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Whirring Noise at Highway Speeds (only when accelerating, slightly worse on hills)

Hey there,

I’ve got a 2002 Toyota Camry with 96,000 miles on it. Car has been running fine for years but on a recent 250-mile drive I noticed a whirring noise (almost like the engine of a remote-control electric car). The noise is faint, but definitely new. I’m fairly sure it’s coming from the under the hood, or at least from the front half of the car. No vibrations. The noise is only audible at highway speeds, and really only present when I’m accelerating (or on cruise control). It seems to get slightly worse if the car is climbing a hill.

Some things that have been worrying me:
*I left the car in a friend’s driveway all summer. Could that have anything to do with it? (There were no noticeable problems when I got back, which was months ago–when I came back after two months, I simply re-connected the battery and the car started on the first try).
*I had a transmission fluid change about 2K miles ago. It was at a Jiffy Lube. They “flushed” the old fluid. They claimed they used the correct Toyota brand fluid. (I’ve since read that flushing the old fluid can be a bad idea for older cars.) Could this have something to do with it?
*I just had my snow tires put on two weeks ago (and this is the first long drive I’ve done with the snow tires on). The guy who changed my tires took about 2.5 hours to do the job and the manager apologized on his behalf, saying “this is only his second week.” The car is steering fine, and not drifting or anything, but could that mechanic have done something to the tires that is causing this highway-speed, acceleration-only whirring noise?

Many thanks for your help.

Best,
Adam

More than likely it’s tire noise. Snow tires are noisier than normal tires. I don’t know about the jiffy lube transmission fluid change. I don’t trust them for anything. I would take it to the dealer and get the tranny fluid and filter changed. I know it’s about $90, but it would give you peace of mind.

Snow tires themselves will normally have a noticeable whine which will rise in pitch as you increase your speed.

Thanks very much to you both for your replies. I don’t mind spend the $90 for the transmission if it does things right. Do you think it’s a bad idea to do that even though I just changed the transmission fluid 2K miles ago–that is, is it dangerous to fiddle so much with the transmission fluid?

Also, thanks for both of your suggestions that it’s just the snow tire noise. Does the fact that it disappears instantly when I let off the accelerator change that diagnosis? Like it’ll be there at highway speeds when I am touching the gas, but not when I’m coasting. Could snow tires still produce that?

Again, thanks very much for your help.

–adam

Normally it wouldn’t disappear completely when you let off on the accelerator but would less pronounced, but I guess that would depend on the specific tread pattern.

My tC (Camry engine) made exactly the same noise… just before my alternator left this world. A friend said “it sounds like a spaceship”.

Try lifting the hood, having a friend rev the engine, and listening. Post back with the results.

Yes it does. Could be the belt, tensioner or an accessory (Pwr Steering pump, Alternator, AC) Changing the fluid again would not hurt. Toyota is very specific that the only transmission fluid used is Toyota transmission fluid. It’s synthetic made by Mobil with additives just for Toyota.

The fact that it disappears instantly when you release the accelerator I would think would rule out a belt driven accessory such as an alternator or power steering pump. They’re still rotating almost as fast and working just as hard. Worn differential gears or bearings can behave like this but that would be a real rarity.

The first thing I would do is try what @ the same mountain bike suggested. Rev it up in park and see if the same sound occurs.

My brother does a “drain-and-fill” every 30K miles on his '01 Camry auto trans (since new) using brand name Dexron. He just turned 100K miles with no trans issues.

I have heard horor stories on incorrect transmission fluids over time causing damage. If you lift off the gas the rpms drop the noise drops. This would eliminate tires, wheel bearings an the like. I still think its accessories or maybe tranny noise.

My first guess is tire noise. Especially since it started when work was done on the tires. One of them could be out of round, not properly balanced, installed incorrectly, tread imperfections, etc.

If I had this problem I’d probably jack each corner up one at a time and hand rotate the tires, looking at the tread, looking for any lateral wobbling indicating a mounting problem or hub problem, any up & down motion indicating out of roundness. I’d probably also remove the tire from the hub for a look-see at the mating surfaces, edit: missing tire balancers, etc, then put it back on the hub, making sure it was centered correctly, and hand torque the lug nuts in the correct pattern over several passes, gradually approaching the manufacture’s torque spec.

If all that didn’t fix it, I’d probably next start switching the tires around, see if the noise follows one of the tires.