From keeping our cars in contact with the road to enhancing comfort, tires are some of the most important innovations in the transportation industry. Still, they are subjected to perhaps the biggest wear and tear of any vehicle part and, as such, won't always work as expected.
One common behavior of tires is squealing when turning, which can happen due to a variety of reasons. In fact, I can give you dozens of factors that impact squealing! Each one of them affects the tires and, crucially, safety while driving in a different way.
For that reason, I will delve deep into tire squealing in this article, as that is the only way you can get a clearer picture of why it happens to you. From the inevitable squeal due to driving fast to problems with the suspension, here is how to diagnose the cornering screeches and turn with once again turn with confidence!
- Understanding Tires and Squealing
- Common Causes of Tire Squealing
- Environmental Factors Contributing to Squealing
- Addressing and Preventing Squealing
- When to Seek Professional Help
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- 1. Why do my tires squeal even when I'm turning slowly?
- 2. Is tire squealing a sure sign of tire wear, or could there be other reasons?
- 3. How frequently should I check my tire alignment to prevent squealing?
- 4. Does the type of tire (summer, winter, all-season) affect the likelihood of squealing sounds when turning?
- 5. Are there any quick fixes to stop my tires from squealing when making sharp turns?
Understanding Tires and Squealing
Tires serve as the only point of contact between the vehicle and the road, a pivotal connection upon which the safety and performance of the entire vehicle depends. While they may seem straightforward, the intricacies of tires encompass vast areas of engineering and physics, particularly when deciphering the nuanced noises they produce.
The most common sound that a tire will produce is squealing – a piercing note that you will often hear during sharp turns. It is so common that every driver has experienced it at least once, either because of issues with the tire or because of entering a corner too fast.
To get to the root, we need to delve deeper into the anatomy of the tire because every part of the tire plays a role in how it performs. Let's have a closer look!
1. Anatomy of a Tire: A Brief Overview
People often overlook tires as just a rubber casing filled with air. However, they are incredibly complex, particularly when it comes to their engineering.
Some tire brands, like Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, and Pirelli, spend millions of dollars to make a better tire with each iteration, and they are always successful. Tires today are better than ever, providing us with wet traction that is higher than the dry traction of tires four to five decades ago.
The construction of modern tires is a culmination of extensive engineering and material science. At a fundamental level, tires consist of the following:
- Tread: this is the part that touches the road and provides grip. It is composed of a blend of natural and synthetic rubbers tailored to provide optimal traction in a variety of conditions and on a variety of roads. All road-going tires have a tread pattern, which also significantly influences a tire's performance characteristics, including its tendency to squeal.
- Sidewall: this is the vertical part of the tire, which is there to connect the tread to the bead. Moreover, the sidewall is largely responsible for the load-bearing capacity of the tire and comes imprinted with all important information about the tire.
- Bead: this is the inner circle of the tire that comes in contact with the rim. It helps the tire sit on the rim without losing air to the atmosphere. It's enforced with steel wires, ensuring the tire remains firmly attached to the wheel assembly.
- Inner liner: this is a thin layer of specially formulated rubber designed to retain air and maintain tire pressure.
- Carcass ply: this is the part that gives the tire its structural integrity. It consists of nylon fiber plies (often made from polyester) that are lightweight yet strong and a steel belt for higher puncture resistance.
2. Decoding the Sound: What Does Squealing Indicate?
Interact with any object, and sound waves will spread through the surrounding medium, like air or water. You might not hear all of those sounds but use precise equipment, and they will be there. Tires must also follow the laws of physics and therefore produce sound when they interact with the road.
In technical terms, squealing is a result of lateral (sideways) vibrations within the tire. These vibrations escalate to a frequency discernible by the human ear, manifesting as squealing. Several factors can lead to this:
- Slip angle: when a tire turns, it doesn't move entirely in the direction it's pointed. In other words, there is always a slight side-to-side motion. The difference between the tire's actual path and the direction it is pointed is the slip angle. Squealing can signify a big fluctuation in this angle, often due to aggressive driving or tight cornering. This, of course, varies depending on the type of tire.
