Piston Slap: A Civic’s front-wheel-driven pizzicato?

Piston Slap Honda Civic rear three quarter

David writes: 


The car: A 2008 Civic with 143K miles. I’ve put 108K on the car since I bought it in January 2012.

The noise: I hear it whether the engine is on or off, and whether the car is rolling or still.

It sounds like: Imagine a bunch of rubber bands, and the sound they would make when you pluck them if pulled taut. These would be slender rubber bands, like the strings on a string instrument. I don’t hear it under acceleration, only when turning the steering wheel. And the frequency of pluck sounds increases with the speed of the turning of the wheel.

When I turn the wheel, I get maybe 5–6 plucking sounds per quarter turn. This symptom has probably been going on for 3–4 years. A year ago, I barely heard them if I was driving (as opposed to turning the wheel with the car stationary). Now I often hear them when I’m driving. They’ve gotten a lot louder in the last year.

I recently had some front “links” replaced. I suspect that if there had been ripped or leaking CV boots my mechanic would have told me, and I think he would have looked for that (but I will ask him). What say you?

Sajeev answers:

Well, that’s a new one for me, as I’ve never heard a front end noise that’s on par with the classical pizzicato! I’d normally think a car produces a clunking or clicking sound when the wheel is turned, which indicates bad CV axles. The rubber band pizzicato sound would likely come from a loading/unloading of a rubber part, and the sound must come from something with a fair bit of resonance when, ahem, plucked.

Ball joints won’t resonate. Neither will CV axles. Maybe the front anti-roll bar (i.e. swaybar) because that is a long hunk of metal. Some of them are also hollow, too. But I recently handled a pair of coil springs, summarily dropping them in a pile of metal scrap. Let me tell you, that sound was quite resonant.

The tone sustained for at least a couple of seconds … Could it be coming from the coil spring? If so, you have an issue with the front strut mounts (at the top) or the coil spring isolators (at the bottom). Which one could it be? The answer is wholly irrelevant. 

Everything in one place? KYB

Here’s the thing: Taking apart the front struts to address the “pizzicato generator” is a waste of time. And time is money, if you’re paying someone to do this work. Instead, get a complete strut+spring assembly that bolts in place of the worn out part. A pair of these will set you back under $400 (online), and your local mechanic will thank you for it—nobody wants to compress springs unless they have to.

Plus, these drop-in kits are way better for the driver, as your dampers have deteriorated over the last 15 years and 143,000 miles. (Either you’ve noticed a change, or they’ve done so at a rate so slow that you could never tell.)

So the answer is clear: Get the benefit of new springy bits whilst addressing that errant pizzicato in your Honda’s front end! What say you, Hagerty Community?

Have a question you’d like answered in Piston Slap? Send your queries to pistonslap@hagerty.comgive us as much detail as possible so we can help! Keep in mind this is a weekly column, so if you need an expedited answer, please tell me in your email.




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    This sounds like a failing strut mount bearing. Either the bearing in the strut mount is in the process of seizing or has seized and the sounds are resulting from that. I had this issue in one of my cars where the aftermarket coilovers came with a strut mount bearing which was installed incorrectly. The sound is just as described.

    Exactly this. My ex had the strut top bearings go in her ’07 Accent. I poured a little 15w40 in to each and the noise disappeared for the rest of the time she owned the car. I would have fixed it properly, but this was the “stretch a penny in to copper wire” budget days of my life.

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