Don't be spooked by creepy car noises

(October 29, 2011) DETROIT — While wary ears may be scanning for the spooky sounds of Halloween this time of year, the sounds coming from beneath your hood should be taken just as seriously. Editors at recommend a semiannual checkup to keep a truly terrifying maintenance bill out of your future. 

"If the problem is caught and solved early on, it usually costs far less than waiting until the noise gets very loud," said Dave Kusa, owner of Autotrend Diagnostics in Campbell, Calif.

Associate editor Angie Fisher found some common explanations for sounds that drivers should be aware of at this time of year, or any other:

Squeaks: Bill Moss, owner of Ferris EuroService Automotive in Warrenton, Va., said windows that squeak when you open and/or close them should be looked at before they stop working completely. Squeaks under the hood are usually drive-belt related and in many cases are caused by a weak automatic belt-tensioning device. Squeaks in the suspension, heard when going over bumps or turning, can be difficult to isolate but often are commonly caused by rubber/metal interference and are fairly inexpensive to resolve, Moss said.

Grinding: "These noises almost always sound expensive, because it usually sounds exactly like what it is: two pieces of metal that are not designed to be in contact are now rubbing against each other," Moss said. Those metal pieces can consist of worn-out brakes, wheel bearings or broken suspension components.

Whirring that sounds like an old airplane propeller spinning: If it changes with vehicle speed, it is usually a bearing of some sort. Pete Rudloff, owner of Pete's Garage in Newark, Del., warns that it could be a wheel bearing, and that it needs to be inspected immediately. "Catastrophic wheel-bearing failure could result in the tire/wheel assembly falling off and losing control of the vehicle," Rudloff explained.

Screeching, flapping: If the sound comes from under the hood with the engine running, it could be a fraying belt or possibly a bad idler pulley or a pending water-pump failure, Rudloff said. If one of those items fails completely, you might lose power steering and brake boosting, which could make the vehicle hard to steer and stop, or the charging system might no longer charge and the water pump may not pump. You could be stranded, or engine damage could result from overheating.