Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Terrible Sound when Starting Subaru Outback

When I start my Subaru 2001 Outback, it makes an awful sound. Not as much as a screech, but more like a loud grinding, and then it wanes and goes away after about a minute. Then when the car is warm, the sound is all about gone. It’s been going on for a few weeks now and wasn’t there before.

Listen to the audio file below.

Power steering pump.

Sounds like a circular saw to me, but I digress. I would take off the serpentine and any other ass drive belts. Start the car if no noise shut the car off. Rotate P/S pump, A/C clutch, Alt, And any other pulleys by hand. A noise that loud you would have to feel a a grinding bearing some where. If the noise continues with the belts off, shut off engine immediately and tow to a shop you trust.

Hopefully it is not one of your pulleys ready to fail under the timing belt cover. I had a similar sound that turned out to be the throw out bearing in the clutch on 2005 Legacy.

Take it in if you cannot diagnose yourself.

Pulley(s) not expensive to fix if that item, but if it fails you are looking at $2000+ repair.

Thanks everyone. Here’s the update - the sound didn’t happen this morning when it was cold. Not one bit. So the sound is intermittent. I don’t know if this has ANYTHING to do with it, but I changed my oil yesterday. Also to note is that both my inner tie rod ends (where it connects to the Rack and Pinion) boots are torn and loose, allowing dirt to get in them. I am getting that fixed today.

The car is a H6 3.0 Liter so it has no timing belt, it has a timing chain. I am getting it looked at today at the shop, but without them hearing the sound, I don’t know if they can diagnose it correctly.

I am pretty sure that the noise is coming from a dry bearing in one or more of the pulleys/tensioners for the serpentine belt. I had the exact same problem with my '02 Outback when it reached 8 years/100k miles. If one of these pulleys or tensioners seizes up, it could lead to more expensive repairs, so I would suggest getting it looked at a.s.a.p.

Raj suggested that the noise could be coming from a timing belt tensioner, which is also possible if this car has a 4 cylinder engine (the 6 cylinder uses a timing chain). Has the timing belt ever been replaced? If so, was the tensioner also replaced?

If a pulley or tensioner for the timing belt seizes up, it will cause extremely expensive engine damage, so although I think it is more likely that the problem is related to the serpentine belt’s pulleys/tensioners, the possibility that it could be related to the timing belt’s pulleys/tensioners makes this something that needs to be attended to right away.

Thanks VDC - it is 3.0 Liter H6 so it has timing chain, not a belt. I am betting it is the dry beearing in the pulley/tensioners for the serpentine belt. How much was that to repair?

bolton–I honestly don’t recall the cost, but it was probably no more than $200 at the dealership.
I disposed of those maintenance records when I traded that car in on my 2011 Outback, but I know that the cost was not really high.

Incidentally, that repair was the only one that was ever needed on that car in the 10 years/120k miles that I owned it.

I agree with @VDCdriver. It sounds like a tensioner pulley for one of the belts to me. My daughter’s Forester had a very similar high pitch whine that disappeared after I replaced the power steering tensioner pulley.
Get a cheap automotive stethoscope (Harbor Freight, Sears, any FLAPs) and probe around next time you hear it.

OK - it’s at the shop right now. I told the mechanic it may be a tensioner/pulley bearing.

Should he not be able to find it because it is so intermittent, get one of these things so you can pinpoint it:

The guy at the shop said it was the Idler Pulley’s bearings were bad. He is replacing the bearings for $18.95 parts plus $45 labor. I guess it could have been worse. I will update this if something comes up.

Didn’t realize the bearings were serviceable items. Usually I just replace the entire pulley.
Learn something new every day…

Glad it is (hopefully) fixed for not too much money.

I think you should be good to go now. The bearings do go out at times. Years ago I replaced the bearing in the pulley for the '88 Soob I had. I got the bearing at place that sold bearings and it was a lot less money to replace just the bearing than the whole pulley.

It is best to be knowledgeable about repair.

However first with a sound best to let them diagnose it without telling them potential reasons as we may be way off.

Folks on this board berate Subaru’s. However I find relatively inexpensive vehicle to repair as most items done very quickly due to easy layout of motor.