How to Tell Which Wheel Bearing is Bad Front or Back

Last updated on January 13th, 2023 at 08:32 pm

A wheel bearing is a system in the vehicle that has several small components that works and be integrated together for the vehicle to run without any issue. Just like everything else that has parts, are prone to abuse and also show warning signs whenever they are about to give out.

In this same way, wheel bearings also display some signs when they cannot function to their full potential and are on the verge of failing. However, the issue is how to tell which wheel bearing is bad, front or back? Related: Where can I get my flywheel resurfaced near me US?

But note that all types of wheel bearings display similar signs whenever they are failing. Below is how to tell which wheel bearing is bad:

  • Take A Closer Look At The Noise

Any grinding sound that is coming from the tires indicates overused bearings that don’t have enough lubrication to prevent the grinding friction between metal parts.

This noise intensifies whenever the vehicle accelerates and this comes from either the front or backside, which shows the position of the bad bearing.

Though sometimes it could be a rumbling noise whenever you are driving on a straight road and it also escalates once you make a turn. So this is how to tell which wheel bearing is bad by just turning as the opposite side of the turn tells you the affected area.

Having a clicking sound also demands attention, since it is likely to come from a broken bearing in the hub assembly.

In case a bearing is the culprit, the noise will turn faster with acceleration.

If you want to identify which bearing is responsible, then reduce the car’s speed and sway it gently. But if the clicking sound muffles whenever you move to the left, then the right wheel is likely to have a broken bearing.

  • Examine The Tires

Checking the condition of the tires happens to be another easy way to tell that there’s something wrong with the vehicle bearings. Once a tire wears out unevenly, then it’s most likely because of the attached wheel bearing that is damaged.

Indeed, tires will show signs of wear over time. Though it is quite normal once all of them deteriorate at the same rate.

  • A Wobbly Wheel

One other damaged bearing related sign is a wobbly wheel. If this happens, the car feels loose or you find out that the steering will be less responsive, especially at the time of driving.

Whenever this happens, examine each wheel by jacking up your vehicle. Once the wheel assembly moves back and forth, then the wheel bearing that is attached to it is definitely damaged.

Note that unstable wheels could be the aftereffect of some other issues too such as a broken suspension or a misaligned chassis. However, a professional mechanic can pinpoint the exact reason by doing a road test.

  • A Rigid Wheel

Just like loose wheels, a rigid wheel is another safety issue and indicative of bad bearings. But to find out which bearings are the culprits, then you have to raise your vehicle with a floor jack and check the front and rear wheels.

You can just grab the tires and rotate the wheels. If they spin effortlessly, it means they are fine but if one of them becomes stiff, then it must have a broken bearing.

  • Having One Side Pulling When Braking

Note that apart from having a defective bearing, this issue could be a result of a number of faulty components which includes damaged brakes, defective equalizer, worn-out rotor, or a busted rotor.

But in case the reason is a broken bearing, then it will eventually lead to loose brakes. And whenever you step on the vehicle’s brake, the car acts like it has a mind of its own and then pulls in a specific direction. You should examine the bearings of the side the vehicle pulls to.

Wheel Bearing Noise Diagnosis

Anytime you have tested for wheel bearing noise and narrowed down its source, then it’s time to jack up the car and confirm your findings. But before we get any further on this, our advice is – ensure that your car is securely lifted and suspended off the ground.

Make sure to only jack the vehicle upon the flat ground with wheel chocks behind your rear wheels. Make sure you use adequate jack stands and never rely on your floor jack to hold the car in the air. And once you’re all set, then it’s time to get your hands dirty.

Make sure you inspect the tires and check for uneven wear. Though a lot of suspension issues tend to show uneven tire wear, it is still a good indicator that something is off.

The next thing to do is grab the wheel at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions. Then rock the wheel back and forth just like you’re trying to take it off the hub. Once there’s any give or play, then there’s a good chance that your bearing is shot.

However, there is another way which is wiggling the wheel. This is a good way of finding issues related to suspension components. But for you to be absolutely sure that it’s not a tie rod or a bad bushing, you can position yourself in a way you will have the ability to wiggle the wheel while observing these components.

Then if you observe that a tie rod is moving or maybe your upper control arm bushing has some play to it, then it could cause the wheel to wobble.

The last method is to put the car into neutral and spin the wheel using your hand as fast as you can. This is because a bad wheel bearing will produce noise even if the wheel is spun by hand. However, this is not the 100% fault proof method to diagnose a bad wheel bearing, but it’s usually a good way to tell.

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How to Tell the Difference Between Bad Wheel Bearing & Bad CV Joint

Front Wheel Bearing Noise Symptoms

For you to determine the condition that your front wheel bearing is in, then there are common symptoms that you can look out for in your vehicle.

These are common symptoms that you should look out for whenever you are determining the condition of the front wheel bearings.

Here are the 5 Bad Front Wheel Bearing Symptoms

  1. An Uneven Tire Wear

One of the first symptoms of a faulty front wheel bearing is uneven tire wear. Whenever the front wheel bearings wear out, they sometimes tend to wear out unevenly from the rest of the bearings. When this happens, it can cause the other tires to have abnormal tire wear whenever it is compared to other tires in your car. 

