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Engine Noise

I drive a 1997 Saturn SL1, 295,000 miles. Great car. Good gas mileage, very, very low maintenance. I cleaned the engine about three years ago with an engine cleaner (Gunk?). When I turned on the engine it started to make a loud noise. The best way to describe it is a loud whining noise. It appears to be coming from the AC. When I turn on the AC the noise gets quieter (but it’s still annoying). The noise does not appear to have affected the car’s performance, but it is loud and annoying. Any suggestions on what the problem is? Is there an inexpensive way to fix it?

Replace the drive belt for the AC…and it’s probably time for a new serpentine belt along with it.

If you get oil on a belt it will squeal, and that oil came from the Gunk. You’ll never clean it, just replace it.


Do you mean to tell us you’ve lived with this squeal for 3 years and are just now doing anything about it? Why?

I agree with @Yosemite, start with the belt. You should also pay attention to the power steering pump fluid level. Make sure you didn’t get water in it. Of course, if you’ve lived with this for 3 years, you’ve probably destroyed the power steering pump by now if you got water in it.

I’d check or have someone check the belt tensioner bearing. They sometimes go bad and I’ve replaced a few. The part comes as a complete assembly of pulley, bearing and tensioner arm. Should be <$100 for the part.

@Mustangman; I was going to mention the three long years, but forgot while I was composing my reply. THat would have driven me batty in three days!!!


  1. step out of the car.
  2. open the hood.
  3. with the engine running, listen carefully to all the underhood components. Both with the A/C on and with the A/C off.
  4. if you’re still uncertain where the sound is coming from, try touching the various components with a metal rod and listening for a change in eth sound as the waves propagate up the rod, or get a “mechanic’s stethoscope” for about $15 and use that. BE CAREFUL not to get the rod (or probe) caught in anything spinning.

Post back with your findings.

It might be just a belt, but in my experience they don’t usually squeal for three years before breaking. My money is on the A/C compressor clutch bearings. I’m guessing that the noise they’re making is getting “damped” by the added load when the clutch is engaged to the compressor.