Help: My Car Makes a Screeching Noise when I Drive

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Why is my car making a screeching noise when I drive?

A screeching noise while driving is always concerning, and sometimes embarrassing. There are a handful of parts that can fail that would cause screeching, and they can require minor or major repairs. For example, a worn drive belt will make noise. But the components that the drive belt spins can also cause a screeching noise, such as the alternator, power steering pump, idler pulley or air conditioning compressor.

  • Some noise coming from the brakes is often considered normal, but wear in the brake system can cause a screeching noise when driving or when turning.
  • Less common, but still possible is an air leak. Air being forced out of a small leak in the intake system can cause a high pitched whistle noise.
  • The last and most severe possibility is engine bearings. There are bearings inside of the engine that need to stay lubricated to function properly. If any of these bearings start to fail, they make a distinct, loud screeching sound whenever the car is running.

Why do these problems cause a screeching noise when driving, and is it always cause for concern?

car makes a screeching noise when i drive

Worn drive belts are a common source of screeching noises while driving

There are many parts on all vehicles that are considered normal wear items. The drive (“serpentine” or “V”) belt is one of these parts. The drive belt is made of a rubber compound and wears out over time. When the belt wears it can produce a squeaking or screeching noise. If the belt starts to make this noise, it should be brought in as soon as possible. If the belt is worn, that means it could break, and all vehicles will die shortly after the belt that drives the alternator breaks.

The alternator, idler pulley, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor all have bearings that allow them to spin. Over time, the bearings will wear. As they wear they can make some very interesting noises. Sometimes they screech, sometimes they howl, and sometimes they gurgle. A noise from any of these bearings is an indication the bearing is failing. If the bearing fails, then that component (alternator, idler pulley, power steering pump, or air conditioning compressor) and likely the other components will stop working.

car makes a screeching noise when i drive

When brake components become worn, they can cause a screeching noise

We talked about brake noise in the last post, but brakes can make different noises depending on what is worn. Some noise from the brakes is normal, especially after sitting for a few days or when sitting in the rain. Lack of use causes a thin film of rust to form on the face of the brake rotor. After two or three stops this film should be gone. If the noise doesn’t stop, there’s something else going on. Some cars have brake pad wear indicators that will screech when applying the brakes to warn that the brakes will need replacement soon. Another possibility is that the brake rotor has worn into a bowl shape. The brake pad can then sit inside the bowl and screech when the edges make contact. In this case the brakes continue to function normally, but the noise can be annoying. Fortunately this problem can often be remedied without replacing any of the brake parts.

A small hole in the intake system can cause a screeching noise when driving. Often this will trigger the check engine light. On some vehicles, especially Volkswagens and Volvos, when the positive crankcase ventilation valve fails it can cause a screeching noise. Sometimes described as a “whistle,” the noise can be so loud it can’t be drowned out by the radio. In either case there is a problem with the air intake system, which can cause poor engine performance and/or poor fuel efficiency.

As the engine spins, the camshafts and crankshafts ride on bearings. These are not ball bearings like you would usually think of a bearing, but a special material that forms the contact surface between the shafts and the channel. With regular oil changes, these bearings usually never need to be replaced. However, if the oil level gets too low or the engine has been put to extreme use, the bearings can wear out and cause a terrible screeching noise. If your engine makes this noise, then the engine is not long for this world and may give up the ghost when you least expect it.

Are there other signs that could point to the cause of the screeching noise when driving?

The best way to find the cause of your screech is to find out when the noise happens and where on the car the noise is coming from. Belt noise will come from under the hood, and on most vehicles it is towards the passenger side. This noise usually happens when starting the car, when turning the steering wheel, or when turning on the air conditioning. All of these conditions put more stress on the drive belt system, which will create more noise. The same goes for any of the components that the drive belt spins.

Brake noise will usually come from only one wheel, and usually happens when applying the brakes. Sometimes the noise happens on initial brake pedal application, while other times it happens just as the vehicle’s coming to a complete stop.

An intake leak will screech under the hood, but may sound like it is coming from everywhere. This noise usually happens on acceleration. Depending on where the leak is it may only happen at idle. Turning the steering wheel should not affect the noise like it would if the screech was from the drive belt.

Worn engine bearings are most pronounced when first starting the vehicle, and they often make intermittent noises while driving. Very worn bearings will make noise on acceleration as well.

How can I get these problems fixed?

car makes a screeching noise when i drive

Some of the problems that cause screeching noises while driving will also show other signs of wear

For all of these instances, the failing part needs to be identified and replaced. The exception to this is if the brake rotors are worn into a bowl shape. Often times the brake rotor can be ground down so it no longer contacts the edge of the brake pad. The other exception may be the engine bearings. In that case, it’s often more cost effective to replace the entire engine with a used assembly.

