Subaru Driver Haunted by Sounds of the Past

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 27, 2019

Dear Car Talk:

I have a love-hate relationship with my 2015 Subaru Outback.

Driving from Michigan to Yellowstone National Park, it made a rhythmic noise that increased with speed all the way there and back. It made my wife and I very uncomfortable and nervous.

Upon our return, the dealership discovered we had defective wheel bearings in both front wheels. I heard the mechanic say something about so much heat buildup that parts were welded together.

New parts were installed, and a fairly quiet ride resumed.

But I worry about every little noise the car makes now. Could the damage caused by the heat buildup back then affect the car's performance three years later? Welded parts sounds so bad. I wonder if all I got was a Band-Aid fix. -- Tim

No, you're fine, Tim. Although you might consider meditation for the Outback anxiety you've developed.

The parts that were defective were your wheel bearings. The wheel bearings attach the axles to the wheels, while allowing the wheels to spin. They're made of two cages with a bunch of ball bearings in them, and the balls are what allow the wheels to spin easily while the bearings support the weight of the car.

If a bearing fails -- due to poor manufacturing, mileage or lack of lubrication -- it becomes harder to turn, and it gets hotter because of the friction. That's what happened in your car. That's why you were hearing that rhythmic noise all the way to Yellowstone and back. You're a patient guy, Tim.

But here's the good news: A wheel bearing is a completely self-contained unit. Even if it heated up and fried its ball bearings to the point that some of them fused together, nothing else around the wheel bearing would be harmed. Once the bearing was replaced, your car was absolutely fixed, and there's nothing further to worry about.

I'd take them at their word that the original wheel bearings were defective, Tim. They're gone now. Nothing to worry about. Enjoy your car.

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