Do You Listen To Your Car?

Screw on tire2

(The thing that you do not want to see sticking out from your tires)

Before I start, I was not meaning “listen” in this sense

Couple weeks ago, we suppose to make a trip to Kuantan to visit an elderly aunty who was not feeling well. And to ensure we don’t inconvenient the relatives (who I know don’t have much space in their house), I even booked hotel rooms for the family. It was long holidays too, so I decided to set the time to depart from the house during the non-peak hours so that we will reach Kuantan without getting caught in the massive traffic that was expected. But at the last minute, I could not go due to an “emergency” at work place and we had to get a replacement for me (since I was the designated driver for the trip). We looked around but everyone already had plans for the long holidays.

In the end, my sister volunteered (or rather was strongly persuaded to take over). At first she said wanted to use her car instead of mine for the journey which made sense but after a second thought, she decided to use my car instead. After all it was more spacious and more comfortable for that long journey to Kuantan. The main reason why she decided to use my car was because she said she had to pump air into her back right tire on weekly basis and she suspected something not right with the tire. But she has yet to bring the car to the mechanic for a proper check-up. So, not wanting to take any risk of the whole family stranded by the road side on their way to Kuantan or worse, losing control of the car near Genting, it was better to take my car instead – after all, it had 4 brand new tires and the car just completed its periodic service and I had high confidence on the reliability of the car.

With my car not available, I decided to use my sister’s car for work instead and almost immediately I noticed a loud sound from the back tires. I had to pull over and check. And when I pump air into the tires, the right back tire was indeed had much less air than the rest of the tires (for normal wear and tear, the air should be reducing almost the same pace on all tires. If one reduces more than the rest, it’s time to bring the tire for check-up). I know there was a leak somewhere but I could not pin point the source. Much later, when my sister took the car for service, there was indeed a leak from an old puncture. Good thing we made the correct decision by not using her car for the long trip.

Then last night as I was driving past the toll booth, there was a faint “thud, thud, thud” sound. I rolled down the window and as I drive past the road barriers (where the sound would bounce back and it will clearer to hear), there was no mistake of the “thud, thud, thud” sound. The last time I heard that sound was when there a screw firmly lodged on the tire.

Now I am hearing the same sound again. I just shook my head in despair and slowly moved to the left lane. No point being a “hero” on the highway with one flat tire. I kept driving slower until I cleared the highway and entered a commercial area. I parked my car and took a quick look at the tires. I did not notice any screws or nails but then again, checking by the road side with poor light conditions did not help either. The sound was still there. So to minimize the option of having a flat tire before I reach home (where I can jack up the car and have a better look), I drove to the nearest petrol station and pumped air on all tires. One thing I noticed was that there was no drastic reduction of air. That was strange because if there was a screw or nail, there would have a considerable lost of air to one of the tires compared to the other tires. Something was not right. In fact the tire that I thought had a puncture had almost nil lost of air.

Not taking any chances, I continued driving slow, taking the back lanes where there was a less traffic and where it is easier to stop by the road side. It took longer time than usual but I somehow made it home in one piece. First thing to do after I had parked the car in the porch was to take the torchlight and make a more thorough inspection of the tires. Then I found the culprit – a small stone wedged in the middle of the tire and that made sense. I had the same problem when I changed the tires to Michelin couple years ago as well. It has a wider grooves than other make – it makes an excellent tires on wet roads but it easily picks up small stones. Some how I don’t have the same problem with Continental or Goodyear tires. This is the last time I am going to use the Michelin tires. And to be sure, I drove around the residential area after removing the stone and there was no longer the “thud, thud, thud” sound.

And over the years, there have been many types of sounds emitting from the car and I have made mental note of what sound means what problem.

Once there was an intermittent sound of something knocking against the interior of the car. I stopped the car and double checked and noticed that the passenger side seat belt was twisted and the metal part of the belt was hitting against the side of the car whenever I am changing lanes. Low tire pressure usually give a growling sound and although it is not a bad thing but it still dangerous to drive around (especially when cornering) and obviously it is fuel inefficient. And there is the usual “trrrrrr” sound which comes from the USB stick – the cover of the USB stick vibrates and makes that “trrrrrr” sound. And in my previous car, there is a sound of plastic being flipped around and that comes from the plastic covering inside the doors and the sound comes from the sound vibration of the speakers. Another is the whining sound when closing the doors – this indicates lack of lubrication on the door. And if one drives the older Proton models, the squeaky noise is part and parcel of driving a national car. The newer models don’t have that problem to some extent – they are well built and the NVH insulation is quite good.

The thing is, I make a point to listen to the car every morning as I am leaving the house and does the same before I leave the office. The sound of the engine, the sound of the tires and any other sound that is out of place. If something sounds out of place, always stop and check. The last thing you want to do is to have trouble when you are flying at 110 km/h. And early morning is the best time to listen to the sounds – it quiet (which makes it easier to listen things) and there are no other cars and if there are any strange sounds, home is just nearby. The sound that I fear the most is of course the “thud, thud, thud” sound. It has caused me more headaches than any “other sounds” over the years.

There are times when the car actually talks to you and if you listen to it closely, you can understand it’s language. And here’s a quick guide for more sounds that could indicate problems to your car (another is here). That takes the surprise element out from the equation and makes driving a bit more safer and economical. Well, do you do the same? Have you listened to your car lately?

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