Is there any way we can prevent a screeching noise while driving in the first place?

As with any noise, there are usually signs that a part is failing before it starts to make noise. Having regular maintenance completed goes a long way to preventing that screeching that wakes your neighbors every morning.

  • The drive belt will show cracking or appear glazed, and these are both indications of imminent failure. The other drive belt components often show few signs of failure, but the noise usually starts out quiet and ramps up.
  • Brakes should be inspected whenever your car is serviced. Worn brakes will not stop a car as well as they’re designed to, and if they get to the point where they screech they may not stop the car in time to avoid the slow driver that just pulled out in front of you.
  • It’s usually hard to predict an intake leak, but worn hoses should be replaced before they leak and cause a screeching noise or driveability concern. The engine bearings should not fail as long as the engine oil is replaced regularly and the level is kept at the appropriate level. Oil leaks are noticeable when the car is lifted and sometimes they will leave spots where your vehicle was parked. Oil leaks should be resolved so the oil level does not get too low and cause damage to the engine or engine bearings.

Is your car making a screeching noise when driving? At Alexander’s Import we know the importance of keeping your car in tip top shape. Schedule an appointment, and we’ll silence the screeching and get you back on the road.


My Car Makes a Grinding Noise when Turning

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We all know the feeling. You’re driving your car on the way to work or running errands, and all of a sudden you hear a noise you’ve never heard before. At first, you can’t tell where it came from. You might not even be sure it was from your vehicle. But then, as you continue to drive, you hear a distinct, strange sound that only happens when you do certain things with your car.

One of the common sounds drivers report hearing is a grinding noise that happens when the car is turning. Understandably, this is often disconcerting to car owners, who want to make sure their car is in good working order and safe to drive before taking it back out on the road. Read on as we cover some of the possible culprits for this mysterious noise and lay out a few possible solutions that will ensure your car’s properly functioning and that annoying grinding noise is banished once and for all.

What are some of the potential causes of a grinding noise when turning?

car makes a grinding noise when turning

Car making a grinding noise when turning? There are several potential causes, each with different symptoms.

Before we go any further, we want to know what’s responsible for these sounds. Well, it turns out there are a few usual suspects that could be creating the grinding noise you’re hearing when you’re behind the wheel. They typically include the following:

  • A worn CV axle
  • Worn brake components
  • A power steering fluid leak  

Why do these problems cause a grinding noise when turning, and are they always a cause for concern?

Any kind of abnormal noise that a car makes is cause for concern. If the car did not make the noise to start with, then you should have it inspected.

A worn CV axle can cause what some people describe as a grinding noise. This noise is commonly heard on tight turns at slow speeds. When an axle wears, the joint no longer smoothly articulates. This in turn causes a grinding noise when it catches at a stiff spot.

Worn out brake pads will make noise when applying the brakes, but can also make noise when going through a turn. This is because the geometry of the suspension changes, which can also cause the brake pads to make contact with the brake rotor. The grinding noise happens when there is no brake pad material remaining and the metal backing plate contacts the metal brake rotor.

When the power steering fluid is low there is a moaning/grinding noise that is heard when turning the steering wheel. This noise comes from air bubbles in the power steering fluid. As the fluid moves through the system, the bubbles move and cause a noise.

Are there any signs to look out for that would suggest a specific issue might be causing the grinding noise while driving?

The easiest symptom to look for that will point to the cause is the direction from which the noise is coming.

  • A worn CV axle may also spray grease around the axle. In this case, there would be globs of grease just inside of the wheel. The noise from a worn CV axle can be similar to a brake grinding noise as far as position goes, but a worn CV axle will not likely make noise when applying the brakes.
  • With the CV axle and the brake noise, the noise will sound like it is coming from just one wheel.
  • With low power steering fluid, the noise will seem to come from under the hood and can also seem to come from the steering wheel.

How can we fix problems like worn CV axles, worn brake pads, and low power steering fluid?

The first step in fixing any noise is identifying where the problem is. All wheel drive cars have 4 CV axles, so after identifying which axle is making noise the axle is then replaced.

Nearly all modern cars have four brake rotors, eight brake pads and four brake calipers. After pinpointing the cause of the noise, the brakes are replaced as an axle set, which means front brakes or rear brakes. Once brakes make noise, the brake rotor must also be replaced.

