Most drivers know the telltale squeal of worn brakes. Once you hear that sound, it's time to toss those old brake pads for some fresh, new ones. Not every squeal or squeak is a bad brake pad, however, and it's a good idea to know the difference. Once you learn to recognize the unusual sounds that your car makes, you'll be able to deal with them before they lead to even costlier repairs.
When it comes to automotive squeaks and squeals, there are a variety of potential sources. Here are just three common problems that are easy for non-gearheads to mistake for brake pad wear indicators.
1. Worn Belts
Your car generates power with the up-and-down motion of its pistons, and that power is then converted into rotational force by the crankshaft. Most of your car's accessories aren't connected directly to the crankshaft, however. Instead, a series of belts and pullies transmits power to your air conditioner, alternator, power steering pump, and other accessories.
Depending on your particular make and model of car, you may have a single accessory belt or multiple belts for individual components. As these belts or the pulleys they ride on wear down, they can produce a loud squealing noise. These noises may be constant or intermittent, and they are easy to distinguish from brake sounds since they should originate from under your hood.
2. Suspension Squeaks
It's pretty easy to recognize the difference between a squealing belt and a squealing brake pad, but what about suspension trouble? Your car's suspension provides the linkage between your vehicle's wheels and its body. A variety of bushings, joints, and mounts help to isolate your suspension components and allow them to withstand the forces of driving down the road.
Squeaky bushings and joints can sometimes sound like worn brakes, especially since the force of braking can sometimes create the noise. If you think you might have a suspension problem, listen carefully for the sound when going over bumps or turning. In most cases, you should be able to hear a worn suspension component even if you aren't braking.
3. Low Power Steering Fluid
Similar to worn belts, low power steering fluid can produce a distinctive squealing noise from under the hood. Since most cars have power steering pumps located to one side of the engine bay, this noise can sometimes sound like it is originating from a wheel well. To tell the difference, try to determine if the noise is only audible when turning the wheel.
Recognizing the strange sounds that your car may make is the first step to saving yourself from costly repairs in the future. Always have a trained technician diagnose any noise that you notice to ensure that your vehicle is safe to operate.
To learn more, contact an auto service shop.