Is your car screeching or crying for help when you drive it? If your car is squeals or making a squeaky sound, there are several potential causes to investigate. The most common car squeal culprits are usually pretty easy to hear but sometimes challenging to diagnose. One factor that may help is paying attention to when the car is squealing.
Three common car problems associated with squealing revolve around belts, engine accessories or the brake system. Knowing when to listen for squeals may help you determine where they are coming from.
The Serpentine Belt Is The Most Common Cause Of Engine Squeals
If your engine bay begins squealing after starting the car or while warming up, the most common cause is the serpentine belt. A serpentine belt, or fan belt, is usually at the front of the engine bay. The car’s engine drives the serpentine belt which then connects with and drives accessories. Some of these accessories usually include power steering, the alternator, and many other important accessories.
Automotive belts are usually made from rubber and feature grooves on the inside to fit into pulleys. Over time the grooves wear out or the belt stretches out a little bit. A loose or worn belt begins to slip which can cause an undesirable squealing noise from the engine. If a belt is extremely old, it will be easy to see visual signs of wear-and-tear when the engine is not running. If a belt appears to have cracks or excessive wear-and-tear, it is time for a replacement.
When a serpentine belt replacement is necessary, it is very important to change it as soon as possible. If a serpentine belt breaks while driving, all the accessories it drives will stop working and you risk severe damage to the engine. Although other loose engine or accessory belts may be responsible for the squealing noise, the first potential suspect is the serpentine belt.
Potential symptoms of a failing serpentine belt include:
- Steering feels more difficult than usual. The serpentine belt is usually responsible for driving the power steering pump in most modern cars. If car squeals become more audible while turning the steering wheel or performing U-turns, the serpentine belt may be the culprit. The last thing you want is to lose power steering, especially at higher speeds. Without functional power steering, the car will be very difficult to turn or maneuver.
- Problems with the air conditioning system. The serpentine belt drives the AC system. Sometimes a car only squeals when the AC is on. In some cases, the squealing becomes more audible while accelerating with the AC on. If you notice any of these symptoms in your car, the serpentine belt may be the culprit.
- Overheating issues can be another symptom of a bad or failing serpentine belt. The serpentine belt drives the water pump, which plays a very important role in the engine’s cooling system. If your engine is running hotter than the normal temperature range, the serpentine belt may be slipping, causing the water pump to not function properly. If the belt breaks or stops working properly, the car will overheat very quickly.
- Low battery or a battery light on the dashboard may be an indicator of a bad or failing serpentine belt. The car’s alternator is responsible for charging the battery while the engine is running. If the serpentine belt is failing or slipping, it cannot drive the alternator which will cause a battery light to flash on the dash. If the battery becomes too low, you will be unable to start the engine again until the battery is fully charged.
As you can see, the serpentine belt plays a very important role in maintaining a healthy heartbeat for your car. Ignoring potential problems or symptoms of a failing serpentine belt makes your car vulnerable to severe damage and expensive auto repair bills. Forming good preventative maintenance routines are the best way to ensure your car’s heart keeps beating strong for a long time.
WARNING: Inspecting belts while the engine is running is very dangerous. Keep hands, fingers and any other objects or tools away from the belts while the engine is running. These belts are moving extremely fast which pose a serious injury risk. If you do not usually work on cars, it is wise to schedule automotive maintenance with a professional mechanic.
Engine Accessories Or Pulleys Can Also Squeal
If your serpentine belt passes the inspection but you still notice a squeal coming from the engine bay, there are several possible culprits. Many of the accessories and pulleys guiding the path of the serpentine belt can wear out or fail over time. Parts such as the AC compressor, alternator and power steering pump eventually need maintenance or replacing.
Many engineers design pulleys to guide the serpentine belt’s path. If a pulley is failing, the belt will slip or cause a misalignment in its travel. A bad or failing pulley can cause engine squealing to occur.
These potential automotive part issues are very common causes of engine squealing. Regular or preventative automotive maintenance can catch potential pulley issues before they cause damage to other parts.
It’s Brake Time
If your car only squeaks or squeals when applying the brakes, the culprit is probably not a belt or anything in the engine bay. When brakes squeal, they are telling you they need maintenance. In fact, brake squealing is intentional by design to give drivers a warning when it is time for maintenance. If the squealing just began recently, you still have time to change the brakes before causing damage that may be expensive to repair.
As soon as you notice brake squealing, schedule an appointment with your professional brake service shop. Brakes are important to the safety of you and your passengers. If you ignore potential brake issues, eventually the brake system will fail or cause damage to the car. Few things are as frightening as being unable to stop the car when you need to. Preventative maintenance always puts safety first.
Preventive Maintenance Helps Detect Squealing Early
When your car squeals, it can be frustrating and annoying. Knowing the most common causes of squealing should help you understand where to look first. Any professional service shop will be able to help you diagnose and detect problems before they become even more expensive repair bills. If it has been a while since you or a mechanic has inspected your car, remember that preventative maintenance goes a long way toward getting the most value out of your car in the long run.
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