HELP!! Car feels extremely unstable at highway speeds
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This is a discussion on HELP!! Car feels extremely unstable at highway speeds within the General Maintenance, Troubleshooting & Accidents. forums, part of the Tech & Modifying & General Repairs category; I have a 2002 WRX with ~79,000 miles. Search has failed me, and I'm definitely stressing out here. I'll just ...

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    Registered User rcasTX28's Avatar
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    Exclamation HELP!! Car feels extremely unstable at highway speeds

    I have a 2002 WRX with ~79,000 miles.

    Search has failed me, and I'm definitely stressing out here. I'll just cut to the chase:

    At any speed, the car pulls right pretty badly, but at highway speeds the lack of any stability whatsoever is just plain scary. At 70-80 mph there's an unhealthy amount of jitter and vibration. I can't really tell if there's so much of the 'floaty' feel that I've read about, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was present and I've just gotten used to it. Bumps such as train tracks and small potholes/flaws in the road feel incredibly harsh. My turn radius is just embarrassing (and severely worse than what it was at a year ago when I bought the car). It's a terrible overall experience.

    Everywhere I've taken the car (including 2 different Subie dealerships in 2 different states) claim they can't diagnose the problem. Only one tire shop in Utah has provided any insight, and have said a bad strut mount bearing could be the culprit. Suspension components aren't my strongest suit, so if someone with more information (BigSky! ) could chime in, I would really really appreciate it.

    Other thoughts/notes:
    - When I shut down the car, it shudders violently -- coming, it seems, from the engine bay. Could this be a case of bad motor mounts? And if so, might this have anything to do with my handling issues?
    - The time to replace the diff. and tranny fluids is up since I've had the car for around 15,000 miles now. It's also possible that they're overdue if the person before me didn't change them before they sold the car. I've got the stuff ready for one of US's cocktails and redline synth for the differential, but am waiting for my friend to get me on base nearby so that I can rent out one of their lifts (since I couldn't get the diff. bolt out to save my life by jacking the car up on my street, and just about damn near stripped the thing). Could THIS solve this issue?
    - I leave for Utah from south TX (a 21 hour, 1000+ mile trip) for school in a week. I HAVE to get this issue taken care of before then, because there's NO way I can make that drive with 200 pounds of crap loaded in the back with such poor road-holding.
    - I haven't changed the struts since buying the car, so those are stock OEM. Could this be it?
    - I got my tires last August [Goodyear Eagle GT-HR] and they only have around 10,000 miles on them. They look like they're in decent shape. Stock wheels.
    - Last summer after getting the tires, I had the front wheel bearings replaced to cure the rampant amount of NVH I was suffering. Should I take the car back to the place here in TX to get them to redo their work, or could it be that the rear wheel bearings are shot now?

    - EDIT: Almost forgot! Had an alignment after buying the tires last summer and had another one before driving back down to TX in April. Neither seems to fix the pull to the right.

    ANY positive feedback or constructive criticism and suggestions are gladly welcomed! Thanks in advance for any help!
    Last edited by rcasTX28; 08-21-2007 at 05:24 PM. Reason: Adding info

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    Registered User rcasTX28's Avatar
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    Anything? Anyone??

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    Hrm...

    - Re the struts- this sounds maybe a bit like a siezed strut, maybe, though any competant shop should have noticed that. But it's easy to test: Push the car down on each corner and let it go. From the push-down, it should spring back up once, then fall back to its normal position. On any of the corners, does it take substantially more effort to push it down? Does it take longer than a single bounce to stabilize? If so, you've definately got strut issues.

    - Sometimes the steering rack bushings get very worn. Mine were worn all the way through at 90k miles and was causing the car not to keep an accurate alignment. Try replacing those; it's an easy 20 minute job and the parts are cheap. There's a good writeup of this in the tutorials forum.

    - I suppose broken motor mounts might could cause you some NVH issues, ya. Jack her up, put 'er on stands, then see if you can jack up the engine at all. It should become pretty plain if you've broken either of the motor mounts.

    - Re the bearings, that certainly shouldn't cause your shut-down shudder, of course, but it's possible that that shop charged you for a bearing replacement and didn't do the job. How about- jack the car up and try to manually spin the wheels... see if any require more effort. If so, that could either be bad bearings, or possibly a sticking brake caliper. How's your brake pad wear looking? Even on all sides?

