Not many people have medical training, but almost everyone can tell when there's something wrong with their body. They visit a doctor, describe the symptoms, and let him diagnose the problem.

Cars should be treated the same way. While they don't have aches and pains, they use noises to let their owners know that something's not right. That's why new sounds or changes in the regular noises should never be ignored. Many aren't serious but some can be a warning of impending doom. If in doubt, when a car or truck starts making a different sound, talk to a technician.

Just like doctors, though, technicians can't perform magic. They need some information to diagnose the problem. Here are four ways to help.

What does it sound like?

Don't feel embarrassed about trying to impersonate your car. If it's making a “tick tick tick” sound, say so. Same goes for a squeak, squeal, rattle, groan, or knock. Each one means something different to our techs and helps to isolate the problem.

Where is it coming from?

This will be the second question. Is it inside the cabin or outside? Front or back? Left or right?

As a general rule, even though squeaks and rattles from inside the cabin can be annoying, they're rarely serious. Often it's just two pieces of trim rubbing together; sometimes it's as trivial as a soda can trapped under a seat. However, if the sounds are coming from the front (engine, wheels, or suspension), it could be more serious.

When does it happen?

All the time? Only when braking? When hitting a pothole or turning left or right or, less obviously, does it change with vehicle or engine speed? If you're not sure, lower the window while stopped at a red light and gently depress the gas pedal. If the problem is engine-related, it may speed up or get louder. Again, the answer completes part of the puzzle for the technician.

Any other symptoms?

Often an owner won't connect an unusual or different feeling to a particular sound, but they can be related. For example, steering problems can manifest as a knocking from the front plus looseness through the steering. The same goes for smells. Another example: a sweet odor along with a hiss from under the hood could mean a leaking radiator.

Early attention means prevention

A technician won't laugh while you try to impersonate the strange sound your car has started making. A good technician (such as those at the Kupper Automotive service department) will take it seriously and ask questions. Some noises are of little consequence, but others indicate it's time for some maintenance work. By responding quickly to a new sound it's often possible to avoid breakdowns and the expensive bills that may go along with it. So don’t hesitate to ask a technician, "What IS that sound?"