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Why Do Your Tires Squeal?

Unless you’re at a drag strip and intend to perform a great smoky burnout, chances are that the sound of your tires squealing isn’t music to your ears. Frankly, it’s not music to anyone’s ears. High-pitched, startling, and grating on the nerves, squealing tires can convey that a car is losing control, and the sound is sometimes followed by the crunching thud of a collision.

Yellow Dodge Challenger SRT Burning Rubber

Tires squeal due to friction. When the rubber of your tires is rubbing on the pavement of the road, squealing is the result. And when it happens in an unexpected way, something isn’t right. Tires are supposed to roll on the surface without squealing, rather than drag or slide across the surface making noise, often leaving some of the tire on the surface of the road in the process.

Common Reasons for Squealing Tires

Here are the common reasons that may cause your tires to squeal that have nothing to do with a maintenance or repair issue:

  • Hard Acceleration – Whether on purpose or by accident, tires often squeal when you accelerate hard. Sudden acceleration can spin the drive wheels, so the tires are slipping on the road instead of gripping the pavement. This is especially common with higher-horsepower vehicles with front-wheel or rear-wheel drive and is less common in vehicles with all-wheel drive.
  • Hard Braking – When you slam hard on your brakes, your tires may squeal. This is more common in older vehicles without antilock brakes, in which hard braking locks the wheels and they slide and skid across the surface of the road. But even with antilock brakes, some tire squeal could accompany very hard braking.
  • Turning Corners – If you take a corner or a curve with too much speed, your tires lose grip and start to slide. This causes them to squeal. To solve this problem, drive slower or choose performance-oriented tires that offer more grip in corners and curves.
  • Type of Tire – Some tires squeal easier than others. The softer the rubber compound, wider the tire contact patch (the part of the tire in contact with the road surface), and shorter the tire sidewall (the distance from the edge of the wheel rim to the contact patch), the less likely the tire is to squeal. Even if two different tires have the same properties in terms of compound and size, differences in tread design can allow one to squeal more than another.
  • Type of Road Surface – The road surface itself can cause tire squeal. The temperature of the surface, the material used to pave the surface, and the texture or finish of the surface all determine whether or not a tire might squeal in an unexpected manner.

Other Reasons

Sometimes, tires squeal no matter the conditions. If that’s the case, you may have a maintenance or repair issue to address. Here are a few more reasons as to why your car may be suffering regular, prolonged tire squeal:

  • Underinflated Tires: An underinflated tire is soft, allowing more sidewall flex when you go around a corner or a curve. This sidewall flex can cause the tire to lose grip sooner than it would when properly inflated, causing tire squeal. Tires that are inflated to the recommended pressure in the owner’s manual or on the door jamb should not squeal more than is normal.
  • Old/Worn Tires: Over time, tires wear out, losing tread depth to the point where little tread might remain on the tire. A “bald” tire such as this loses grip easier, producing more squealing than is normal.
  • Wheel Alignment: Your wheels must be aligned to point and travel in the same direction. If they are not aligned, and the angle of one or more wheels is off, then the tires will scrub on the pavement as you drive. Minor misalignment should not produce tire squeal. Major misalignment does.

Aside from creating a noise that is a nuisance to anyone within earshot, any squeal means that you are putting excess wear and tear on your tires. In turn, that means you’ll need to replace them sooner than later, and tires are not cheap.

Who wants that hassle and cost? Increase your tires’ chances for a long, useful life by keeping them properly inflated, making sure they’re in good condition, rotating them periodically, and having your alignment checked whenever you feel the vehicle pulling to the left or right.

And maybe slow down a little bit while you’re at it.