For Cruiser's Squealing Problem, Look at the Driving Surface

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser Limited Edition with 225,000 miles. It is running fine, but when driving at lower speeds and turning, like in our condo parking garage, it makes all kinds of squeaks and squeals. They are not heard when driving at higher speeds on the road.

I think in the old days, new grease plugs and a lube job would have taken care of this. Is there a way to quiet things down short of replacing ball joints? -- William

William, we love having customers like you at the shop. Guys like you come in, having already diagnosed the problem and tell us you need grease plugs (whatever they are), a lube job and ball joints.

We sell you all that stuff, and when you come back and say the car was still squealing, we can just shrug and say "Hey, you asked for all that stuff."

I think the squealing is actually coming from your tires, William. But I don't think you need new tires, either. What you're hearing is the tires scrubbing or dragging along the smooth, sticky, concrete floor of your parking garage.

Chemically sealed concrete is almost perfectly flat and nonporous. That means 100% of the tire's contact patch is in touch with the garage floor.

So when you turn the steering wheel, you end up dragging the tires -- in tiny little movements -- over the garage floor.

The tires are intermittently sticking and then sliding a little bit. And that stick-and-slide creates the eeerrr-eeerrr-eeerrr squeaking sound you hear. It's a lot like what you hear on a basketball court, as players stop and pivot and their sneakers drag along the court surface.

When you're on a normal road, it doesn't happen, mostly because the pavement isn't as smooth. Those chunks of asphalt create a much more porous surface than concrete, so not every square millimeter of your tire's contact patch is touching the road.

Plus, when you're driving, there are other noises that would drown it out, like engine noise, wind noise, road noise and your copy of "Led Zeppelin IV."

What can make the squealing noise worse? If they recently resealed the garage floor. If you have wheels that are out of alignment and more likely to drag or scrub on turns. Or if you've been watching too many Charles Bronson movies, William, and are flying into your parking space at 30 mph.

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