    - Your tranny/diff thing, er, doesn't sound much like it, but anything's possible I suppose. Though I imagine if you've got problems there, a fluid change won't help much. And that still shouldn't explain your shutdown shudder.

    Engine mods? Have any other service done lately, ie timing belt?
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    Registered User rcasTX28's Avatar
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    Dude, thank you SO much. That's exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for. Just a few quick questions/comments:

    - Regarding the strut test thing; I had the car on a lift an hour ago to do the fluids. While bringing it back down after I was all finished up, I would periodically stop the lift kind of suddenly, just enough so that it would make the car bounce a little. I had my friend do the same while I inspected the other side of the car. On both sides I saw the same behavior; It's hard to explain, but basically what would happen is that the front side would go down first, then the rear would follow. It mimicked a buoy in the water, if that helps you imagine it at all. In fact, the way the front end went down more than the back end was almost akin to front-end squatting under heavy braking. Make any sense? Another way to look at it is that all four sides didn't go down evenly and simultaneously. Maybe that's not the way it should be, but I would think that since the entire platform it was on stopped at the same time, then all four corners should have more or less responded the same way. If this does in fact indicate that my struts are thrashed, which ones do you think I should replace first and foremost? Money's pretty tight since I'm still holding onto the last of my check for a deposit for a place to live for school, not to mention the time factor (a little less than a week till I leave).
    - Oh, and today I noticed that the back end sits a good 1/4 inch or more lower than the front. Dunno what, if anything, this indicates.
    - How can I tell if the steering rack bushings are shot? Like I said, time and money are scarce and I can't expend my limited resources fixing everything!
    - I'm sure that the bearing replacement/repacking I got done last year worked to some extent. There was a TERRIBLE "thud" coming from the tires last summer. Didn't matter the speed or terrain, those things weren't afraid to yell. Whatever the guys at the shop did, it stopped afterwards.
    - Like I said, I changed the fluids earlier and while I've noticed a substantial improvement in shifting already (during the 2 mile trip back to my house), the pull to the right is still present (of course), and I doubt it'll feel any more stable on the highway. Not like I really thought it'd help in the first place, but it didn't hurt to consider the possibility.
    - No mods whatsoever. I'm just trying to get the thing back to normal, efficient, well-running order before I start slapping on upgrades.

    Wow, that was a lot longer than I anticipated. Thanks again though sooooo much for your help, and if anyone else wants to throw in their .02, I'd still really appreciate anything y'all have to say.

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    Registered User subaru_crazy's Avatar
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    Here is some more feedback for you..... the shaking could be due to a bent rim or out of balance tires. I had the same feeling when my rim was bent and got to about 60mph, the steering would feel very loose, and unstable becasue of the shaking. Inspect your rims for any major bends and try to do a wheel rotation to see if you get less shaking. Have a mechanic look at it and tell them that you don't have a lot of money to fix stuff but pay them to find out what you need to replace. A good mechanic will be able to tell you in about 20-30 minutes what is wrong with the car. I had a thud evertime I started to move in 1st gear or going over bumps, I thought it was an endlink,strut,axel...., but I had the mechanic looked things over and turned out to be a loose bolt on the subframe, becasue he tightened everything and the thud went away. He charged me 15 bucks to check it but I could have spent alot of money replacing things and not knowing what was bad. Its hard to diagnose that kind of problem yourself becasue there could be a lot of things that casue a problem, there could be more then one at the same time or it could be just a simple loose bolt like I had with my car.

    Also as far as the wheel bearing goes you can jack the car up and try to turn the wheel left to right with your hands or up and down, there should be no "play" between the bearing, and the steering rack, every movement should be seen in the steering wheel. If you can pretty much shake the wheel in every direction independent of the endlink and you don't feel much tension when you first turn the wheel with your hands then you got issues with linkages/bearings. The linkage should be solid so you should feel a lot of resistance becasue you are trying to turn the whole assembly with your hands.


    I am re-reading your post and who ever did your alignment should be hanged by the balls.... the car should not be pulling after an alignment I just got mine done and the mechanic looked over the entire front end before continuing with the computerized test. He inspected the tires, the endlinks and streering rack and then test drove the car to make sure everything was ok. He then told me to come back if anything was still off. So you should go back to the people that did the alignment and tell them to fix the pulling, they should know enough to tell you that they can't do it becasue something else is screwed up and will prevent the correct adjustment of the front geometry, if everything is correct then the car would not be pulling to any side, period.
    Last edited by subaru_crazy; 08-22-2007 at 09:49 PM.
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    ^ Agreed on the bushings. And failing that, you really could always just pull them off for an inspection. It really is a fairly easy job. Tho really, once you have them off, you might as well replace them. A set of fresh polyurethane bushings costs $30. (See here, 7th item down.

