Don’t ignore the odd squeaking noises in your car. Treat screeching or squealing noises as early warning signals and seek expert advice to resolve the issue. Remember that it is your legal responsibility to keep your car maintained and in good working condition.
Sometimes these noises are small problems and easy fixes such as worn-out v-belts or brake pads, but it could also point to bigger problems with suspension and power steering systems and to avoid breakdown it will require expert help.
To help pinpoint the problem, keep note of a few things: when does the noise occur? Is it happening when you start the car? While the car is idling? Does it occur when accelerating or turning? Or, when you go over a bump?
There is a good reason not to discount those squeaking noises in your vehicle, particularly in newer vehicles, according to the RAC’s guide to unusual car sounds “modern cars are well-oiled machines, so when they start making sounds they shouldn’t, it’s a concern.”
Here are a few of the more frequent causes of car squeaking noises:
Issue with the serpentine belt
Worn alternator bearings
Cambelt or water pump pulley
An accessory or ‘v-belt’ nearing its end
Brake pads need changing
Power steering system problems
Suspension system problems
Steering wheel housing rubbing against the interior rim
Tyres that are worn
Determining where and when the squeaking noise occurs will help you to assess and then address the issue with your vehicle. A few potential scenarios are:
If you hear a squealing noise when accelerating or slowing down, the v- or v-ribbed belt and may be at fault 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, on the plus side if caught early, it is a relatively straightforward fix to replace it.
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 make that sound. Brake pads are crucial components in the car and like belts, they will wear out and must be maintained for your safety. The car manual will tell you how often brake pads will need to be replaced.
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.
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. 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.
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. Like all belts, it is prone to wear and tear. Consult manufacturer guidelines to see how often it requires replacement. A broken cambelt could lead to other damage and require a costly fix.
If you are hearing a noise as you turn your car, it could be a problem with the power steering. It is dangerous if your power steering fails while on the road. In addition to low or contaminated power steering fluid, there are a number of components in the power steering that could affect its performance and it’s best to have a qualified mechanic determine what has gone wrong.
A squeaking noise from the suspension in your car could indicate a bigger problem. The suspension system absorbs the shocks, vibrations of the wheels due to bumps and potholes on the road. It makes for a smooth ride but if a squealing noise is due to suspension it is likely triggered by wear and tear in any of its components from springs, shock absorbers through to worn ball joints or bushes. As with other noises it’s best to have a qualified mechanic take a look.
Having some idea of where a problem emanates can help you resolve your squeaking car and to get it fixed. Plainly, it is well worth seeking expert advice if it isn’t clear where the noise is coming from.
The best way to prevent any issues is to keep up regular maintenance on your car. The RAC outlines tips to maintain your vehicle and recommends a fortnightly check.
Not only is regular vehicle maintenance necessary to keep you and others safe and extend the life of your car, it is also required by your car insurance cover.
Car insurance does not pay for maintenance repairs. It is up to you to make sure your car is in well maintained 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
three penalty points
Adding penalty points to your licence could mean paying extra in car insurance.
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.