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Car Talk: RAV4 owner needs a break from annoying squeaking

Ray Magliozzi, syndicated columnist

Dear Car Talk: My 2013 Toyota RAV4 has a very loud and annoying rotational squeak coming from the front passenger wheel. The noise stops when I apply the brakes.

In the last three years, I have taken it to three different garages. I have been told it’s not safety related, but no explanation is given as to what it is.

The noise is fixed when I get it back, but within a week, it’s back to squeaking. Any suggestions other than running it into a brick wall? Thanks! — Mary

Lucky you, Mary. We happen to have a special at the garage this week. We’ll drive it into a brick wall for you for only $159.95.

I agree that it’s probably not safety related. I think it’s just your brake pads vibrating in their housing. Or, as we professionals call it, brake noise. It’s very common, which doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Here’s what’s happening. The brake pads sit in the caliper bracket. And the pads are held in place by spring-loaded clips, so they can move a little bit, but not too much.

If they are allowed to move around too much, they oscillate very quickly, and produce a high-pitched squeal. If you have a disc rotor that’s slightly warped, that can contribute to the noise, too. But the primary cause is pads that are vibrating against the metal bracket. When you step on the brakes, you push that pad against the brake disc, which temporarily stops the vibrating.

So how do you address it? Usually, the first thing shops will try is to add some special grease to the backs and ends of the pads. That helps, but it can wear off. Like after a week.

So the more complete solution involves replacing the “brake hardware.” Don’t worry, it’s not as expensive as it sounds. When brake pads are installed, they’re supposed to come with a brake hardware “kit.” It includes a shim that goes between the back of the pad and the caliper bracket. It’s usually coated in Teflon or something that will not squeak. The kit also comes with spring-loaded clips that hold the pads in place.

If your brake hardware is old and never got changed, that could explain why your pads are vibrating too much. For instance, if you went to a shop that was lazy or if they used aftermarket pads that didn’t come with the Toyota hardware, they may have left your old hardware in there.

So my suggestion would be to visit the dealer. They’ll have Toyota factory pads and all of the original and correct brake hardware. Tell them what the problem is and ask for their recommendation. If they shrug, ask them if they’ll replace all the brake hardware for you and use all the pieces in the kit.

I feel certain that’ll get rid of the noise for at least a week, Mary.

Dear Car Talk:

I own a 2019 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen with the 1.8L turbo engine. In the owner’s manual, it calls for 5W-40 or 5W-30 engine oil.

I brought my car to a local franchise chain to have the first oil change done. Let’s call them … “Honest Bob’s.” When “Honest Bob” performed the oil change, for which I was charged $60, they put 0W-20 in my car. When I discovered this after the fact, they insisted they did it correctly and, according to AllData, all engines can take 0W-20, contrary to what Volkswagen states.

I insisted they fix it and put the right oil in, which they eventually did free of charge but told me the next change wouldn’t be $60, but $160 because it required “euro-spec oil.”

I have no intention of returning to this shop, but this price seems outrageous given the dealer will do the same oil change for about $100.

Does this “euro-spec” special price seem outrageous? What kind of damage might have been done if I hadn’t noticed this and driven 10,000 miles? — Patrick

The reason they told you it would cost you $160 next time is because they wanted to make sure you never came back, Patrick. We use that tactic all the time and it always works.

It’s true that most engines will do fine on 0W-20 oil, but a number of European cars have their own specifications for oil. The details are not something they share, but VW’s “euro-spec” oil may contain, for instance, additives to address a specific issue they’ve had with that engine, like oil burning.

So, if your owner’s manual says to use 5W30 oil with a particular European specification, the ideal thing to do is follow that requirement. Especially while you’re under warranty!

I’m guessing that the oil VW requires is also a synthetic oil, which is why it’s more expensive. And why it’s better. We recommend synthetic oils for everybody, since they protect better and allow you to go much longer between oil changes.

The reason Honest Bob was eager to get rid of you is because his business model revolves around using the same oil for every customer. Because 0W-20 is fine for so many cars, Honest Bob buys it by the tanker truck load.

That means he also gets it at a very good price, which allows him to make money doing oil and filter changes for $60.

When some pain-in-the-neck customer (that’s you, Patrick) wants a special oil, he has to go out and buy four or five individual quarts of the stuff and those quarts cost him a lot more. Plus, it’s an inconvenience to have to track it down and order it and then hope you actually come back and pay for it.

Your dealer, on the other hand, orders this particular euro-spec oil in bulk, because he’s changing the oil on VW engines all day long. So he can make money doing the job for $100. Plus the shocks and tires he talks you into buying.

So I’d play it safe and stick with the oil that the manufacturer recommends. And $100 is about the right price, so I’d go to the dealer.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Got a question about cars? Email to Car Talk by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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