ID this car problem #672

I drive a 2003 Hyundai Sonata that has about 165,000 miles on it and has had no significant performance issues during its lifetime. Over the last month or so, I’ve been noticing a loud roaring/buzzing-type sound coming from the engine area at higher speeds - it’s pretty much nonexistent at 25 mph or below, but it becomes progressively louder from that point on the faster I go. It’s not related to acceleration - it increases at the same rate whether I’m speeding up fast or slow, and it drops off as I reduce speed. If I take my foot off the gas while at speed, or throw the transmission into neutral, it doesn’t change at all. It sounds like it’s coming from the driver’s side of the engine compartment, and there’s a vibration associated with it that I can feel in the steering wheel and the gas pedal. I thought it might be a tire-related issue at first, but I’m driving on four tires that are all less than 90 days old and which have all been inspected and balanced after this issue started.

The one thing I’ve found that has an effect on the sound is this - it disappears whenever I’m turning left. In a left turn, or in a leftward curve on the freeway, or if I take my hands off the wheel and let the car move forward of its own accord, the car sounds exactly like it did before this problem started. As soon as I start to turn the wheel even a bit to the right (which, since the car naturally veers to the left with no hands on the wheel, I have to do often), the sound starts up again.

I’m not very mechanically savvy myself - I’m lucky if I can use a pair of jumper cables without starting a fire - and I know it’s hard to diagnose an engine based on just a description, but I’m hoping someone out there might be able to hazard a guess as to what’s causing this noise and what if anything I should do about it. I haven’t noticed any performance-related issues since the noise started - the transmission shifts just fine, it accelerates the same as it always has, the steering is as responsive as it’s always been, the engine temp is normal, the RPMs are the same as they’ve always been, the check engine light hasn’t lit up - but it just sounds so ugly that when I’m on the freeway something horrible is going to break and all hell is going to break loose. I’m planning on replacing this car before the end of the year in any event, but I can’t afford to be without my wheels for even a few days, so if this is something that’s probably going to require urgent attention I want to know sooner rather than later.

Anyone have any idea what might be going on here, and where I might go to have it checked out and fixed?

Wheel bearing.

ETA: Driver’s side front, but you may as well change both at this point.

Those are pretty classic wheel bearing symptoms. Your regular mechanic will have no problem with it, and most tire shops could probably handle it as well.

And, if it is indeed a wheel bearing, it is an urgent repair. It will eventually lock up - maybe today, maybe in a month, no way to tell for sure but it WILL happen if not replaced. I’ve seen a wheel bearing lock at freeway speeds, it completely sheared off 4 lug bolts and stripped the other 2 lug nuts. Not pretty. My RepairPal app indicates that around here (only 3,000 miles away!) replacing both front wheel bearings runs about $550 ($200ish parts, $350ish labor). Replacing one would be about half that, as there is no labor savings by doing both at once.

Wheel Bearing.

Best get it looked at SOON while it’s still rolling. If it locks up or fails even without drama other parts can get damaged or the bearing races welded into the spindle and it gets a lot more expensive.

Great insight.

As a retired mechanic I can tell you that the guys are right. Sound like your wheel bearings dried up and the howling noise is coming from metal grinding metal. The vibrations means it’s getting loose from the wear down.

You need to fix it NOW or you will find your wheel go its own way.

It was the wheel bearing, alright. Popped into Les Schwab after I got off work this morning and they confirmed the front driver’s side bearing was going bad. (The other ones are all still fine.) They got it replaced and did an alignment for just under $300, and the noise was completely gone when I drove home.

Thanks for the prompt advice - I would have taken forever to figure this out on my own.

Nine minutes to two correct answers, and twenty four hours from OP to resolution. I love the Dope.


The first thing I would check is that the top of the air filter box may not have been refitted properly and also make sure that the air duct between the filter and the engine has not come adrift it sounds like you are hearing induction roar, worth checking before the expense of a garage

Do you realize how ridiculous this appears, with the problem having been declared fixed nearly two days ago? Not to mention that what you suggest could not cause some of the stated symptoms (e.g. steering wheel vibration). Read the whole thread, you may learn something.

Do you realise that I am in the UK and there is a time difference

…Your post came two days after I said it turned out to be the wheel bearing after all. I don’t think time zones work that way.

I’m sure you meant well, though, so thanks anyway. (My air filter box is missing a clip, for the record, but that’s been the case for years and hasn’t caused any noise problems.)