Loud squealing noise and rattling vibration when accelerating gas pedal at low speeds

I’m a clueless 31 year old woman with no mechanical experience at all and I’m having a serious issue with my vehicle. I have a '98 Plymouth Voyager minivan with about 150,000 miles. I’ve owned it for 2 years. To be quite honest, there’s been little to no maintenance for this vehicle and it’s starting to show. I was dropping my boyfriend off at work this morning and on my way home I noticed a rattling vibrating noise coming from the front end of the vehicle. This started suddenly as I was coming off my exit from the freeway. I dropped my boyfriend off at work and came all the way home covering a distance of about 20 miles before this started. I noticed the noise immediately and came to a stop at the end of the exit ramp. As I proceeded to go, there was a high pitched squealing noise accompanying the rattling vibrating noise. The high pitch noise started when I pressed on the accelerator to go. I also noticed the gas pedal seemed to have lost it’s resistance as if it was loose almost or not triggering the gas flow to the engine. At this point I was concerned if I’d even make it home. I was going at a low speed of about 20 mph and I could hear something going on underneath the vehicle. I thought I’d see a piece of pipe fall off from underneath from my rearview mirror as I was going down the street, but I didn’t. I was only about a block and a half away though with 2 little girls in the back so I pressed on. The high pitched noise got louder and louder as I accelerated and although the gas pedal did depress, it was not by much and it felt like it was going to stop working completely. I came to another stop and the noise continued even when I lifted off the gas pedal and hit the brake. The noise was so loud that the people in the vehicle in front of me cranked their heads around to see what was going on. I made my turn onto my street and tried pressing a little bit harder on the accelerator to see if it made a difference when I sped up (since I had no issues at all on the freeway). The resistance seemed to come back a little bit as compared to feeling like it was coming and going when I was going at a slower speed, but the noise continued horrifically. I was able to pull into my driveway and turn off the engine. After the vehicle cooled down, I did the only thing I could think of at the time and that was to check the oil level. And I did discover there was no oil on the dipstick. I don’t know if it’s completely bone dry as there was plenty of oil on the dipstick when I pulled it out initially. But no oil showing up at all after I cleaned it and dipped it back in. I was under the assumption that my boyfriend was monitoring the oil level so it didn’t dawn on me to check it periodically. I did attempt to turn the engine back on about an hour after the incident (and no, I did not add the oil yet because I don’t have any here at my home and a neighbor wanted to check it out for me). When the engine was turned on in my driveway you could immediately hear the loud rattling vibrating noise over the engine running. No high pitch noise though. And within about 3 seconds, the vibrating noise seemed to vanish. I have not driven it since and I have no idea if this is an issue as a result of no oil or if there’s something else going on. Another side note, my driveway is on a sleep incline and when we’re backing out of it, onto the street, we can’t seem to avoid scraping the underside of the very front of the vehicle where the bumper is. I don’t know if there’s anything important there that’s been damaged that may be causing this or again if it’s oil related or maybe something completely different. I couldn’t get any info from any of the repair shops I called. Does anyone have any insight?

Paragraphs are a wonderful thing, Maryjane. The lack of them in your post means many people won’t even bother to wade through it. Pity, because you have a potentially serious problem on your hands, and someone may have a solution for you.

Since I can’t see or hear the engine run there’s no way to even guess what might be wrong, but I can tell you this: DO NOT, under any circumstances, start the engine again until you’re sure it has the correct amount of oil in it. Engines running without enough oil can destroy themselves in a very short time.

Did any of the warning lights on the dashboard come on when all this noise was going on? Were any of them on when you started the engine after it cooled at home?

The noises may or may not be related to the lack of oil. It’s too soon to tell. Screeching is often caused by a loose belt, which is not a major problem. It can also be caused by a belt sliding over a pulley that’s not turning because whatever it is attached to has seized up.

There are too many things that can cause a rattling noise to list.

As you say, the lack of maintenance is starting to show, and it may have just showed itself in a very big way.

There is a very real probability of engine damage from running it with a low oil level for…God only knows how long, until it began to make noises. Unfortunately, we cannot accurately diagnose the extent of this problem (or, more likely, several problems) over the internet, and the mechanics whom you called can only accurately diagnose it if they have the van in their shop.

My best advice is to NOT start the engine again. Have it towed to a reputable independent mechanic (NOT a chain operation like Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, Firestone, Goodyear, etc.) for evaluation, and begin to gather your thoughts on how to pay for major engine repairs or a replacement vehicle. On the outside chance that this turns out to be nothing major, at least you will have gotten your ducks in a row while they check the vehicle out.

And, whether you can continue to drive this vehicle, or whether you have to buy a replacement vehicle, think in terms of regular maintenance of your vehicle. The guide to this maintenance is contained in your Owner’s Manual.

Regular maintenance is invariably cheaper than engine overhauls, transmission replacements, accidents due to brakes that were ignored, etc. As the old saying tells us, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later”. Unfortunately, you chose the “later plan”, and that is the more expensive course of action.

Please post back to let us know the outcome of the mechanic’s examination of the vehicle.

So very true. Note taken. I didn’t realize how long my post ran on until I actually posted it! But I thank you for taking the time to sift through it!

To be honest, I did NOT notice any warning lights on the dash when the trouble started. But I was in such a panic at the time, I can’t guarantee they were not. Typically though, the oil indicator will come on if the oil is running low. As far as I’ve noticed, that light has NOT been on… today or here recently at all. When my neighbor started the engine for me, I could not see myself if any dash lights were on, but he didn’t mention it so I assume not. All I know is that the rattling noise started up immediately on ignition, then faded out within about 3 seconds and sounded normal. We then immediately turned it off and it has been sitting ever since.

It just seemed odd that the problem started immediately after I exited off of the freeway and slowed down. I don’t know if that means anything??? And it started as just the loud vibrating noise from underneath initially. Then when I pressed the gas, that’s when the high pitched squealing came into play. I also thought it was odd that the gas pedal seemed to lose “grip” so-to-say. It was like I was pressing on a “air” pedal until I started to pick up speed somewhat.

I know there can be so many possiblities. I just didn’t know if these types of symptoms topped with my lack of maintenance (ie: no oil changes) indicate a certain type of problem.

Would an issue with a belt lead to the lack of resistance with the gas pedal as I’m trying to accelerate?? Do you think that light scraping of the front of the undercarriage/bumper area when backing out of my driveway could cause this? Or does this seem typical for a engine that has started to “lock-up” due to lack of oil? Any ideas?

Thanks again for your time. I’m afraid of what I’m may be dealing with here.

You’re so very right I’m afraid. At this point I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best but as you stated, you’ll pay at some point whether it be now or later so it may very well be that time to pay up.

I will continue to check back for suggestions or ideas and will ultimately update the post when/if issues are resolved. Thanks for your thoughts!