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
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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 -
- 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.
- 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 -
- 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
- 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 -
- 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.
Serpentine belt tensioner replacement
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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 -
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 2016-02-03