Wheel problem or heat shield problem?

Background: Recently bought new tires a couple of months ago from Tire Rack (Goodyear put them on for me). Car sounded fine afterward (though I don’t drive it often since I car pool to work). Then I got bearings fixed (at Firestone) when the car made noises while turning about a month ago as well. It sounded good afterwards. Then I needed a new catalytic converter put on my car when mine went out. Firestone tried to cheat me on the converter. They promised and quoted an original part for a great price (though more expensive than an aftermarket price) and when I got there they put an aftermarket one on. So I talked them into giving me the lowest aftermarket price from the other shop that I had turned down to have the supposedly original part put on by them.

Problem: Ever since I got it back the car sounded louder. I figured it was the new catalytic converter that changes the sound of the exhaust system. My boyfriend said that I may have a loose heat shield. However recently the car has gotten to sound like a helicopter, vibrates and is really loud. It originally started around 60 mph and got worse the faster I went. Now it sounds bad all the way down to 40 mph and vibrates my mirror and anything in the front dashboard (though the steering wheel doesn’t vibrate much). It doesn’t matter whether the breaks are pressed or not (doesn’t change the sound). I have a standard shift so I put it in neutral… sound does not change at all. Engine RPM is fine, engine temperature is fine, oil is fine, and the engine actually sounds good. It sounds more like a wheel problem. I checked tire pressure and it was fine. I felt the lug nuts and they appeared to be tight. I just had the baring fixed. You would think that the car was balanced when the wheels were put on (by Goodyear) and the Firestone would have noticed when they changed the baring and catalytic converter since they usually do a point check (I also get my oil changes there, last one was at the end of July).

I would like some advice since I got the wheels put on at Goodyear, but the baring and catalytic converted fixed at Firestone. I am not sure who to bring the car back to. I want to be forewarned when I go back to Firestone so I don?t get BS from them again and know what the problem is. That is what saved me last time. I am sure they gave the same fibs to other people to get business then put whatever they wanted on the car for the price quoted. So? help, I really need to get this fixed in case it is dangerous.

The first thing I would suspect is a bad tire.

I read some clues in your post:

  1. the problem started as soon as the put the new cat converter on
  2. applying the brakes has no effect
  3. in addition to the noise, the interior of the car is shaking and getting worse
  4. apparently this shop is not too concerned about the integrity of their work…they quoted you a OEM converter and installed an aftermarket.

My guess is that they probably broke or did not properly reinstall the upstream oxygen sensor or its wires. It’s also possible that one of the flanges is leaking, affecting the oxygen sensor readings and allowing the helicopter noise. The shaking almost HAS to be coming from poor engine operation.

Honestly, I’d take it to an independently owned and operated shop and have him review the work. I would not return to this Firestone place. I’d “write it off” as one of life’s mistakes.

I think it is either a engine vibration or a different wheel issue. A bad o2 sensor would set an engine light. Also a knock sensor would give a check engine. Is the shake a “i cannot hold the steering wheel shake” or a “why is the car vibrateing shake”. It might be a bad engine mount, a tie rod, ball joint, so you need to tell us whether it is a sound only or a steering issue.

It is more a “why is the car vibrating” shake. Everything in the front of the car rattles, glove compartment, change dish, mirror; the steering wheel vibrates a little but not that strongly. My hands won’t shake off or go numb with the steering wheel vibration. I have fine pick up and acceleration though. Today I drove home at 30 mph because it sounded so bad… just yesterday I was able to go up to 60 mph. The helicopter is really loud and gets faster the faster the car goes. That is why I thought it might be a wheel issue.

Wanted to give everyone who may be reading this discussion an update. I went to an independent mechanic that I got from a search and customer reviews on the car talk website. He was great! The problem was that the same bearing I had fixed at Firestone broke. Well it would be insured under Firestone so I went back over there. They confirmed that it broke but said that I would have to replace the steering knuckle or it would break again. They said that what happens is that sometimes the bad bearing wears down the steering knuckle and the bearing does not fit firmly to the knuckle and this causes it to wear. I am not sure I believe them. Funny how something that they should replace for free turns out to be more money on my part. Anyway I asked them why they didn’t catch it the first time and he didn’t have an answer for me. Either way they are incompetent or lying to me. So I told them to put my car back together and I am taking it to the other mechanic. I honestly have never heard of a steering knuckle breaking a bearing but I design aircraft not cars.

I am really glad that you found an independent mechanic who seems to be competent and honest. When I first read your original post, my thoughts were along the lines of, “Goodyear and Firestone? Why is this person only using chain operations that are known for less-skilled mechanics whose pay is based on how many parts they replace?”.

Think of it this way:
If you want a really good dinner cooked by a professional chef, it would be foolish to go to McDonald’s, Burger King, The Olive Garden, Red Lobster, or some other chain restaurant. Similarly, if you want a skilled mechanic who will charge you a fair price without adding unnecessary parts to the bill, don’t go to Firestone, Goodyear, Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, AAMCO, or any other chain operation.

Chain auto repair places are the automotive equivalent of fast food, i.e., to the naive or uninitiated members of the public, they seem like the real thing, but they are not. Junk food or real food, crappy repairs or competent repairs, it is your choice.

Thanks everyone for the advice!!! This is the first time I have had to have real repairs done and I will say… I won’t be going to the “fast food/chain auto repair” mechanics again.