Is That Clunking Noise Just Annoying or Dangerous?

Suspension failure, photo by Don Stec

by Don Stec

he caller said. My car makes a clunking noise. Could you tell me what it is and how much it will cost to repair it?

It’s incredible how often we get phone calls from people expecting us to analyze their vehicle problems over the phone. I never want to just blow away the caller with a “you have to bring it in for me to see it,” attitude remark. I realize time may be a problem and people hate to be without their vehicles. Plus no-one enjoys the expense of a repair bill. We do owe vehicle owners a respectful conversation over the phone, even if their questions are often impossible to answer without an inspection of the vehicle.

I ask questions such as “when does the noise occur? The purpose is to find out several conditions that typically cause clunking noises. Not to diagnose the problem, but to alert the driver if the condition is dangerous. In the majority of cases I have to recommend the vehicle be brought in for inspection. Sometimes I have to recommend the vehicle be brought in by a tow truck.

Vehicle owners often want assurance from me that the vehicle is safe to drive for a period of time until they can bring it in for inspection. Unfortunately, without inspecting the vehicle I can never recommend doing so.

I got a call from an old customer that had moved out of the area. The questions she asked were pretty much as described in the above paragraphs. She was just looking for information because the clunk had been there for some time and she wondered if it was something to be concerned about.

It was just a little clunk but it seemed to be getting louder. From the information she gave me, I told her it sounded like a typical clunk sound that occurs from a suspension part that was badly worn or had a loose bolt. I recommended getting the vehicle to a repair shop immediately. I felt...if her description was accurate the vehicle was dangerous to drive.

A few days later; she called regarding a repair estimate from a local shop. Well, she delayed having the vehicle inspected and additional damage had occurred. She explained, she had driven to work several miles away and then driven home. As she made a hard right turn to pull into her driveway the right front suspension came loose from the vehicle frame.

It was fortunate that the speed at the time was probably less than 5 miles per hour and there were no injuries. Imagine what could have happened at highway speeds. It’s terrifying to even think about it. This time it was to ask me if so many parts had to be replaced and if the cost of the repair estimate was fair. I replied, the estimate did look typical for what had occurred.

The delay was just long enough for a bolt to slip out of a suspension part. I suspect there was some lack of urgency with the owner because it was just a little clunk that could only be heard upon starting and stopping.

A squeak or a rattle in the passenger compartment may be an annoyance and something a person can live with, if it is proven not to be a safety issue. A noise that emanates from the underside of a vehicle should not be ignored.

Here are some hints on what to pay attention to If you experience a clunk from the underside of your vehicle. This will be of great value to your mechanic.

Pay attention to when it occurs: Is it upon starting, stopping or both, on a turn or straight ahead, at what speed did it occur? What were the conditions of the road when it occurred? What portion of the vehicle did the clunk come from, did you feel the clunk also, was it in the steering wheel, through the seat or floorboard? The more information you can give, the easier it will be to find the problem and perhaps save some money too.

Coachmaster Collision repair* is a past recipient of the District Attorneys award for honesty and integrity in business.

Don Stec is the founder of Coachmaster, a full service collision repair facility also specializing in the collision repair of RV’s. Now retired, Don is proud to have sold the business to long time manager Allan Gordon. Call Coachmaster at 530-243-1310, or stop by at 6851 Eastside Road. Redding, CA.