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1998 Legacy Outback Wagon - unknown wheel issue
I recently purchased a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon, with a 2.5L engine and 5-speed manual transmission. I bought it at about 149,000 miles and have driven it a couple thousand more in the month that I've owned it. Considering its age it appears to be in fine running condition, except for the fact that it's a rustbucket, and a baffling sound that seems to be coming from the rear driver's side wheel or the surrounding area. A coherent description of this sound eludes me. It doesn't sound like rubbing or grinding exactly, more like metal loosely revolving inside metal, almost like a labored fan spinning, but less choppy than that. Or like a ball of sand spinning around inside a hollow metal donut. (I -really- apologize for the nonsensical description, finding the words to describe it has truly been plaguing me.) I can't seem to sense too much of a pattern in when it occurs, but I only notice it in the first three gears, and more often when I'm decelerating. It doesn't seem to make a huge difference whether I'm braking, turning, or depressing the clutch; it just comes and goes seemingly at random. It started off very occasionally and almost unnoticeable, and has gotten louder and more frequent over the last several hundred miles.
I'm not a mechanic by any means, but also don't have money to throw at diagnostics. I subsequently inspected the cv boots, which do not appear particularly worn, and have no cracks or leaks; tested my bearings and got no play in the tire; and looked for unusual wear on the tire and came up empty. I can't find anything rubbing against the wheel or anything else, nor can I find anything that looks different or out-of-place around that wheel as opposed to the others. The closest thing I have to a theory is that the caliper might be sticking, as the rotors and calipers are pretty badly rusted all the way around. But then I'd expect it to pull a little to the left when the sound started, as opposed to continuing to pull gently to the right like it has since I got it. (I assume it could also use an alignment.)
So I'm clearly confused. I guess there's also the chance it's coming from somewhere in the drive shaft, but it really appears to be coming from the back-left.
Does any of this ring a bell with anyone? Any speculation or advice? I can use all the help I can get, as I'm on a budget like you wouldn't believe, and I can't afford to wait for my vehicle to break down completely before I fix it.