Squeaking Noise While Driving But Not Brakes Applied: Fixed!

Driving is a task that most of us undertake every day, whether it’s commuting to work or running errands. However, it can be incredibly frustrating when your driving experience is hampered by an annoying squeaking noise that seems to come from nowhere. The worst part? The squeaking or squealing noise occurs despite not applying brakes, or it stops when applying brakes. You may hear it consistently, intermittently, or only when turning.

This squeaking noise can be a significant source of distress, not only because it distracts you from the road but also because it might indicate underlying problems that may lead to costly repairs down the road. Fortunately, you don’t have to despair any longer, as there are several likely causes that you can identify and resolve. In this article, we’ll delve into the root causes of the squeaking noise while driving but not brakes applied and help you find a lasting solution to the problem.

One of the most common reasons for a squeaking noise while driving but not brakes applied is worn-out suspension components, such as shocks, struts, sway links, bushings or ball joints. As you drive, these parts can develop play or looseness, causing them to rub together and produce a squeaking sound. Another possibility is that your tires are rubbing against something in the wheel well, such as a loose piece of plastic or metal. This can create a high-pitched squeak that may become more noticeable at higher speeds. Another potential cause of a squeaking noise while driving is a loose or worn-out serpentine belt. If the squeaking noise occurs when you turn the wheel, it could be a sign that your power steering pump is failing or that the steering column needs to be lubricated. If you apply brakes and the squeaking noise stops, it is a sign of work brake pads. While driving, the squeaking noise is caused by the metal wear indicator of the brake pads rubbing against the brake rotor when brake pads have worn to a great extent. Lastly, a bad CV joint can also cause squeaking noise while driving.

Also Read: Groaning noise when braking at low speed

In this guide, I will also explain some brakes related issues that cause squeaking noise from cars even without braking. For this, you have to first have an overview of working of disc brakes. If you don’t understand each part of the disc brake, it will be difficult for you to understand some technical terms I will be using in this guide.

Squeaking Noise While Driving But Not Brakes Applied

Here are the causes of squeaking noise while driving but not brakes applied:

1. Wear Indicator Of Brake Pads Touching The Brake Rotor

wear indicator of brake pad causing squeaking noise

Wear indicators are small metal tabs attached to brake pads. They are designed to give an audible signal when the brake pads are worn down to a certain level. When the brake pads are new, the wear indicators do not touch the brake rotor. However, as the brake pads wear down, the wear indicators touch the rotor and produce a squeaking noise.

Wear indicators are designed to make a high-pitched squeaking noise when they touch the brake rotor. This noise is intentional and serves as an audible warning that the brake pads are worn down and need to be replaced. You will find wear tabs on either the side or the leading edge (also called ear)  of the brake pad.

parts of a brake pad

When you apply the brakes, the brake caliper squeezes the brake pad against the rotor with more force. This extra force can push the wear indicator away from the rotor, temporarily stopping the noise. However, once you release the brakes, the noise will likely return. 

How to Fix?

The proper solution for a squeaking noise caused by wear indicators is to replace the brake pads. Using brake pads that have worn down to the point where the wear indicators make contact with the rotors can result in reduced braking performance, increased stopping distances, and even brake failure in extreme cases.

It is important to ensure that the replacement brake pads are OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) recommended to ensure they meet the specifications for your vehicle’s make and model. Using an inadequately sized brake pad can cause issues such as the vibration of the pad and uneven contact with the brake disc.

2. Stuck Caliper Pin

caliper pin

Caliper is a small metal rod that connects the brake caliper to the brake pads. When you apply the brakes, the caliper squeezes the pads against the rotor, creating the friction necessary to slow down or stop your car. The caliper pins allow the caliper to move freely and make sure that the brake pads wear evenly.

The caliper pin is held in place by a rubber boot that keeps dirt and debris out and lubricant in. The pin is coated with grease to reduce friction and prevent corrosion.

Over time, the brake caliper pin can become dirty or corroded, causing it to stick in place. When this happens, the brake pad remains partially engaged with the rotor, even when you’re not applying the brakes. As a result, you’ll hear a squeaking noise when you’re driving. 

Another potential symptom of a stuck caliper pin is uneven brake pad wear. When the caliper can’t move freely, it can cause one brake pad to wear down faster than the other. This can lead to decreased braking performance, as well as other issues like vibration or pulling to one side while braking. 

How to fix?

Use a brake cleaner and a wire brush to clean any debris or rust off the pin. Also, get the debris and dirt out of the hole in which the caliper pin is inserted. You can use this brush to clean the bore of the caliper in which the pin slides. Dip a bore brush or a cotton swab in the cleaning solution and gently clean the inside of the hole. Then apply a high-temperature brake lubricant to help it move freely. I would recommend this one.

