Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Bearing: Types and How to Change it

You already know that without an excellent sturdy wheel, your car cannot function properly and safely. What you do not know is that some complex components make up the wheel. Several complex components go into the design of that wheel. One of these components is the wheel bearing, a chief striker in that simple wheel design. It enables the tire, hub, and other assemblies to work harmoniously.

The wheel bearing in every car works with the hubs, tires, wheel, and other assemblies to give a good driving experience while driving down the road. When a rear or front wheel bearing goes bad, the wheel will experience more friction and start to wobble. There are several symptoms to watch out for when wheel or axle bearing damages or starts to go bad. In this article, I’ll outline the symptoms of bad wheel bearing and how to replace it.

Types of wheel bearing

When a wheel bearing turns, it creates a certain degree of friction. The bigger and heavier the bearing,  the higher the resistance. The wheel bearing is a suspension system component that reduces friction on the wheels as it turns, resulting in a reduction in erosion and wear and prolongs the wheel’s durability. Hence, there are several types of wheel hubs that are seen in vehicles.

Ball Bearings

These kinds of bearings are common and significant wheel types bearing seen in today’s vehicles. Ball bearings are strong enough to absorb both thrust and radial loads. The amount of weight place on a wheel is known as radial load, while thrust refers to cornering pressure. These kinds of bearings can be in small and large sizes. They can be found on small wheels on stakes and automotive wheels.

ball bearing wheels home depot

Roller Bearings

Just like the ball type, roller bearings are commonly used wheel bearings. Although, they are not strong enough compared to ball types. They can withstand radial loads very well but can not absorb thrust load. This explains why they are hardly found on wheels that corner with a certain degree of speed. Although, they are perfect for wheels on hand trucks.

Tapered Roller Bearings

These kinds of bearings are the best for standard trucks and car wheels. The design enables it to reduce friction at bent corners when thrust load is at work. When a vehicle turns, the wheels turn to a certain degree – at this point, shifting parts are prone to grinding. The tapered roller bearings prevent shifting/moving parts from grinding.

taper roller bearing

Precision Ball bearing

Precision bearings are designed for high-performance and high-pressure use. These kinds of bearings have higher rotating speeds compared to standard bearings. They do not generate heat. They also reduce friction. These types of bearings are mostly seen on airplane land wheels and racing cars. These are not just bearings used in cars but are manufactured explicitly for intense thrust and radial loads.

Symptoms of bad wheel bearings

Signs of a bad wheel bearing appear in various forms. Some may not give noticeable symptoms resulting in severe damages to other components on the wheel before corrective action is taken. How long before a wheel bearing fails depends on the mechanical practice followed during the last installation and driving conditions, including the route you move on. Noise is the most common and noticeable sign of a lousy hub bearing.  Below are the most prominent symptoms of a lousy wheel bearing.

Symptoms of a bad wheel bearing

Abnormal or uneven tire wear

Many factors contribute to uneven tire wears. The common causes are misalignment, damaged or worn suspension components, improper inflation, or tire selection. Extreme bearing looseness or wear can also be attributed to abnormal tire wear, which is usually related to other failure modes.

Uneven Brake pads or Brake disc

This sign can be an indication of a faulty equalizer and caliper which is not hub-related. A rusty caliper slider bolt can cause a sticking brake noise and abnormal brake disc or pad wear. Severe damages on the wheel bearing can result in run-out, which can cause uneven wear on the rotors and pads. A warped rotor commonly causes this as a result of an unretracted caliper.

Abnormal side pull when the depressing brake pedal

This is usually a sign of a lousy equalizer or caliper, and it can also indicate a worn-out brake system. Severe wheel bearing damages can also lead to excessive run-outs that can trigger the brakes to pull or pulsate. A warped brake disc can also cause this as a result of an unretracted disc.

