Cars must be one of the greatest inventions ever – they allow us so much freedom, they make life easier, they transport everything we need to where we need it, they can even take us on vacation, but what happens when they go wrong – they can turn from a modern wonder to a black hole for money, even simple things like a whining noise on acceleration scare us – it could potentially cost thousands of dollars or maybe it’s a simple five minute fix. But how do you know?
A car can make hundreds of different noises, some problematic, some just … odd, but nothing to worry about, understanding why they make strange noises can take years of experience, but a little knowledge can go a long way, so we’re sharing some of our knowledge.
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Why does my car make a noise?
A car typically makes a noise when something is wrong, or about to go wrong, otherwise that noise would be there all the time, but some noises really can be the simplest of problems – for example – a wet drive belt (also know as Serpentine belt) can slip on its tensioner and pulleys, leading to a loud squealing noise, but will be over in seconds and may never happen again.
The trick to any odd noise with a car, is understanding the type of noise, and the potential causes; does it come from under the hood? The drivetrain? The wheels? Is it like a squealing noise? Or a whining noise? Grinding?
Does the car feel any different? Does it make the car act in a strange manner when the noise occurs? Do you feel like you’re losing power? Is it a constant noise? Or only happens under certain conditions?
These are just some of the questions that a shop may ask you if you complain about strange noises from your car.
Diagnosing Whining Noise When Accelerating
The cars age has a significant bearing on what type of noise you may be hearing, not necessarily because it’s older and bits are worn out, but because most newer cars have an automatic belt tensioner fitted to the drive belts under the hood, whereas the older style vehicles were all adjusted manually, and more often than not, the adjustment or belt tension would be the cause of the problem.
If the drive belt was incorrectly adjusted, or loose, it can’t grip the belt pulleys, leading to it slipping which could cause a squealing noise, usually on acceleration. If that’s the case, it’s a five minute fix, requiring nothing more than a couple of wrenches and a little know how.
However, if your car is newer, there is a good chance that it has a serpentine belt fitted with automatic tensioners, so in theory it should never need adjustment, might just be worth checking before anything else though.
The second most common problem that leads to a whining noise on acceleration is a faulty clutch release bearing, but that only applies to stick shift – an auto doesn’t have that problem. If you suspect the release bearing, it’s quite easy to identify – it will happen as you use the clutch and should stop at other times.
We should also consider the gearbox and transmisison, be that manual or auto.
Gearboxes are complicated things, perhaps even more so than an engine, but just like an engine, they require regular oil changes and servicing to keep them at their peak, if the oil hasn’t been changed and has started to breakdown, or if it leaks, then there is a good chance that the gearbox will be noisy, especially under acceleration.
This is usually quite easy to spot – as you load up the driveline by accelerating away from a standstill, the noise will be apparent, but if you take your foot off the gas, and ‘unload’ the driveline, the noise usually goes away – these are classic symptoms of a failing gearbox.
What can you do?
If you’re unsure of why your car is making a whining noise when accelerating, you should take it to a professional and try and describe the exact conditions as to how that noise appears. A good auto technician will have an indication as to what’s going on with the mechanicals, but a short test drive will confirm it.
There is no cheap and easy fix when it comes to the drivetrain – if it’s the transmission, then it will need some serious labor to put it right, and possibly parts, and there’s no equipment like diagnostic machines that can tell you exactly what the problem is – just good old fashioned experience.
As cars get ever more technical and reliable, problems such as whining noises become less frequent, but unfortunately, it also means that when problems do arise, they’re usually more expensive to fix, thanks to needing specialist equipment and knowledge.