Why is My Car Making a Whining Noise?

on January 30, 2021

With such a high rising cost of vehicles, it’s important to maintain your vehicle to last for as many years as you can to get you where you need to go. While your car may make a variety of sounds as you drive, a whining or squealing noise is far from ideal. 

When your vehicle makes an abnormal noise, it should never be ignored or overlooked. Cars are made up of a huge range of moving parts. Generally, this doesn’t create an issue, as the sounds we hear are created by friction, and when two items create friction, something is absorbing the energy and wearing down. Totally normal. 

When you begin hearing strange noises, however, you need to attempt to pinpoint the issue and find out what could be causing the sounds to get the issue fixed ASAP before it does too much damage. 

Here are some of the common causes of whining noises found around your vehicle. 


Squeaks, Whines, and Squeals 

High-pitch noises coming from your vehicle are never a good thing, but some sounds are more severe than others. 

Squeaks best refer to noises that are made when an often stationary item is moved, and the movements create a sound. Squeals and whines are often used interchangeably, and refer to items that make a high pitch noise when being operated. 

These high pitch noises should be addressed immediately to repair the issue and mitigate the risk of further damage. 


Brake Squeal 

A fairly common squeal found on vehicles is the brakes, but brakes are actually designed to squeal to let you know it’s time for a change.

As you drive down the road and you hit your brakes, a pair of soft brake shoes squeeze your brake rotor to slow your vehicle. Each brake shoe is made of a solid metal backing, as well as a soft material known as a friction material which could be made of:

  • Ceramics
  • Organics
  • Semi-metallics
  • Hybrids or blends

Since your brake pads are out of your normal line of sight, manufacturers have added wear indicators that will start squealing as the brakes need replaced. This sound is completely normal and simply informs you it’s time to have your brake pads replaced -- normal maintenance. 

If your pads aren’t worn and you have a brake squeal, you could have glazed pads. Brake pad glazing occurs when pads are either overheated, or soaked in a contaminant before becoming hot. This “glaze” is the hardening of the friction material. 

Glazed brake pads can either be resurfaced, where material is removed until non-damaged material is visible, or simply replaced. Due to the low cost of brake pads, they are most commonly replaced. 

You can confirm the sound you’re hearing is brake squeal by driving down the road, and compressing the pedal -- you should hear the sound as you brake. As your vehicle slows to a stop, you should hear the intensity of the sound slow, and then stop as you do. 


Engine Belts 

Known as accessory belts, these small belts use your engine's power to rotate the various accessories for your vehicle, such as the alternator, air conditioning, water pump, and much more. 

Over time, these belts wear out or break down, and may begin to make a slight amount of noise. This whining sound should increase or change with engine RPM.

This noise can be tested with a light coat of spray-on lubricant. As the vehicle is running and you can audibly hear the squeak, spray a small amount of spray oil on the belt and listen for changes. Try to avoid spraying the engine parts themselves so you can confirm the issue is the belt. 

Your vehicle should never be run without a belt, as this would likely lead to permanent vehicle damage. These belts should be changed every 50,00 to 100,00 miles, during general maintenance.


Engine Pulleys  

Attached to each one of these accessory pumps and being spun by the belt are a series of pulleys. Inside these pulleys, small bearings ensure they can spin without creating wear, tear, or damage. 

Over time, these bearings can become worn out and will result in either a whining noise, or a grinding noise. The whining noise should change with engine RPM. 

To find the issue, run the vehicle with the hood popped, going from pulley to pulley, and spray a small amount of spray lubricant into the center of the pulley near the bolts. Once you hear the whining or grinding stop, you have found the troubled pulley. 

Even though you have caused the noise to stop, this “fix” is temporary. These bearings are placed under a large amount of pressure, and you should have the bearing replaced, or the entire pump replaced if warranted.


Accessory Belt Tensioner 

In order to keep the belt tights as it travels around the accessory pulleys, a tensioner is used. This is a pulley with a spring inside the base, which pulls against the belt, adding extra tension. 

