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What should I do if my car squeaks while driving?

A squeaking noise while driving can be caused by several things, from a worn-out cambelt to a dodgy alternator. In our guide to car squeaks, we help you diagnose various problems and explain why it’s so important to look after your vehicle.

A squeaking noise while driving can be caused by several things, from a worn-out cambelt to a dodgy alternator. In our guide to car squeaks, we help you diagnose various problems and explain why it’s so important to look after your vehicle.

Written by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
16 MARCH 2023
7 min read
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Why is my car squeaking?

Strange squeaking and squealing noises coming from your car are usually a sign that something’s wrong. 

In many cases, it’ll be a minor problem that’s easy to fix, but it could also be an early warning sign of a more serious problem.

Tempting as it may be, it’s never a good idea to just ignore it and hope it’ll go away. Instead, get it seen to as soon as you can.

What should I do if my car is squeaking?

Pay close attention to when and where the sound occurs. For instance, does it happen when you start the engine, while the car is idling, when it’s accelerating, turning or when you drive over a bump? 

Once you’ve narrowed down when it’s happening, explain the problem to a qualified mechanic, who’ll hopefully be able to diagnose and carry out the car repair before it becomes a more serious problem.

Whatever the cause of the squeaking, it’s important to act fast when you notice it. Even minor problems can become more serious (and expensive) to fix if they lead to a breakdown.

When is your car squeaking?

Finding out where and when your car makes a squeaking sound can help you identify the cause of the problem:

Squeaking when you turn the ignition

If you can hear a squeaking noise the moment you turn the ignition, you could have an issue with the serpentine belt or pulley system.

Squeaky noise when turning the steering wheel

If your steering wheel is causing a squealing noise, it could be an issue with the power steering system. Any problem with your car’s steering should be looked at immediately, as driving with a fault could be dangerous.

Squealing noises when braking

If you can hear a noise when pressing the brake pedal, it could be one of several parts of the braking system causing the problem. Your brake pads could have worn away, leaving the brake discs exposed. This can not only cause a loud noise, but it can do serious damage to your car.

Squeaking noises when driving on uneven ground

If you can hear noises when driving over uneven ground, it could be coming from your suspension. Your car’s suspension is designed to absorb the vibrations and shocks of driving over uneven ground like potholes, cobbled streets or when off-roading. If your suspension has suffered from wear and tear, it can affect its performance and cause an unpleasant sound.

Issues that may cause your car to squeak

Here’s a list of some of the most common causes of squeak-related problems and how to tackle them:

A worn-out cambelt

If your car squeaks when you press down on the accelerator, the most likely culprit is a loose or worn-out cambelt. The cambelt, also known as a timing belt, is a vital part of your car that controls the timing of the internal combustion engine.

If you haven’t ever had your cambelt replaced and your car is a few years old, it’s worth asking a mechanic to check it out. A broken cambelt could lead to other damage that’s expensive to fix.

A steering system in need of TLC

If squeaking happens when you turn a corner, you guessed it – there’s probably something wrong with your car’s steering system.

You may be running low on power steering fluid, in which case a quick top-up should stop the squeaks. Check your car’s manual to learn how to measure remaining power steering fluid level using your dipstick then, if it’s low, pop to a local car shop or garage to buy some extra fluid. If this doesn’t help, you might have worn-out ball joints or the power steering fluid could be contaminated. This’ll require the help of a mechanic who’ll drain and replace it for you. And if your steering system just needs a bit of extra lubrication, a professional will be able to diagnose and deal with the problem.

A faulty brake pad

If the squeaking noise happens when you use the brakes, the most common reason is a faulty brake pad (or two, or four). Some new brake pads are actually designed to make a noise when they’re worn to the point of replacement. So, listen to them – if you don’t act quickly, your car’s brake rotor discs may be damaged, and this will cost a lot more to repair than replacement pads. Squeaking may also come from debris, such as a small stone, stuck between the pad and disc. This may eventually dislodge by itself after a short journey, or you may need to visit a mechanic to remove the stone.

A dodgy alternator

The alternator is the device that keeps your car battery charged and powers all the electrics that keep your car running, like the air conditioning, headlights and windscreen wipers.

The average alternator has a good seven years in it. If you hear a squeaking noise coming from your engine, it’s a tell-tale sign that your car’s alternator could be on the blink. Other signs of a failing alternator include a burning smell and a warning light on your dashboard.

A problem with your tyres

Car screeching can be a symptom of under-inflated tyres or uneven treadwear. A simple trip to the garage should solve it. Or it might just be time to get a new set of tyres, especially if you’ve had yours for more than 10 years.

Remember, maintaining your tyres is a legal requirement. The minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm, and you should check your tyres regularly for signs of damage.

A problem with the suspension

A squeaking noise coming from your car’s suspension could signal a significant problem. The suspension system absorbs the shocks and vibrations from bumps, potholes and other defects on the road. It normally provides a smooth ride, but a squealing noise could indicate wear and tear in the springs or shock absorbers. It’s best to get a qualified mechanic to take a look.

Is it safe to drive a squeaking car?

Your car squeaking could be caused by multiple issues. If you’re at all unsure about the cause of the squeak, it’s best to have a mechanic diagnose the problem before driving it.

For example, if your car is suffering from an issue with the brakes or steering, that would make your car dangerous to drive.

How can I prevent my car from squeaking?

The best way to prevent squeaking and other problems from developing is to keep up regular maintenance on your car. Follow these simple steps to keep your motor in tip-top condition:

  • Carry out routine checks of your fuel, oil change, coolant, tyre pressure and electrics and top up fluids regularly
  • Get your car serviced at least once a year, or according to your car’s servicing schedule, to make sure everything’s in good working order
  • Drive smoothly to reduce wear and tear on the components, and try to avoid potholes where possible
  • Keep the weight down so you’re not putting unnecessary pressure on the tyres, brakes and suspension
  • Don’t ignore dashboard warning lights – they’re there for a reason.

Will a squeaking noise from my car affect my insurance?

Vehicle maintenance isn’t just essential to keep you safe and prolong the life of your car, it’s also usually a condition of your car insurance cover.  

Not keeping your vehicle well maintained and in a roadworthy condition is against the law and could invalidate your car insurance policy if you need to make a claim. You also risk a fine and penalty points on your licence if you drive a vehicle in a dangerous condition – which will almost certainly increase your insurance premium.

A car insurance policy won’t pay out for maintenance repairs, so a squeaking problem is down to you to fix.

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