2001 Mazda Protege with 196,700 miles on it. Good inspection in April. Recent spark plugs and replacement. Just got an oil change last week. I have very recently noticed a popping or creaking sound from the front end. I can’t tell which side it is coming from, but it sounds almost like stepping on an old wooden floor or muffled popcorn popping. It makes the sound at any speed, but not at all when the vehicle is not moving. It is worse if the road is unevenly, or when I turn in either direction, even slightly.
The noise might be caused by worn/dry ball joint.
Have the front end inspected again.
The noise is probably due to worned stabilizer links in the front. Its a inexpensive repair.
My guess is the balljoints as well.
You might try an experiment, push on the front corners one at a time. Do you hear the noise then? If so, likely a suspension component. Another experiment is to rev the engine a little while it idles in the driveway, see if that causes the noise to appear. If so, might be an engine or transmission mount going south.