How to diagnose wheel bearing noise
Find the bearing that’s making the wheel bearing noise
Wheel bearing noise is hard to diagnose because the noise can be coming from a different wheel. Here are the step to take to identify wheel bearing noise and track it to the right wheel bearing.
Check for wheel bearing play
• Jack up your vehicle and support it with jack stands.
• Grasp each wheel at the 12:00 and 6:00 o’clock position and rock it while checking for movement.
• Grasp each wheel 3:00 and 9:00 o’clock position and rock it while checking for movement.
There should be no movement. If you detect movement, replace the wheel bearing.
Take a test drive
You’ll have to maneuver left and right while changing vehicle speed. So locate a flat level road that extends for several miles. Drive the vehicle at various speed with acceleration and deceleration. During each acceleration and deceleration, turn the wheel SLIGHTLY from the 10:00 o’clock to 2:00 o’clock position. Do NOT turn the wheel to extremes beyond those positions. Most wheel bearing noises will show up between 10:00 and 2:00. Keep in mind that all you’re trying to do with this test is shift vehicle weight forward and backward and left to right.
Types of wheel bearing noise
Snapping, Clicking or Popping
Normally heard when making sharp turns. This type of noise can indicate excessive bearing endplay from inadequate clamping (improper axle nut torque). It can also indicate a worn or damaged outer CV-joint.
Grinding When the Vehicle is in Motion
The grinding noise is normally heard when turning or when there is a shift in the load. It’s caused by a loss of integrity such as roller or raceway damage. It typically suggests mechanical damage in a wheel-end system.
Knocking or Clunking
This noise is normally heard when shifting – either when changing directions or transitioning from accelerating to coasting. This noise can signal excessive play in the CV-joints or U-joints or excessive backlash in the differential gears, a condition not generally associated with bearings.
Humming, Rumbling or Growling
These noises normally associate with tire, electrical or drivetrain components. If bearing-related, the noise or vibration presents when driving in a straight line, but intensifies when slightly turning the steering wheel. Typically, the side opposite the rumbling is the defective side.
• Wheel bearing noise may be rhythmic
• May change tone as you shift body weight left and right and accelerate/decelerate.
• If the noise lessens when you sway right, then the worn bearing is probably on the left wheel bearing. If it lessens when you sway left, a right wheel bearing is likely worn.
Use an electronic stethoscope
So you hear wheel bearing noise
but can’t pin it down to one bearing. Now what? Well here’s a fail-safe way to find the bad bearing. Shops use an electronic stethoscope. They fasten the microphone/transmitter to each wheel and take if for a drive. They listen with headphones while switching from one transmitter to another. This always works.
Steelman Chassis Ear is the tool to use. It’s available in two styles: wired and wireless. The wired kit requires you to route the wires back into the passenger compartment while the wireless units transmit the sounds without running cables.
So here’s my advice: Buy a kit new or used. Use it to locate the bad bearing. Then sell the kit on ebay. Yeah, you’ll lose about $50, but you’ll wind up replacing the right bearing, which will save you even more money.
©, 2018 Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat