Alignment & Unknown Noises 89 Toyota AWD All Trac Wagon

I have the above mentioned car (w/ about 130,000miles) that I recently purchased after the insurance company totaled my much newer (and beloved) Subaru-- and gave me far less for it than I thought it was worth (or, it turns out, similar vehicles are selling for in my region.)

I went almost two months w/out a vehicle before conceding to the fact that I was holding higher standards than I could afford based on what I got. Unfortunately, this may have caused me to leap fool- heartedly into the purchase of the Toyota that I saw on craigslist…and immediately thought “well, it’s older than I had, an move and has more miles, and isn’t a suby…But it is a Toyota. Which is almost as good…and a wagon…and AWD…don’t let this pass you by!”

We had a huge snow fall the night I purchased it, roads were extremely icy and I didn’t test drive it the way I should have (or have in the past) because of it. After two months of being continually disappointed by my standards being too high, I was afraid of letting a good one get it away…and purchased it that night. Not asking enough of the right questions, or driving it enough, or having a pre-buy inspection or any of those things that a well informed used car buyer should do.

Of course I started to discover its “quirks” almost immediately and am having a hard time fighting buyer’s remorse. I keep trying to remind myself that Toyota makes good cars…and that hopefully these problems are minor.

I quickly noticed that the alignment is off (I’m not sure how I failed to notice that when I test drove it. Perhaps the dark and snow distracted me?) In order to keep the wheels straight I have to keep the wheel maybe 25-30degrees to the left. This, I’m assuming is probably not a bit deal. I know wheel alignments are usually relatively easy and inexpensive.

What I’m afraid of is that two (separate) sounds the car makes might be related…and might make it more costly. Just trying to get some ideas before I take the car in in the next month…

Any thoughts on these two sounds, neither of which is consistent and seems to occur only under certain circumstances.

1. A high pitched whirring noise. I can’t pinpoint where it is coming from…at times it seems to be from the front wheels, most of the time it just seems as though it is coming from somewhere in front of me. When I first noticed this noise it would only make it between about 32mph-42mph…and only when I am accelerating or decelerating slowly. However, recently I have noticed that on particularly cold days it will do it also between about 15-20mph. In both cases it ceases to make that noise if my speed drops above or below those ranges.

Think it’s related to the wheels/alignment? Or a belt? Or something else all together? Any vague ideas at the cost of fixing this unknown problem?

2. This noise is a little harder to describe. At times it kind of sounds like a whoosh of air being squeezed out of valve, and somewhat like a rubbing. It seems to happen most (and maybe only, it’s hard to pinpoint) when making right turns, or when the wheel is turned more to the right than allows for straight alignment for the wheels. However, it doesn’t seem to happen every time under those circumstances. At times it will just happen once. At other times it will happen repeatedly for a few minutes, then stop. It does not seem to be related to speed or temperature, but does very clearly seem to be coming from the driver’s side front end…I’m assuming the wheel well.

Same questions as the first question: Think it’s related to the wheels/alignment? Or a belt? Or something else all together? Any vague ideas at the cost of fixing this unknown problem?

Thanks for your help…and for listening to my convoluted whine. Trying hard to believe that I’m not a sucker!

An addendum to noise number 1. When I say particularly cold days I’m talking 10 degrees or colder…For those of you not in Alaska who have very different ideas of what someone might mean when they say “particularly cold.” :slight_smile:

You purchased a nearly-20-year-old vehicle after a test drive in the snow? What were you thinking?

Of course you wouldn’t notice an alignment problem. The snow allowed the wheels to slide and masked any alignment issue.

There are a multitude of things potentially wrong with this vehicle. Or there is nothing major wrong with it. The only way to be sure, unless you are a mechanic, is to take it to a mechanic and have it checked out, which is what you should have done BEFORE you bought it.

You’re not a sucker. If that were true we’d have believe that someone else talked you into buying this car. That’s not the case. You decided, for whatever reason, that you HAD to have this car.


PS Don’t freak out. The Toyota All Track wagon is a VERY reliable vehicle in most cases. If you’re lucky there are nothing more than a few minor problems. I wouldn’t get too excited about a strange noise here and there. Remember, it’s 19 years old and has 130K miles on it (how many of them are Alaska miles?). ANYTHING is possible.

Just out of curiosity, how much did you pay for this gem?

With the steering wheel off-center that much the alignment could certainly be a problem. However, putting it back into alignment may be a different thing altogether.
Unless someone has been working on it and screwed something up, the odds are that something in the front suspension is either worn out or severely bent. That is what the cause of the off-center wheel is and this car should get a careful inspection lest that “worn out” part turns out to be a ball joint. This could lead to something breaking and a potential crash.

Maybe someone slid on the ice/snow and whacked the suspension, noticed the steering wheel is now canted badly, and sold the car because they knew something was bent.

No idea on the noises but the tire tread should be inspected. Bent suspension parts leads to oddly worn tires which then leads to road noise. The noise could also be an exhaust heat shield vibration which can come across as a buzz at times and can be erratic.
Don’t know what to say about test driving a car on a snowy, icy night except that it was a mistake. You really need to get that front suspension checked just to make sure a ball joint or something is not about to break.

If you have a tape measure you could perform a half reliable form of checking for bent suspension parts yourself. Measure from the back of the left wheel (NOT the tire) to the front of the left rear wheel. Do the same for the other side and compare the measurements. They should be pretty close to each other; say within a 1/4". If not,…

Ach. I know. I wasn’t thinking, that was kind of exactly my point. In a moment of pure frustration I acted like a complete idiot. :-/ I knew better immediately before, and I knew better immediately after. But sometimes we just make incredibly foolish decisions. I let my knowledge that the Toyota All Track is normally a very reliable car completely overshadow all of my better judgement.

They are ALL Alaskan miles. Well, it might have been driven on out of state road trips. But from my research, the car was originally purchased in Fairbanks and moved to Anchorage a few years ago.

I paid around $1500 (just a little more than)

Thanks. That’s the kind of reply I was fearing, but where my mind was kind of going. I’m going to get it in as soon as I can. But, I’m a poor grad student, and that sort of thing takes money (that I don’t have, or I would have spent more to begin with)…and I’m working on getting it in as soon as I can!

The one critical safety area here is ball joints. Offhand, I don’t think your problem is related to ball joints; just pointing it out.
A loose ball joint is often detected when driving over moderately rough road surfaces. It will usually cause a thunking sound.

If a car slides on ice and hits a curb, large pothole, or whatever, the thing that usually gets bent is a lower control arm. If one of these gets pushed back a little bit this will knock the alignment out and will in turn cant the steering wheel. Bad on handling, bad on tires, but not necessarily life-threatening anyway.
If you do the tape measure thing I suggested and if one side is shorter than the other then it’s likely the control arm is tweaked.

I understand the grad student thing completely. My son is a grad student and has finally got his thesis up and running on the PC with all of the bugs worked out as of yesterday. Finish some paperwork and he can breathe again. :slight_smile:

You don’t really have a problem unless you are fighting the wheel to keep the car going straight. They just have to lengthen the left tie rod and shorten the right one. It was just aligned by people who don’t know how to keep the wheel straight. Your other problems are nothing. If the car sits perfectly level, you may need new springs in the rear. If you don’t have enough pinion angle, the rear universal joint can wear out. That’s right; if the driveshaft and universal are perfectly straight, the universal joint wears out in about 18 months. It could also be causing thewhirring noise, but I doubt it. These All Trac cars were not considered to be good ones. I notice that it is still running so you might be able to forget the noises.

It must be the wheel bearings. They are typically designed for 150,000 miles … but sometimes they go bad sooner.