The Sounds of Science

14 Oct

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When you spend your days surrounded by car enthusiasts, it’s easy to get used to car jargon and technical terms.

But while our technicians can diagnose some issues just by hearing them, most people experiencing car trouble describe their experience with the kind of language we would use to describe any other appliance malfunctioning: bangs, thumps, squeaks, and rattles.

Even now, when a wide range of malfunctions and issues can be determined using a computer, the ability to translate a customer’s sound effects into an actionable plan for repair or maintenance is an essential tool in a technician’s belt.

“Noises are the worst,” says Oscar, our Master Acura Technician. “Some are relatively easy to diagnose – if you hear a weird ‘thump’ when you go over big bumps, I’ll check out the suspension – but generally speaking, a noise could be anything, and could only crop up on certain roads, in certain situations, in certain seasons. That’s a hard thing to diagnose when you’re trying to get a vehicle fully repaired and back on the road as soon as you can.”

A noise that only occurs in certain situations are the textbook definition of what are known as intermittent issues – problems that can present themselves immediately, or wait for months before rearing up again. Intermittent issues are especially difficult to deal with because they are typically problems that have been vexing customers for some time, but aren’t even possible to reproduce in the shop.

But translating customer concerns into calculated repairs is our specialty, and even the strangest issues can be solved with time and consideration.

“The greatest moment with intermittent issues, and especially sound-related issues,” Oscar says, “is when you’re driving the customer’s car around and suddenly go, ‘Oh hey, there it is!’ We all describe the things we hear a little differently, so when someone comes in and says their car sometimes makes a noise like a pig squealing, it’s really satisfying to actually hear it and put that sound in perspective so you can take care of it.”

While strange noises from your car can signify real issues, several of our technicians pointed out that many of the noises people bring in to get looked at are perfectly normal. While cabin noise seems to improve with every model year, cars aren’t quiet machines.

So what did we learn from talking with our techs about intermittent noises? If it sounds like a barnyard animal, consider getting it looked at, but the only completely quiet vehicle is one that isn’t running.