What It Means If Your Car Makes a Clicking Noise When Driving

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If you notice a clicking noise while driving, check your engine oil. If your oil is not low or dirty, you may be dealing with a problem with the car’s battery, starter, axles, or brakes. Check each component carefully to diagnose the issue, or take it to a trusted mechanic
Cars are noisy by nature—but if you notice a new sound that’s not part of your vehicle’s usual symphony, it could signal a serious problem. A clicking noise when driving can indicate a host of issues, from low engine oil to loose brake pads, that can endanger your vehicle and create a major expense if you don’t catch the problem early. 
To help you diagnose the source of a clicking noise when driving, car insurance and super app Jerry has compiled a guide to the possible causes of unexpected clicking. 
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If your car makes a clicking noise when driving

If you hear a clicking noise from your car’s engine while you’re driving, low or dirty engine oil is the most likely culprit. Motor oil lubricates all the components of your car’s engine so that you can drive smoothly. If that oil gets contaminated, or if there’s not enough, the metal parts can tap against each other during operation, generating a clicking sound. 
Look out for other signs of low or dirty engine oil, such as a burning oil smell inside the car and overall decreased performance. If these accompany a clicking or knocking sound from the engine, it might be time for an oil change. 

Tips for maintaining engine oil 

Regular oil changes are an essential part of car maintenance. Traditional wisdom says that you should change your oil every 3,000 miles, but this advice mainly applies to older cars. If your car uses synthetic oil, you may be able to change it every 7,500 miles. Check your car’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended schedule, and stick to it. 
You should also: 
  • Check your oil every other time you fill the gas tank. 
  • Change the oil filter at every other oil change. 
Key Takeaway: Failing to change your oil frequently enough could cause your car to make a clicking noise when driving. 

If your car makes a clicking noise when starting

If you’re only hearing the clicking sound when you start the car, there’s probably an issue with the starter system. This could be a faulty battery or alternator, or a malfunction of the starter itself. 

Dead battery or alternator

If your car’s battery is dead, fixing the problem is a simple matter: find a friend or neighbor to jumpstart the battery, and you’ll be on your way. 
If the battery dies again shortly afterwards, though, you’ve got a problem with your alternator, i.e., the electrical generator that charges the battery and powers your car. You might also notice the battery warning light on your dash. In general, a car’s alternator can last for about 7 to 10 years, so be prepared to replace it if you’ve hit that mark. 

Starter malfunction

Your car’s starter is essentially a big switch, consisting of the starter relay and starter motor, that turns your engine on. If either of those components are damaged, worn out, or dirty, you might hear a single click when you try to start the car. 
If you suspect you’re dealing with starter issues, pop the hood and locate the starter—it’s a large cylinder with a smaller cylinder attached, usually right next to the exhaust manifold. Give the starter a couple of light taps or smacks, and see if the problem resolves. This is only a temporary fix, but it often does the trick, just like giving your old computer a good whack to get it working again. Science really is magical! 

If your car makes a clicking noise when turning

Sometimes a clicking sound only starts when you’re turning or switching lanes. If this happens, you’re probably dealing with a problem with one of your constant velocity (CV) axles
CV joints transmit power smoothly from your car’s transmission to the wheels, and they’re typically protected by a rubber cover, or boot. If that boot cracks or wears out, you’ll likely notice a clicking or popping sound when turning, along with difficulty steering around corners

How to check your CV joints

Put your car on jack stands to inspect the CV joints. You’ll find the rubber boots right next to the wheel on the axle shaft. If they’re visibly cracked or leaking grease, they need to be replaced. 
Another way to test CV joints is by conducting a test drive: 
  • To check the inner CV joints, try alternating quickly (but smoothly) between accelerating and decelerating in reverse. 
  • To check the outer CV joints, turn your steering wheel all the way in one direction and drive backwards in a circle. 
A clicking noise accompanying either of these tests indicates a worn CV joint. 
Key Takeaway: A clicking sound when turning typically signals a problem with your car’s CV joint assembly. 

If your car makes a clicking noise while braking

What if the clicking only happens when you hit the brakes, or when you’re driving at slow speeds? If that’s the case, you may have a loose brake pad. A worn brake pad typically makes a grinding or squealing noise as it grinds into the rotor—but if it’s loose, the pad might simply wobble and click against the disc. 

How to check brake pads

You can check your brake pads simply by removing the wheel. Here’s how: 
  • Identify the wheel the clicking sound comes from, if possible. 
  • Raise the car about 6” off the ground. 
  • Unscrew the lug nuts and remove the wheel. 
  • Examine the brake pad to see if it’s loose. 
If the pad is loose, or if you discover that it’s considerably worn, it’s best to make an appointment with a mechanic to get it replaced. 

How to find affordable car insurance 

A clicking sound when driving that you can’t explain can make driving stressful. One part of car ownership that should never be stressful is shopping for insurance—and with the Jerry app, it never is! 
Jerry is a licensed insurance broker and a comparison shopping genius. Once you download the app and enter your information (which takes under a minute), Jerry will search for, analyze, and compare quotes from over 50 top insurance companies. In less than two minutes and without making a single phone call, you could be looking at competitive quotes from companies like GEICO, Allstate, and State Farm.
Pick whichever policy and rate work best for you, and Jerry will handle all the necessary paperwork to get you set up with savings. On average, Jerry users save $879 a year on car insurance. That’s $879 that could go towards maintenance costs for whatever is causing your car to make a clicking noise when driving—or for fun vehicle upgrades!  
“I’m in the process of buying my first car, so when I saw the Jerry ad, I clicked it. I’m so happy I did! They took less than 24 hours to find me a reasonable insurance company and price. Thanks so much for saving me time and stress!” —Dani G.
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