Once a noise is found to be coming from the power steering system, the leak must then be located. The power steering fluid system consists of the power steering pump, power steering reservoir, power steering rack, power steering cooler, and multiple hoses. Any of these parts can leak and cause a problem. Once the leak is found, the part will need to be replaced.

Are there any steps drivers can take to prevent these from happening in the first place?

The biggest step that can be taken to prevent these failures is to have regular inspections. At Alexander’s Import, we look out for signs of leakage and brake wear on every oil change.

The brakes, CV axles, and usually power steering fluid leaks do not happen overnight. They will show signs of wear or leakage before they get to the point of making noise. If cars are brought in for scheduled maintenance and issues are repaired at the recommended time, you may never hear noise from any of these parts to begin with!

Struts vs Shocks – What are the Differences?

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Struts vs Shocks: What are they, and what are the differences?

When it comes to cars, it’s easy to get confused. With so many working parts, it can be hard to keep track of what’s what and know what needs to be fixed when something goes wrong. It gets even trickier when parts that look similar also have similar functions. That’s why one of the most common areas of confusion is the question of struts vs shocks. It’s not obvious what the differences are between the two, and many people use the terms interchangeably. Our goal in this article will be to compare struts vs shocks, outline a few of the key differences, and hopefully leave you with some advice that will help you down the road.

Struts vs Shocks: Are they Interchangeable?

struts vs shocks

The McPherson Strut, commonly used in modern automotive suspensions

Although struts and shocks look a lot alike and are situated in the same area of the vehicle, it’s important to remember that they’re not the same part, and each functions a bit differently from the other. Both shocks and struts are part of a car’s suspension system and serve the same overarching purpose of dissipating energy from the coil. However, they have key structural differences. Unlike a shocks, struts actually serve as a structural component of the suspension system. This means that they’re weight bearing, and can also affect steering and the vehicle’s alignment. When you go in to have your struts replaced, you’ll probably get an alignment because parts that are removed during strut replacement can also affect the car’s alignment. Shocks, on the other hand, are not weight bearing and not a structural component of the suspension.

Shocks also tend to be lighter and less obtrusive than struts. Struts actually replace the ball joint and upper control arm components that are present in traditional suspension systems, with the exception of most luxury models, which have struts and retain their ball joints and control arms.

These differences are important, because whichever type of automobile you drive, it will be built to have one or the other, or have struts on the front axle and rear axle. Generally speaking a car built with struts can’t have it’s struts replaced by shocks, and vice versa.

How do Struts and Shocks Work?

Just as they’re similar in what they do, struts and shocks are similar in how they get the job done. Both shocks and struts use a piston and hydraulic fluid system to dissipate the energy absorbed by a vehicle’s springs. Shocks and struts work to slow this force down by pushing the hydraulic fluid through small holes at the other end of the cylinder. This action allows the energy to be dispersed a controlled manner. The harder the force that is initially absorbed, the more recoil the strut or shock will provide.

When to Replace Shocks and Struts

As with any integral automobile part, it’s important to replace shocks and struts that have begun to wear out or are otherwise no longer working properly. Struts and shocks generally have a fairly long lifetime, with typical manufacturer struts averaging in the 50,000 mile range. For most automobiles, this means only having to get these parts replaced a few times, at most. Some manufacturers even say that the struts on their vehicles never need to be replaced. However, when it does come time to replace your struts or shocks, you’ll want to be proactive. There are some tell tale signs that your struts or shocks may be due for a replacement. If you’re experiencing these problems, we recommend bringing your vehicle into a local technician.

Here are some signs you may need to replace your struts or shocks:

  • If you push down on the rear right or left corner of your vehicle and it bounces more than two times, it may be a sign of worn out shocks or struts
  • If you’re experiencing noticeable changes in your vehicle’s handling, such as stiffness or shakiness, struts or shocks may be the culprit
  • The eyeball test: sometimes there will be fluid leakage or obvious visual damage to the struts or shocks, at which time it’s important to bring your vehicle in for repairs
  • Bottoming out over obstacles like speed bumps or potholes is often a sign of struts or shocks that need replacing
  • Mileage: As mentioned above, keep an eye on the miles logged with your current struts or shocks. If it’s been significantly more than 50,000 miles, you may want to ask your local technician if a replacement is in order.

Replacing your Struts or Shocks

When finally comes time to replace your vehicle’s struts or shocks, be sure to take it to a trusted technician with experience replacing shocks and struts. They’re a vitally important component of your vehicle, and should be treated with care and attention to detail.

If you’d like to learn more about shocks and struts or think you might be due for a repair, we’d like to help you out. More information can be found on our shocks and struts service page, and you can fill out a form or give us a call to speak with one of our helpful technicians.