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Your car’s squealing is a cry for attention. Squealing when you turn the steering wheel could indicate issues with the power steering components, potentially resulting in a loss of control if they fail. But sometimes, squealing suggests low fluids you can add yourself to avoid the cost of visiting a mechanic.

What does it mean when your car squeals? 

Car squealing when turning the steering wheel
A woman’s hands on a Hyundai car’s steering wheel | Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If your car squeals, you need to pay attention because ignoring strange car noises can lead to more significant problems down the road. For example, most vehicle braking systems employ a small metal tab that squeaks when the brake pads wear down to minimum-safe levels. Although the brake pads need maintenance when the squealing starts, they won’t cause damage as they would if they wore beyond the warning squeal. 

Why does your car squeal when you turn the wheel? 

Here are the six most common causes of squealing when turning the steering wheel:

  • Low power steering fluid level
  • Faulty power steering pump
  • Damaged or failing rack-and-pinion or steering gearbox
  • Tires rubbing the inner fender
  • Slipping engine belt(s)
  • Failing steering components (ball joints, tie-rod ends, CV joints, etc.)

J.D. Power says power steering component failure is a common cause of squealing when turning the steering wheel. Your car’s power steering system includes components such as:

  • Power steering pump
  • Power steering hoses
  • Power steering fluid
  • Rack-and-pinion or steering gearbox
  • Engine belt driving the pump

Rack-and-pinion, steering gearbox, or pump failure could cause squealing and result in a substantial repair bill. But low power steering fluid levels also cause squealing when turning the steering wheel. Low fluid level is another example of your car crying for attention. Ignoring it could lead to power steering pump damage and higher repair costs. Adding power steering fluid is simple, and most auto parts stores will show you how if you buy the product from them. 

If your power steering fluid level is in the full range but appears discolored or smells burnt, it’s time to flush the system and refill it with fresh power steering fluid. Though flushing the system isn’t cheap, it’s less expensive than replacing the pump or other components that could fail due to failed power steering fluid. And ensuring your steering system performs appropriately, allowing you to maintain control of your car, is worth the cost. 

It’s unlikely your car’s tires are rubbing unless you’ve damaged the vehicle in an accident, installed oversized tires, or modified the fenders, but those are things to consider. 

You can inspect your engine belts by looking for cracking, missing chunks, and frayed areas. Steering components require an experienced mechanic’s inspection, usually available from most auto repair shops for a modest fee. 

Is it safe to drive a car with squealing noises?

Though a car’s squealing isn’t always a symptom of an unsafe condition, it needs your attention sooner rather than later. At the very least, attending to the squeal’s source could save time and money. If the noise stems from a severe issue, fixing the problem before the car fails could save lives. 


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