Note: Excessive lubrication can trap air at the tip of the slide pin, causing the caliper/pad assembly to drag on the rotor. As such, always ensure that you use the correct amount of lubricant when applying it to the slide pins.

lubricating caliper pin

3. Warped Brake Rotor

A brake rotor is a vital component of your vehicle’s braking system. It’s the disc-shaped part that the brake pads clamp down on to create friction and slow down or stop the vehicle.

When a rotor becomes glazed or grooved, it can no longer provide a smooth surface for the brake pads to clamp down on. This can cause the brake pads to skip or slip over the surface of the rotor, resulting in a squeaking noise. However, this noise is usually only heard when the brakes are not being applied, as the pressure of the brake pads against the rotor can help to dampen the noise.

Why does a warped rotor cause a squeaking noise while driving?

When a rotor becomes warped, it means that it is no longer perfectly flat. Instead, it has a slight bend or curve in it. This can cause the brake pads to make intermittent contact with the rotor, creating a vibration that results in a squeaking noise. This noise can be especially noticeable at low speeds, such as when driving in a parking lot or through a residential area.

How to spot?

When the brake rotor becomes warped, it can become glazed or grooved. Glazing occurs when the brake pads become overheated and create a layer of shiny, hardened material on the surface of the rotor. Grooving occurs when debris such as sand or dirt becomes embedded in the rotor and creates deep scratches. 

scored brake rotor

We can’t visually observe warped rotors as the deformity caused by heat is usually very small. A couple of thousandths of an inch can cause the rotor to warp, which is too small to notice by simply looking at the rotors.

4. Stones Stuck In Tires

stone stuck in tire

Tire treads are the patterned grooves on the surface of a tire that serve a crucial role in providing traction on the road. One of the most important functions of tire treads is to channel water out of the way, which helps to prevent hydroplaning. By directing the water away from the tire’s contact patch, the tire can maintain a strong grip on the road in wet conditions.

In addition, tire treads also play a key role in providing traction on different types of terrain such as snow, mud, or gravel.

However, while driving, your tires can pick up all sorts of debris from the road, including stones.

Stones stuck in tires can cause a squeaking noise while driving due to the friction between the tires and the stones. The sound is often described as a high-pitched whine.

When a stone gets trapped in the tread of a tire, it creates a vibration as the tire rotates. This vibration causes the stone to rub against the tire’s surface, which produces a squeaking noise.

When you apply the brakes, the noise may stop because the pressure from the brake pads pushes the tire against the road, dislodging the stone from the tread. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes the noise can continue even when the brakes are applied. 

How to fix?

If you do find stones stuck in your tires, there are several solutions you can try. One of the easiest is to simply remove the stones yourself. This can be done by carefully prying the stones out of the treads using a tool such as a flathead screwdriver.

It is a good idea to get rid of stones stuck between tire treads as soon as possible. They can be lodged between the grooves or treads on the tires. This can cause what is called “stone drilling”, where the stone is pushed deeper and deeper into the tire as it rotates, eventually puncturing one or more plies of the tire’s tread.

If a stone penetrates into one or more of the treads, the tire might not be able to be repaired safely. The puncture can cause a weakening of the structure of the tire, and the tire might blow out while driving. 

5. Brake Pads Are Not Returning Completely

One reason that results in brake pads touching the brake rotor even after the brake pedal is released is the sticking brake caliper. I have already explained this above. Another reason that causes this condition is that brake pads need to be lubricated on areas where they are mounted in the caliper bracket.

retaining clips of caliper bracket need to be lubricated

The caliper bracket has a part, called a “retaining clip”, where brake pads glide smoothly when the brake pedal is pressed and released. The retaining clips in a caliper bracket are small piece of metal that holds the brake pads in place. They are usually made out of stainless steel. When brake pads aren’t lubricated properly, the retaining clips bracket can become dry and start to wear down. This causes the brake pads to vibrate against the rotor, which produces the high-pitched squeaking noise that you hear. 

How to fix?

To fix this, you need to remove the brake pads from the caliper bracket and lubricate the ears of the brake pads. I would recommend ATE Plastilube Grease. Make sure you don’t apply grease to the friction plate of the brake pad as it will damage the material and brake rotor.

6. Uneven Pressure In Tires

Proper tire pressure is essential for safe and efficient driving. Underinflated tires can cause poor handling, reduce fuel efficiency, and increase the risk of tire failure. Overinflated tires can cause a harsh ride, reduce traction, and wear out the center of the tire tread faster. Therefore, it is important to maintain the recommended tire pressure levels specified by the vehicle manufacturer. 

