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What to do if your car squeaks while driving

Written by Claire Hunte, Finance Writer

18 August 2020

When your car makes a squeaking noise while driving it means there’s something wrong. Read on to find out the usual causes of those squeaks, squeals and screeches and what to do to fix them.

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Why does my car squeak?

Car squeaking and squealing noises can result from small problems that may be easy to fix such as worn-out v-belts or brake pads, but it could point to bigger problems with suspension and power steering systems that require expert diagnosis to avoid breakdown. 

It is important to pay attention when you hear odd squeaking noises in your vehicle and not to ignore the sound. Screeching can be an early warning signal that something is wrong, and you should seek expert advice to resolve the issue. 

You need to remember that it is your legal responsibility to keep your car maintained and in good working condition. 

When you hear the sound, try to keep note of when the noise occurs to help diagnose the issue. For example, does it happen when you turn on the ignition? While the car is idling? Does it occur when accelerating or turning? Or, when you go over a bump?

Why is my car making squeaking noises?

The RAC’s guide to unusual car sounds makes a point that “modern cars are well-oiled machines, so when they start making sounds they shouldn’t, it’s a concern.”

Here are some of the more frequent reasons you’ll hear squeaking noises:

  1. Issue with the serpentine belt

  2. Worn alternator bearings

  3. Cambelt or water pump pulley?

  4. An accessory or ‘v-belt’ nearing its end

  5. Brake pads need changing

  6. Power steering system problems

  7. Suspension system problems

  8. Steering wheel housing rubbing against the interior rim

  9. Tyres that are worn

What is the squeaking noise when driving?

Determining where and when the squeaking noise occurs will help you to assess and then address the issue with your vehicle.

Squeaking when you turn on the ignition

Not a sound one wants to hear before beginning a journey but if you hear a squeaking noise as you turn on the ignition there may be two reasons lying under the bonnet: slippage of the serpentine belt or pulley misalignment and wear. The solution to both issues is replacement. 

The serpentine belt powers a few of the accessories in your car such as the air conditioning, power steering, the alternator, fan and sometimes the water pump. If the squeaking is due to a belt problem that generally means it’s either a worn-out belt, worn-out bearings or a problem with belt tension.  

A too loose or too tight belt can also cause squeaking and it may be a problem with the tensioner pulley, which provides the right degree of pressure to the belt. If it’s too loose the belt can slip and therefore squeak.

If it’s down to a bit of wear and tear in the serpentine also called a drive belt, it will need replacing. A rule of thumb is over five years or over 50,000 miles or check the owner’s manual to see optimal time for replacement.

Squeaking alternator pulley

There are pulleys for the air conditioning, the power steering, idler, tension and alternator in the vehicle and all have bearings that if defective may cause a pulley to wobble and make that squeaking sound. 

Pulley misalignment or wear can also be at fault. The belt on the pulleys are meant to run straight, if they are moving side to side on any of the pulleys it will cause a squeaking sound. 

While it is not a big problem for the car, the squeak can be annoying, but is easily resolvable by replacing the belt. A good mechanic will determine what requires replacement. 

Squeaking around the cambelt

The cambelt (also called a timing belt) is a critical component that ensures that the rotation of the crankshaft and camshaft – the car’s internal combustion engine -- are in synchronisation. 

Manufacturer guidelines recommend how often it needs to be replaced because like all belts it is prone to wear and tear. 

A squealing noise could indicate a loose belt and that it is time for it to be replaced. A broken cambelt could lead to other collateral damage and may be a costly fix.

Squeaking from the water pump pulley

According to Your Mechanic sometimes that squeak that seems to come from the area around the cambelt could also a failing water pump pulley or noise transference due to the serpentine belt slipping. 

Bad bearings on a water pump pulley will make a noise. They could eventually fail and cause the engine to overheat and lead to an expensive problem. 

That squeaking noise that sounds like it’s coming from the cambelt may also very well be slippage of the serpentine or the v-belt and the noise is transferred to the timing belt. 

Squeaking when you speed up or slow down

If your car is squealing when you accelerate or slow down, it could be the v- or v-ribbed belt and needs to be checked thoroughly for any cracks or holes

The v-belt drives all the auxiliary units in the vehicle and if it fails, it will cause your vehicle to break down. 

However, it is a relatively straightforward fix to replace the v-belt. 

