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Whining Noise in '05 Subaru Outback

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting a whistle or whining noise I think from under my car periodically. It doesn’t happen when I start the car, not when idling and starts at about 20/30 mph. I’ve had the car in the shop for regular maintenance, just replaced front bushings, put on new rear brake pads and new rotors. I’ve checked the car for anything that might cause wind since it comes and goes even while driving. Seems worse in hot, damp weather. Back to the dealer today because it was loud and they say drive shaft, but there is no vibration and the car is running very smoothly. Any ideas? It’s driving me crazy when it happens because it almost sounds like a plane landing. Thanks!!

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If your model has a turbo for the engine I would suspect the bearings in it might causing the trouble and that would not be a good sign if that is the case. If you have one it should be located on the passenger side of the engine. Have the oil screen for the turbo inspected and cleaned if you have one. They can clog easily and that will kill the turbo unit.

WHat? The cost of a turbo repair job? You don’t want to know.

Based on the whining symptom, the first thing I would check is the final drive oil on the transmission, which I assume is an automatic.

Sometimes it has happened that the final drive oil will be lost through internal seal leakage or as more often the case; someone inadvertently drained the final drive by mistake instead of the engine oil.
The final drive oil is not the same as the ATF, or auto trans fluid. There should be a small dipstick for the final drive on the passenger side front of the transmission. It’s out of sight and out of mind usually.

Thanks Cougar. I don’t have a turbo so no sign it’s the bearings. I pulled in to Subaru on Saturday because the noise was apparent and had a tech drive with me. They put it up and said they “think” its the drive shaft. I’m not confident when a mechanic says “think” about a $700 part that only takes 1/2 hour to put in. What if I spend all that money and its not the drive shaft? Calling a local mechanic today to see if he can do some diagnostic. The thing about a drive shaft is from what I’m reading my car should be vibrating. Runs smooth, just noisy.

Yes ok4450 its an automatic and I will mention this when I get it up on the rack again. I don’t know who would have drained this, but worth looking. Many thanks. The diagnostic continues.

Since you don’t have a turbo then following up on @ok4450 idea is really a good thing to do. I think he may be right on the money. The fluid can leak out into another area internally and you wouldn’t know about it. No fluid leaks on to the ground.

The point about the final drive is that the drain plug is located very close to the engine oil drain plug and the final drive will be mistakenly emptied by someone being a little careless. Sometimes this is caught and corrected; sometimes it is not. You need to think back and determine if this whining surfaced immediately after an engine oil change.

If the final drive is very low or out of gear oil the car should not be driven; especially for any distance or at higher speeds. This could cause a catastrophic transmission failure in which the transmission is not even repairable. Whine eventually becomes BANG.

I might add that checking the final drive oil level is easy to do. In the link below note the orange plug on the lower edge of the transmission.
Note right above that plug is a yellow dipstick handle. That is the final drive oil level indictor.
Just pop it out and make sure it’s on the FULL mark.

Well, I just checked both yellow dip sticks, one was oil of course, and they are both full. I was hoping it might be something this simple. What I am noticing is that the whining is worse when it’s wet and we’ve had a ton of rain in the NE. Oh well, I have someone else putting it up on a rack next week for another opinion.

Just uploaded two recordings of the noise in the last few days. Again, it’s periodic.
Thanks!!

I wonder whether it could be some sort of tire noise, with it getting worse when on a wet road. That is kind of a weird noise for a tire to make, tho. Maybe rotate the tires to see if the noise travels. It is cheap and easy to try.
Can you pin point the noise to the front or back?

At least the final drive oil situation is good. My hearing is not very good (50% loss on each ear) so determining things like this with sound bites is not easy for me.

Seeing as how rain can factor in, maybe there’s an issue with a serpentine belt and/or tensioner.

Thank you RemcoW and ok4450. Tires are fine, balanced and just did complete rear brake job and new rotors. It seems to me the noise is coming from the front and under the car.

I replaced one belt but will mention the serpentine and tensioner when we get on the rack next. It’s been very helpful to hear your comments everyone, so thanks. My regular mechanic passed away last year so I’m missing the trust.

Maybe one of the wheel bearings?

+1 on wheel bearings.

Hi Cleo,

I just picked up an 05 outback and am having what seems like the same exact problem. Did you ever figure out what was going on?

My car runs perfectly fine, shifts great, no vibrations, no other noises, nothing. Final gear fluid was fine, transmission fluid was fine, even tried coasting in neutral to see if the noise went away but it’s still there even in neutral.

Would love to hear what it ended up being for you?

Here’s a link to the sound clip I recorded: iCloud

Welcome to Car Talk.

Cleo hasn’t been here since 2013 so you aren’t likely to get a reply. It would be better if you started your own thread, giving as much detail about the car and the symptoms as you can.

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