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Clicking Sound From Car While Driving (Causes & Fixes)

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  • 11 min read

Last Updated on: 7th September 2023, 12:40 am

Ever heard a clicking or popping sound when you drive off from a standstill? Or when you’re turning at full-lock?

There are a few causes of these clicking or popping sounds.

Noises such as popping and clicking may be heard from one or both of the front wheels. This kind of popping will usually cease once you’ve set off. The noise is most likely caused by a damaged constant velocity, or CV, joint in the front axle.

I’ll explain the most likely reasons for these clicking sounds, how to diagnose what the cause is and how to fix it. There are other causes and types of clicking noises that I will also explain.

Clicking Noise When Setting Off & At Slow Speeds

A clicking noise when setting off or driving at slow speeds could be due to two reasons.

  1. Driveshafts & CV joints
  2. Brake pads
what's that clicking sound in my car

1. Driveshafts & CV Joints

The CV driveshaft boot could be ripped, allowing grease to escape.

The components are dry and not lubricated without this grease, resulting in a clicking sound, especially when setting off or changing speeds quickly.

If you discover this issue early enough, a technician may simply fill up the lubricant and replace the shaft boot.

Alternatively, if significant damage has occurred, the whole driveshaft will need to be replaced.

A technician will assess the degree of the damage to your CV axle: you may just need to replace a portion of the component, which will be less costly!

How to Diagnose

Check the left-side and right-side driveshaft CV boots (the rubber cone shaped component) for rips or tears.

You can also check the surrounding area for grease leakage.

Hearing a clicking sound while turning at full-lock, when setting off and when quickly changing speeds can be signs of worn driveshafts and CV joints.

How to Fix

Replacing the CV boots may be the only fix required, if there is damage then you would need to replace the driveshaft.

Cost to Fix

It is usually moderately inexpensive to replace a driveshaft CV boot. To replace the whole driveshaft or multiple boots may become more expensive.

driveshaft CV boot

2. Brake Pads

A clicking sound when driving slowly or setting off may also be a symptom of worn or loose brake pads.

If the brake pad is not correctly attached to the calliper, it may slide about when applied at slower speeds and will produce a clicking sound while braking.

Worn brake pads may also seize to the brake discs if the car is left for an extended period of time, causing a clicking sound when setting off.

How to Diagnose

Take the car into the garage or wheel shop to check the brake pads.

How to Fix

A brake pad change or adjustment is most likely the solution.

Cost to Fix

It is usually inexpensive to adjust and change the brake pads.

brake pad change

Clicking Noise From the Engine Bay

There are many moving parts within the engine bay, the engine itself, the drive components and the accessory components.

The most common reasons for a clicking sound from the engine bay include the following.

  1. Engine knocking
  2. Lack of oil
  3. Contaminated oil

1. Engine Knocking

Engine knocking is known as detonation and pre-ignition, depending on the timing of the knock. Either way, it can sometimes cause a knocking, clicking, popping or other abnormal sound.

Further Reading: Possible causes of knocking sounds

This can be dangerous for the car and cause engine damage if not fixed timely.

Another type of engine knock called rod knock can cause a distinct clicking or tapping sound coming from the engine.

How to Diagnose

Engine knock can cause small, irregular patches on the surface of the piston, as well as engine damage, and lack of power.

Rod knock usually present itself with a constant tapping and clicking sound.

The video below shows an example of rod knock.

YouTube video

How to Fix

Detonation and pre-ignition can be fixed with a good tune and possibly a replacement of the knock sensors, if you’ve used low-octane fuel switching to high-octane fuel will also fix this problem.

Rod knock is fixed by installing new rod bearings.

Cost to Fix

A good tune, knock sensor replacement and using higher octane fuel can become expensive but not as expensive as replacing rod bearings.

2. Lack of Oil

A possible reason for a clicking sound in the engine bay may be caused by a lack of lubrication between the engine components.

This may be due to low engine oil levels, which could also be caused by a leak, worn piston rings or gaskets.

Leaks may have a long-term impact on engine oil levels, making it difficult to maintain proper levels. As a result, you must deal with the leak quickly to avoid additional damage and ongoing engine issues.

Abandoning a leak in any component of your car will just exacerbate the damage and increase the expense of repairs.

How to Diagnose

Check the oil level (see below for instructions). Check the underbody and engine bay for oil leaks and oil marks.

You can also take the car to a garage and get them to check the underbody and engine bay for oil leaks.

How to Check Oil Level

  1. Remove dipstick and clean it off with a cloth.
  2. Insert the dipstick gently back into the tube, pushing it all the way down.
  3. Now take it out and inspect the tip, which should have oil on it.
  4. If the oil level is between the two lines, your car has sufficient oil.
  5. If it’s at or below the low level, it’s time to add a quart.

How to Fix

The fix depends on what has caused the leak. If the oil leak is due to a damaged gasket then you should replace the gasket, the same goes for worn parts.

If there is an oil leak in the oil lines or external parts, a replacement will be in need.

