6 of the best sounds to hear in the garage

Kyle Smith

Working on our vintage cars is all but required in order to enjoy them safely. Even if you aren’t taking on big DIY jobs, there is always something that needs a little attention or a double check for safety. And in that process of keeping our cars on the road, there are a few aural indicators that, when our ears are tuned in just right, make the experience that much more pleasurable. Here are six examples.

The crack of a bolt breaking free

Motorcycle Cannonball parking lot work
Kyle Smith

After visually inspecting the problem and grabbing a few tools, it’s time to actually get started. Put the wrench on that first bolt, give it some tension, and enjoy that wonderful feeling of cracking loose. Not breaking loose, as that opens a whole different can of emotions, but the crisp release of the clamping force the threads were providing. The following intermittent soft clicking of a ratchet as the handle swings back and forth, bringing that piece of hardware closer and closer to freedom, can be as comforting to the right mind as a gentle rain.

The click of a torque wrench

torque flywheel Austin Healey
Kyle Smith

On the other end of things is reassembly, and the defined snap of a click-type torque wrench might as well be applause to a mechanic’s ears. The reward for doing a good and correct job. If you are more of a beam-type or electronic torque wrench kind of person, I guess it might be the slight click of your elbow or wrist as the at final tension is reached. Sadly, mechanic’s elbow is much more difficult to calibrate and varies wildly based on age and, uh, chassis condition.

The squeal of the floor jack lowering

hydraulic floor jack under Corvair
Kyle Smith

A lever long enough would move mountains. But two pistons connected by a contained fluid will just as easily move the heavy cars in our garage. There’s just something to be said for picking up your project for the last time and sliding out the jack stands with that horrible clatter, before the soft wheeze of the hydraulic fluid passes through the small relief valve opened by twisting the long metal handle. It’s a whizz that fades in pitch like a sigh until the car is back on the ground, as if the jack is happy to do the lifting but the lowering is somehow beneath its pay grade. Regardless of how that inanimate object feels, the noise signals good news to our ears.

The first start-up

Corvair key in ignition
Kyle Smith

This one is really a flurry of sounds that all happen at once to create an automotive orchestra written in 12 volts and and conducted at roughly 700 rpm. As maestro of our cars, we click the key over to the start contacts, which is met with a flourish of clunks, rotational grinds, and, eventually, the steady thrum of a drum line comprised of pistons that holds tempo while the fan and valvetrain fill in under-noise. It all adds up to a concert everyone came to hear.

The soft clunk that comes with shifting into gear

corvair shifter three-speed
Kyle Smith

We might all agree that gated shifters sound great, but I have gated shifter dreams on a Saginaw four-speed budget. Therefore, that soft tinktink of a gated shifter is left for YouTube videos and those rare occasions in the passenger seat of a car that is very much not mine. But even a Corvair has a distinct shifter sound, despite or because of the six-foot-long rod that connects the shifter to the transmission. It’s the light clunk that comes right before going somewhere. The car’s way of saying “alright, let’s get rolling and go have some fun.”

Even drivers of the two-pedal persuasion get a noise to pair with the gentle rock that comes from sliding an automatic transmission into gear. The hit of the hydraulic pressure connecting input and output via the first-gear clutch pack is unique to each and every car out there, and more than likely we could all pick out our car in a blind test.

The soft plink of a car cooling off after a drive

Corvair engine compartment
Kyle Smith

The reward for a job well done is shutting off the ignition, letting the engine wind to a stop, and then reveling in the mild plinks and pings that come from the shrinking and expanding of different hot metals under the hood. The subtle noises are the reminder that your car is both a machine and a living thing, and it communicates with us audibly if only we take the time to listen to its delightful sounds.




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    And then lastly, after everything’s been put to rest — the sharp click and soft “whoosh” of that aluminum pull-tab…

    I like all of Kyle’s examples as well as those of audiobycarmine and TG. As I read each one, I could hear them distinctly and realistically in my head, even though I’m in my easy chair and far from the garage. I admit I hadn’t ever given all of the satisfying sounds of my garage much thought, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll get a little smile the next time I’m out there and start listening more closely. 👍

    👍 – not sure if “nothing beats it”, but it is a great sound and takes me back to the good old days when a Service Station was, well, a Service Station.

    And the Sound of the old Gas Station Air Hose Signal Bell when pulling in for a fill-up or repair.
    Still have a few around up in Canada. Kids on a road trip never saw them before and we had to stop ’em from stomping on them and aggravating the attendant…

    Yep, my old boss Mac, said at the sound of the bell, I had the count of 5 to get to the island! No matter what I was doing and I might add, besides pumping fuel, clean front and back glass, check the oil, check the tire pressure and offer to vacuum the interior…….the good ole days

    Yup, those were the days when we had real “service stations” with a lube room–I did all that plus check battery water regardless of fill-up or not. Now we have gas-and-go and snack cakes. What is this world coming to?

    Well, I can remember being in a hurry to get my gas tank filled and cars are lined up while one poor guy is the only guy working in the station! I remember saying to myself back them, “I wish they would let us fill our own tank and let me get out of here!”:
    Also, I hate when they messed up my clean winshield wiping it off! Had a guy scatch the rear windon of my removerable hardtop back window on my ’60 Corvette wiping it for no reason with a dry cloth. The window was plastic.

    I worked in service stations for pocket money in college. Never made a slushy or sold a cup of coffee. Just pumped gas, checked oil and flirted with the pretty women drivers.

    Never have found the 15mmm socket that dropped in the engine bay of my 87′ Turbo coupe. But, it was a good sound of the sliding tool box drawer opening to find another one.

    Unless you are working on your 12-cylinder XKS Jaguar and that satisfying clunk on the pavement NEVER happens! Occasionally, you may hear two or three different sounds as the socket disappears somewhere in that labyrinth of hoses, wires and whatchamacallits under the hood.

    Been there done that. After I lost the first socket, I’ve always been careful to not drop anything in there, because it will be lost forever. But the sound of that same V12 starting up is like no other car.

    I lost a 7/16 – 1/4” drive socket while working on my on-again, off-again Jaguar XK120 restoration. Looked high and low. It had disappeared into the ether. Eventually had to admit defeat and buy a replacement. Several years later, when I’d finally got the body off the frame and onto a rotisserie and had tilted the body onto its side for the first time, I heard a rattle coming from inside the sill … now have two 7/16 – 1/4” drive sockets.

    I was hoping for some audio of those sounds in the article. And yes, I know what they sound like. All great sounds of success and accomplishment.

    How about the sound when your spouse opens the door into the garage and asks “do you know what time it is?” In that special tone of voice.

    I remember doing the disc brakes on my 92 GMC Jimmy, and my wife saying “Done already?”

    It wasn’t my first shot at them, so I had a pretty good idea of how long it would take.

    HA HA HA! I had to go back and look at the picture again to see what you were talking about. The engine is 5 times bigger than the stool, and he’s using a long torque wrench tugging on it. I wonder how it ended?

    On a positive note, at least he is trying to hold it from turning (with the prybar).
    However, I don’t know if using the pressure plate to pry on is good.
    I have a tool to hold the teeth of the flywheel. I can also use it to turn a flex plate on an automatic transmission when tightening the bolts for the torque converter.

    That was the first thing I noticed. I was thinking of the different sounds you would hear of the engine falling off the stool, either on the floor or on the guy using the torque wrench! Sheesh!!!

    I recall torqueing my 427 Ford head bolts sitting on the floor with my feet braced against the block–then “Snap”. That sound fortunately was the socket spitting in half. So much for buying used tools.

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