Noise, vibration and harshness—collectively, the dreaded NVH—make a good ride go bad. Among other symptoms, you’ll eventually begin hearing “squeaks” as age and miles accumulate. Some just annoy, others could be first signs of trouble to come. Here are a few things to do when your car “squeaks.”
Understand. Your car is made of thousands of parts connected to each other. While you drive and with the simple passage of time, the elements and physics stress those parts. Sooner or later, things aren’t quite as they were and things like squeaks develop.
Isolate. It will be difficult to pinpoint the source of the squeak with several accessories running, so isolate the source by the process of elimination and bring a friend so one of you can drive while the other plays detective. Turn off the radio and climate control. The hunt is sometimes over with just that, since HVAC fans often produce squeaks.
Otherwise, continue on. Determine whether the squeak seems to come from inside the cabin or outside. Also note any differences when you drive above a certain speed, lift off the throttle or apply the brakes. If nothing else, you might just be on a bad stretch of road. It might not shake the car noticeably, but if all else checks out, the squeak could go away on its own when you drive a different section.
Locate. If the squeak is coming from inside and isn’t the climate control fan, try following the squeak closer. It’s often interior trim that’s simply come loose. If you’re carrying assorted things like water bottles or soda cans, simple vibrations from driving can produce squeaks.
The squeak could be outside, and that’s going to be tougher to locate. If it seems to come from under the hood, it could be an engine belt or an accessory. When it’s under the car, the usual suspects are brakes, struts and exhaust hardware. Squeaks from behind typically come from a spare tire not properly secured, latches for folding rear seats or stowed cargo.
Resolve. Once you realize the origin, you can decide to repair the cause of the squeak or just live with it if it isn’t anything related to maintenance or safety. The old adage of turning up the radio to mask it can really be the solution in benign instances.