In this article, you’ll see some of the certain bad wheel bearing symptoms.
Like some other car problems, a bad wheel bearing can be easily mistaken for other mishaps, especially in the early stages.
Hopefully, this article will help to recognize the problem and enable you to react on time.
Besides this, you also have a video at the end of the article which you can also watch on our YouTube channel.
WHAT IS A WHEEL BEARING?
Simply put, a wheel bearing is a part of the wheel hub that enables the wheel to freely turn almost without any resistance.
Although a simple invention, a bearing is a technological marvel, and without it, most of our modern machines would simply not be possible.
Without the bearing, we couldn’t achieve things like speed, longevity, comfort, and other imperative car characteristics.
Regarding the car, the wheel bearing is located within the wheel hub and on the drive shaft.
If you want to read more about the bearing, click here for a great article from Wikipedia.
WHAT CAUSES THE PROBLEM?
Wheel bearing problems are mostly caused by material fatigue although this part is very resilient. In some cases, it can last as long as the car.
The problem with material fatigue is especially present in older and high-mileage cars.
Another reason for problems is potholes or bad quality roads that cause sudden blows and hits to the wheel which either damage the internal parts of the bearing or damage the seal.
When the seal is damaged, the lubricant gets out and filth gets inside the bearing which over time causes damage to the internal parts like the rollers and else.
Also, a cause can be a low-quality wheel bearing.
BAD WHEEL BEARING SYMPTOMS
1. HUMMING SOUND
The first symptom that you’ll certainly notice is the characteristic sound. It’s a sort of trademark for this problem.
Usually, first comes a barely noticeable humming sound and can be easily mixed up with an underinflated tire for instance.
But as the problem progresses, the humming gets even worse and at the later stages, the sound is almost louder than the engine.
2. HOWLING AND SQUEALING SOUND
Some time after the humming, a howling and then a squealing sound usually appears.
As the wheel bearing suffers more damage and loses evermore lubricant, it gets dryer. Then the friction between the inner metal parts intensifies causing the sounds.
It becomes louder as you drive faster and the load on the bearing increases.
3. CLICKING SOUND
At the later phase of the problem, you may hear a clicking sound coming from the wheel when driving. It’s not that loud and you can hear it if you open the window while driving.
In the early stage, it sounds like a small metal ball hitting the wheel but over time it becomes much more noticeable.
Like the humming sound, this can be easily mistaken for a bad CV joint for instance. If this is the only symptom you have, then a previous inspection of the undercarriage would be good to avoid a mistake.
4. GRINDING SOUND
The grinding sound appears when the wheel bearing is on its last legs.
This usually means that the internal parts are barely holding together and a complete collapse of the bearing is imminent.
Even to the point that the bearing may get stuck and block the wheel from turning.
You can hear a distinctive, loud metal-like sound of metal pieces grinding together.
I must mention, try not to let the problem get this far and react before the grinding starts.
5. STEERING WHEEL VIBRATES
At first, you can barely sense that the steering wheel vibrates, while in the latter stages of the problem, it may get much more noticeable.
It usually goes from a mild vibration to something that resembles, for the lack of a better explanation, holding a sander.
6. ABS WARNING LIGHT COMES UP ON THE DASHBOARD
The ABS warning light may come up since the speed sensor is (in most cases) located within the same wheel assembly. When the wheel bearing is on its last legs the wheel may wobble and, among else cause an ABS malfunction.
7. WHEEL WOBBLE
This is one of the bad wheel bearing symptoms that appear when the bearing is really damaged.
Just like with the grinding sound, If you notice this bad wheel bearing symptom you should replace it as soon as possible.
Since the bearing essentially holds the entire wheel to the drive shaft, when damaged it gets some unwanted play.
This means that your whole wheel has some unwanted play.
The common reason for this is that the rollers and the cage within the wheel bearing suffer damage.
You can easily spot this if you raise the car and try to sort of twist the wheel from one side to the other. Then the play will show.
8. VEHICLE PULLS TO ONE SIDE
Alongside the wheel wobble, you may feel your car pulling to one side since the wheel basically isn’t balanced.
It’s much like when the tires aren’t well balanced or one of the tires isn’t properly inflated.
If you want to read more about how to check tire pressure, click here for a separate article on that topic.
The pull is barely noticeable at the beginning, but if you don’t take action on time, it may seriously pull to one side.
9. STEERING WHEEL RESPONSE
Since the wheel hub assembly on one side isn’t functioning properly, it will logically show on the steering.
Instead of having the usual sharp response, it may feel sort of late or feel like it’s putting up a bit of a fight.
All in all, this is one of the bad wheel bearing symptoms that feels pretty awkward.
10. GREASY MARKS ON THE WHEEL HUB, WHEEL RIM, OR HUBCAP
The final bad wheel bearing symptom on this list is perhaps the least noticeable: greasy marks on the wheel hub or rim.
You probably won’t notice this since, in most cases, all of the previous symptoms are already present.
Nevertheless, if you see this, like when changing the tire for instance, or making an inspection, give it an additional check.
So, if you see thick, in most cases black or green grease around the center of the wheel hub, on the inner part of the wheel rim, or on the hubcap, make an inspection as soon as possible.
The main reason for this is a damaged or missing seal on the bearing which lets all of the lubricants out. Without lubricant, the wheel bearing is dry and will soon get seriously damaged.
In the end, when talking about bad wheel bearing symptoms, it’s very important to notice them and react on time.
Once again, the first symptom you’ll notice is the humming noise and after that all the other noises.
These noises last a pretty long time until the other symptoms appear.
By pretty long I mean at least a couple of hundred or sometimes even a couple of thousand miles giving you more than enough time to fix the problem.
Until then, the car is more or less driveable but this shouldn’t be an excuse for not solving the problem.
When it gets to the wheel wobbling, a vibrating steering wheel or the wheel has extra play, then the problem may be in a serious stage.
Serious meaning that the stability of the vehicle may be compromised and that’s dangerous.
Best not let it get that far and fix the problem once the humming starts.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
BAD WHEEL BEARING SYMPTOMS-YOUTUBE VIDEO