Dear Neighbour: Fix your car. Now.
May 27, 2014 4:08 PM   Subscribe

A neighbour living in the cul-de-sac behind me has a squeaky fan belt. This neighbour also goes to work at 5:30 in the morning, meaning I'm woken up every morning at 5:30am to the most excruciating squealing noise. I normally don't need to get up until 7:30, so this is extremely disruptive to my sleeping patterns. I've had a squeaky fan-belt before, so I understand that car problems can sometimes take a while to fix. But it has been going on for months, and my good will towards this individual is fading.

My housemate who shares the same side of the house as me has the same issue and we have discussed it several times. We don't know which neighbour it is, but we know the house/car. I've thought about leaving a note on the car, or perhaps even knocking on the door and speaking to them (!), but this is based on the idea that they aren't aware that they're being so disruptive. I know that if we do talk to them and they continue doing it, I will hate them forever.

Is there anything I can do to make this conversation go well? What can I do to regain my morning sleep-in?
posted by roshy to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was once on the receiving end of this conversation, except that the neighbor was very rude about it and yelled at me in person. (It was, for the record, not even my car, just a car I frequently rode in.)

Here's what would have gone better:
Leave a note on the car. Something to the tune of Hey, I don't know if you realize how loud your fan belt is, but it's been waking us up when you leave in the mornings. We would appreciate if you could get it fixed so that we can go back to our regular sleeping patterns. If you need a recommendation for a good mechanic let me know. And then sign it. Alternately give your mechanic rec (if you have one) and don't sign your name - this might be a better option if you're worried that they might be aggressive types.

Truly, when I was in the loud car, we just didn't realize how loud it was to the neighbors - like it was loud to us, but we figured houses had better insulation etc. than they really did. (Also even though the guy was rude, the car's owner did get it fixed. So you know. It worked.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:13 PM on May 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

I would knock on the door, introduce yourself nicely, and phrase this as, "Hey, neighbor, I don't know if you realize it, but your fan belt is really loud. You should go get this checked out because (bad thing that can happen to car with crappy fan belt) or (bad thing that crappy fan belt is indicative of)."

If I found a note on my car asking that I spend time and money (which I might not have much of, else I would have gotten my car fixed already) getting something fixed so that I was not disrupting someone's sleeping patterns, I would be the one hating someone forever.

If this is solely a noise issue (i.e., no problems for the car if it remains unfixed) are you planning to offer them a ride to work while their car is at the shop? Some people don't have the luxury of non-essential car maintenance.
posted by unannihilated at 4:24 PM on May 27, 2014 [21 favorites]

Generally speaking, I assume that if people have cars that are doing things like that, it's because they can't afford to have it fixed, not because they love having a super loud car. I don't know that there's much you can do--asking them to fix it isn't going to make several hundred dollars appear in their budget, nor is it going to make things like toilet paper and food less necessary.

So, to regain your customary wakeup time: earplugs, white noise generator, closed windows, fan.
posted by MeghanC at 4:33 PM on May 27, 2014 [12 favorites]

Are you offering to help fix the fan belt or help pay for it to be repaired? If not, I don't think there's much you can say. This isn't like you're asking him to turn his stereo down at night. It's a potentially costly repair. He surely hears it squeaking, I'm sure he'd have fixed it if he could.
posted by amaire at 4:34 PM on May 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Do you have any mechanically minded friends? Maybe offer to have them help tighten the belt? Unless the belt is really trashed, tightening it up will 9/10 times fix the squealing.
posted by notsnot at 4:35 PM on May 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are you mechanical yourself, if it was your car could you fix it? Can you frame it not as a problem but as a neighbour offering to help? While fixing it mention that this problem is bothersome to other people. That's probably what I'd do, you could even make a friend.

It's generally an easy fix. Loosen the bolt that holds the alternator (or air-con compressor or whatever) in its adjusted position. Pull hard on the alternator to tension the belt, before letting go do up the bolt again. Done. People that haven't fitted belts much often leave them too loose, causing this problem.
posted by deadwax at 4:54 PM on May 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Of course there's some amount of money that they might not have, but this is most likely an exceedingly simple and cheap repair. (If it's talking it's probably not a serpentine belt so we are talking about a $20 belt and either 5 minutes in time or 20 minutes at the local shadetree mechanic).

So it's definitely possible they can't afford it, but there's also a such thing as inconsiderate or oblivious people.
posted by ftm at 4:56 PM on May 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't share the sympathy of everybody else about not having the money to fix the belt. If you own a car you have the responsibility to keep it in good working order. If you don't have the cash you plug "car model squeaky belt" into YouTube are you will be presented with multiple how to videos on fixing it yourself. It's not rocket science. You don't have any responsibility to help them fix it. It's not your car.
posted by COD at 5:15 PM on May 27, 2014 [14 favorites]

You could buy a $3 can of belt conditioner and leave it on their windshield with a note. Not a great fix but you're providing them a way to deal without opening their wallet.
posted by phearlez at 5:51 PM on May 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

I wonder if a squeaky fan belt would pass a car inspection. I wonder if the car needs to be inspected soon. I wonder if a walk past the neighbor's house would let you spy out the inspection date. I wonder if you could grit your teeth and bear it, if the car needed to be inspected soon, and the squeak would need to be fixed at that point. (Wondering comes from a person who does not know much about engines.)
posted by molasses at 5:56 PM on May 27, 2014

Are you handy? Offer to take a look, as a friendly gesture.

If it's just the serpentine belt then tighten up the one gear/wheel that gets adjusted when replacing and fitting the belt (will depend on the vehicle's make/model. It should be obvious which one allows for adjustments once you're under the hood.) Take a ratchet to it and tighten that gear/wheel to the belt.