- Stick-slip phenomenon: as tires roll or turn, sections of the rubber momentarily stick to the road and then slip. This rapid alternation between sticking and slipping can produce squealing, especially when amplified by other conditions. For instance, heat can make the tire's rubber compound much softer, leading to a higher elasticity of the tire, which increases the stick-slip phenomenon.
- Tire compound: tires with a softer construction are prone to generating more noise, especially during hot weather conditions. In other words, they are more susceptible to the stick-slip phenomenon.
3. The Connection Between Road Conditions and Tire Sounds
The road you are driving on will also play a big role, as it can amplify or dampen the tire's squealing. This, combined with environmental factors like weather, can have a profound effect on the tires squealing. But let's have a closer look at all road-related factors that influence tire squealing:
- Surface texture: Roads can range from smooth asphalt to coarse concrete. The micro-texture, or the fine irregularities on the road, interacts with the tire tread. On certain textures, especially if they're mismatched with the tire's tread pattern, increased vibration and squealing may occur. There is no rule here, but in my experience, smoother roads actually produce more squeal.
- Road contaminants: water can usually dampen squealing because it absorbs the sound waves, but it can also intensify it if the tire doesn't have good water channeling capabilities and slides a lot. Other road contaminants, like oil and sand, can also intensify squealing.
- Temperature: as temperatures drop, the tire rubber becomes stiffer and potentially more prone to squealing, especially if the tires aren't designed for cold climates, like summer tires. However, the same holds true during very hot environmental conditions, especially for tires that aren't designed for hot climates, like winter tires.
Common Causes of Tire Squealing
Tire squealing is most often not an issue you should be worried about. As I said, tires produce noise, especially when pushed hard. However, if squealing occurs too often in your car, you should definitely look closer into the issue. Down below, I will give you the most common causes of tire squealing, so you can better understand where the issue on your vehicle comes from.
1. Inadequate Tire Pressure
By far, the most prevalent reason for tires squealing when turning is incorrect tire pressure. Underinflated tires are particularly bad because they create a larger contact patch with the road, leading to increased friction. As a result of the higher friction, higher noise, most often squealing, will occur.
Overinflated tires, on the other hand, may produce a squealing sound as only a small central portion of the tire makes contact with the road, leading to uneven wear and an altered tread pattern.
Of course, the squealing will be the worst when the tires are severely underinflated or overinflated by about 7 psi (0.5 bar). Still, incorrect tire pressure also affects the safety of your car, so keeping it close to the recommended is paramount, as even small variations can greatly decrease the handling performance.
2. Aging or Worn-out Tires
Tires will wear over time due to abrasion from the road, even when driven gently. Moreover, they age over time in a process called dry rotting, where the chemical and physical qualities of the rubber compound are changed, and it becomes harder and more brittle.
All of these factors can significantly increase the chances of tire squealing occurring, so if you often hear that sound piercing through your ears, it might be time to replace your tires. I would recommend replacing the tires before they reach the minimum tread depth (2/32 inches or 1.6 mm), and never keep them on your car for longer than 6-8 years (depending on the model), even if you didn't drive your car too often.
That is because an old or worn-out tire may not only squeal but also offers reduced traction, which could compromise safety. Therefore, it's crucial to periodically inspect tires for signs of wear and replace them when necessary.
3. Misalignment of Wheels
Wheel alignment ensures that all four tires make consistent and optimal contact with the road. If wheels are misaligned, they may pull in different directions, leading to uneven tire wear.
4. Damaged Suspension Components
Damaged suspension components can lead to a big change in the suspension geometry of your vehicle, causing a change in the weight distribution of your car. This imbalance can lead to tire squealing as the tires struggle to maintain consistent contact and grip on the road surface.
These suspension parts include shocks, struts, and linkages. If any of these components is bad, it will also lead to stability issues, making your ride less safe. Thus, regularly inspecting and maintaining the suspension system can help prevent squeals attributed to this cause and also make your vehicle safer.
