Subaru shakes
December 29, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

What could be causing the sudden steering wheel vibration/shake and sudden pulling to the right with my 96' AWD Subaru Legacy?

While I was driving home from work today, I started feeling my steering wheel vibrate, and my car wanted to pull to the right. I pulled over for a few minutes, and when I resumed driving the problem seemed to go away. It happpened one more time on the drive home, but seemed to fix itself again when I stopped at a light.

My alignment seems fine except for these 2 isolated incidents. Any thoughts? Also, is it safe to drive until I can get it into the shop?

posted by pilibeen to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have power steering?
posted by fancyoats at 11:56 AM on December 29, 2012

Could have some loose lug nuts. Wouldn't cost anything to bust out the wrench and make sure your wheels are bolted on tight.
posted by itheearl at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2012

And while you're down there, check the tire pressure. I had a car develop a bad shudder that went away after I filled up the tires, which had been at about half what they should have been.
posted by scratch at 11:59 AM on December 29, 2012

If you lose a tire balancing weight you can get a vibrating steering wheel, especially at particular speeds.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:59 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

A sticking brake caliper could cause the car to pull to one side and also warp the rotor, causing the shudder. Waiting a little while in cool weather could allow the rotor to cool and potentially flatten out. Did you notice whether the right front wheel was hot when you stopped to check things out? Have the rotors ever been replaced?
posted by jon1270 at 12:08 PM on December 29, 2012

when my car did that, it was bald tires and worn out axle joints.
posted by KathrynT at 12:22 PM on December 29, 2012

Do you have a buildup of snow or ice on the wheel? (check both sides of the wheel, it's more likely to be on the interior side).
posted by HuronBob at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2012

Definitely have the tires checked. When my Subaru started doing that a lot, I inspected my CV joints and the right front one had split open and was throwing grease everywhere.
But when I took it to the mechanic, they found that the issue that was causing the vibrating and pulling was actually a ruptured and disintegrating tread on my tire.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:42 PM on December 29, 2012

Best answer: Its almost certainly not an alignment problem. Probably tires. I would start with pressure and inspection for buildup of mud/snow etc or maybe a lost wheel weight. THe problem with those is that it is intermittent and related to braking. Probably need to put it on a lift and have a mechanic look at it, it might be a bad caliper like jon1270 said. I think you have more than one thing going on and could well be a tire AND brake problem and maybe also bad Constant velocity joints usually called 'axles' on a subaru (unlikely but possible). It could also be a seperated tire (where air works its way between the plys of the tire and cause small 'bubbles' that make the tire out of round and cause pulling and vibration. If it comes and goes as you change speeds that points to tires, if it just gets progressively worse as you go faster it can be mechanical and also tires. So yeah, take it to a tire place have them put it on a lift and look for worn tires and worn suspension bits and check out the brakes also. Make sure you have them actually show you the problem and why it is bad though this is the best way to avoid getting ripped off. If they can't explain it well and simply just go elsewhere.
posted by bartonlong at 12:47 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

OH and also, if your tires are shot, you need all 4 on this car. It is AWD and mismatched tires are NOT good for the mechanical bits that make it AWD (the Wikipedia page on this explains it well if you don't already know why). Actually the Wikipedia page on most car parts is pretty good for understanding why something failed.
posted by bartonlong at 12:48 PM on December 29, 2012

This happened to me recently when one of my tires was slightly unbalanced (I had a puncture fixed and they didn't re-balance it afterward.) It was intermittent and seemed to happen at higher speeds.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:56 PM on December 29, 2012

My really rusty Subaru did something similar just before a front end strut (or something) broke and my front wheel was at a 90 degree angle to the rest of the car. I had driven it about 10 miles to the repair shop, and the strut thing broke when I put the car in reverse to park.

Is your sube really really rusty?
posted by bricksNmortar at 7:55 PM on December 29, 2012

Best answer: A CV (constant-velocity) joint about to fail can present those symptoms. Take it in and have 'em looked at.
posted by drhydro at 10:06 PM on December 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the help. I haven't been able to recreate the problem since yesterday morning. I was also getting a noise briefly, sorta a light screaching noise kinda like wawckawawckawawckawaw, that seemed to disappear quickly and hasn't returned.

I took my car into the tire shop today, had them look at alignment, wheel balance, anything obvious, and they couldn't find any issues. Hopefully it was just a bit of snow/ice buildup and it resolved itself.

Thanks again
posted by pilibeen at 8:38 AM on December 31, 2012

If it happens again have them check for a brake caliper that is sticking intermittently.
posted by empty vessel at 4:51 PM on January 2, 2013

Response by poster: Just in case anyone else stumbles in turned out to be a bad CV joint. The passenger side CV joint boot was torn for who knows how long - had a new axle put on and the problem is resolved.
posted by pilibeen at 8:16 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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