When the tire pressure is uneven, the tire tends to wear out unevenly, causing a choppy or scalloping pattern on the tire tread. This uneven wear pattern causes the tire to produce a squeaking noise while driving. Even a user complained that when his car started squeaking, he noticed flat spots on his car’s tire.

Moreover, when the pressure in the tires is not evenly distributed, it can cause the tires to vibrate and generate friction against the road surface. This friction can produce a squeaking noise that is most noticeable when the car is in motion.

In addition, if the uneven tire pressure is more severe in one tire than the others, it can cause the car to pull to one side while driving. This pulling can cause additional strain on the tires, leading to more noise and potentially even further damage. 

Proper tire pressure is essential for the smooth functioning of your vehicle. It ensures that your tires wear evenly, provides better fuel economy, and more importantly, ensures your safety on the road. When your tires are not inflated to the recommended level, it can lead to a host of issues like decreased fuel efficiency, reduced tire lifespan, and most importantly, decreased traction on the road.

How to spot?

Here is how a tire looks with underinflation and overinflation:

imrpoper inflation of tires causing  uneven wear

Source: https://www.autocornerd.com/ford-f150-humming-noise-while-driving/

How to fix?

It is essential to inflate the tires with recommended air pressure. 

When you open the driver-side door of your car, you’ll see the label of recommended pressure for front and rear tires.

I have a 2018 Toyota Vitz. So, I have attached the picture of recommended tire pressure so that you can get an idea of how it looks:

recommended tire pressure

In the picture above, 165/70/R14 is a tire size. 2.5 bar is the tire pressure for the front tires and 2.4 bar is the tire pressure for the rear tires.

7. Uneven Tire Wear

Uneven tire wear refers to the situation where the tires on your car wear out differently. This can occur due to a variety of reasons, including improper inflation, unbalanced wheels, misaligned wheels, or driving habits. When tires wear out unevenly, it creates a situation where certain areas of the tire are more worn down than others. This can lead to a host of problems, including a squeaking noise while driving.

When your tires’ tread wears down, it can cause the rubber to become harder and less flexible. This can create a situation where your tires start to slip and slide around on the road, rather than gripping it as they should. When this happens, you may start to hear a squeaking noise as the tires move along the pavement.

Some users say that when your tires wear unevenly, it causes the tire to become misshapen or out of round. When the tire becomes misshapen due to uneven wear, it makes contact with the road at an odd angle. This can cause increased friction and noise as the tire tries to grip the road surface. The misshapen tire can also create vibrations that can be felt throughout the car, leading to squeaking noise while driving, even when the brakes are not applied. 

How to prevent it?

The standard recommendation is to replace your tires when the tread depth reaches 2/32 inches. This depth is the legal minimum in some states, but it’s generally recommended to replace tires when the tread gets below 4/32 inches to maintain reliable traction and safety.

Preventing uneven tire wear is relatively easy as long as you take proper care of your tires. Here are some tips to help you avoid uneven tire wear:

  1. Check your tire pressure regularly and maintain it at the recommended level. This will help ensure that the weight of your vehicle is distributed evenly across all four tires.
  2. Rotate your tires regularly. This involves switching the front tires with the back tires so that they wear more evenly. The recommended frequency for tire rotation is every 6,000 to 8,000 miles.
  3. Get your wheels aligned. Misaligned wheels can cause uneven tire wear, so it’s important to have them checked and aligned by a professional mechanic.
  4. Avoid bad driving habits, including sharp turns, sudden stops or starts, and driving over potholes or other road hazards.

8. Worn-out Suspension Components

suspension components bushing and ball joint

Suspension components are the parts that connect your vehicle’s frame to the wheels, allowing for smooth and comfortable driving. They include ball joints, control arms, struts, shocks, sway bars, bushings, tie rods and other similar parts.

If any of the suspension components wear out, it causes suspension components to move around and rub against other parts, leading to the squeaking noise you hear while driving. The noise may be more pronounced when going over bumps or turning corners, as these actions cause the suspension components to move around more.

Ball joints are an essential part of the suspension system that connects the steering knuckle to the control arm and tie rods. They allow for proper movement and rotation of the suspension system while keeping the wheels aligned.

However, when ball joints become worn out, they can no longer provide the necessary support, causing the suspension to become loose and make noise while driving. You will find ball joints in the connections of tie rods and control arms.

tie rods

Control arms are another essential component of the suspension system that connects the wheel hub to the chassis of the vehicle. They provide support to the suspension system and allow for proper movement and rotation. However, when the control arms become worn out, they can no longer provide the necessary support, causing the suspension to become loose and make noise while driving. 

