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Weird axle story (Subaru Forester) with a happy ending

I brought my car to a dealership for its 120,000mi check-up, and they told me that the front axle boots were torn. They replaced the right axle, and on the ride home, I noticed a burning smell. Short story is four return trips, and the right axle replaced three times (including the initial replacement), and the smell has finally gone away. The weird part is not that I went back to the same place four times instead of giving up, it’s that they told me this last time that they moved the replacement #2 right axle to the left when they installed replacement #3. Why would they do that? Why would the smell go away if the issue was with that axle? I looked it up, and the same part is used on the driver’s side and passenger side, so it wasn’t as though they installed a left axle on the right the first two times. Does this mean the “new” axles were just new-to-me and had been reconditioned? If reconditioned, would it matter if a previously left axle was mounted on the right?

Meanwhile, about six weeks after replacement #2, the car started making a thumping noise when the accelerator was depressed at a speed over 35mph (but not when coasting above 35mph or with the gas on below 30-35). I was wondering if it was misfiring or something, but lo and behold! That noise went away with the axle switching. Way back at replacement #1, they replaced the boot on the left but not the entire axle until #3.

All’s well that ends well.

Something doesn’t sound right because left and right axles are not interchangeable, I think.

They may have put the wrong axle in the wrong side and they covered it up by swapping it to the correct side and then replacing what was there with the correct one.

There does not appear to be a separate part for front passenger side (vs. front driver’s side only) on any of the auto parts sites I’ve checked. As far as I can tell, these axles come in A. front driver’s/passenger side B. rear driver’s side or C. rear passenger side.

Unless you paid about $700+ per axle, you were not getting factory new axles. You were either getting remans or aftermarket new axles and from your problems, I strongly suspect remans. That is why I don’t like remans, I’d much rather have new aftermarket.

Burning smell = grease from axles dropped on exhaust pipe. Very smelly for a while and then it burns off and goes away.

@RIRed, googling subaru axles, I see you’re right.
I must be confused with other cars’ axles.

Thanks for the correction.

You’re right, the invoice states “reman axle.” Still don’t understand why switching the right axle to the left side would not then create the same problem on the left - or is it that it is still leaking grease, but no longer onto a heated exhaust pipe which would then cause the smell? Should I check for a stain on the driveway under the front left side?

The burning smell mainly appeared after sitting at a stop sign trying to turn left, with the clutch engaged, ready to shift into first as soon as there’s an available opening (otherwise I would never get my son to school). When I drove the same route without traffic and so a very short stop in neutral, I did not get the smell. This went on for weeks. Between replacements #2 and 3, I took the car to a different mechanic, who said there was grease all over the axle, but they cleaned it off. It did not help, the smell came right back and gradually worsened over the next two weeks before I brought it for the 3rd and finally successful replacement. I guess this means it was leaking. I was convinced the smell was from some problem with the clutch, but apparently I was wrong, since the smell is now completely gone. Except that the clutch pedal started to squeak after the second trip back to the garage. They (and two other garages) tell me it’s unrelated; on the other hand, the three mechanics have given me three different diagnoses for the squeak. Sounds like the Tin Man.