We’ve all experienced the horror and humiliation: trying to describe a noise we heard to a repair technician. You stand there, making whistling, whining, or groaning noises, in the feeble hope that they’ll recognize it before you’ve lost all sense of dignity.

They won’t, but what choice do you have?

Turns out, there is a better way to describe a noise; one that’s more likely to help get your problem diagnosed. And it’s far less humiliating than making an ah-oogah… wak-wak-waka sound at the service counter.

First, start by paying close attention to the when, where, and why of the noise. Does it happen when the engine’s hot? Cold? All the time? Is it whenever the engine’s running or does the car have to be moving?

And does it change as the car moves down the road? Maybe it goes away when you reach highway speeds, or it seems to change pitch or speed every time the transmission shifts.

Of course you’ll want to know if it only occurs when you turn the wheel or apply the brakes. Or maybe just the opposite: It goes away on turns or while you’re coming to a stop. And where does it seem to come from? Under the car? The right-front wheel? Near the speedometer?

All of these specifics can and will help the technician narrow down the source of the noise, and all without you having to sacrifice your dignity to make a flapping or clicking noise with your tongue against the roof of your mouth.

Another great way to avoid simulating the noise is to record it: Your smartphone probably has an app built in, or you can download one for free that lets your turn your phone into a recorder. Now, instead of an embarrassing simulation, you can play the actual noise for the technician.

Finally, the best thing you can do is show the technician exactly what you’re hearing. Go for a ride with him and let him hear the noise, to see exactly what conditions are necessary for it to show up.

The technicians at your nearby Cottman center will be happy to go for a ride with you to help identify mysterious noises and figure out what’s causing them.

Of course, they’d also be happy to watch you try to simulate them at the service counter; in fact, they’ll probably invite everyone from the shop to “offer their opinions”… and get a really good chuckle later on.