What to do for a whiny Corolla?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

Recently I purchased a 1996 Toyota Corolla which produces a subtle high-
pitched whine at 45-50 miles per hour. Twice I have taken it to the dealer
-- only to be informed that this is a "normal" drive-train noise.
One mechanic even suggested that the noise was there because the vehicle
didn't have Overdrive, as some Toyotas do. I have a 1993 Corolla with
Overdrive, and I have experimented with it by turning off the Overdrive,
and no noise results! So what gives? Any suggestions on what the problem
may be? My wife refuses to drive the new car because of the distracting
whine. She says it sounds as if the car is trying to shift into another
gear. -- Kenneth

RAY: Well, first of all, Kenneth, we have to castigate you for being such a
cheapskate and not ordering Overdrive. That WILL make a car sound like it's
trying to shift into another gear. If you had gotten the Overdrive and a
really good stereo, your wife would probably be driving around happily and
you wouldn't be in this mess now.

TOM: But, that aside, since you've compared it to a similar Corolla with
the Overdrive off (your own '93), it sounds like you may also have a whine
in the final drive (the differential portion of the transaxle). My guess is
that it's due to some slight misalignment of the gears.

RAY: This is going to be an uphill battle, Kenneth, but here's what you do.
Start with the dealership's service manager. Take him out in your car, and
then ask him to go out with you in an identical '96 Corolla (without
Overdrive). If yours makes the noise and the other one doesn't, then you
can reasonably ask him to fix it, which will require rebuilding or
replacing the final drive.

TOM: Notice that my brother says you can "reasonably ask him to fix it."
That doesn't mean that he WILL fix it. While it's possible that this
problem will get worse over time and make more noise, it may never actually
cause a "drivability" problem. And because the car may go 150,000 miles or
more without this problem getting worse, they'll probably be reluctant to
fix it.

RAY: Since you're obviously a repeat Toyota buyer, they may decide (wisely,
in my opinion) that your long-term patronage is worth much more to them
than the few bucks Toyota will lose replacing your final drive under
warranty. In which case, they may fix it to make you happy.

TOM: But more likely, they'll figure that since all you buy are cheap
little Corollas without Overdrive, they're never going to make much money
off of you, so they might as well take their chances and tell you to flake

RAY: But in my opinion, if the noise is significant, and if you can show
them that this is not a "normal" drive-train noise (i.e., that yours makes
this whine and another, identical '96 does not), then you have every right
to ask them to fix it.

TOM: At the very least, you'll be on record as having complained about this
problem from the very beginning, because there's a chance that it could get
worse over time. That way, four years from now, if the final drive is
howling like a wolf, you'll be able to demand that they fix it then under

RAY: At which point you can spring your wife from the loony bin and try to
convince her that it's OK to start driving this car again -- "really it is,
Hon!" Good luck, Kenneth.

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