit - Brake pad replacement

Step 5 - The heater and air conditioning system use a electronic control motor that moves air blend doors inside the heater plenum. These doors are used to control the airflow to various positions such as defrost, mid-level and floor positions. Blend doors also control the air temperature as it changes from heater to air conditioner mode. When blend door actuators fail they will make a clicking noise that is like a small machine gun. Depending on the condition of the malfunction the actuator can produce clicking noise for the duration that the ignition key is in the "ON" position, while other malfunctions will be produced for a short duration.

Step 6
- The vehicles air conditioner can make clicking or ticking noise if the refrigerant is low. This is because the pressure switch that controls the compressor keeps the compressor cycling. Visit - Air conditioner recharge

Step 7 - A vehicle sway bar is designed to stop the car from rolling (leaning) when driven into a corner. This bar is attached to the frame on each side and connected to each suspension control arm using links. To inspect sway bar bushings for wear, check the "play" in the link insulators.

Step 8 - Struts are designed with hydraulic dampening valves that can fail causing a clicking noise. If strut oil is leaking the shaft seal has failed and will cause a rattle or clicking noise. To test for this condition disassemble strut assembly and check for excessive strut movement, if strut is easily moved (low resistance) replacement is needed. Visit - Strut and shock inspection.

Step 9 - When CV axles wear they can bind up on acceleration and when turning tightly. This causes a vibration in the front suspension that transfers to the vehicle. Visit - CV axle replacement

Step 10 - On rear wheel drive vehicles a driveshaft U joint is designed to act as a rotating junction that can be flexible while still transferring energy from the engine to the rear differential. If a universal joint fails it can make a clicking noise that contours the motion of the car. Visit - Universal joint repalcement

Step 11 - If the belt is loose it can cause the belt to produce a clicking noise due to the lack of pressure needed for the belt to operate properly. Replacing your car's serpentine belt or belt tensioner is relatively simple repair that can be done in a few minutes with minor tools in most cases. Visit - Serpentine belt tensioner replacement.

Step 12 - An axle bearing is designed to support the weight of the vehicle by allowing the wheels to rotate. When an axle bearing fails it allows metal to contact metal under pressure producing a clicking noise.

Step 13 - The transmission clutch assembly is used to disengage the engine from the drivetrain. When this unit fails it can cause a clicking noise when the clutch pedal is depressed or when the clutch is not in use. Visit - Clutch replacement.

Step 14 - The exhaust system in your car is designed to move exhaust gases the engine creates to the rear of the car. If this system has small leaks it can cause to clicking noise, especially if the leaks are near the front of the engine at the exhaust manifold. Inspect the exhaust system for leak be looking for any flat black soot, this is a sign the system is leaking.

Exhaust Manifold
Exhaust Manifold

Step 15 - A common problem with a car battery is low voltage. As a battery ages it loses the ability to store electricity resulting in an insufficient flow of electrical energy to the starter. The starter is designed to operate on a high amperage 12 volt system. When a starter is subjected to low voltage or amperage (flow) it will cause the starter to engage and disengage rapidly producing the machine gun like sound. Visit - Rapid ticking noise when engine is cranked Visit - Battery testing

Step 16 - The ignition system ignites the fuel inside the engine's combustion chamber at the optimal time in the piston stroke to produce the most power. If the ignition system is failing it can cause an electrical charge to jump from the system to ground producing a clicking noise. Also a loose spark plug can cause a click noise while the engine is running. Locate the spark plug in question and tighten as needed. Visit - Ignition system testing

Helpful Information

When a clicking noise is detected first locate the area of the car it is being generated from. If the noise is being generated while driving have a helper ride along in the rear seat to give a new perspective on the origin of the noise. A clicking noise can be generated by many things, from low engine oil to loose lug nuts. Once a clicking sound has been detected action must be prompt to avoid further damage. There are some systems that make a clicking noise that is natural, for example: fuel injectors, relays, emergency flashers, turn signals and the air conditioner when first turned it on.


Article first published