A Corolla Saga -
I recently bought a nice 1993 Corolla base with 122K miles. Nice tires, new brakes, new rotors, drums, & master cylinder. Only two previous owners and both had obviously taken very nice care of the car.
I test-drove on city streets and it was fine - but later on the highway it seemed to have a weird and substantial vibration from about 50 mph up. The vibration seemed to vary too - off & on the gas seemed to change it. The mechanic-shop seller then he said that he had never driven the car as fast as even 50 mph. I asked him about what I thought it was: a worn u-joint on one of the front axles - and he said that they hadn't found any problem with the axles when going over the car.
So a day or so later I bought two new axles at NAPA but then at my friend Scott's shop, with the car on the lift, the guys there said that the axles looked too nice to be 20 year old original axles and also that the u-joint rubber bellows/boots looked to be in really nice condition. Their opinion was that so long as the rubber boots don't fail - the grease filled u-joints would never wear out. I don't really agree with that as even something filled with grease eventually wears but changing the axles seemed like a bit of a bastard to accomplish so I didn't start there. Scott's shop guys test drove the car and found no clicking sounds going around turns, no changing the sound by turning the steering wheel, etc. They also ruled out the wheel bearings by some means which I cannot recall now.
Instead of axles I pulled the wheels and spun balanced them as that was the easiest. I did them myself and got all the wheels down to either 0.0 and 0.0 or 0.1 and 0.1 - which is as close to perfect as it gets. And when perfect I then re-spun them each three more times to make sure it wasn't a fluke reading. But . . . . one of the tires had required a dozen or more weights to accomplish that - scattered all around both sides of the wheel rim. That sure seemed like it had to be a bad tire to me - belts coming apart internally or something.
After the balancing I test drove it again at 50-60-70 mph and, although a portion of the vibration was gone, the 'feel' of the remaining vibration was clearly different. So naturally I am thinking that the tire with all the wheel weights on it must be defective. The Goodyear tires which came on the car when I bought it were really nice and two of them were new. But online I found a stack of bad reviews for that model tire and also that Goodyear has stopped making them.
So then I debated whether to just replace the single bad tire - or to replace an axle-pair, or to just bite the bullet and put four new tires on. One tire? A pair of tires? Or all four? I thought hard about it and then concluded that all the tires were the same - so . . . is the 'bad tire' a fluke? Or is it the first of a systemic failure pattern of these, now mysteriously discontinued, tires? Of course I don't know so it comes down to: how lucky do I feel? <g>
I mulled it over, and after all the truck tire failures I had this past year, and being stranded repeatedly as a result, I figured I had enough uncertainty in my Life already. So I got four new Michelins installed and had the dealer throw a 4 ounce bag of Equal balancing powder into each tire. I always use DynaBeads in my tires but all this tire dealer had was the Equal stuff. After I left with the new tires there was a new / different / slight vibration that I could feel in the steering wheel. I hoped that it's just that the balancing bags hadn't released all their powder yet.
After an hour or so the previous vibration was less but had moved from the car chassis to the steering wheel. My thought then became that it had not been the tires at all but rather; that it had been that one wheel - the one which had taken all the tries and weights to balance - which was defective. And also that by random chance that defective wheel had now ended up on the front rather than the rear - hence the difference in the vibration perception being then more in the steering wheel.
Yet; it all seemed kind of weird to me. Yes; apparently the one wheel was obviously bad in some way but why did the vibration vary? Something about it all just didn't really feel like tire balance to me and especially since I could change the vibration - it just seemed more "mechanical" to me: more like a bad driveshaft u-joint would feel on a rear drive car, and so in this case; front drive car; likely a front drive axle / CV joint going bad. But the shop mechanics said no it wasn't that.
