1998 Subaru Forester (2 questions)

Had two strange things happen with my Forester yesterday:
First, I filled up with gas as it was getting low, but noticed this morning that the fuel gauge wasn’t showing all the way up to full, it was a tick under (I only drove 2-3 miles total from when I filled up yesterday until this morning). I didn’t notice this before hand, so it may never have even reached the whole way up to full when I finished refueling. Is this something I should be alarmed about and check out? Or wait it out and see if it happens with the next fill up?
The other issue is slightly more concerning. Yesterday afternoon I noticed a whining, airy, almost “electrical/hybrid car” type whirring noise when accelerating. It increased in pitch and volume as I accelerated, and decreased in volume and pitch when decelerating. When idling, I do not hear the noise at all. I tried to listen to where the noise was coming from, and it seems to be on the passenger side, behind the glovebox area in the engine (front of the car, not rear). I have a 1998 subaru forester, manual, and it has only about 110,000 miles on it. Is this something I need to have looked at? Any thoughts on either issue would be much appreciated.

I wouldn’t be too worried about the gas gauge situation. Gas gauges are not laboratory-grade measuring devices, and really only provide an approximation of how much is in the tank. This is not something of an emergent nature, and is just something that you should watch in order to see if it continues, or not.

However, I think that you should be very concerned about that whining noise.
From afar, nobody can accurately determine what it is, but the most likely culprit is a failing wheel bearing. When a wheel bearing seizes, it is very similar to applying the brakes full force on that one wheel, and that can be extremely dangerous if it occurs at high speed. Right now, you have a warning of sorts, and that warning shouldn’t be ignored.

Some other possibilities for that noise include a gearbox that is almost dry, and–perhaps–a bad CV joint on the drive axle. In any event, this is something that needs to be checked out right away.

A short test drive should enable a qualified mechanic to figure out the problem quickly.
Just make sure that you don’t go to a chain-run operation like Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, Pep Boys or…(shudder)…AAMCO. A well-reputed independent shop is your best bet.

Could the noise be wind noise, perhaps a bad seal around the passenger side door or window?

re the fuel gage, I’d wait and see if it repeats and gets worse.

The noise is definitely not a bad seal around the passenger side or window, it definitely sounds like it is coming from the engine, in front of the passenger seat. It whirrs and increases in sound with acceleration.

I suppose that it could be coming from the engine, but that possibility also calls for immediate action. Have you checked the dipstick?

In any event, the wheel bearing’s location makes it very possible to believe that the noise is coming from the engine. Between the proximity of the axles to the engine and the fact that a unitized chassis can “telegraph” noises so that they sound like they are coming from a slightly different place, it is very possible (or likely) that the wheel bearing on that side of the car is giving you a warning that should not be ignored.

When parked, if you rev the engine do you hear the sound at all? Or is it only when you are in motion? You could jack up the front end and spin the tires by hand and see if you can hear anything.

It is only when I am in motion–I did try to rev the engine, but the sound was not audible. It seems it only happens when I am in motion. Thank you all for the input, I’ve scheduled an appointment in two hours to get my car checked, I’ll have them take it for a test drive and see their thoughts. I’ll try to update this post if I find out what the issue is.

I would also suspect a wheel bearing as well, then, but your mechanic will better diagnose it from having the car in person. I had a 2000 Grand Am with a wheel bearing that was on its way out. The bearings are not serviceable on that car, so the entire hub assembly had to be replaced. It started as a whirring sound in motion that got louder as the car went faster. It eventually progressed into a rough “dragging” sound.

An axleshaft will usually (sometimes) pop when you turn either direction (depending on which one is bad) to signal it is nearing the end of its life.

Was the car serviced recently?
If the oil was recently changed, it is possible that the transmission/differential oil was drained by mistake.
On Subarus of that vintage there are two nearly identical-looking drain plugs only inches apart.

My car was serviced just a week and half ago, on the 11th of March. Would it take that long for the sound to appear? I trust who I had it serviced by, I’ve never had an issue and I know him personally.

I’m in full agreement with VDCdriver. The gauge problem should be aside for a moment as that is not critical. The whine may be due to the reason outlined by VDCdriver and there should be a lot of concern if this whine only surfaced after having the car serviced.

As a Subaru mechanic I’ve to deal with Subaru owners who discovered to their horror that their transmissions were not even worth rebuilding after someone botched a lowly engine oil change by inadvertently draining the final drive in the transmission.
There is a small dipstick on the passenger side of the transmission near where the engine mates to the transmission. The gear oil level needs to be checked ASAP and the car not driven until the oil level is verified. If low or empty the whine eventually becomes BOOM with the odds of destruction being higher at highway speeds.

Here’s a cut and paste from what corporate Subaru has to say about the matter. Hopefully it does not apply in your case.

Even basic maintenance requires a trained Subaru technician. Several independent mechanics, unfamiliar with Subaru engineering, have mistakenly drained the oil from Subaru front differentials instead of the engine oil pan during oil changes. In these cases, Subaru owners have driven away with too much oil in the engine, and no oil in the differential, leading to significant (and costly) damage to their vehicle’s drive train.

“My car was serviced just a week and half ago, on the 11th of March. Would it take that long for the sound to appear?”

Unfortunately, this makes me even more suspicious of a dry differential.
However, the wheel bearings still need to be checked.

“I trust who I had it serviced by, I’ve never had an issue and I know him personally.”

Then, hopefully the discovery of a dry and damaged differential will result in your friend replacing the diff free-of-charge. If not, then…your trust in him was misplaced.

Honestly I have looked in my owners manual and I can’t even find a dipstick to test the differential/transmission level at all. I’m not going far to the shop, and if what you say is true, and I’ve been driving like this for 2 weeks with low to no fluid like that, then the damage has already been done.

Please report back to us on his findings and on whether you are being charged for any repairs.
Sincere good luck!

DON"T panic just yet. With light use the differential can survive low oil level. Assuming this is an automatic maybe this link will help you locate the stick. As to the appearance of symptoms the usual one is a subtle whine that many people often dismiss as things seem to be operating fine anyway. Eventually (especially with highway speeds) the whine becomes howl and then a catastrophic bang followed by coasting or sliding to a stop.


Note on the right side of the pic there’s a stubby yellow pull handle near the paper bar code tag. That’s where the oil in the final drive is checked. It’s located down low on the passenger side front and a bit awkward to see. Hope the pic helps. Scrolling over it will bring up an enhanced pic.

For the fuel sender mis-reading…put a can of Techron in the tank as a first step. Many times this will clean a sulfer residue problem.

it fixed mine ;
Left home showing 160 miles-to-empty and went to fill up…all the way to the tippy top…gauge didn’t move and mte still showed 160 mte.
Since I know I was good to go for my 300 mile round trip and still have days of fuel when I get back…I set out without a worry.
After 100 miles the mte still read about 140 mte…I knew better…
While in Albuquerque I simply located the next Auto Zone I saw…grabbed a bottle of Techron…and BAM !..problem solved.

Thanks for everyone’s input, on both issues. The car is in the shop at the moment, waiting to see what is going on.

"Assuming this is an automatic maybe this link will help you locate the stick"

This OP’s car has a manual transmission.

Check the transmission fluid to make sure it isn’t low.

Noises like that can come from the exhaust system rattling too, esp the cat heat shield.

I have a 1999 Outback and that little yellow dipstick can be hard to find. And unless you are very tidy under the hood there is a good chance that it no longer looks yellow. Look for a dirty gray dipstick in the correct area & then wipe it off to see if it’s actually yellow under the 15 years of grime.