Slimmy, Shudder, or vibrations at a constant speed

This sign is usually caused by damaged or worn-out suspension components that are out-of-round or out-of-balance. This is hardly seen as an indication of a lousy wheel bearing. However, some damaged wheel bearings can cause these signs at times.

Wheel wobble or Vibrations

This can be caused by several factors like severe chassis misalignment, worn-out or damaged tires, suspension components, or wheels.  Although, this is an indication of a damaged or worn-out hub bearing. This can also be an indication of loose clamps or lug nuts.

Humming, Growling, or Rumbling

Growling noise is a typical wheel bearing sound that can be heard when driving on a straight and clear lane. It can increase when turning to left or right. Typically, the side opposite to the growling is the faulty side.

Clunking or Knocking

This is mostly a U-joints or CV-joint noise. It can also indicate an excessive backlash in the differential gears. This kind of noise is not common with defective bearings.

Grinding when the vehicle is in motion

Typically, this shows there is a defective component on the wheel-end system. It also indicates a loss of integrity such as damaged raceway or rollers. This noise usually comes up when there is a shift in load or when turning.

Popping, Snapping, Or Clicking

These kinds of noise usually indicate damaged or worn-out outer CV joints. It can also come out as a result of excessive wheel hub endplay. Clicking sounds are usually heard when making sharp turns or cornering.

ABS failure

Too many endplay movements caused by defective wheel bearing can damage internal or external ABS sensors. These are typically caused by extreme hub-bearing damages. You don’t have to forget that other things can damage the ABS sensors. For instance, if the sensors are located on the spindle, stones, corrosion, and other hazards can damage it.

How to change a bad wheel bearing

Replacing your wheel bearing is an easy job that you can do at home but will require some proper mechanic tools. This guide will work perfectly on the wheel hub that you don’t have to press out the bearing inside. You just have to get a new hub bearing and fix it. We will be using common mechanic hand tools in this guide (not air tools)

Material Needed:

  • Jacks
  • Safety jack stands
  • Screwdriver
  • Gloves
  • Diagonal cutters
  • Breaker Bar
  • Torque wrench
  • Wheel chocks
  • Ratchet
  • Socket sets
  • Pliers

Step 1. Block off your wheels: Park your car on a flat and strong floor. Grab a wheel chock and block off the rear tires if you’re working on the front wheels. And if you are working on the rear wheels, do the reserve.

Step 2. Loosen the lug nuts. Grab your wheel spanner or ½ inch ratchet and sizeable lug nut sockets, break free the lug nut on the wheel you’re working on, and do not remove them completely. You can break free the axle nut this time to avoid issues. If there is no space to break free the axle nut, proceed with the next step.

Step 3. Jack the car:  Use your available car jack, hydraulic, or floor jack to raise and suspend the wheel you’re working on. Check your owner’s booklet for the wheel to place your jack.

Step 4. Remove the tire: with that car raised and suspended safely on jack stands, take off the lug nuts and tire. You can slide the tire under the vehicle for extra safety.

Step 5. Take off the brake caliper and caliper hanger: If you haven’t break-free the axle nut, now’s the right time to do so. Take a strong iron, you can use a strong screwdriver to stop the wheel from moving while breaking free the axle nut. Put the screwdriver in the brake disc hole to form a stopper against the caliper. The next you want to do to grab your breaker bar and the right socket to break free caliper bolts and unscrew them by hand.

Break free the caliper from the caliper hangers. You might want to do the latter first. When removing the calipers, ensure you mind the break lines. Find a safe spot on the suspension and hang the caliper on it.

Step 6. Take off the bolts holding the hub bearing:  The next is to break free the bolts holding the hub bearing on the spindle. The bolts are usually 14mm or 17mm for most Japanese cars and 15mm for other cars. Whichever number you have, take the right socket size and lose it.

Step 7. Take off the ABS sensor:  To avoid damaging the ABS sensor, which I’m sure you don’t want to break. Lose the sensor and take it off the way.