Squealing noises when you press the brakes

The first sign that brake pads need to be replaced is usually a squeaking or screeching noise when you engage the brakes. When brake pads have become thin from wear, they produce that noise. 

This crucial component, according to Car and Driver, is considered a ‘normal-wear item’ that must be maintained for your safety and the safety of others. Your car manual will tell you how often to change your brake pads.

“With car maintenance, there are important parts and crucial parts. Brake pads are crucial,” says Car Driver.

Some cars will have brake-pad sensors on the dashboard that will alert you when it’s time to change. If your car doesn’t have a sensor then consider that squeaking sound as a warning light.  

Squeaking as you turn the steering wheel

A squeaking noise as the car turns could be caused by a problem in the power steering system suggesting it may be failing. It is dangerous if your power steering fails while on the road.  

Any of the components in the power steering: steering gear, pump or hose, may be affecting how it is performing. Have your power steering service checked out by a qualified mechanic to determine the problem. 

You may hear a squeaking sound if the power steering fluid is low or contaminated. The power steering fluid is vital to lubricating the power steering system and a leak or contamination will bring on the noise. 

If your car is new and the squeaking occurs as when turning, it may be the steering wheel housing rubbing against the interior trim wearing it down. It is a problem in hot weather as the steering metal material expands to fill the gap between the interior trim. A problem your mechanic will need to solve.  

Squeaking as the car is turning

If your car is squealing and pulling to the side as it turns, then the culprit may be a couple of things to do with your tyres:

  1. an uneven tread

  2. underinflated tyres 

  3. improper alignment 

Maintaining your tyres is of course a legal requirement, important for safety and may have an impact on your car insurance if damaged tyres result in an accident. 

Michelin suggests regularly checking tyres to make sure treads are not worn. Consider replacing them if they’re older than five years. Also check the tyre pressure often (every 2-3 weeks) to see if any are underinflated. 

If they are consistently underinflated, take your car to a garage to have them examined for damage. If the steering is off along with a screeching sound, tyres may need to be realigned. 

Just sometimes the noise you hear could be from tyres meeting road surfaces and are normal as Tyre Shopper explains. However, odd noises from your tyres should always get checked.   

Squeaking noises from the suspension

A squeaking noise from the suspension in your car can indicate there is a bigger problem.  

The suspension system absorbs the shocks, vibrations of the wheels due to bumps and imperfections such as potholes on the road. It makes for a smooth ride.  

If a squealing noise is a result of the suspension system, it may be triggered by wear and tear in any of its components from springs, shock absorbers through to worn ball joints and bushes. Or, if the suspension system loses its lubrication. 

Prevent car squeaking noises with regular maintenance

Knowing the causes of the odd sounds your car is making can help you figure out where the problem is and get it fixed or seek expert advice.

But to ensure your car’s safety and reliability, keep up regular maintenance on your car. The RAC outlines tips to maintain your vehicle and recommends a fortnightly check. 

RAC patrol ambassador, Chris Burgess noted that when he went out to breakdowns, he would routinely check the water, coolant and oil level and often discovered that the oil was at the bottom of the dipstick and the coolant low. 

He added: "Either can have a catastrophic impact on the engine and yet it is easy for the driver to keep an eye on these and get the habit of a fortnightly check.”

Will a squeaking noise impact my insurance?

Regular vehicle maintenance helps to keep you and others safe and extends the life of your car. It is also required by your car insurance cover.  

Car insurance won’t pay for any maintenance repairs. It is up to you to make sure your car is in good repair and that you are not violating any policy terms in the case of an accident.

Government guidelines are also clear that you are responsible for making sure your vehicle is safe to drive. Remember your vehicle can still be considered unsafe even with a current valid MOT certificate. 

Driving vehicles in a dangerous condition can incur:

  • penalties of £2,500

  • a ban from driving 

  • 3 penalty points

Adding penalty points to your licence could mean paying extra in car insurance.

Check your insurance policy and shop for best value

If you are convicted of motoring offences your insurance can be adversely affected resulting in higher premiums or, at an extreme, an inability to get insurance in the future.

Read the fine print of your policy documents to ensure your insurance is not invalidated. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommends shopping around for your motor insurance to get the best value for your money. 

The same applies if you hold temporary insurance or multi-insurance policies scan and read the fine print.

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