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Old 09-21-2009, 09:38 PM   #1
TommyC
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Question Whistling noise coming from front left wheel


2001 SL2; 62000 miles

Lately, at random times when the car is going 34-40mph, there starts a whistling noise that seems to be coming from the front-left wheel. My wife described is as a tea pot that starts boiling and, when I heard it myself recently, I have to agree: that's pretty much what is sounds like. Strangely, when the brakes are applied, especially to the point of bringing the car to a stop, the noise goes away. On restart (e.g., light turns green), the noise sometimes starts up again right away; sometimes it waits until the car gets to 30-40mph. Again, applying brakes seems to kill the sound, if temporarily.

When the sound is happening, and the accelerator is released and the car slows on its own, the "whistle" pitch decreases slightly. I say this to point out that the sound is closely tied to the wheel rpm.

As a mechanic myself, I've never herd brake going south making this noise, nor a wheel bearing. The usual wasted-pad sound is a metal-on-metal grinding. Most failed bearings go thump/thump/thump (though I have heard electric motor bearings give a sort of whistling sound when the bearings go).

I pulled the drivers side wheel and the rotor doesn't look too bad. There's definitely pad on the outside; the inside appears to be pretty worn.

So, any thoughts on what could be causing the whistling tea pot sound?

Does anyone have the thickness tolerance for the rotor thickness?

Thanks

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Old 09-22-2009, 12:33 AM   #2
Ssicarman
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Welcome to the Board.

Strange that the brakes change the noise. If not for that I would say that you have an axle seal in the trans or the right side axle support bearing making the noise. Still worth getting the car in the air and running it to make the noise and see if it is coming from one of the seals.
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Old 09-22-2009, 12:56 PM   #3
TommyC
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Thanks for your reply, SSIcarman.

You made reference to the "right side axle support bearing making the noise". Recall that I reported the noise coming from the front left (driver's side) wheel. Just wanted to make sure we're understanding each other.

In any case, you seem to suspect an axle support bearing or a seal.

Beyond that, your idea to raise the front end and run the car - to force the noise - is a good one. I'll try that.

P.S.
When I had the front end up on jack stands, I noted that the gear change lever was stuck in Park. Does this surprise anyone? What mechanism made this happen (i.e., did something "know" the front end was lifted, or that the wheel was removed? Just curious ...
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Old 09-22-2009, 10:08 PM   #4
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Sorry, wasn't trying to point you to a specific seal. My thinking is that by the time you have the car or part of the car in the air it is worth looking at every possible suspect rather than concentrating on just the area you think the noise is coming from.


I have had these cars make noises from the seals and told myself that it was this side for sure only to find that it was the other. There is enough echo or sound transfer to fool you into thinking that the noise is coming from one spot but is actual from another.
I have had the left and right axle seals in the trans make high pitched squealing noise as well as the support bearing seal.

As for the shifter not coming out of park. It should there is no sensing mechanism to tell anything that the front of the car is in the air or that a wheel is off. Did you manage to get out of park?

The brakes applying and changing the noise still bothers me. You said that the inner pad is down. Did you actually pull the pads out to make sure that they are not on the squealers?
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Old 09-23-2009, 12:38 AM   #5
TommyC
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Default Whistling noise coming from front left wheel

No, I didn't pull the calipers off yet. That'll be next. I also plan to run the car up on stands, as I said.

And the car did get out of Park, once the wheel was reinstalled and the car taken down off jack stands. (This remains a mystery ...)

Here's a wild one:
I heard anecdotally that some cars have a sensor that detects pad wear and causes this whistling sound when the thickness is dangerously low (i.e., almost needing a brake job). In particular, I heard that some of the Nissans have this feature. Does anyone think this may be a feature of the Saturn SL2, and that what I'm hearing is actually a sensor noise? Sounds a bit like an Urban Legend, I know, but it's interesting. I plan to call Saturn service tomorrow to run that one by them.
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Old 09-23-2009, 03:00 AM   #6
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there is a metal warning squealer tab on the majority of mopdern cars that makes an ugly high pitched squeal when the brake pads wear down enough. Usually starts making noise at approx 20% left.
There are some higher end cars that use an electrical grounding circuit sensor to turn a light on in the car.
Saturn has the metal squealer.

Our definitions of whistle and squeal may be different and and we may be calling the same noise different names.
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Old 12-28-2009, 08:35 PM   #7
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Hi TommyC! I am new here. I just started getting the whistling sound. Did you ever have any luck solving it? Or anyone else? Hard to tell where it's coming from.

I have a 1999 Saturn SL1

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