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Why is my car squeaking when driving?

Your car squeaking when 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.

Your car squeaking when 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
3 JUNE 2023
7 min read
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Why is my car squeaking?

Strange squeaking and squealing noises could be caused by a worn-out serpentine belt, dodgy alternator or brake pads. These are usually small problems that are relatively easy to fix. 

But it’s never a good idea to just ignore squeaks and squeals in the hope they’ll go away. It could be an early warning sign of something more serious. 

If a strange sound in your car doesn’t sit right with you, it’s best to get it checked out by a professional as soon as you can.

What should I do when my car squeaks when driving?

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.

How can I prevent my car from squeaking?

The best way to help prevent squeaking and other problems from developing is to keep up regular maintenance on your car. 

Follow these simple steps to help keep your motor in tip-top condition:

  • Keep your car well lubricated and top up the brake fluid, power steering fluid, clutch fluid and engine oil when necessary.
  • 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, plus try to avoid potholes where possible.
  • Reduce the weight 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.

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:

Car squeaks when turning on 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.

Car squeaking 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.

Car squeaks when driving over bumps

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 bumps, potholes, cobbled streets or when off-roading.

If your suspension has suffered from wear and tear, this could affect its performance and cause an unpleasant sound.

Car squeaks when accelerating

A squeaking noise when you accelerate will likely mean a worn serpentine belt that needs replacing. You might also hear your car squealing when starting for the same reason.

If your car squeaks when driving slowly, it could be a sign that there’s a problem with your brakes.

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 might 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 the remaining power steering fluid level using your dipstick – 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. Plus, 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 might 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 might 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.

Will a car making a squeaking noise 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. This 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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Frequently asked questions

What is a serpentine belt?

A serpentine belt is a long, thin, intertwining belt – a bit like a snake – hence the term ‘serpentine’. It’s linked to the crankshaft and transmits power to various components including the air conditioner, water pump, power steering pump and radiator. 

If the serpentine belt wears down or breaks, the components it powers won’t be able to work at their proper speed. This can produce a squeaking sound and inevitably interfere with the engine’s optimal performance levels.

How much does it cost to fix a squeak?

The amount it costs to fix a squeak will depend on the problem. 

Topping up the power steering fluid yourself can cost anywhere from £6 to £100 depending on the vehicle type, manufacturer and model specifications. 

A serpentine belt replacement could cost between £80-£230.

What other noises should I look out for?

Squeaking and squealing aren’t the only noises that may indicate your car has a problem. Worn brake pads, drive belt and wheel bearings can cause your car to grind, rattle or rumble. 

Any strange noises you hear shouldn’t be ignored. A small squeak or rattle could turn into an expensive repair job further down the line, so it’s best to get it checked by a professional as soon as possible.

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Rory Reid - car and technology expert

Rory Reid is a car and technology expert. He serves as the main presenter on Auto Trader’s YouTube channel and was previously a host on BBC Top Gear and its sister show Extra Gear. He is also a presenter on Fifth Gear. Previously, he hosted Sky TV’s Gadget Geeks, CNET’s Car Tech channel, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition and on the YouTube channel Fast, Furious & Funny.

Learn more about Rory