If not handy then go with any of the above!
posted by MansRiot at 6:11 PM on May 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding buying a can of Belt Dressing and leaving it on the hood with a note.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:21 PM on May 27, 2014

I don't share the sympathy of people who are worried about fan-belt-guy's budget, either. Part of affording to own and run a car is that you need to keep it maintained so that it's not an antisocial nuisance.

I don't see any reason for assuming the OP can afford to buy a white-noise generator, for that matter.

I'd go for leaving a polite note on his windscreen. It can't hurt to ask.
posted by Salamander at 7:49 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the polite note left on the car.

It is completely likely that the car owners are prioritizing other financial needs because they think that the car issues affect only them; letting them know that those issues are affecting the whole neighborhood may help them shift their priorities accordingly.
posted by jaguar at 8:06 PM on May 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

I had an old Nissan Sentra whose belts would inevitably start squeaking several days after adjusting the pulleys. It had something to do with pulley work that the dealership did when installing an aftermarket A/C unit. Replacing the belts didn't help, and the squeaking was always worse in the early morning from the condensation that had accumulated over night. Eventually I got tired of adjusting it every week and just let it go.

I don't know if this bothered my neighbors because no one ever said anything about it. Frankly, I had never even considered that a fan belt could be loud enough to wake someone up until I read your post.

If someone had left a note, I probably would have thrown it away and done nothing. If a neighbor had come to talk to me in person and explain that he was a light sleeper and that it was bothering him, I probably would have made more of an effort to stay on top it.

Passive-aggressively leaving a note is of course easier, but I suspect you'll have better luck getting your neighbor to get the problem fixed if you talk to him in person.
posted by Kevtaro at 8:46 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of the comments, particularly the ones that reminded me that not everyone has the luxury of prioritising car repair. Of course I won't hate them forever if they don't have the means to repair their car (but will still quietly resent them from the comfort of my bed, thankful that I don't have to start work so early).

I've been the oblivious person with the squeaky fanbelt, and was completely unaware of the disruption I might have been causing my neighbours. When I finally got it fixed, it was out of a general concern for the welfare of the car. And it was honestly a cheap fix, even on a terrible delivery driver salary. If I had known I was imposing on my neighbours, I would have prioritised it more. But I didn't know at the time.

I want to be a helpful neighbour, so I will approach them personally with a smile and some belt grip, and an offer to have my boyfriend look at the engine at a time of their convenience. Thank you all for your input.
posted by roshy at 8:48 PM on May 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

Watch a youtube video, buy a sixty cent bar of soap and make a friend.

"Hey, I heard your squeely belt and I had the same problem before. A friend of mine showed me this fix and I had to pass it along". Want a beer? [Bring two of course]

The worst case is you were trying to help and made them aware while simultaneously being a helpful neighbor.
posted by vapidave at 8:51 PM on May 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's a geeky solution - assuming you can capture the sound of the fanbelt and then apply the inversion effect on it :)
posted by pageman at 9:45 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's just because i've spent my entire life, 100% of the time living on busy streets in loud neighborhoods but i'm leaning towards the "not your place to say anything" side of this. Mitigate your ability to be bothered by the noise, because what happens when some other dumb noise wakes you up?

Belt dressing stuff actually stretches out the belts, and after a couple weeks often makes the problem worse(speaking from experience)

If this is a serp belt, it could be a bad tensioner/pulley, just a bad belt, bad idler... If it's just an AC/fan belt it could be a much simpler "swap the $15 belt". They all squeak the same until you open the hood and rev the engine while your eardrum gets shattered tracking it down. There's no way to internet-diagnose which cheap or expensive fix this may be. It can vary a LOT from car to car, brand to brand.

This seems semi resolved, but that all seemed like it's worth tossing it in the ring. The last time i dealt with this super-loud-screeching-belt issue on a new(er) car it ended up being close to $200 with 2 stupid fancy belts+idler+tensioner pulley. The time before that, it was $14 and 10 minutes with my coworker yanking an old steel rod under my alternator after i hulked the belt onto the pulleys in a different car.

If your boyfriend is mechanically inclined enough to help them out with it then right on, but it might be a bigger job than it seems at a glance is my point.
posted by emptythought at 10:12 PM on May 27, 2014

If I found a note on my car asking that I spend time and money (which I might not have much of, else I would have gotten my car fixed already) getting something fixed so that I was not disrupting someone's sleeping patterns, I would be the one hating someone forever.

Wow, I certainly would consider myself unlikely if I ever ended up with a neighbor with such an inconsiderate attitude, and towards someone's daily sleep schedule no less. Anger at this would be purely unreasonable.

If someone had left a note, I probably would have thrown it away and done nothing.

There's nothing inherently passive aggressive about note leaving.

As a neighbor it is inherently their responsibility to make sure that they don't disturb your living situation. Any decent neighbor would see it as such. Waking you up every single day two hours before you intend to goes far beyond something that is just your issue. It is 100% your neighbor's responsibility once she/he is aware that this is happening. That does not mean you have to be rude or unfriendly about it when you talk to your neighbor about it (or leave a note). It does mean that your neighbor is completely responsible for correcting the problem, regardless of any money issues. This is not your problem to put up with, where ear plugs, sleep with a white noise generator (which are not pleasant either, nor cheap), whatever.
posted by Blitz at 12:21 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I bought a used car a year go and the belt would squeak every time I started it. I paid $25 to a mechanic to have it tightened and the squeaking went away...

Until it started again when the weather got cold in October. Since it only squeals for about 5 seconds when I start the car for the first time, I decided to ignore the sound instead of paying $25 again plus taking time off of work to get it done.
posted by tacodave at 2:32 PM on May 28, 2014

« Older Things go better with [my local soda pop]   |   Name that aperitivo! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.