Need car parts? Select your vehicle
Reading Time: 4 minutes
  • A bad wheel bearing can produce a growling, rumbling, grinding, or squealing noise that increases with speed.
  • Other signs of wheel bearing failure include vibration, pulsation, and abnormal tire wear.
  • It’s never a good idea to drive with a bad wheel bearing because you could end up losing a wheel as you’re driving.

You’re driving along on a warm, sunny day listening to your favorite song. Life is good. But when you turn down the radio, you hear an unusual noise that coincides with the rotation of the tires. What could it be?

A bad wheel bearing is one possibility. If you hear a strange wheel bearing sound, you should check the parts as early as possible.

What Does a Bad Wheel Bearing Sound Like?

While you should never want to hear the sound of a wheel bearing going out, it’s important to recognize the noise. Most people describe a bad wheel bearing as making a growling or rumbling noise (the sound is often mistaken for worn tires). Also, in some cases, a bad bearing may make a high-pitched grinding or squealing sound.

In either case, the frequency of the bad wheel bearing sound will correspond to the rotation of the tires. The sound will also increase with vehicle speed (though it may go away at a certain point) and may get louder when turning in one direction or the other.

See also  How to Extend the Service Life of Wheel Bearings

How to Tell if Your Wheel Bearing is Bad

Your car has a lot of rotating parts, which makes it hard to distinguish a bad wheel bearing from many other problems. Paying attention to when the noise occurs may help you narrow down your options.

Diagnosing a bad wheel bearing
Distinguishing a bad wheel bearing from other problems can be difficult, which is why it’s important to perform diagnostic work before jumping to conclusions.

Obviously, a faulty wheel bearing will only make noise when you’re driving. So, if you hear the sound when the vehicle is stopped, you can rule out the wheel bearings altogether. It’s also important to note that wheel bearing noise will basically sound the same no matter what type of surface you’re traveling over.

Tire noise, however, will usually change with the road surface.

Furthermore, in most cases, you’ll hear a noisy wheel bearing regardless of whether you’re accelerating or decelerating. On the other hand, some drivetrain noises—but not all—will change upon acceleration or deceleration.

At the end of the day, it can be difficult to distinguish a bad wheel bearing from other problems. That’s why it’s important to perform further diagnostic work before jumping to conclusions. Otherwise, you may end up replacing a wheel bearing only to find the problem was something else.

See also  What Happens When a Wheel Bearing Goes Out

You’ll also want to keep in mind that not all bad wheel bearings make noise. Some worn-out bearings will exhibit excessive lateral movement, without making any abnormal sounds.

How to Check for Bad Wheel Bearings

There are a lot of other problems that can mimic the sound of a bad wheel bearing. To be sure that one of your car’s wheel bearings is to blame, you’ll need to do some additional diagnostic work.

Some of the methods used to pinpoint a bad wheel bearing include:

  • Checking for play by rocking the wheel/tire assembly
  • Inspecting for roughness
  • Listening for wheel bearing noise with a stethoscope
  • Monitoring for excess heat
  • Checking for play using a dial indicator

To learn more about each of these methods, check out our in-depth article on diagnosing a faulty hub and bearing assembly. You’ll quickly pick up the tips and tricks on how to check for a bad wheel bearing.

how to diagnose bad wheel bearing by shaking the tire
With the vehicle on jack stands and with blocks on the rear wheels to make it completely stable, grab the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and shake the tire to check for wheel bearing play.

Signs of Wheel Bearing Failure

You already know a faulty wheel bearing can cause noise. But did you know that it can cause other issues as well? A bad bearing may allow the wheel hub to exhibit excessive movement. Plus, the internal bearing components will experience increased friction. As a result, you may notice your vehicle displaying the following problems:

  • Growling/humming noise
  • Vibration when driving
  • Pulsation when braking
  • Irregular or abnormal tire wear
  • Illuminated warning lights

If you’d like to know more, read our article on wheel hub assembly symptoms.

Marks on a tire showing irregular wear that could indicate a bad wheel bearing
There are many telltale signs of a failing wheel bearing—irregular tire wear is one of them.

Can You Drive with a Bad Wheel Bearing?

You might be wondering whether you can continue driving with a bad wheel bearing. And the answer is—absolutely not. In some cases, a failed wheel bearing can cause you to lose a wheel while driving, which can have potentially deadly consequences.

See also  How Far Can You Drive on a Spare Tire? Straight Answers

So, if you think you hear the rumble of a bad wheel bearing, be sure to get your vehicle repaired immediately. Your safety depends on it.

What Can Happen if You Have a Bad Wheel Bearing?

As was mentioned above, if you ignore a bad wheel bearing, you could end up losing a wheel. That’s the worst-case scenario, but there are other undesirable consequences, as well. A bad wheel bearing can cause abnormal tire wear, a pulsation while driving—even problems with the ABS system.

So, once again, if you think you’ve got a bad wheel bearing, get the problem fixed right away by either going to a mechanic, or by purchasing a replacement bearing and fixing it yourself.

Products Mentioned in this Guide

About The Author
Written By Automotive Subject Matter Expert at

Mia Bevacqua has over 14 years of experience in the auto industry and holds a bachelor’s degree in Advanced Automotive Systems. Certifications include ASE Master Automobile Technician, Master Medium/Heavy Truck Technician, L1, L2, L3, and L4 Advanced Level Specialist. Mia loves fixer-upper oddballs, like her 1987 Cavalier Z-24 and 1998 Astro Van AWD.

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 : DIY , Wheels and Tires Tagged With :
headlights and components
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

View all Questions & Answers

expand_more Answers BE PART OF OUR COMMUNITY: Share your knowledge & help fellow drivers Join Now