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What to do when your car squeaks, leaks or rattles

  • Story Highlights
  • Small car noises and vibrations can be really annoying and hard to fix
  • Average time paid to track down and repair these is about a half hour
  • Squeaks & rattles usually occur as a result of two parts rubbing together
  • The most popular vibration complaint is Drivetrain vibration
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By Tom Torbjornsen
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(AOL Autos) -- The headline of this article illustrates the feeling people get when they encounter small, annoying maladies in their vehicles.

Steering/wheel vibrations are some of the most common.

Steering/wheel vibrations are some of the most common.

Squeaks, rattles, leaks, and vibrations are so irritating to motorists that the carmakers have created a separate category in their labor guides for warranty repair.

The average time paid by the manufacturer to track down and repair these annoying gremlins is about a half hour, but most times it actually takes a lot longer than that to identify and make the necessary repair.

Squeaks & rattles (S/R)

Squeaks & rattles (S/R) usually occur as a result of either two parts rubbing together or as a result of some part that is not quite secure, resulting in a squeak under load. The most common origins of S/R are from inside the dashboard, the vehicle's body, suspension or brakes.

Whenever a S/R develops, try to isolate the noise. Does it only happen when braking? Turning? Backing up? Going over a bump? While driving over a bumpy roadway? And where does the sound seem to be coming from? The dash? Under the car? The front or rear wheels? Once you isolate the approximate location of the noise and when it happens, something can be done about it.

Air and water leaks

What's leaking? Water or air? There's a different diagnostic procedure for finding these leaks. If you have fresh water coming into the vehicle, than you need to determine if it's coming from outside or inside. If from outside, it could be a leak in the windshield or a body seam.

The best way to duplicate this condition is to spray water on the outside of the vehicle in the approximate area where the water is leaking into the vehicle. Have someone inside the vehicle trying to find the origin of entry using a flashlight. Once you find it, seal the leak.

This may require re-sealing the windshield, adjusting the door tighter against the doorjamb gasket, adjusting the door glass tighter against the glass squeegee, or sealing a body seam. Whether or not you can repair it yourself depends on your knowledge and access to the necessary equipment.

If air is leaking into the vehicle, the best way to duplicate and track down an air leak is to drive the vehicle with another person trying to track down the noise, using either a stethoscope or electronic air leak listening device. Once pinpointed, repair of an air leak may require replacement of a door or glass gasket, or the re-sealing of the windshield or a body seam. AOL Autos: Top 10 least-polluting cars

Vehicle vibrations

Vehicle vibrations take various forms. The most common forms fall into the following categories:

-- Steering/suspension/wheel/tire

-- Body/chassis

-- Engine

- Drivetrain


This category is by far the most popular form of vehicle vibration. Tires go out of balance or go bad, steering linkage and suspension components wear out, and wheels get bent. All these conditions can result in steering wheel vibration. AOL Autos: Most popular crossover vehicles

Say, for instance, you experience a steering wheel vibration at 55MPH, below or above this speed vibration is not present. In such a case, a tire is probably out of balance. Worn steering linkage often causes vibration of the steering wheel while driving a rough road, usually after hitting a pothole or some sort of bump in the road.

This action sets the steering linkage off into a wild side to side dance that is characterized by a vigorous back and forth motion of the steering wheel. AOL Autos: Cars with the best resale values

Suspension wear can cause a similar action. Check the control arm bushings, ball joints, struts and strut bearings. Check the shocks on shock suspensions. Finally, a bent wheel or bad tire causes steering wheel vibration that's always present and intensifies at higher speeds. AOL Autos: Best used luxury cars


Vibration in the body and chassis can be more difficult to track down because it can originate from a location other than where it shows up. This is called telescoping. The best way to track down a body or chassis vibration is via the use of a special electronic listening device called a "Chassis Ear."

This is an electronic listening device that uses multiple microphones to amplify vibrations, so that they can be more accurately and efficiently tracked down. AOL Autos: Top 10 cars you may overlook

Engine vibration

Engine vibration can usually be traced to an engine miss from a bad sparkplug or plug wire, vacuum leak, faulty ignition component, mechanical failure of a cylinder (such as a broken valve spring, burnt valve, worn piston rings), and a host of other stuff. A simple engine diagnostic will bring to light the cause of engine vibration.


The final category of the most popular vibration complaint is Drivetrain vibration, which come from the transmission, axles, differentials, transfer cases and all affiliated components. This type of vibration usually expresses itself throughout the whole vehicle.

While accelerating or decelerating you can feel it in the seats, floorboards, steering wheel, and doors (essentially throughout the entire vehicle). It usually intensifies with engine acceleration or deceleration. Popular causes of this type of vibration are loose or worn CV or universal joints, bent drive or half shafts, loose transmission output shaft bearings or bushings, or worn differential or transfer case bearings.

The next time you hear that annoying squeak or rattle, or feel that irritating vibration, your vehicle is trying to tell you something. Don't put up with it; get it fixed and avoid bigger problems down the road.

'Til next time ... Keep Rollin'

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