Are axle's really that bad?!?

I have a 1993 Subaru Loyale wagon and love, love, love the car. I’ve done a lot of work to it, including dropping a new engine into it along with new suspension, clutch, front and rear wheel bearings, and new front axles (all done within the last 20k).

Of that, the latest work I’ve done has been the front axles. Most recently, I had the usual clicking noise when turning so took it in and had the whole passenger side axle replaced. I took the car home and went on a road trip a few days later. During that trip the car would shudder at high speeds but would go away if I pulled off the highway and make a slow sharp turn in a parking lot. Took the car back in, diagnosis… bad axle. Got it replaced.

Axle #2 didn’t fair much better. When driving around, the same clicking noise happened when turning either right or left. It would go away after the car had warmed up (roughly 1 or 2 miles), but I didn’t think it should be making noise after less than 100 miles. So, took it back to the shop and they replaced the axle but also said that the front wheel bearing would need to be replaced as well to get all the noise to go away. So, I had them put axle #3 on the Subi and I replaced the front wheel bearings and the front rotors and pads while I was at it.

Axle #3 lasted for about a week before the noise came back. The shop and I were getting frustrated by this point but they put axle #4 into the car with the thought that the noise would still return but they had no idea why.

Axle #4 isn’t fairing much better… I think. The clicking noise has returned but it only happens when you have the engine engaged. If you’re turning with the clutch in or with the trans in neutral than there is no noise at all.

I don’t want to go for axle #5 without some more information and was hoping to get some thoughts from this fine community of automotive savvy folks. I’ve had some folks say that it’s still the axle and others say to look at the transmission. Any thoughts?

Obtain a replacement axle from a Subaru dealer instead of a rebuilder, or buy an axle from a better rebuilder…If you watched the process of “rebuilding” CV joints, you would understand why you are having so many problems…

The 1st 2 were rebuilds but the 2nd 2 were new axles. Is there still a high failure rate with new axles? If so, would you recommend a different source for rebuilds or try a different brand of new axles?

I suspect there is something else going on here…All those axles can’t be bad…How many miles on this car?

Some reman axles can be problematic but since the latest ones are new there should not be a problem with them. Remans have become enough of a problem I inspect them closely before installing them anymore.

A clicking noise could be caused by a problem in the transmission spider gears also.
I’m a bit hesitant to mention this because I do not want the appearance of accusing the shop of a mistake.

The axles are held onto the transmission stub axles with serrated pins (DOJ pins). The hole for the pin runs through both the axle shaft and the trans stub axle. The beveled side of the holes on both MUST be on the same side before installing the pin.
If the holes are 180 degrees off they look like they’re in alignment but in reality they’re off enough to cause a major headache if someone forces the issue with a hammer.

One way the pins will tap in easily; the other way (with some heavy whacking) may lead to mushroomed pins, stuck partly in and never come out pins, or damaged stub axles and/or spider gears in the trans final drive.

I’ve seen several damaged Subaru transmissions due to someone committing this error and in one particular case the transmission was beyond being economically repairable.
Someone had whaled, and I mean whaled in capital letters, on this one.

At this point don’t accuse the shop of anything and I’ll give this one some more thought to see if anything else pops up. There are a few theories but I’ll think about it a bit.

The car has 198k miles on it. I believe the transmission is original; the engine is new as is the clutch.

Thanks for the reply and thought about this issue. What is the method to check and see if they are 180 degrees off or lined up? I figure the more I know the better it will be once I talk to the guys at the shop.

The only way of knowing would be if you knew if the pins tapped into place easily. There is simply no way of tapping them in all the way if the pin holes are off. This leads to one of 2 things.

  1. The pin is left sticking out; a lot. I’ve seen them protruding 1.5".
  2. The mistake is caught after pounding for a while, the pin (or a new one) is tapped in, and it appears normal. The problem with this is that damage could have been done to the spider gears and this will not be visible without transmission diassembly.