5. Hard or Dry Tire Compound
Tires are crafted from a mix of different rubber compounds, each designed for specific driving conditions and performances. Tires made of a harder compound, often found on high-performance cars, are more prone to squealing, especially during aggressive turns or on certain road surfaces. But the sun can also make tires harder if they are exposed for prolonged periods, particularly when stationary.
Environmental Factors Contributing to Squealing
The weather is a constantly changing phenomenon that greatly affects our lives, but also the performance of our cars. Whether it is hot or cold, outside will also have an effect on the tires, changing the nature of their contact with the road and also their physical properties.
By delving into the effects of these environmental determinants, you can gain a clearer understanding of why tires squeal in certain conditions and how to possibly mitigate those sounds.
1. Temperature Fluctuations and Their Impact
Temperature can affect tire squealing when turning profoundly, making even the best tire on the market quite audible. In fact, every tire will squeal under the right conditions, even if you don't push it too hard. You might have noticed that, too, as tires tend to squeal when it is too cold or too hot outside.
For example, cold weather can cause the rubber compound in tires to harden, reducing their flexibility and grip. A harder tire has a tendency to skip or chatter across the road surface rather than roll smoothly, leading to squealing, especially during turns.
On the other hand, hot weather can make the tire rubber softer. While this may improve grip to some extent, it also means the tire becomes stickier. This sticky nature can create a high-pitched squeal as the tire momentarily adheres to the road before breaking free.
You can largely counteract these behaviors by choosing the right tires for the season, like summer and winter tires. Doing that will not only reduce squealing but also give you the best possible traction for the conditions you encounter, making your drive safer.
2. Wet Roads and Tire Sounds
Water acts as a lubricant between the tire and the road, which can sometimes lead to hydroplaning if the tire cannot channel away the water efficiently. This loss of direct contact and grip with the road can produce a squealing sound, especially if the tires break traction.
3. Surface Types: Asphalt vs. Concrete
The type of road surface can also influence tire squeal. Asphalt, being softer and more porous than concrete, often offers better grip and less noise. For that reason, it is the preferred material for roads in most places in the world. It is safe and comfortable and reacts well to changing conditions.
However, certain types of asphalt, especially if worn or aged, can become polished and slick, leading to squealing when turning. Not only that, but polished asphalt can greatly decrease the traction of the tires, particularly in rainy conditions.
Concrete, on the other hand, is harder and can sometimes be grooved. The combination of its texture and the tire tread can produce a rhythmic squeal or hum, especially at higher speeds or during turns. Still, this means that the tires will squeal less when turning.
Addressing and Preventing Squealing
As you probably learned by now, tires squealing when turning is a natural phenomenon that occurs on every tire. However, it can also be alarming and bothersome, signaling a possible compromise in safety or simply disrupting the tranquility of a drive.
Fortunately, you can take some of the measures I pointed out below to minimize tire squealing, ensuring optimum safety and a more comfortable driving experience.
1. Regular Tire Maintenance and Inspection
Most of the drivers I encountered during my professional career almost never cared about their tires. It is a shame because the tires are by far the most important car part when it comes to safety, apart probably from the braking and steering system.
Routine tire maintenance can prolong the lifespan of your tires, which should be enough of an incentive for most people, as it means paying less money from their pockets. However, properly maintained tires will also be much safer and squeal less when turning.
Here is my "holy trinity" of tire maintenance:
- Tire pressure: always ensure that your tires are inflated to the recommended pressure levels. Overinflated tires can reduce the contact patch with the road, leading to decreased traction and increased squealing, while underinflated tires can cause uneven wear and increased friction/squealing.
- Tread depth: regularly check the depth of the tire treads. Worn-out treads can't channel water effectively, leading to an increased risk of hydroplaning and squealing on wet surfaces.
- Tire rotation: rotating the tires helps in achieving uniform wear across all four tires, reducing the chances of squealing due to uneven wear. Also, don't forget to balance the tires whenever you put on a new set or when changing from summer to winter tires and vice-versa.