The next day I drove the car about 150 miles or so down into Maryland and back. And . . . . although the major part of the vibration was gone - there was still enough to be annoying on the highway. So if the tires are all new and are all balanced with Equal - it Had to be a defective wheel. Right? Bent or something - because what Else could it be? So a few days later I switched the tire pairs front-to-back. This made the vibration 'feel different' to me: less in the steering wheel and more in the chassis. From this I concluded that the 'bad' wheel had been in the front and was now in the back.
Next I installed the little compact space-saver spare in place of the left rear tire to start my wheel isolation / testing. I then drove the car at 60-70-80-90 mph and found it vibration-free - very smooth.
Aha! So that left rear wheel I'd left at home this time was clearly the defective one!
The Toyota dealer wanted $160. for a plain steel replacement wheel so I called around to junk yards and found used wheels to range from $60. to $100. That seemed like a lot to me so I looked on ebay and then on craigslist eventually finding someone selling two newish snow tires mounted on 1993 Corolla wheels for $99. I offered $50, the seller accepted, and I raced out to his house to retrieve them before he came to his senses or someone else called. <g>
The next day I installed them both and test drove the car. And the pesky vibration was . . . . the same as before or maybe a tiny bit worse.
WHAT!!!!!!!! How the hell can that Be?
Move the new tires on original wheels from front to back and the vibration moved with them. Install the mini-spare on the left rear and the vibration was gone. Install new / replacement wheels and tires in the rear and the vibration is back?????
After a few days I thought to just drive the Corolla around and maybe ponder just what the hell the problem was. I headed south on an interstate sized highway and I could feel the vibration. I tried missing the road bumps, hitting the road bumps, etc. All the way down - about 35 miles I guess - the vibration was there. Finally I just gave up trying to picture what was causing it / where it was coming from and turned around to come home. On the way back I wasn't thinking about it at first but then suddenly realized that the car was pretty smooth - no vibration. So I went up to 60-70-80 mph and found it to be pretty darned smooth at every road speed.
From that I then assumed that it must be that the southbound side was rough in some way and the northbound side was smooth - maybe more recently paved or something. So I turned around again and drove south. But then even on the southbound side the car was smooth.
That seemed completely impossible to me and in fact; made me wonder if I had lost my mind and only imagined the previous vibration or something. <g>
As I've said; the "testing" since I got the car has consisted of replacing all four tires - which did not solve the problem. Then moving the wheels around to see if the vibration moved. And finally isolating it to one wheel by installing the compact spare on the left rear. And with the compact spare installed there the car was smooth all the way to 90 mph. And so I concluded that the left rear wheel was defective in some way.
So I bought the two wheels and snow tires. But with the newly acquired wheels and tires installed on the rear - the vibration was still there. (what????? <g>)
So after after the vibration was mysteriously gone I just drove back to the house and decided to just forget about it all entirely as it all seemed to make no sense whatsoever to me. But after I was back home for an hour or so I remembered that I had wanted to get a prescription filled, and get some shoe polish, and so forth, so I took the 1993 Corolla out to the drug store. When I got home I happened to notice that the left rear wheel cover was missing.
So now . . . . the vibration is gone and so is the wheel cover. And the wheel covers are the only things which have never been test-rotated - they were generally re-installed in the same place. And the only time Other time that the wheel cover was ever left off was when the compact spare was on the car - because the wheel covers don't fit the compact spare wheel - and now that the wheel cover has apparently been lost on the highway. <g>
If that particular wheel cover had not fallen off on the road somewhere - I never would have thought of it as Ever being the vibration issue problem / source. All I can think of now is that it had something stuck in it - like a stone, or a big hunk of tar, or maybe a lug nut or wheel weight or something.
It makes me wonder now if the "unsolvable vibration problem" was the reason why the last owner got rid of the car? That might explain the two nice tires and the two new tires it came with. <g>
Now that I have TEN apparently good tires for this car one inadvertent bright-spot in this saga is that now at least I have almost all new tires for Miss Trixie's trailer - my sailboat - which has eight axles under it - as the trailer tires are the same 14" size. <g>