Over time, dirt and grime may find its way into this tensioner and reduce its ability to operate smoothly. This will leave the belt loose, and instead of keeping all the pulleys moving, it may start to slip across a pulley, causing a loud belt whining. 

This slippage will cause excessive belt wear over time, and lead to the need for a new belt, along with possibly damaging the pulleys depending how long it’s left without repair. 

You can attempt a similar test for testing pulleys, spraying lubricant on the center of the pulley. If the pulley itself is the issue, the whining will be fairly consistent. 

In some instances, the sprung pivot point could be creating the whining or squeaking noise as it flexes back and forth, being a bit more sporadic. Using a dry-spray lubrication, this pivot point can be cleaned and lubricated to reduce noise. 


Clutch or Torque Converter 

Depending if you drive a manual or automotive vehicle, the clutch or torque converter may make a whining noise as they become worn and need replaced.

A clutch found on a manual transmission is similar to brake friction materials in the sense that they wear out over time, and could possibly become glazed. If you hear whining or squealing coming from beneath the car, it will most likely be coming from this component. 

As a clutch begins to fail, you should notice a difference in the clutch pedal or the ability to put the vehicle in gear. 

Similar issues can occur with torque converters found in automatic transmissions. These torque converters rotate, and could begin to create wear over time. 

This whining noise could also be the result of a failing throwout bearing or rear main seal. Both items require the transmission be removed prior to inspection, and their importance should be treated the same as other transmission issues. 

Regardless if you are driving an automatic or manual transmission, if whining noises are heard from under your vehicle, it should be handled immediately. A loss of transmission could create an emergency situation depending where it eventually fails. 


Power Steering 

Your power steering setup allows you to turn the wheel with minimal effort, while placing a massive effort on the tires. 

With the hydraulic power steering pumps providing so much force, they must remain lubricated. When leaks or other issues occur within the system, and power steering fluid drops, squealing and whining noises occur. 

It’s important to first repair these issues, and while the whining noise may be coming from the pump, the source of the leak may be isolated elsewhere. This could include any connector from the pump, to the power steering rack itself. 

Inspecting this system creates a great time to also inspect all steering rack boots and seals. If these boots are torn or missing, dirt and grime could make its way into the racks gearing and destroy the teeth over time. 


Oiling Issues 

Your engine oil protects your vehicle’s internal moving parts, from bearings to moving valves. If you fail to oil these components, loud whining could occur, ultimately leading to wear and deterioration of your engine. 

While performance oil additives can promote longevity and protect your engine, lack of oil or dirty oil can expedite the wear process.

Your engine requires enough oil to pump through each of its passages, bearings, filters, and soak the top end. If you failed to check your engine oil and it has run excessively low, you could fail to lubricate these important moving parts. 

Over time, your oil may become filthy. While changing your oil and filter are intended to clean and eliminate the risk, dirty oil could potentially clog passageways and cause specific bearings to receive no oiling. This will destroy that specific bearing and cause a whining noise that changes with RPM. 


Summary 

While sounds and noises coming from your vehicle are normal, certains sounds are clear indicators that damage may be occuring. Sounds such as whining warn you that something is wearing down, such as metal, rubber, or friction materials. 

Maintaining your vehicle mechanically and visually will encourage its longevity, and maintain a great value if you later decide to trade up, sell, or even pass it down. 

Gaining a deeper understanding of your vehicle with Shine Armor’s resources and knowledge will ensure you’re prepared for whatever task your vehicle brings into our life. 

 

Sources:

https://www.sunautoservice.com/what-is-a-serpentine-belt-and-when-does-it-need-to-be-replaced/#:~:text=Thanks%20to%20improvements%20in%20rubber,will%20need%20to%20be%20replaced

https://www.gatestechzone.com/en/problem-diagnosis/accessory-drive-system/tensioner-failure-signs#:~:text=Belt%20tensioners%20are%20extremely%20important,times%20throughout%20its%20duty%20cycle

https://auto.howstuffworks.com/steering4.htm 

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