By P Sanchez
Squealing, squeaking, chirping, creaking and moaning. Does driving your car sound like you’re listening to a podcast of National Geographic’s “Night in the Rainforest”? If so, you’re in for some potentially serious car trouble. Realize that all machines will breakdown eventually, it’s just a matter of time. Simpler machines have it good, fewer parts, fewer things to go wrong. And the modern automobile? Hundreds of moving parts. It’s a minor miracle that a few of them can last more than a decade with just minor maintenance (I did only say “a few”).
Of course, only an experienced mechanic can tell for sure what ails your beloved car but it helps a mechanic greatly in diagnosing your car trouble if you can specify the symptoms best you can. (Another word of advice: don’t just leave your car at the auto shop without giving the mechanic a rundown of what’s wrong. They’re mechanics, not psychics.)
Let’s go through a few of these common noises (focusing more on suspension and braking problems), indicate the likely causes, maybe share a few troubleshooting you can do on your end, or at least help you be a little more effective when reporting your car issues with your mechanic.
If your car sounds like a giant boar getting a very thorough colonoscopy whenever you hit the gas or brake, then that’s what you call a squeal. Usually, they’re caused by two large swats of surfaces continuously rubbing against each other. There are only a few places in a car where that could happen: at the brakes, clutch area or with the fan belt.
Squealing while braking is a dead giveaway of a brake issue. It’s likely that you already have worn brake pads. Most brake pad assemblies would a flat metal piece that will start touching the rotor’s surface once the pad’s braking material has been significantly worn. The rubbing metal creates the telltale sound that tells you it’s time for a replacement. Other possible causes of squealing in the wheel area would be dirt clogging the braking surface, warped rotors, or even the rotor’s dust shield bent against the rotor. The braking system is the most important safety feature of your car. Never wait for issues to happen by getting your brakes inspected regularly, and never think twice about getting a brake job, even for the smallest issue.
Squeals coming from the engine may indicate a worn fan-belt or worn parts or auxiliaries that are powered by the fan-belt. If you want to do further diagnosis, you can remove the fan-belt and see if the noise goes away. Inspect the fan-belt too, see if there are any surface defects like cracks and wear which are signs for you to get a new one. You can also check the pulleys individually by hand-turning them individually. Worn pulley bearings may sound-off which usually means replacing the part with the defective pulley.
Squeals that emanate centrally in the vehicle, like from the transmission area, could be bad news; an unfortunate sign of a big cash drain ahead. If it’s a manual transmission and the squealing sound is accompanied by a burning rubber smell or hesitation with engaging the transmission, it may mean it’s a worn clutch, and you may be able to get away with a parts replacement. However, if you’re running an automatic transmission, you’re mechanic should help you weigh the worth of having your transmission rebuilt, replaced entirely or just getting rid of your old car.
Brake moan is similar to a squeal but lower-pitched, like the dying grunt of a beached whale (or so I imagine). But unlike the horrifying image that I just painted, moaning of the rear brakes (particularly drum brakes) is usually of more mundane causes: moisture entering the brake housing. As explained by brake specialists, brake moaning can be remedied by engaging the brakes a few times to squeeze out the water between the brake bands and drum walls.
Squeaking and creaking: why your car sounds like critters have nested in the wheel wells.