2. Proper Wheel Alignment
Misaligned wheels can cause the tires to squeal, especially when turning. Proper wheel alignment ensures that the tires are set to the vehicle manufacturer's specifications, promoting even tire wear, optimum performance, and reduced tire noise.
If you notice uneven tire wear or your vehicle pulls to one side, it might be time to get your wheels realigned. The good news is that wheel alignment is a quick and inexpensive procedure that most repair shops can do.
3. Choosing the Right Tires for Your Vehicle
Tires come in many shapes and sizes, but they are also made from wildly different materials because they are designed to work in different conditions. Choosing the right tires for your area and driving needs can greatly reduce squealing when turning.
The first thing you need to do is choose the right compound for your needs. Winter tires, for instance, are made from a softer rubber compound and are designed to remain flexible in colder temperatures, providing better grip and reducing squealing.
Meanwhile, summer tires are made from a harder rubber compound that doesn't become too soft at higher temperatures, thus increasing stability and grip while reducing squealing.
The tread pattern also plays a big role in tire squealing. For example, tires will a lot of grooves and sipes will have a less stable tread because the tread blocks will move more under hard cornering. As a result, these tires are more susceptible to squealing when turning.
4. Understanding and Adjusting Driving Habits
Although squealing sometimes points out issues with the tires or the car, most often, it occurs due to aggressive driving. For example, accelerating, cornering, and braking hard will always produce a squealing sound, regardless of the type of tire.
Therefore, I highly recommend driving more slowly, with smoother steering inputs and gradual acceleration. Also, plan your braking on time; for instance, if you see a red light from, say, 500 ft (150m), start braking smoothly. You won't lose any time (the traffic light will still be red), yet you won't experience any tire squeals.
Not to mention, braking sooner is much more efficient than driving the distance (using fuel) and stopping at the last moment).
By incorporating these preventive and corrective actions, you will ensure a quieter, safer, and more enjoyable driving experience.
When to Seek Professional Help
Tire squealing, while common, is often just the tip of the iceberg. Other underlying issues might contribute to the noise or might be signified by it. Here is how you can recognize whether you need professional help for the issue:
1. Identifying Red Flags Beyond Squealing
While occasional tire squealing, especially during sharp turns or on certain surfaces, is natural, consistent or loud squeals should alert you to potential issues.
However, loud squeals will almost always be accompanied by other behaviors that signal problems with the tires or car's suspension. These are the most common ones:
- Vibration: unusual vibrations while driving will signal wheel alignment issues or unbalanced tires. You should definitely seek professional help for these issues.
- Pulling to one side: your vehicle drifting or pulling to one side can signify wheel alignment issues. I highly recommend visiting a professional service shop to remedy the issue.
- Uneven tire wear: upon visual inspection, if the treads appear worn more on one side than the other or if certain patches are bald, it's a cause for concern. Visit the shop to find the culprit, but also to replace the tires if necessary.
2. The Importance of Timely Intervention
Procrastinating when it comes to tire issues can lead to bigger problems down the line. Not only will you lose money because you will prevent worse problems down the line, but you will also ensure a safe ride.
For example, worn-out, old, or unevenly worn tires can lead to reduced grip, increased stopping distances, and a higher risk of blowouts — all serious safety hazards.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Why do my tires squeal even when I'm turning slowly?
Tire squealing is primarily associated with friction between the tire and the road surface. Even at slow speeds, this friction can produce a squealing sound under certain conditions, particularly when these factors are involved:
- Rubber compound: overly hard or soft tires will squeal more. This is especially true if you use compounds that aren't designed for the conditions you encounter, like winter tires in the summer and vice-versa.
- Tire pressure: severely underinflated tires can cause the sidewall and edge of the tread to make more contact with the road, leading to squealing even during slow turns.
- Type of road: some road surfaces, like freshly paved asphalt, worn-out asphalt, or specific types of concrete, can interact with tires to produce a squeal, even at very low speeds.
