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Any insight is appreciated,

This is a 2003 RT, 5.9L with +83K miles, stock except K&N filter and TS lift (June '08); dealer did the recall ball joint replacement (Feb '05). This is my daily commuter vehicle, and am out in light-to-moderate SoCal desert/mtn wet/dry off-road conditions several times a year. Tho' I've dragged the skid plate many times, no history of any mech/elect trouble top-to-bottom, front-to-back.

Got magnificently stuck in snow X-Mas weekend. (Got bellied up on the skid plates). Was yanked around from the receiver by a Jeep Cherokee, too light to pull me out; took the Jeep and an H3 in series to get me out. No apparent damage.

So last Sunday, driving through the slightly wet/muddy Santa Ynez River Valley (Santa Barbara county), on two occasions during the same drive, I heard a very loud grinding squawking whine that appeared to be coming from the front left. It was clearly coming from something rotating/spinning. The grinding noise faded as I sped up, but the squawk/whine appeared to increase in pitch; and a slight front end shudder occurred just as stopping.
During the first occurrence, I was probably doing ~15 MPH, I immediately stopped and did a visual inspection, but saw nothing unusual. It started again when I resumed driving, but eventually faded away after ~5 minutes. I never exceeded 15 MPH, shifting into/out of AWD/4HI/4LOW had no effect.
The second occurrence was the same noise but significantly louder with the grinding more apparent, and the shudder as stopping appeared more violent. I stopped, did a more extensive visual inspection front to back, including fluids and feeling for excessive heat from brakes, CV shaft, short axles, diff., etc. Nothing. No idiot lights, either. When I resumed driving, the noises resumed as well. This time, on smoother sections of the road I accelerated to ~30/40 MPH and tried varing degrees of braking including flat out slamming them, but with no effect. Eventually, the noises died out after ~7-10 minutes.

I noticed with the second occurrence the noise died out as I reached a level area. Looking back, both occurrences took place on inclines. However, since I was in the Santa Ynez River Valley, some considerable climbing took place during the entire drive in and out, before and well after the noises stopped. It has not happened since (1 week, ~300 miles). And though I am probably just be overly sensitive, I now hear a slight fluttering noise coming from the front end and slight vibration through the gas pedal.

Today, I did a more extensive check. Put it up, removed front tires, spun everything by hand, started it and put it in gear, ran through AWD/4HI/4LOW, and applied brakes. Checked all fluids, rotating parts, heat shields, skid plates, boots, bolts, nuts, squirrels, etc. Nothing loose, bent, rubbing, out of alignment, etc.

The only thing I observed is that the left front brake rotor had a slight wobble (to my eye, the rotor appeared to wobble side-to-side by ~1/16th inch, but was definitely not loose until I whacked it real hard with my hand after I observed the wobble). The right side appears correctly aligned (no wobble). Of course, now that I've broken both rotors free from normal friction-lock, the wobble means nothing. And when in gear/AWD the front end did not spin until after I boosted it a bit by hand. And in all three positions, AWD/4HI/4LOW, I was able to stop the front end from spinning with my hand (by dragging my thumb on the brake rotor, then grabbing the lugs), and actually spin it in the reverse direction. Is that normal??


So, probably the slight flutter/shudder is from a warped rotor. But could the twice occuring, but never since and never before, noise also be from the rotor? If so, I have too assume I heated the brakes up too much, then splashed a mud puddle, causing the warp then. And at what point is the warp too much, and needs to be corrected?

thanks in advance
 
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