Dear Tom and Ray:
I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer with about 90,000 miles. Several months back, I was driving home on a rainy night and splashed through a deep puddle. Immediately, a loud whining noise came from the car, which grew louder when I pushed on the gas. A minute later, it stopped. Then about a week later, on another rainy day, it happened again. It happens for only about a minute, then stops. It now happens even when it's not raining, when I just step on the gas for more power. The whining is very loud and scary, and it makes me think the car is going to explode. My husband thinks it's nothing and that I should continue to ignore it; however, I am pregnant and don't want to head into motherhood worrying about my safety and the safety of my baby. Please help! — Moon
Ray: It sounds to me like a slipping belt, Moon. I'm guessing your splash guard fell off, and that allowed water to splash up and temporarily lubricate your belt. Belts aren't supposed to be lubricated; they're supposed to be sticky. When a belt slips and slides on its pulleys, it makes that shrieking/whining noise.
Tom: And all that slipping wore out your belt even more, so now it slips even when it's not wet.
Ray: It makes noise when you step on the gas, which is a classic symptom of a loose or worn-out belt. Eventually, the belt will get so bad that it'll squeal all the time. Then one day it'll break and fall off, and you'll lose your power steering and alternator, among other things.
Tom: But the noise will be gone!
Ray: True. But my advice would be, before that happens, to take it into a shop and tell them you have what you think is a belt noise, and ask them to check it out. You want to get this fixed, Moon. Trust me on this — there will be more than enough squealing and whining in your future. You need to enjoy and savor all the peace and quiet you can get in the next few months!
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)