- Suspension issues: worn-out suspension components will alter the weight distribution of your vehicle and won't maintain even tire load distribution. Since some of the tires will be under higher loads and drag slightly, they might produce a squealing sound.
2. Is tire squealing a sure sign of tire wear, or could there be other reasons?
Tires squealing when turning is often associated with worn-out or unevenly worn tires. However, in my experience, that is often not the only factor.
For example, too cold or too hot weather can also increase tire squealing, and that is true even for a new set. Moreover, misaligned wheels can exacerbate tire squealing when turning, as the tires won't roll straight, and friction will be increased.
On some occasions, the squeal might not even come from the tires. In fact, it might be coming from the brakes – brake pads have wear indicators that emit a high-pitched squeal when it's time for a replacement.
Also, it might not be your tires that are worn down – damaged struts, bushings, or other suspension components can result in squealing.
3. How frequently should I check my tire alignment to prevent squealing?
However, if you hear the tires squealing loudly, even when driving slowly, you might want to visit the service shop sooner. That is particularly true if you've hit a significant pothole or curb or had another jarring road experience. Such impacts can throw off the alignment settings.
While alignment checks can help prevent squealing, they're also essential for overall vehicle health and safety, which makes frequent checks all the more important.
4. Does the type of tire (summer, winter, all-season) affect the likelihood of squealing sounds when turning?
Absolutely! The type of tire can greatly increase/decrease the likelihood of squealing, particularly when combined with unfavorable external conditions.
Summer tires, for example, are made from a softer rubber compound that provides high levels of grip on dry tarmac, accompanied by a stiffer construction to help the tire retain its shape better during load. These tires offer unparalleled grip, but their softness can sometimes lead to squealing, especially during sharp turns or when navigating corners at higher speeds.
Winter tires are made from a different compound, which is even softer than that of summer tires. The idea is for the rubber to remain flexible at lower temperatures, thus increasing traction in foul weather.
However, winter tires might become too soft at higher temperatures, almost like jelly, which will increase squealing. Moreover, their tread patterns, which are intended to expel snow and grip icy surfaces, can cause squealing on dry asphalt, especially in warmer conditions.
Meanwhile, all-season tires are a compromise between summer and winter tires in the sense that they don't excel anywhere but still offer good enough traction. They are made from more neutral rubber compounds, which are usually harder-wearing.
Consequently, they may produce less squeal than specialized tires, especially when used in their intended moderate conditions. However, pushing them hard on either extreme (very hot or very cold) could result in noise.
5. Are there any quick fixes to stop my tires from squealing when making sharp turns?
Sure, you can reduce the squealing by making some quick and simple fixes. You should always start with adjusting the tire pressure, as overinflation and underinflation can both lead to squealing.
Furthermore, I highly recommend driving more smoothly, as that will greatly reduce the chances of squealing when turning. Smoother driving is also faster – racing drivers mostly use gentle inputs on the track in order to not destabilize the vehicle.
You can also try to clean your tires with water and mild soap, as the buildup of dirt, grime, or other substances can cause your tires to squeal. While you are at it, consider removing small stones or any other object from the tread's grooves and sipes.
Interestingly, there are some "tire conditioners" on the market that promise to reduce squealing while also prolonging the lifespan of your tires. These might do what they say, but I also had an experience where they reduced the grip.
Tire squealing when turning is very common, but that doesn't mean you should not do anything about it. Sure, you can be calm if it happens due to the road or weather conditions, but only if you use tires that are specific to the job at hand.
I still see too many drivers use their summer tires through the winter and vice-versa, which not only increases squealing but it is unsafe to do. I and a friend of mine were on a summer holiday with our families a few years ago, and he was on a set of winter tires.
Even I could hear the squealing from my car, with the windows closed. Not to mention, it was easy to see that he just couldn't follow me through the bends, experiencing understeer through every turn. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, but I am sure he had a bad driving experience (although he wouldn't admit that).
So, make sure you are always on the right tires, but also maintain proper pressure and replace them on time. Finally, drive more slowly, guys – public transport isn't about racing, it's about arriving safe and sound!
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.