Our car’s belts are squeaking: annoying or impending disaster?

Our 2005 Infiniti G35 is channelling the ghosts of mouses past. It’s particularly prominent in colder weather and as the engine warms up. The volume is tied to both the accelerator and turning the wheel. It lasts for a few minutes, usually minimal within one or two miles and completely gone within five or so. Once the car has been parked for a few hours, it’ll return at the beginning and diminish again with some driving.

Is this the type of thing that is likely to cause the engine to crap out some morning or cause some sort of catastrophic (expensive) failure while we’re driving? Or is it just an annoyance that we ‘should’ take care of eventually, but don’t really need to rush. Or is it the more likely case where it could be either and we won’t know until a mechanic is looking at it?

Not a mechanic, but that sounds more like a power steering pump.

As in it’s the pump, not a belt driving the pump?

With the aforementioned caveat, yes…a loose belt can squeal by itself, but a worn pump or one low on fluid will cause a squeal as well.

And I will let a mechanic take it from there…

Shade tree mechanic here and from what you have stated, that is a power steering pump. Check the fluid to see if its low and if you have a leak. If it is full and its still squeaking that is the pump going out and you will likely need to replace.

As a side note, squeaking belts generally (as in 99 percent of the time) mean of the following:

  • The belt characteristics have changed (i.e. it is wearing out and now loose) and when the things like your tensioner and pulleys operate the belt does not have the tension and squeaks).

  • A component on the car that is NOT the belt has lost its tension characteristics and so the belt is loose or (rarely) too tight. This is not the belts fault and more often than not it is something like the idler pulley.

  • In cases where we are talking the drive belt, sometimes other components such as the AC pulley can seize and the belt is being pulled over a locked up or nearly locked up pulley. When this happens the belt squeak will not go away after a few moments.

Again I think none of the above are your problem, sounds like the power steering pump is out/going out.

Probably the pulley on one of the belt-driven components or a tensioner. If the sound is changing when you turn the wheel beyond what you would expect simply from the engine idle speed changing, the power steering pump may warrant some special scrutiny.

This could definitely leave you by the side of the road (although the noise will likely get much more annoying before then), but probably nothing more catastrophic than than. It might be worth changing the belt(s) if it’s still the original, although getting squeaky isn’t part of the normal mode of failure for the belts on most modern cars.

Wow, I haven’t checked the power steering fluid levels since I owned a 1980 Ford Fairmont. I have vague recollections of trying to figure out the difference between that and transmission fluid or something. Would that it’s only a matter of topping it off.

Hahaha, no, not going to be that simple.

Without hearing your noise i will weigh in that there is every possibility that your serpentine belt is wearing out.
The serpentine belt is just 5 small V belts working together.
From what you are reporting is the noise is present at when you 1st start your engine. Well that belt runs your alternator among other things and you are replenishing your battery after starting.
Belts wear, If you stop in at a Parts Store you may be able to pick up a free serpentine belt gauge like this picture,
My belt is getting bad and makes noise on my old truck but I have the previouse old belt tied down under the hood as a spare should i loose the one now.
Yes you could have all kinds of other possibility’s.

AC unit, water pump, maybe the belt itself, something is wonky, but I’d bet on the power steering unit after reading your description twice.

Something is causing the belt to slip, resulting in the sqeal. Either the belt is stretched and loose or a pulley is getting more difficult to turn (bearings wearing out). The diagrams I see online for the G35 show 2 belts, one that turns the A/C compressor and the another that turns the power steering pump, oil pump and alternator. If the former belt breaks you will lose A/C, if the latter breaks you will be stranded quickly. Take it to a mechanic who can determine whether it’s just the belt wearing out or if there is a component going bad.