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02 subaru WRX shakes at highway speeds even with new tires/rims

I have a 2002 Subaru impreza WRX sportwagon that I purchased new, and really like. I’ve got about 140k miles on it, and had some transmission work done at about 62k miles and upgraded to 17" rims but is otherwise completely stock. The car shakes at about 65-75+ mph. It isn’t violent, but it is VERY annoying, and my hands start going numb after a while on the wheel. It seems to be worse going down hill or not accelerating, and sometimes goes away when cornering. It seems to get better when I rotate the tires, or get new tires and rims (I’m on my 3rd set of rims and 5th set of tires), but it won’t go away. I was having it aligned and balanced monthly for a while; it didn’t seem to matter. I drive the car pretty tamely, and it has mostly interstate miles. It’s had no accidents beyond an occasional pothole. I’ve tried 5 dealerships and 7 tire shops. The latest dealer says my tires and rims need to be replaced again - the tires are weeks old with maybe 400 miles on them, and the rims were (apparently) fine when the tires were mounted on them. As much as I’d like to buy yet another set of tires and rims to prove the dealership wrong, I’d rather save my money to pay to solve whatever the real issue is - or to use for a downpayment for something else.

anyone have any suggestions? loose CV joints? bent drive shaft? unbalanced transmission? moon beams?

Thanks in advance for any advise.


The first thing I would look at would be the inner tie rods. This is the ball socket assembly that is fitted onto each end of the steering rack. It’s a common problem on many cars, but considering the 140k miles it could also be something else.

You might try jacking the car up one front wheel at a time and grasping the tire at the 3 and the 9 o’clock positions. Try to move the tire/wheel assembly back and forth. You should feel NO movement in it. If you do the most likely cause is a worn tie rod, followed by worn tie rod ends and in some extreme cases (not likely here) worn steering rack bushings.

A good front end alignment tech should actually be checking this stuff before doing an alignment.

Of course there are other things that could cause this also, but the tie rods would be the first thing to look at IMHO.
(Also, these will wear no matter how gently the car is driven.)

Cool - thanks for the tips. To the best of my recollection a bent tie rod was replaced about a month back, but I’ll have the steering system re-checked for wear.


did you ever get your problem fixed if so what was the solution

Sorry, I have to comment “upgraded to 17” rims"? that is not an upgrade, it’s a downgrade!

But otherwise, this seems an extreme problem! There has to be something obvious wrong in your front end. And a lot of shops are getting new boat payments because of it!

You definetly have a problem in the steering. You can replace tires and wheels until you’re broke and it wont fix the problem. The defect in the steering will make the tires ware prematurely. But you aren’t fooling anyone, you can’t be driveing tamely if you have gone through 5 sets of tires in six years. I’d like to be your mechanic - I could put my kids through school on you.

ok4450, I have a very similar problem. When you say move the tire/wheel assembly back and forth, do you mean side to side, or in and out?
How can the steering rack bushings be checked?

My problem seems to worsen after driving for a while, it’s better at the beginning of a long drive. Unless I’m just imagining that. Also, the alignment usually seems straight, no pulling left or right, but then it DOES pull left or right sometimes…I’ve noticed it a lot after merging onto the highway from a ramp…then it gets better after a while.

Have had new tires mounted and balanced without much change. Vibration only happens at 65-75 mph, anything above or below is real smooth. Vehicle is a 99 Cadillac Seville STS, 130k miles.

Please help?

thomasj: how did you find this post from october???

I have heard that a warn out inner CV joint could cause this

The wheel should be moved in and out. It is better if one front wheel is left on the ground to solidify things a bit.

The steering rack bushings can be inspected by carefully grasping the rubber bellows on each end of the rack and attempting to move the protruding part of the rack up and down. These bushings do not usually cause much of a problem. In the cases where the bushings are worn the rack is also normally leaking a little fluid into the rubber bellows.

It’s possible that the symptom on your car could change a bit after driving due to the tire rubber becoming heated, which could then give your car a different handling characteristic.

At 130k miles it is entirely possible you could have a worn tie rod or tie rod end.
Tester made a comment one time about replacing tie rod ends whereas I’ve normally replaced a lot of tie rods but few tie rod ends. It occurred to me that the reason for this could be driving conditions although it’s not something I’ve ever spent any time anaylyzing.

If a vehicle sees a lot of in-town driving, curvy roads, etc. along with slower speeds or smoother roads then maybe it’s possible the ends wear out due to the excessive movement in the ends as compared to the tie rod ends on vehicles where I live.

Around here the roads are pretty much a grid of straight lines so the ends will not get much movement but the rough roads and higher mileage could cause more movement in the tie rods themselves. Look at a map of the OK panhandle and the stretch of road between Guymon and Boise City. It’s 62 miles but about 55 miles of that is arrow straight with not even a hint of a turn.
Just a non-scientific theory anyway. :slight_smile:

Awesome post as usual, ok4450…I will try that and see if there’s any movement.

The tire rubber heating up makes sense, I guess that would magnify the problem.

My P/S fluid is always at the proper level so hopefully the steering rack bushings are ok.

I wish we had more straightaways here like it sounds you do! The twisties can be fun though, if you’re not stuck behind grandma.

It’s an interesting theory…also interesting is that this seems to be a common problem with the 98-04 Seville’s…it’s even been dubbed the “Seville shimmy”. Here’s a list of things others have replaced to try and fix the 65-70mph shimmy, with negative results:

Front outer tie rod ends
Four sets on tires
Three sets of wheels
Front struts
Rear shocks
Road force balance
All four brake rotors
Brake pads
Adjusted tire pressure
Strut tower brace
All four hub assemblies
Front motor mount
Installed spacer in engine cradle mounts, to clamp cradle tighter to the car

another person:

1- Different brand tires (Goodyear, Michelin, BF Goodrich) and different type of tires from the same manufacturer.
2- Different size tires (235/60/116, 225/60/16)
3- Front control arms and bushings (as per GM TSB 2004)
4- All 4 rotors
5- Both front struts and strut mounts
6- Both rear shocks
7- All 4 coil springs
8- All 4 brakes
9- All 4 wheel hubs
10- All 4 wheel bearings
11- Roadforce Balance the tires (e.g. Hunter)
12- Balance and rotating tires every 3,000 miles
13- Different rims, front to back; back to front; different size rims, different rim manufacturers
14- The motor mounts
15- Axle shafts
16- Inner CV joints
17- Outer CV joints

Depressing and crazy at the same time…I certainly will not be spending that much money to try and fix this but it’d be really nice to get rid of the shimmy…Funny thing is, even with all that stuff above, only outer tie rod ends are mentioned, never the inner ones…

This shimmy is not uncommon on the WRX model and on multiple years. Spray WD-40 where the axle goes through the suspension knuckle into the wheel hub and the problem is reduced by 80%. Also, if you check the temperature of the rotor on the driver side wheel, you might find that it is runnung hottter than the others. On my 08 WRX, the driver side rotor runs at 340 deg F while the passenger side runs at 265 deg F. The problem comes and goes because when you step on the gas to accelerate, the alignment of the suspension and drive train parts change slightly. Subaru still avoids talking about the problem when I bring the car in to complain but they did admit that the problem is an “Alignment and Balancing issue.”