When you purchase a vehicle, the last thing in the world you want to hear is a weird sound coming from one of the car’s key components. In some cases, it’s possible that a particular sound can equate to a lemon. In order to qualify as a lemon, the vehicle must have a defect that impairs its use, value, or safety. In other words, if your car has a defect or defects that impairs your use, value, or safety. If the auto manufacturer or dealership is unable to remedy this issue(s) within a reasonable number of repair attempts, you may be entitled to benefits under California Lemon Law.

Keep in mind, if this defect, or sound, occurs within a within 18 months of the purchase date, or before 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer, whichever comes first, your lemon law case may be significantly stronger, even presumed a “lemon” under the California law.

While there are all kinds of weird sounds a vehicle can make, some are more serious than others and require immediate attention. Let’s talk about five problematic sounds that could very well indicate that your vehicle is a lemon.

1. Pinging or Knocking (Engine)
When it comes to a car making noise when driving, sounds coming from the engine need to be approached with the upmost seriousness. If you hear pinging or knocking sounds, it’s typically a sign there is something wrong with the engine. The spark plugs ignite the blend of fuel and air in the cylinder, and when there is more fuel that enters the vicinity of combustion, there may be a “detonation” or “pre-ignition” that causes a knocking or pinging sound.

The source of this problem can be:

  • Incorrect ignition timing
  • Faulty spark plugs
  • Defective fuel injector
  • Ineffective ignition coils

If you notice the car making noise when starting or driving, pinging and knocking coming from the engine is a VERY serious issue. Whether you are a seasoned mechanic with good experience working with engines or not, you need to report this issue to the manufacturer/dealership and get it in for repairs immediately.

2. Rod Knocks (Engine)
Rod knocking is one of the most distinct faulty engine sounds you can come across. It commonly sounds like someone is hitting your oil pan with a hammer. The pitch and frequency of the sound can change based on your acceleration.

Now, this sound can be a result of a wide range of issues – some more serious than others. In some cases, it can be a low oil level. However, in a brand new car (that should ideally have full oil levels), it might be a result of a substantial leak or defective pump. An engine needs oil to keep the moving parts lubricated and cooled as the vehicle operates. Not having sufficient oil can result in quick, excessive wear and tear – which diminishes the value.

Other factors that contribute to rod knock are:

  • Low oil pressure
  • Minimal oil flow at the bearing surface
  • Excess oil temperature
  • High combustion pressure
  • High piston inertial forces

Rod knocking can potentially cause damage to the rods, crankshaft, and pistons; all of which are VERY expensive to fix. If you hear any signs of rod knocking, tend to it immediately!

3. Whining (Transmission)
Whining from the transmission is one of the most unwelcoming sounds you can hear when operating a vehicle. The worst part is that it is VERY difficult to pinpoint the issue, as transmission whining can mean a number of different things.

The good news is there are a few things you can do to decipher the problem on the surface level – even without a knowledge of auto mechanics. For starters, if you hear a pronounced whining car noise when accelerating or when the vehicle is in gear, the problem might lie in the torque converter.

Second, put the car in reverse. If the whining gets louder or more intense, this is a sign that the transmission fluid line may be clogged. When this is the case, it is typically a symptom that the issue with the transmission is very severe and needs immediate attention. Regardless, both situations require professional help and could potentially signify a lemon.

4. Squeaking or Grinding (Brakes)
Squeaking brakes is a sound you both hear and feel. In a car that you have had for a while, this will normally be a sign that you need to buy new brake pads or add brake oil, which is common auto maintenance. However, if you hear squeaking or grinding in a new car, it can signal a big problem.

Squeaking brakes can occur for a number of reasons. On the more trivial side with a new car, it can simply mean that the metal fibers in the brake pad are too close together. Once the pads wear down a little bit, this sound should subside.

In a slightly more severe case, squeaking or grinding could mean there are faulty caliper pins in the vehicle’s braking system that are stuck in the “on” position. If this is the case, it means the brake is stuck against the rotor – causing the squeaking sound. To remedy this issue, the calipers might need to be replaced. Or, you might need new brake pads and rotors.

A faulty braking system can be VERY dangerous to you and other drivers. If you recently bought a vehicle and are experiencing brake issues, they need to be addressed right away.

5. Whining (Steering)
When the status quo is normal, there should not be any sort of sound when you turn the steering wheel. If you are hearing any sort of awkward whining or creaking, it’s possible that there is a serious problem. When you turn the steering wheel, the physical stress impacts several different parts of the vehicle.

There are many potential causes for weird sounds coming from the steering column. Some of the common issues are:

  • Bad struts/shocks
  • Defective jounce bushings
  • Faulty suspension bushings
  • Damaged ball joints
  • Bad power steering pump/belt/rack.

If you bought a new or used vehicle that is giving off a whining sound when you turn the wheel, you need to get it into the shop immediately, as the depth of the problem can go very deep.

Wrapping Up
Many of these sounds are common in vehicles that have been on the road for a while. Some are simply a sign that it’s time for a scheduled tune up or periodic maintenance. However, if any of these sounds are present in a new vehicle, it’s very possible that you are the victim of manufacture or dealership negligence.
As a lemon law attorney in San Diego (a city with a great deal of traffic congestion), we cannot emphasize enough that you address any weird sounds coming from your vehicle right away. If you wait too long, you could miss the window of opportunity to file a lemon claim.

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