Wheel bearings are some of the most important and least regarded parts of your vehicle's drivetrain. When they start to malfunction, wheel bearings typically emit a signature grinding or whining sound, possibly severe enough to feel through the floorboard or steering wheel. Bearing noise is a harbinger of very bad things, which makes locating it as soon as possible a possibly life-or-death affair. Fortunately, troubleshooting the source of the grumble is as simple as listening while you transfer your car's weight from corner to corner.
Locate a large, empty parking lot where you can drive your car at up to about 45 mph. Drive your car to one end of the parking lot, turn around and accelerate up to about 45 mph.
Stab your brakes as though you were coming to a panic stop. The front of the car will nose-dive, transferring weight to the front and putting more pressure on the bearings. Listen for a change in bearing noise; if it gets louder, then you have a bad front bearing. If it gets quieter or disappears, then you have a bad rear bearing.
Drive your car around in an approximately 200-foot diameter circle at about 45 mph. Start with a clockwise rotation; this will transfer your car's weight to the driver's side of the car. If the bearing noise gets louder, the bad bearing is on the driver's side. Repeat in a counter-clockwise direction. If the bearing noise gets louder, the bad bearing is on the passenger's side.
Correlate your findings. If you have found that bearing noise or vibration increased while breaking and circling counter-clockwise, then the bad bearing is on the front-passenger's side. If the bearing noise decreased under braking and increased when circling clockwise, then the bad bearing is on the rear-driver's side.
- "Chassis Engineering"'; Herb Adams; 1992
- "Race Car Engineering and Mechanics"; Paul Van Valkenburgh; 2001
- Locost seven: Brian Beckman's Physics of Racing - Weight Transfer
- "Wheel Bearing Basics"; Craig Perrone; Four Wheeler Magazine; February, 2009
- Photo Credit Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Symptoms of Bad Wheel Bearings
You may feel as if you are under attack by a tank when you hear that roaring noise of a lifted truck...
What Do Bad Wheel Bearings Sound Like?
The wheel bearing is a simple but vital automobile part that allows a wheel to spin freely. Bad wheel bearings need replacing...
Steering Wheels & Grinding Noises
A steering wheel that produces a grinding noise is not only annoying, but the grinding noise may be the sign of a...
How to Troubleshoot Rear Wheel Bearings Noise in a Car
The rear wheel bearings on your car are responsible for taking the load off (literally) the rear axles and CV joints. It...
How to Troubleshoot a Main Bearing Engine Noise
Main-bearing noise is caused by worn main bearings that are oversized or loose on the crankshaft, or lack oil pressure. The main...
Troubleshooting Wheel Bearing Problems
A wheel bearing is used within the center of each wheel hub to avoid metal-to-metal grinding. It is well lubricated to reduce...
How to Tell When a Front Bearing Is Bad in a Jetta
A VW Jetta's wheel bearing is an extremely important aspect of the suspension. The wheel bearing supports the weight of the car...
Front Wheel Bearing Diagnosis
The front wheel bearings in your car or light truck allow the wheels to roll smoothly and support the weight of the...
How to Diagnose a Wheel Bearing Noise
The wheel bearings inside of a wheel hub are the main components that enable the wheel and the hub to turn around...
Front Wheel Bearing Replacement Symptoms
The wheel bearings on a vehicle help its tires rotate properly by ensuring frictionless movement within the hub, tire and wheels. In...