AAA experts weigh in on a squealing car and failing brakes.
Q My car squeals when I turn the steering wheel either right or left. A mechanic tells me nothing is wrong. What causes this annoying problem?
A No. 1 suspect: the belt. Power steering gets its power from the engine by way of a belt that runs from the end of the crankshaft around a bunch of pulleys, including one that drives the power steering pump. This pump pushes hydraulic fluid through a system that amplifies the force you apply when you turn the steering wheel. Just as you work a little harder when you move the steering wheel, the pump has to work harder building the hydraulic pressure needed to make the front wheels of the car head right or left. This means the belt suddenly finds the pulley on the pump a bit harder to spin. If the belt isn't in prime condition, it may slip, and as it does, friction creates a squeal. A belt can seem pristine to the eye but have a hard, glazed surface underneath, where it comes into contact with the pulleys. This makes slipping (and squealing) likely. Belts deteriorate with time; our technicians suggest replacing them every five years whether they squeal for attention or not.
Q I recently lost the brakes on my 1995 Civic at 79,500 miles. A new master cylinder fixed things, but I wonder: Was it time for the master cylinder to go or was this failure premature? Should my mechanic have seen a problem before the brakes failed?
Forest Grove, Oregon
A Some car parts have a life span predictable enough that you can head off trouble with preemptive replacement. Hoses and belts are examples. Other parts manage to function indefinitely in quiet obscurity and fail, if they ever do go bad, at unpredictable times. Brake master cylinders are in this second category. Brakes can let go with little warning, although often such coming events do cast a shadow before them: A mushy pedal or an increase in pedal travel are two possible omens. Master cylinder failure at 79,500 miles isn't necessarily premature. Flushing the brake system at the intervals recommended in your vehicle's owner's manual is one way to prolong its life.
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This article was first published in September 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.