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Ask the Mechanic: Why does my car make a clunking sound when I put it in gear?

It's always a little unnerving when your vehicle starts making a noise you've never heard before. It can be especially disturbing when you feel the noise it's making reverberating through the whole car. If this is the case, you should ask a mechanic to take a look. Until you can get it checked over, here are several things that could be causing the problem.

Tie Rod Ends

Just as the name implies, these "rod ends" tie your vehicle's steering rod assembly to the steering arm which, in turn, is attached to the steering wheel. These "ends" are what makes it possible to turn your wheels so you can steer your vehicle.

Depending on the age and type of vehicle that you own, there can be either a rack-and-pinion steering, a re-circulating ball or, in older vehicles, a mechanical steering box. Tie rod ends are very important in keeping your car under control, and any noise that is associated with them should be inspected immediately to avoid a dangerous situation from developing.

CV Joints or U-Joints

CV is short for "constant velocity." These are located on the ends of your drive shaft(s). Front-wheel-drive cars use four CV joints in the two front axles that join the transmission to the wheels. Older style, rear-wheel-drive vehicles commonly have what are called u-joints, which serve the same purpose of linking your transmission and drive shaft to your axle.

On front-wheel-drive vehicles it's common for the outer CV joints to wear out first since they take the most abuse. Often times, the protective boot that covers them will split, causing them to wear out more quickly.

Worn CV or U-joints are not, in themselves, inherently dangerous when they fail. In most instances, their failure can simply leave you stranded in a parking space, or worse, on the side of the road. If you suspect CV or U-joints are the cause of the noises you're hearing, it's best to have them looked at by a professional right away.

Exhaust Hangers

These are devices that hold your exhaust up under your vehicle. Unless they are very worn, you'll often only hear them when you first start your vehicle. The sound usually goes away once the exhaust system warms up. In some cases, they will also rattle as you go over bumps in the road.

If you suspect the exhaust hangers are the cause of the noise, get them checked and tightened as soon as possible. This will help to avoid additional damage and keep your exhaust pipe from coming loose and dragging the ground.

Upper and Lower Ball Joints

The ball joints on your vehicle provide the pivot-point for steering your wheels. Often the only time you will hear them is when turning the steering wheel while you are completely stopped. Ball joints are vitally important to maintaining control of your car. You'll often notice a bit of shaking in the front of your car and, if the problem has persisted for a while, uneven wear on the inside or outside edge of your front tire tread.

A professional mechanic can easily tell if the ball joints are faulty. Worn out ball joints are a real safety issue. If you believe this is the cause of your vehicle's noise, have them checked out and replaced immediately.

Motor Mounts and Transmission Mounts

Motor and transmission mounts provide a cushioned point-of-contact between them and your vehicle's frame. As a vehicle ages, these cushions can shrink, become brittle, split and they may even fall out-of-place. All of these conditions will lead to clunking noises as your vehicle is put into gear.

Additionally, if your motor or transmission mounts are failing, you'll often feel vibration from your drive-train inside the vehicle. If this situation is caught and corrected soon enough, you can mitigate damage to your vehicle and avoid costly repairs.

When you start hearing odd noises coming from your vehicle it is always safer and less costly to get them checked out sooner rather than later. If you have any concerns about any strange noises your car is making, contact us. We'll be glad to answer any questions and address any concerns you may have.

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