Other reasons for squeaking noise while driving can be bushings, springs, and struts. Bushings are rubber boots that provide a cushion between the suspension components and the vehicle’s frame, preventing metal-to-metal contact and reducing noise. However, when bushings become worn out, they can no longer provide the necessary cushion, causing the suspension to become loose and make noise while driving.

You will observe bushings in the connections of tie rod, control arms and sway bars. These bushings are around the ball joints.

How to fix?

In some cases, the worn-out components may need to be replaced entirely, while in others, they may simply need to be lubricated or adjusted by replacing the bushing around the ball joint.

9. Bad CV Joint

bad CV joint

CV joints, or constant velocity joints, are an essential component of your vehicle’s drivetrain in front-wheel drive. They are responsible for transferring power from the transmission to the wheels while allowing for smooth and efficient rotation. 

A CV joint is made up of several components, including the CV boot, which protects the joint from dirt and debris, and the bearings, which allow the joint to rotate smoothly. As the wheels turn, the joint allows the axle to move up and down, keeping the wheels in contact with the road. 

There are two main types of CV joints:

  • Inner CV joint
  • Outer CV joint

Inner CV joints connect the transmission to the axle shafts, while outer CV joints connect the axle shafts to the wheels. Both types of CV joints are critical to your vehicle’s drivetrain, and both can cause problems if they fail. 

To learn more about CV joints, you can read my guide on how CV joints can affect transmission.

When a CV joint starts to wear out, it can no longer move smoothly. Instead, it may start to bind or stick, which can cause a variety of noises, including a squeaking, popping or clicking sound. This noise is often more noticeable when you’re turning, as the CV joint is under more stress in this situation. 

How to fix?

You need to check if the rubber boot of the CV joint is damaged. The rubber boot encloses grease and bearing and protects the bearing from dirt and debris. If you want grease leaking behind the wheels of your car, the chances are that the CV joint boot is cracked.

10. Bad Serpentine Belt and Pulley

serpentine belt

A serpentine belt is a long, continuous belt that powers multiple components of a vehicle’s engine. The components include a steering pump, AC compressor, alternator, etc. The pulley, on the other hand, is a rotating wheel with a grooved rim that the serpentine belt wraps around. The pulley is responsible for driving the belt and transmitting power to the components it controls. 

Apart from regular pulleys, the serpentine belt also passes over two different types of pulleys i.e. tensioner pulley and idler pulley. 

The tensioner pulley is spring-loaded and can pivot. It is designed to apply tension to the serpentine belt, ensuring that it stays tight and doesn’t slip on the pulleys. This helps to prevent squeaking, premature wear, and damage to the belt and other engine components.

The idler pulley, on the other hand, is designed to route the serpentine belt around the various accessories and engine components that it drives. It helps to keep the belt properly aligned and prevent it from slipping off the pulleys.

Over time, the bearings in the idler and tensioner pulleys can wear out, causing them to become loose and wobbly. When this happens, the pulleys will no longer be able to maintain the proper tension on the serpentine belt, which can cause it to slip and create that annoying squeaking noise.

How to spot?

Here are the signs that your serpentine belt or pulley is worn out and needs to be replaced:

  • Cracks or fraying on the belt
  • Broken or missing ribs on the belt
  • Belt slipping or coming off the pulley
  • Visually inspect the pulley for signs of wear, such as cracks, chips, or grooves. The pulley should also turn freely without any binding or wobbling
  • Tensioner pulley is kicking a lot from side to side and ticking marks on the pulley

Moreover, the idler pulley should be tight. If the idler pulley has any play, it will cause the serpentine belt to become loose.

A stethoscope or a very long screwdriver can also be used to pinpoint where the noise is coming from.

11. Failing Steering Pump or Steering Column Needs To be Lubricated

A steering pump is an essential component of a vehicle’s power steering system. A steering pump generates hydraulic pressure that assists the driver in turning the steering wheel.

When the driver turns the wheel, the pump sends hydraulic fluid to the steering gear, which then turns the car’s wheels. This process requires a substantial amount of pressure, which the pump provides.

The steering column is a vertical shaft that connects the steering wheel to the steering gearbox or rack-and-pinion. The steering column is made up of several parts that need to move smoothly against each other, such as the shaft, the bushings, and the joints.

If any of these parts becomes dry or worn out, they can produce a squeaking or creaking sound when you turn the wheel or drive over bumps. This is because when the lubrication wears off, the metal components start to rub against each other, causing friction and creating a squeaking noise. 

If the steering pump is causing squeaking noise, you should check the pulley of the steering pump.