Squeeky Wheels

2002 Mazda Protege. I had to make a longish trip yesterday. A warm Summer day in rural New England and I’m cruising down the highway about 50mph with the window down. I hear a sound like birds chirping reflecting back from brush, trees, houses. Whoopsie, I’m thinking wheel bearing. Unfortunately, 6:00pm on a holiday weekend 150 miles from home in the Berkshire foothills is not a feasible time to haul into a garage for a check. So I simply drove on – another 250 miles.

The noise is intermittent and isn’t getting worse. I can’t localize it. Doesn’t seem to vary with wheel speed, but it’s hard to tell. Doesn’t stop when I apply the brakes. With the car back home, all the wheel bearings seem OK but you know how they are. Doesn’t seem to happen when car is stationary.

So, what can it be? Wheel bearing?, Accessory belt? (recently changed those, maybe they are misadjusted?). I had a car many decades ago where the hubcaps chirped sometimes. Can anybody think of other possibilities?

It doesn’t seem to happen when the car is stationary, or it doesn’t happen, period?
If the noise ever occurs when the car is not moving, then you can rule out the wheels as the source of the noise.
The sound you describe is common when any pulley driven by the drive pulley via the serpentine belt begins to fail. These include the alternator, water pump, and a tensioner pulley. Any of these might be failing and would make a noise like a bird continuously chirping.
My money is on the water pump. You don’t say how many miles the car has on it, but if it is over 90,000 and you want to keep it and have never replaced the timing chain, then it would not be a waste of money to replace both the timing chain and the water pump at the same time, since the water pump must be removed to access the timing chain (or belt, I keep forgetting that car manufacturers long ago cheaped out on steel timing chains and replaced them with cheap rubber belts that wear out every 60,000 to 100,000 miles).

Sorry – 57K. It’s a timing belt, not a chain, and I replaced it 2 years ago. The water pump is driven by one of the accessory belts – I forget which – not the timing belt.

Thanks. The water pump is certainly a possibility, and I wouldn’t have thought about it on my own.

Problem is the intermittent thing. I took the car out for a test drive yesterday and only heard chirping once for a few seconds – and for all I know, that was actually birds. But what I was hearing Friday wasn’t birds.

It could be a break wear indicator suggesting it is time for new brake pads. It could be rust on the rotors, or poor quality pads that do not present a problem, start with a brake checkup and go from there.