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

A clicking noise when driving can indicate problems with your car’s oil, battery, CV joints, or brake pads.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Edited by Bellina Gaskey
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
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 out of the ordinary, 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 lead to expensive repairs if problems aren’t caught early. 

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 you can drive smoothly. If that oil gets contaminated or if there’s not enough, the metal parts can tap against each other, making 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 are there along with 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. Vehicles that use conventional oil usually need to have oil changes approximately every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, while vehicles that use synthetic oil can last 7,500 to 10,000 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. 
Keep in mind: 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 a clicking sound when you start your car, there may be an issue with the starter system. This could be a faulty battery, alternator, or a malfunction of the starter itself. 

Dead battery or alternator

If your car’s battery is dead, find a friend or neighbor to jumpstart the battery, and you’ll be on your way. 
If the battery dies again shortly after, you’ve got a problem with your alternator, 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 that includes the starter relay and starter motor. If either of those components is damaged, worn out, or dirty, you might hear a single click when you try to start the car. 
If you think you’re having 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. 

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 may have a problem with one of your constant velocity (CV) axles, your power steering fluid, or a damaged steering component.

How to check your CV joints

CV joints transmit power 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 may notice a clicking or popping sound when turning and difficulty steering corners.
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 during either of these tests can show a worn CV joint. 

How to check your power steering fluid

In vehicles with hydraulic power steering systems, the right amount of power steering fluid helps you make smooth turns. But if you’re low on fluid, certain parts may become under-lubricated, which can cause clicking noises while you turn your steering wheel.
Some cars’ power steering systems are easier to access than others. 
In some cases, you may need a mechanic’s help to check your power steering fluid. In others, you can locate the power steering fluid reservoir, check the level with its dipstick, and change out or add more power steering fluid.
If your vehicle has an electric power steering system rather than a hydraulic one, you won’t have any power steering fluid to worry about. If you’re not sure what kind of system your vehicle uses, check your owner’s manual.

How to check your steering components

Damaged tie rods and other steering components can cause clanking or clicking noises and excessive vibrating when they aren’t working.
Sometimes a visual inspection will help you identify damaged steering components, but not all problems are noticeable to an untrained eye.
If you notice your steering wheel feels looser or less responsive, you may want to have a mechanic inspect your steering system to make sure all components are working properly.
Key Takeaway: A clicking sound when turning typically signals a problem with your car’s CV joint assembly. Low power steering fluid or other damaged parts could also be culprits.

If your car makes a clicking noise while braking

If your clicking noise only happens when you hit the brakes or when you’re driving at slow speeds, 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 considerably worn, it’s best to make an appointment with a mechanic to get it replaced. 
MORE: How to tell if your brake pads and shoes are worn out 
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