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Wheel Bearing Noise Diagnosis

Dan Ferrell writes about DIY car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in Automation and Control Technology and Technical Writing.

Wheel bearing noise is a common symptom of a faulty bearing, but unusual tire wear, abnormal wheel or steering wheel movement can also indicate problems with one or more bearings.

  • Growling
  • Rumbling
  • Humming
  • Grinding
  • Pulling during braking
  • Roughness on the steering wheel that changes with speed
  • Excessive play on the steering wheel while driving on a rough surface

Wheel bearings control the position of the wheels and reduce rolling resistance. They work smoothly and, most of the time, with an unnoticeable and uniform humming sound. But once a bearing wears out or begins to fail, the driver may become aware of noises, vibrations, or an unstable steering.

If you have noticed one or more of these symptoms in your car, the following sections will help you troubleshoot your wheel bearings.

However, it is important to have a repair manual for your vehicle. If you don't have one yet, you can get a relatively inexpensive copy through Amazon.

Haynes manuals include:

  • Photographs
  • Step-by-step procedures
  • Parts location
  • How to remove parts
  • Diagnostics
  • Maintenance schedule
  • Electrical diagrams

Your repair manual will help you not only in diagnosing many problems that can appear suddenly, but also prevent unnecessary problems from appearing by following the vehicle maintenance schedule included in the manual.

All of these projects will save you a lot of money on future repairs and maintenance, so you'll recoup your small investment in no time.

Before you start, keep in mind that driving axles (on Front-Wheel Drive FWD vehicles) use axle bearings, although normally referred to as wheel bearings, just like those on non-driving axles. Your particular vehicle repair manual may use either term for driving axles.

In This Article

1. Is That a Wheel Bearing or Tire Noise?

1A. Going Around the Corner Test
1B. Over-Inflating the Tires Test
1C. Driving on Different Surfaces Test
1D. Brake Fluid Movement Test

2. Testing the Wheel Bearing

VIDEO: Using a Dial Indicator

Scroll to Continue

Read More from AxleAddict

3. Wheel Bearing Replacement Options

Resources

You can easily confuse a noisy bearing with a noisy tire. So you need to check where that noise is coming from.

1. Is That a Wheel Bearing or Tire Noise?

You can easily confuse a noisy bearing with a noisy tire. So you need to check where that noise is coming from.

The following simple tests will help you determine the source of this noise.

Keep in mind that winter tires, even in good shape, can be noisy.

A. Going Around the Corner Test

As you drive, notice if the sound increases as you turn left or right.

A bad bearing on the right tire, for example, will get noisier when you turn left. In the same way, a faulty bearing on the left tire will get noisier when you turn right.

If the sound does not increase when turning, the problem is likely with the tires.

B. Overinflating the Tires Test

Check the correct tire inflation pressure on the placard located on the driver's door or doorpost, the glove box, or the owner's manual.

Temporarily overinflate the tires, front or rear, depending on where the noise is coming from. For example, if service information says the correct inflation pressure is 32 psi, inflate the tires to 35 or 40 psi.

Now, drive the car around the block and pay attention to the noise. If the noise has changed, then the problem is with the tires. If the noise stays the same, then you have a problem with your tire bearings.

C. Driving on Different Surfaces Test

If you have access to vehicle roads with different surfaces, you can do this simple test.

Compare how the tire sounds when driving on a regular street or highway, and how it sounds when driving on a dirt road, and a rocky surface.

If tire sound changes with the change in driving surface, then the noise is coming from the tires. If the sound does not change, then the problem is with the wheel bearings.

D. Brake Fluid Movement Test

A loose bearing can also cause the brake disc, brake caliper cylinder to move. This, in turn, will cause brake fluid to register movement.

The following test can help you determine if one of the front bearings has play.

  1. Park the vehicle in a safe place.
  2. Turn the ignition key to the On position, but do not start the engine.
  3. Pop the hood open.
  4. Remove the master cylinder reservoir cap.
  5. Have a helper turn the front wheels left and right using the steering wheel.
  6. If the brake fluid in the master cylinder reservoir moves when turning the wheels, one or both wheel bearings have play and need to be replaced.

If necessary, use the following tests in the next section to determine which tire bearing has play.

2. Testing the Wheel Bearing

You can apply a couple of simple tests to your car's wheels in a few minutes to determine which bearing is bad.

  1. Park your vehicle in your garage or in a safe place away from traffic.
  2. Jack up the tire with the bearing you need to diagnose.
  3. Block the other tires using wooden blocks to prevent the car from rolling.
  4. Spin the tire by hand and listen for noises. Also, notice if the bearing spins roughly. A bearing in good condition can produce a smooth sound without being harsh.
  5. Now hold the top and bottom of the tire and move the tire in and out several times. If the tire has play, you need to adjust or replace the bearings.
  6. Repeat step five several times, rotating the tire between each test to check for play in the tire.
  7. Now hold the front and back of the tire and try to shake it from side to side. The wheel should wobble very little.

If you determine that one of the front or rear tire bearings is damaged, it's best to replace both bearings—rear or front—since the opposite tire's bearing could be nearing the end of its service life as well.

The following video shows you how to use a dial indicator to help you check a rotor and wheel bearing, along with some interesting tips.

3. Wheel Bearing Replacement Options

You can change a wheel bearing in your own garage. Consult the repair manual for your specific vehicle model first. Make sure you have the proper tools to change the front or rear bearing, depending on your particular model.

Also, you have other choices when replacing a faulty wheel bearing. Some auto parts stores offer a hub or hub and drum assembly that includes a mounted bearing, depending on the specific model, which can make your repair project much easier.

Resources

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Dan Ferrell

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