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You’ve heard a dragging noise under your car. You’ve checked, and there’s nothing there. You get back in the car, start driving and hear the dragging sound again.  

Here we’ll look at the common causes of thinking something is dragging but isn’t.

Of course, it’s always best to look underneath the car first to see if you can find out what is dragging. We’ll assume that you’ve done that already. 

Before we go into any great detail, a dragging noise is normally associated with the following:

  •  Brakes
  •  Exhaust
  •  Wheel bearings
  •  Heat Shield

Brakes

When your brakes are slightly worn, they often squeal; however, the squealing sounds can quickly turn to a metal on metal sound if you don’t get new brake pads and rotors fitted. If you never had the squealing sound first, your brake pads and rotors are unlikely to cause the dragging noise.

Drum Brakes

In vehicles with drum brakes –  becoming increasingly rare –   a brake spring is used to pull the shoes away from the drum. When this fails, it can leave the shoe in contact with the drum. This noise would be heard at the rear of your vehicle as that’s where drum brakes are fitted. Often described as a squeal but sometimes a dragging noise as it deteriorates.

Stone Lodged

A stone may have lodged itself between the rotor and the pad. You can sometimes see this without removing the pads – depending on the size of the stone.

The stone will eventually grind to nothing, but consider taking the pad off and removing it if the noise is too loud.

Brake Wear Indicator

Most pads have a wear indicator on them. This small piece of metal comes into contact with the rotor when the brake pads get down below a certain limit. This is meant to tell you that it’s time to change your brakes. 

Again, it is usually a squealing noise, but it can sound like something is dragging under your car because it is metal on metal.

Brake Dust Shield

Brakes can get very hot. One purpose of the dust shield is to prevent the heat from traveling away and interacting with suspension and other drive training components. 

The second purpose is to protect the calipers, rotors, and pads from debris getting between these parts. Often a small stone will get lodged here and causes the dragging noise you’re hearing.

Brakes Friction Material

Brake pads have friction material on the side facing the rotor. This is what makes your car slow down when pressed against the rotor. They very rarely come apart in quality pads but can with cheaper replacements. If they do, it’ll result in the metal of your brake pad coming into contact with metal from the rotor and could cause a dragging noise.

Handbrake Sticking

Your handbrake uses a different circuit to your main pedal brakes. If you hear a noise at the rear of your vehicle, your handbrake might be stuck. 

Have you noticed that the lever comes higher when you activate the handbrake? One test for a handbrake is to place your car into first gear with a brake on and accelerate gently. 

You should notice reasonable resistance as a handbrake holds your car in place. Listen out for scrapping noises.

Exhaust

Loose Exhaust

Sometimes it doesn’t take your exhaust to hit the road for you to hear a dragging noise. If your exhaust comes into contact with other moving parts below your vehicle, it will give off the same sound. Look underneath your car and see if it’s coming into contact with the rear axle.

This can happen if you’ve recently had your car lowered or updated suspension parts like struts or shocks.

 A nice simple fix. The most likely cause is that the exhaust has come loose from one of the hangers meant to hold it in place. When the exhaust is cold, you can return it to the hanger—a quick fix.

The rubber hangar can fail.

Baffle Broken

The second potential exhaust cause could be that a baffle inside the exhaust has come loose. As the exhaust gases are racing through the system, this could cause the broken baffle to vibrate and bang against the side of the muffler.

Heat shields 

The heat shield’s job is to keep the heat generated by the exhaust away from the delicate parts of your car. – Think of it as the exhaust brake dust shield. It protects your car’s wiring from overheating and burning and prevents explosions if fuel lines get too hot.

Heat Shields are clipped into place and are renowned for falling and hitting other car parts. If you look above where your exhaust is, you’ll see the heat shield. It’s easy to spot if you see it has come loose; reconnect it.

Wheel Bearing

Wheel bearings are small metal balls that sit within a lubricated casing called a race. Their job is to allow the smooth rotation of the wheel without friction.

Each wheel has wheel bearings. When the lubricant dries out, the bearings can either contact each other or with the inside of the race.

A good indication that a wheel bearing is faulty is if you drive slowly and listen to a scraping noise which should increase and decrease as you rotate the wheel once. If you can jack the wheel and spin it, even better. Bad wheel bearings have been described as a dragging sound as they grind on each wheel rotation.

Jokers

Have you got friends that are jokers? Do you have hubcaps rather than rims? If you can say yes to both of these questions, it’s worth removing your hubcaps and looking inside. Pranksters have been known to place stones inside the hubcaps and replace them.

Every time the wheel turns, the stones move and rattle.

Related Article: Car Dragging Noise When Accelerating

Conclusion

As you can see from the causes above, none of them should be expensive to put right.

If your car sounds like it’s dragging something, the noise could be caused by a stuck brake caliper, a dislodged heatshield, bad wheel bearings, or an exhaust that has slipped its hangar.

Brake pads and rotors should not cost more than a couple of hundred dollars to replace if worn. The good news is just as likely to be a stone stuck between the rotor and the pad.

Exhausts come in sections. The muffler section may need replacing if a baffle has come loose. It’s more likely the exhaust has come loose from the hanger and is banging against the rear axle.

Heat shields rarely need to be replaced, but they do come loose. Whether you do it yourself or take it to a car shop, this fix is very cheap.

Wheel bearings generally cost 200 to $300 to replace, including labor costs. 

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