If they’re familiar with the beveled holes then this should not be a problem, although that’s not to say there isn’t a problem with the spider gears anyway.

Question or two. You say the engine and clutch was replaced so I assume the clicking noise was not present at that time?
The engine and clutch replaced at the same time with no trans removal?

I sure notice we are getting slammed with a lot of Subaru questions lately, sadly my experience is way low on Subaru and the axel question should best go to a Subaru man (like it is already).I can look if there are a lot of TSB’s about axels though, I am gone to look.

There is a TSB for many different models from the 90’s that is titled “XFER clutch bucks or binds on turns” perhaps you should take a look and see if it does you any good in nailing this down.

After reading your comment here I looked over recent threads and agree that there seems to be a great many Subaru problems, oldschool. And also my experience with Subarus is limited. Possibly owners are struggling to deal with problems because there are few shops with experience on them. They have always had some peculiarities that many mechanics shied away from. I owned one years ago that had the front brakes mounted on the transaxle.

OK4450 is highly experienced with Subarus so you should certainly investigate the issue of the pins & potential damage.

I’ll just mention that I had a new engine/trans installed in a car a couple of years ago. There was an issue with r&r of one of the axles (long story). When I picked up the car I recall complaining/commenting to the service manager that I came in with two quiet axles and now had a front end that sounded like a box of popcorn (typical CV joint popping sounds when I turned). I also had some bad intermittent shudder on acceleration.

I went ahead and put a rebuilt axle into it. I was completely surprised to find that the popping noise when I turned didn’t change at all. (The shudder problem was solved).

Anyway…long story short - during the r&r of the engine the front suspension takes some abuse - all of the weight off, all of the weight back on, plenty of jouncing around. My front strut bearing plates were the things making all of the noise. I figured it out by holding onto the spring while turning the wheel. I could clearly feel the bind & release along with every “pop.” I’ve had bad CV joints more than once. The sound was very similar.

You mention “new suspension” - that’s vague. I’d imagine that you got “some” suspension work done. Even if you’ve gotten new struts it doesn’t necessarily mean you got new bearing plates and even if you did it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have shifted around and become noisy.

After some more thought I can’t really thing of anything else that would cause this; or at least anything that I’ve ever seen.
Even the spider gear scenario is stretching it a bit and only mentioned because I have seen it happen several times.

Some theories that might be thrown out there could be:
What are the chances the latest axles are not really new, defined as brand new off the assembly line and never installed, rebuilt, remanned, etc.?

The possibility the axles were never changed at all the last go around and a placebo has been administered?

I don’t mind pointing a finger at a shop or mechanic in certain cases but on this one it bothers me a bit to come across that way.
What would I do if the car were in hand? I’d pull the axles, put them on the bench, and go over them very closely before condemning the transmission at this point.
This kind of thing leads into judgement call territory unless one has handled a lot of joint movement problems by hand and knows what a perfectly good joint feels like.

Many years ago Subaru had a Campaign going on CV joints and careful inspection of the joints was part of the process when determining whether the car got a new boot or new joint. This was an everyday thing it seemed like so we became pretty proficient at checking CV joints. We did enough of them that we could even just about match the .2 warranty flat rate time on changing them. :wink:

The clicking noise was not present when either the engine or the clutch was replaced. The clutch was replaced and then I lost compression in two cylinders about 10k later on. That’s when I dropped a engine into the beast. The engine and clutch were not changed at the same time.

The noise appeared about 2 months after the engine replacement, I’d guess about 2k miles.

I replaced the strut and bearing plates on the front end and the struts on the rear. I didn’t replace the springs. The struts and bearing plates were replaced about 20k ago and perhaps they have seen some movement and shuffling with the swapping of ball joints, brake rotors, and wheel bearings… and 4 axles.

I’ll lift it up and see if I can feel a popping noise in the strut. Might be time to go buy an automotive stethoscope.

Well, worth a look, but I just caught the part about the noise being absent without the transmission engaged. If that’s so then it is completely improbable that the strut bearings have anything to do with it.