Cost to Fix

Usually gaskets and other internal worn components are more expensive to fix than external leaks such as oil lines.

If it’s not due an oil leak, the clicking noise could be due to contaminated oil instead.

oil level check

3. Contaminated Oil

Keep an eye out for contaminated oil. The oil may not only be poor in quality, but it may also be dirty.

Using the correct oil is critical for optimal automobile operation; if you are uncertain of the recommendations for your vehicle, check the owner’s manual.

How to Diagnose

A hissing noise may occur if the oil is not of the proper quality or is insufficient to run the engine.

Drain the oil, check the oil for pieces of debris and metal and check the engine for damage. Checking the oil filter for debris may be needed.

How to Fix

If no damage is found, replacing the oil and oil filter should be all that’s needed. If there is damage, debris and pieces of metal in the oil, there may be additional fixes needed.

Cost to Fix

Draining, checking the oil and replacing the oil and filter is an inexpensive and quick job. Fixing damage caused by contaminated oil could be expensive, though.

dirty oil

Rapid Clicking Sound When Starting the Car

If you hear a rapid clicking sound coming from your cars engine bay when you try to start the car, it is most likely an issue with the battery or alternator.

A problem with your car’s electrical system may vary from a dead battery to a malfunctioning alternator that is not charging the battery properly.

How to Diagnose

When starting you car do you hear a rapid clicking sound while not starting or struggling to start? If so, it could be a faulty alternator or battery.

How to Fix

You should take your car to the garage to have the issue diagnosed and repaired.

Alternatively, you may attempt jump-starting the vehicle first, if jump-starting your car fails, a battery or alternator replacement may be required.

Cost to Fix

Battery replacement is usually inexpensive, but an altnertor replacement is usually more expensive.

car battery replacement

A Single Clicking Noise When Starting

A single clicking sound when starting the car is most likely the result of a defective starter.

The starter is a tiny motor that is powered by the battery in your vehicle which is in charge of getting the car’s engine started.

However, starter motors may last anything from 30,000 to 200,000 miles, depending on the car. When you hear a single click, the worst-case scenario is that your engine has locked up or frozen.

How to Diagnose

A sluggish starting engine, smoke emanating from the vehicle, and a clicking sound are signs of a faulty starter.

How to Fix

If the clicking was clearly caused by the defective starter, a replacement would be required.

Cost to Fix

A starter replacement may be costly, depending on your car.

car starter

Other Causes of Clicking & Popping Sounds

There are some other possible causes of clicking and popping sounds, such as the following.

  • Loose wheel hubcaps
  • Loose or worn suspension components
  • Loose drive belt or tensioner
  • Worn, irregular or wrongly inflated tyres

Loose wheel hubcaps

The hubcaps on some cars wheels are decorative, usually plastic covers.

If the nuts holding your hubcaps on become loose, the hubcaps have space to move and shake when driving at fast speeds or cornering.

This shaking produces a rattling, clicking or tapping noise, which you will typically hear from within your vehicle’s cabin.

Loose or worn suspension components

Your suspension is a complex but essential system for your car, things can become worn and damaged.

Struts are shock absorbers with spring coils that assist the suspension in absorbing road impact.

A strut is supported by a cylinder filled with liquid or gas and a piston, the liquid or gas provides resistance to the piston, which absorbs a significant portion of road stress.

A spring coil adds to the shock absorption, and when the struts are broken or get jammed, the suspension is unable to absorb the majority of the impact from the road.

This is bad for your vehicle, it typically results in a weird noise emanating from the wheels. Sometimes, this may sound like a tapping or clicking noise.

Another suspension component called sway bars can fail. If the sway bar and drop link fails, it can hit nearby objects, causing a tapping, knocking and clicking sound.

Further Reading: Should you upgrade your sway bars?

Loose drive belt or tensioner

The drive belt (also known as a serpentine or auxiliary belt) is responsible for connecting your alternator, air conditioning, and power steering to the crankshaft, which is responsible for delivering power to these items.

The drive belt tensioner is responsible for keeping the drive belt tight so that it can perform its function effectively.

It is possible for either of them to become loose or worn, causing a loud noise that seems to be coming from the wheels.

If one of these gets loose, the drive belt will tap against your vehicle and create a loud tapping, clicking or knocking noise that appears to be coming from the wheels.

Worn, irregular or wrongly inflated tyres

If the size, shape, and inflation pressures of your four tyres are not correct, your wheels may produce strange sounds while you are driving.

These noises could sound like a tapping, popping, or other abnormal noise.

Check your tyres regularly to ensure that they are always in proper working order and at the proper pressure.

In addition, if your tyres show signs of abnormal wear and tear, such as bulges, you should replace them immediately.

  • Andy Lewin

    Andy Lewin is a senior mechanic, ASE qualified master technician, and an experienced automotive engineer.He's passionate about serving the automotive community with the highest-quality and trustworthy information on all things automotive. He loves to write about car repairs, maintenance, car modifications and tuning, faults, and much more.

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