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Summary
  • You can follow the noise made by the faulty wheel bearing until you find its location.
  • Inspect the tires for uneven tread wear caused by a bad wheel bearing.
  • Test the wheel assemblies for wobbling and stiffness.
  • If your car pulls into one side while braking, one of the wheel bearings on that side might have an issue.

A wheel bearing usually shows warning signs that it has worn out or broken down, and usually the first indicator is noise. But how can you tell which bearing has developed a problem? Your vehicle has four wheels, and each one has a wheel bearing. If you replace the wrong bearing, you’ll waste time and energy without resolving the issue. In the worst-case scenario, the wheel that you mistakenly tinkered with might also develop a problem.

, How Can I Tell Which Wheel Bearing Is Bad?

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: Realize that a noisy wheel bearing can telegraph noise to a different wheel and cause you to misdiagnose which bearing is bad. Professionals even experience this.

How To Tell Which Wheel Bearing Is Bad

Fortunately, you can use your knowledge of bad wheel bearing symptoms to help you tell which part has developed an issue. You don’t need specialized tools—you can perform these tasks yourself. But realize that determining which bearing is bad may be tricky, and sometimes a tire noise will sound exactly like a bad bearing, so be aware of what you might be getting into.

The following are the ways you can try to get an idea which wheel bearing is bad:

Follow the Noise

Bad wheel bearings often make strange noises like grinding, rumbling, and clicking. If you listen carefully, you can figure out the direction where the noise comes from, making it easier to narrow down which bearing needs replacement.

Gently swerving back and forth on an empty smooth highway will usually point you in the right direction. If you swerve to the right, you’re loading the left. But usually this works better when chasing noises on front wheels than on the rear, although you can sometimes isolate rear bearing noise the same way. The best first thing to do is swap the tires around to see if the noise changes. This doesn’t cost anything and it may prevent you from buying and replacing bearings you don’t need to.

When a wheel bearing makes a grinding or growling noise, it indicates that the wheel bearing’s unlubricated metal parts are directly touching each other. The noise gets louder when your vehicle picks up speed. Listen to the grinding sound when you step on the gas pedal, and you can tell if the noise comes from your car’s front or rear.

noisy bearing from the rear hub on a 2003 explorer
This bearing came from the rear hub on a 2003 Explorer and you can see why it was noisy. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Alternatively, a bad wheel bearing might produce a rumbling noise. You can hear the noise when you drive in a straight line. When you make a turn in your vehicle, the rumbling gets louder.

Much like with grinding noises, you can tell which side of your car has the bad wheel bearing by listening to the rumbling sound that it makes. If the rumbling sound gets louder when you make a turn, the faulty bearing is on the opposite side of the vehicle. The outer wheels must cover greater distances during turns, so they compensate by spinning faster. But more pointedly, the outer bearing is loaded more due to the dynamics of the turn and that amplifies the noise a bad bearing will make. If one of those outer wheels has a bad wheel bearing, the rumbling noise made by the faulty part will get louder.

Finally, a bad wheel bearing might make clicking sounds. When your vehicle accelerates, the clicks usually get louder and faster. You can narrow down which wheel bearing makes the clicking noises by gently turning the steering wheel from side to side while driving at a safe speed. If the clicking becomes softer when your car turns in one direction, one of the wheels on the opposite side has a faulty wheel bearing.

Look For Uneven Tire Wear

Another approach to locate the bad wheel bearing is to inspect your car’s tires to see if the tread has uneven wear.

, How Can I Tell Which Wheel Bearing Is Bad?

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: Note that this won’t always be the case though. In most cases, you’ll only see tire wear issues if the bearing is so worn out that the tire wobbles or runs out of line.

Usually, the tires on your vehicle wear out at roughly the same rate. However, a really bad wheel bearing can change how its wheel spins, leading to issues like wobbling, although you’ll have heard noise a long time before the wheel starts to wobble.

The tire attached to the wheel with a faulty bearing will wear out at a different rate than the vehicle’s other tires, and its tread might display uneven wear.

Use a floor jack to raise your car. Look for signs that part of the tire tread has worn out more than the others.

Check For Wobbling Wheels

Speaking of wobbliness, you can also check the wheels and see if one of them wobbles or seems loose. A bad wheel bearing might loosen its attached wheel, making your car less responsive to your inputs through the steering wheel.

You must raise your car with a floor jack to Inspect the wheels for wheel bearing-related wobbling. Put your vehicle in neutral and set down wheel chocks to prevent the other wheels from moving.

Next, test each wheel assembly to see if it moves between the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. If the wheel wobbles, its wheel bearing might need replacement. If the assembly seems firm, try to move it between the 6 and 12 o’clock positions. Again, replace the bearing if the wheel feels loose.

, How Can I Tell Which Wheel Bearing Is Bad?

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: That being said, if you’re looking for a noise, you might not be able to hear a bearing that isn’t loaded by the weight of the car even if you can hear it when you’re driving.

Check For Stiff Wheels

Stiff wheels do not usually indicate a bad bearing, but they sometimes do.

Just like with wobbling wheels, you must jack up your vehicle first to check for stiff wheels. Once you’ve raised your car with a floor jack, you can test each wheel assembly for stiffness.

Take hold of each tire and spin the wheel assembly. If the part rotates without issue, you have nothing to fear from its wheel bearing. A tire that resists your attempt to spin it could have a bad bearing but further checks need to be done to make sure there are no other causes.

Check The Side That Your Car Pulls Into While Braking

An erratic wheel bearing can also lead to loose brakes. When you hit the brakes, your vehicle will pull into the same direction as the side with the bad bearing if the bearing is worn to the point of being loose.

On the plus side, you can take advantage of this behavior to identify the side where the faulty/loose wheel bearing can be found. If the bad bearing displays other symptoms, such as making noise or causing its wheel to wobble, you can quickly narrow down the malfunctioning part.

However, broken wheel bearings aren’t the only possible reason for your car pulling to one side while braking. Usually, it’s bad brake parts that cause the brakes to become looser. It’s more likely for a brake rotor or brake equalizer to be the problem.

If your car starts pulling to one side when engaging the brakes, run a thorough check of the brake system first. Only look for a bad wheel bearing if you don’t find any evidence of a broken brake part.

Avoid driving your vehicle if one of its wheel bearings has a problem. It’s best to replace both sides even if only one side has a bad bearing. Replace the bad bearing as soon as your schedule and budget permits.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

File Under : Wheels and Tires , DIY Tagged With :
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