Why Do My Tires Squeak While Driving?

Squeaking tires while driving isn't just annoying — it could be a warning of a serious problem. Don't ignore that squeak.

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Tires are one of your vehicle’s most important systems and they take a lot of abuse. A squeaking sound from your tires is, of course, a nuisance, but it can also indicate that other parts of your vehicle are worn or damaged. Here are some of the most common causes of tire squeak and what you can do to fix the problem.

Underinflated or Overinflated Tires

Under- or overinflated tires are the number one and most obvious cause of tire squeak, especially when turning. The tread area contacting the road surface is greatly reduced on tires that are under- or overinflated. This causes tires to deform, slide sideways and squeak. Follow your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended specifications for tire inflation and make checking your tire pressure part of your monthly maintenance routine.

Pro Tip: Tire pressure is important to your car’s overall safety and performance. Tires that are under or over inflated are prone to blowouts, negatively impact fuel economy and braking and steering responsiveness. Pick up a tread depth gauge and air pressure gauge online or at your local parts store and use them regularly. Replace any tire that has tread measuring 4/32-in. or less.

Uneven Tread Wear

A suspension system that is out of alignment causes tires to be dragged rather than roll smoothly. This triggers uneven tire tread wear, which can cause that squeaking sound when driving, braking and turning. Suspension system alignment is best left to a pro.

Pro Tip: A vehicle needing an alignment may also experience reduced steering response and decreased tire life, as well as compromised braking and traction. Besides having your tire shop perform an alignment, rotating your tires every six months or 6,000 to 8,000 miles helps even out normal wear patterns, making your tires run quieter and last longer.

Abnormal Tire Wear

Worn, damaged or bent suspension parts, wheels or wheel hub bearings, caused by an accident or hitting a pothole or curb, can cause tread cupping, feathering or scalloped wear. Any of that can make tires squeak. A trip to your repair shop is best to diagnose and correct abnormal tire wear.

Brakes

Is it possible the squeaking you hear is coming from the brakes and not your tires?

A metal tab (brake wear indicator) attached to the brake pad backing plate will rub against the rotor while driving, making an unpleasant squeaking noise and alerting the driver that it’s time for new pads. If the wear indicator is causing the squeak, the noise should stop when stepping on the brakes.

Worn, missing or broken brake caliper hardware can cause the caliper to drag and rub on the rotor, which can also produce a squeaking noise. If you narrow down the source of the noise to the brakes, replacing brake pads and rotors can be a DIY project.

Or Is It Something Else?

Although uncommon, loose or rusted wheel covers, or loose or overtightened lug nuts can cause tires to squeak while driving. Your best bet is to have a trusted mechanic check your vehicle’s wheels for any physical damage. And never just re-tighten lug nuts. Lug nuts should be loosened, then re-torqued to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Your tires (plus the brake and suspension systems that work in harmony with those tires) make up your car’s most essential safety systems. Squeaking tires while driving should be checked by your mechanic before a more serious problem arises.

Robert Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning auto technician and career and technical educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants, and helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into technical/vocational training, for more than 20 years. His work has been featured in Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine, among others. Bob and his wife lived through 20 years' worth of DIY home remodeling while parenting two (now grown) boys and now relax by watching their three fabulous granddaughters.