    Re the struts... I can't say if that's normal or not, because I've never lowered my car from a lift. But it does certainly sound weird. Fortunately for you, replacing them should be cheap. LOTS of people with deep pockets replace their brand new struts with aftermarket ones as soon as they buy their cars. Check over on NASIOC classifieds, you should be able to find a set of four slightly-used ones for under $200.

    Really, next time you've got you've got to inspect for 'slop' in all your suspension connections; you could have a worn out bushing or a broken connection anywhere in there- all your suspension arms, steering connections, swaybar connections, etc. Just go over it all with a fine tooth comb and make sure nothing's loose.
    Last edited by AutoXJunkie; 08-23-2007 at 06:26 AM.
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    Registered User rcasTX28's Avatar
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    Wow, sooo much input...thanks!

    Just before I start, I stumbled upon this thread while looking for a pic of the stock steering rack bushings setup:

    http://www.scoobymods.com/forums/sho...+rack+bushings

    If you read the first few posts (it's a short thread), you'll see why these people's cars are veering off course. I wonder if while getting work done on my car (i.e. last summer when my wheel bearings got done), a tech committed a similar error??

    Here is some more feedback for you..... the shaking could be due to a bent rim or out of balance tires...the steering would feel very loose, and unstable becasue of the shaking. Inspect your rims for any major bends and try to do a wheel rotation to see if you get less shaking. Have a mechanic look at it...
    Not a bad suggestion at all. When I bought the car, one of the rims had some pretty bad curb rash. I've gotten my wheels rotated since then, but now that rim resides on the front passenger side -- exactly where it's pulling. I'm definitely gunna have to check this out. I wish I knew someone nearby with a WRX and stockers so I could swap them out. Though like you said, a rotation would likely help at least a little; if I put the suspect rim on the opposite side, then maybe it'll pull left.

    I am re-reading your post and who ever did your alignment should be hanged by the balls...
    Oh I agree. I got it done at NTB a year ago. That might be the only problem is getting them to do something about it now. Though I paid 15 bucks to some people in Utah (where I go to school) last spring. They did what they could, but the guy said that it must be something else. In fact, they're the ones that recommended the strut mount bearings be replaced. I still don't know exactly what part that is, though I'm thinking replacing the entire strut mount(s) would work. I'll have to go up to NTB though and raise hell to see if they'll do something about it.

    Really, next time you've got you've got to inspect for 'slop' in all your suspension connections; you could have a worn out bushing or a broken connection anywhere in there- all your suspension arms, steering connections, swaybar connections, etc. Just go over it all with a fine tooth comb and make sure nothing's loose.
    I'm going to try and do this today. I wish I knew more about the suspension first hand, but I suppose this is the best way to learn right?

    I took a pic of this when my car was on the lift.

    This is the front passenger side setup (control arm and CV boot? Someone correct me on this, please). Everything APPEARS normal here...


    And then, moving the camera to the right and a little closer shows this...


    I wish I had taken a pic of the driver's side to compare, but it looked NOTHING like this. Notice how to the right of that little orange sticker the part seems to be popping out/bent out of that metal clip? Anyone know what this part is and if it's supposed to be like this?? It doesn't look right to me, esp. with the other side so different.

    Thanks guys, y'all really have no idea how much help you've been.
    Last edited by rcasTX28; 08-23-2007 at 03:04 PM. Reason: Oops, wrong HTML formatting.

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    Registered User rcasTX28's Avatar
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    Okay, so after finally finding some good pics of some bearings, I've answered my own question. That piece I asked about in my previous post is, apparently, the stock bushing. And that also explains why the driver's side looked nothing like the passenger side. Interesting.

    Here's a Whiteline SRB installed:



    I'm ordering those now. Hopefully they can be installed on time!

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    Quote Originally Posted by rcasTX28 View Post
    Wow, sooo much input...thanks!

    Just before I start, I stumbled upon this thread while looking for a pic of the stock steering rack bushings setup:

    http://www.scoobymods.com/forums/sho...+rack+bushings

    If you read the first few posts (it's a short thread), you'll see why these people's cars are veering off course. I wonder if while getting work done on my car (i.e. last summer when my wheel bearings got done), a tech committed a similar error??
    That would cause your wheel to be crooked, but wouldn't cause it to actively pull.