Step 8. Pull out the wheel hub: The next thing you want to do is pull off the hub from the spindle. To do this, you need your wheel bearing removal tool to take off the wheel hub. This tool is inexpensive, you can get one for this job. Sometimes, the wheel hub will prove stubborn to come off, you can use a hammer and a chisel to hit off the old hub bearing.

Step 9. Clean the spindle surface: Clean the spindle and prepare the new hub for mounting. You can use a clean rag and smooth sandpaper to clean off debris and rust on the spindle surface.

Step 10. Mount the new hub bearing: Take the new hub bearing that you want to mount and apply slight wheel bearing grease or lubricating oil on the surface If you have ever wondered or asked what causes a bearing to keep going bad. You should know that several factors can contribute to that. Factors like driving environment – that is the route you always follow, the bearing’s quality, and the mechanical practices followed when installing the hub bearing. So, ensure you do the job nicely and clean. Fix the new bearing and torque the bolts holding the hub bearing and the spindle together.

Step 11. Fix the brake disc and caliper: Now that the new hub bearing is in place, you have to fix the brake disc and caliper hanger using the same method you used to remove them. Torque down the caliper hanger and set in the brake pads. Make sure you fix it well. You don’t want to hear break noise—tight the caliper to prevent loose bolt issues, which result in grinding noise and other severe damages.

Step 12. Put the tire in place: reconfirm all the bolts individually. Fix back every other thing that you removed earlier using the reverse process. Lastly, fix back the wheel tire and tighten the wheel nuts by hand. Raise the tire so you can easily remove the jack stands. Carefully bring down the vehicle.

Step 13. Put a finishing touch:  Grab your torque wrench and torque down the lug nuts to the manufacturer’s spec. Take off the wheel chocks and test your job. For a visual presentation of how to replace a wheel bearing, watch this video.


Q: What can happen if you have a bad wheel bearing?

What can happen if a wheel bearing fails? You don’t want to experience what might occur if you have a bad wheel bearing. A lousy wheel bearing can cause catastrophic damages to your suspension system – starting with car handling issues, brake issues, growling noise, and uneven tire wear. In the worst scenario, your wheel can fall off wholly on motion, which will endanger your life, that of the passenger, and the lives of people around.

Q: How long can you drive on a bad wheel bearing?

I believe you have heard of the phrase ‘Safety first.’ If you are safety conscious,  you want to replace your wheel bearing once it becomes defective.

Q: How long does a noisy wheel bearing last?

A noisy wheel bearing is an indication that you have a bad wheel bearing. As much as some noisy bearing can take you close to 1000 miles before causing severe damage to your wheel, I recommend fixing your wheel bearing once you confirmed that the hub is long gone.

Q: How do you tell which wheel bearing is bad from or back?

How to tell which wheel bearing is bad front or back is a technique you should learn before taking the replacement procedures. So, the easiest and quickest way to tell which wheel bearing precisely is long gone is by raising your car with a floor or hydraulic jack and check the wheels individually.

Once you have successfully jacked and suspended the wheel, rotate the tire and listen for humming or growling noise. If you hear a humming or growling noise as the tire rotates, it indicates you have a bad wheel bearing. Another method is to grab the tire by hand. Hold the tire on the up and downsides (not sideways) and gently play it. If you notice any wobbling, it tells you to have a lousy wheel bearing.

Q: How expensive is it to replace a wheel bearing?

The cost of replacing a wheel bearing can be relatively high or affordable. This is because several factors can affect the replacement cost. Factors like the vehicle model, year, and make. The garage or dealership can profoundly affect the replacement cost. However, the average cost of replacing a defective wheel bearing is $300.

A BAD wheel bearing sounds & how to diagnose them | In-depth YouTube

Final Thought

This article has successfully guided you on replacing a faulty wheel bearing and has also outlined several kinds of wheel bearing and the symptoms of bad wheel bearing. If this guide is hard to comprehend, you want to seek professional assistance to avoid causing other damages to your wheel.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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