    Well, good luck with the bushings- while they're installing them, ask them to check around in there for any other suspension problems. I still think it sounds like something may be going on with your struts...
    2002 WRX Sedan - 2000 Mazda Miata
    Do us all a favor: work on learning how to drive your car before adding more power. Pretty please.

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    Administrator Trainrex's Avatar
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    Your active pull sounds more like a tire problem to me. Alignment problems don't fight you on the highway, tire problems do. Try rotating the tires from front to back and see if the problem changes.

    My guess is that you have a shifted belt in a front tire.

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    Registered User rcasTX28's Avatar
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    That would cause your wheel to be crooked, but wouldn't cause it to actively pull.
    Well good, I can scratch that off the list.


    Well, good luck with the bushings- while they're installing them, ask them to check around in there for any other suspension problems. I still think it sounds like something may be going on with your struts...
    You're probably right, but I'm *praying* you're wrong. That would realllly throw a dent in things.


    Your active pull sounds more like a tire problem to me. Alignment problems don't fight you on the highway, tire problems do. Try rotating the tires from front to back and see if the problem changes.

    My guess is that you have a shifted belt in a front tire.
    I'm going to try and get this done today. If I had to choose between the above-mentioned problem and this, I'm still not sure which one I'd rather have. Knowing my luck it's probably both.

    Besides, can I really trust of the words of some random moran on a forum?
    Last edited by rcasTX28; 08-24-2007 at 11:36 AM. Reason: Random quotes in the middle of a sentence.

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    Administrator Trainrex's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rcasTX28 View Post

    Besides, can I really trust of the words of some random moran on a forum?
    Nope

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    Registered User Pavia's Avatar
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    I don't know what kind rims you have, but a curb hit/scrap on an aluminum rim can certainly cause the wheel to go out of trim. Even if the rim "looks" fine, it can still be out-of-wack. I'd try swapping it to another side and see if anything changes.

    It's possible that a seperated tread inside the tire could be the cause as well.
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    Registered User rcasTX28's Avatar
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    Well, I was going to get everything rotated to try and figure this problem out, but as I went out to the driveway to get something from my car, a nice long bluish green streak was gracing the area where my car had been parked the day before. Taking a whiff from a sample on my finger told me exactly what it was: 50 dollars in various transmission oils leaving a mark all over the city.

    A quick inspection underneath my car one spot over revealed it was, indeed, leaking. Without hesitation I backed it up onto the street, popped open the garage door, grabbed a wrench and some sockets and jumped underneath to take a closer look.

    There was a small collection of fluid seeping out from between the bolt and transmission; I could tell it was loose. At first I turned it right, in honor of the poem, but it actually seemed to be loosening it. This was odd, but I figured it was no big deal so I started sending it left. Same results. I assumed that maybe I was just imagining things the first time, and so I twisted it right one last time. It got tighter, and I was feeling good again, until out of nowhere the silver saving grace teetered and dropped out of my transmission housing like Little Boy falling onto the unsuspecting inhabitants of Hiroshima. A waterfall of liquid gold followed suit.

    Rushing to try and save what fluid I could, I thrust the bolt upwards and into the hole hoping to screw it in but having no luck. Wrong side! A flip of the wrist still was enough time for a substantial amount of oil to escape, but I had the bolt in as securely as it had been in the first place. The closest dirty towel quickly became a casualty of malfunctioning screws and rotten luck as I used it to wipe up the excess that was flowing all over the street. Go figure that today, of all days, the entire neighborhood decides to be out mowing the yard, sitting on their porch and walking their animals.

    So here I sit, typing, without a car, with no money on hand, and with but a few drops of fluid in my transmission. I have NO idea what's wrong with that stupid f****ng bolt, but I've GOT to get it fixed or it won't matter WHEN I get those bushings in because I won't be able to take them anywhere to get put in, and I definitely won't be able to test it out. Seriously, I fkin hate this piece of crap car. I've never owned, nor known anyone who's ever owned, a vehicle that has so many noticeable issues and who's basic maintenance is so absurdly difficult! If anyone has any idea what happened (I know, I should start another thread, but I already have people subscribed to this one!), your .02 (figuratively AND literally) would be welcome.

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