However, in a normal situation where the tires wear out after using it for long or due to a certain driving styles, they would all be evenly worn out since they are of the same driving circumstances and having the same driving donations on them. However, if the tires are unevenly worn out, then it could be because of a bad front wheel bearing. 

Even with this, other issues such as bad wheel alignment, unbalanced tires, and many others could also be the causes of having uneven tire wear. This means that you should not assume that it is the wheel bearings unless the other signs are the same.

  • A Grinding Noise

One other symptom of a faulty front wheel bearing is a grinding noise. One of the common symptom of bad wheel bearing in your vehicle is when your tires have a loud grinding noise that comes from them. Note that this grinding noise is caused whenever the wheel bearings lose their lubrication and their movements, and then builds up a lot of heat and friction inside of the front wheel bearing instead. 

So whenever you hear this sound in your vehicle, it will sound like two pieces of metal grinding together which comes from the front wheel bearing.

Normally, you might only hear this loud sound coming from one of the front wheel bearings instead of hearing it from all of them, this is because the wheels wear out unevenly after a prolonged use. However, the noise will be most noticeable whenever you are shifting or turning your car. 

  • The Steering Wheel Vibrates 

In case the issue gets really bad in your front wheel bearing, then your vehicle’s steering wheel will start to vibrate. This steering wheel vibration will be noticed when you are driving at slow speeds, and the problem will even get worse as you step on the gas pedal and accelerator the vehicle.

Though you might think that this sign has to do with unbalanced tires, but the vibrations from an unevenly balanced tire occurs when in high speeds. However, with your front wheel bearing, make sure you take your vehicle to a mechanic and have them diagnose the issue.

  • The Vehicle Pulling to One Side

Whenever a wheel bearing is worn and the front wheel bearing becomes corroded or damaged, then the smooth lining that the front wheel Bearing needs is no longer on the bearing and the rough surfaces will cause the tire to vibrate.

However, this vibration can cause your car to pull to the side of the worn front wheel bearing.

Sometimes you might also experience your car pulling to the side when you start to break your car. Even though this could be a typical symptom of bad brake rotors or brake calipers, but the real cause might be the wheel bearings it selves because of the amount of runout in which the front wheel bearing damage is causing. 

  • An Excessive Wobble or Play in Wheels

Though not like the other symptoms, this excess wobble in the wheels is more tedious to diagnose. The reason is that you need to have your vehicle on a hydraulic lift or both wheels lifted up on the axle of jack stands.

Whenever the vehicle is lifted, just grab one of the front wheels and try moving it back and forth to observe how much play or movement the wheel has. You can now repeat this on one of the wheel at the other end of the axle.

But if the wheel moves back and forth whenever you rock the car, then you likely have a bad front wheel bearing. Any good wheel bearings simply mean the wheel has almost no wobble or excess play. 

Back Wheel Bearing Noise Symptoms

Here are the symptoms of bad back wheel bearings noise:

  1. Noise:
  2. You will notice a humming, rumbling or growling noise which increases with acceleration or as the vehicle turns.
  3. You will notice a loud constant whining or grinding noise whenever the vehicle is in motion.
  4. You will notice clunking noises whenever you’re driving over uneven road surfaces.
  5. A looseness, having excessive play in the steering wheel (vague steering);
  6. Having a steering wheel vibration which will change with the vehicle speed or as the vehicle turns.
  7. The vehicle’s ABS malfunctioning. Sometimes the ABS system problem can be related to failure of the ABS sensor which is integrated in the wheel end bearing.

Can A Bad CV Joint Sound Like A Bad Bearing?

Note that a CV joint noise is normally heard on sharp turns. The wheel bearing usually starts being heard when cornering in a direction or the other. Sometimes it can be constant and will sound like snow tire noise, but you don’t have any snow tires.

But on the other hands, a bad wheel bearing will normally cause a humming noise, something like having a snow tire on the front of your vehicle.

So if you jack up the front end, you might also feel play in one of the wheels but this is not always. But a bad CV joint will normally cause a clicking sound while turning sharp.

How To Diagnose A Bad Wheel Bearing?

Remember that wheel bearings make a growling or grinding sound when worn. But to diagnose whether the noise is coming from a worn wheel bearing, a brake unit or something else, then a dry and quiet surface is best suited. But you should be able to hear the bearing. Here are how to diagnose:

  • Road Testing a Wheel Bearing

You should be able to observe if the sound goes away or changes pitch while turning. But if the noise is most affected during left-hand turns, then you should suspect a faulty right side bearing.

Remember that the defective bearing is usually on the side opposite of the turn. Whenever a vehicle is turned left, more of the car’s weight is transferred to the right front wheel and vice versa.

Whenever the sound changes pitch when you drive on a different surface, and is not affected during turns, then look at the tire tread for aggressive patterns or cupping.

  • Diagnose the Sealed Wheel Bearings

Lift the vehicle and inspect the bearings by grasping the tire at the twelve and six o’clock positions, and then rock the wheel back and forth. If there is excessive movement indicates that there’s a worn wheel bearing.

You can rock the tire back and forth at the three and nine o’clock positions and check the steering rack, the suspension components, and linkage for looseness.

Get a helper and let the person turn the steering wheel while checking for looseness and wear.

How to tell which cv joint is bad

Indeed, all front-drive and all-wheel-drive cars uses half-shaft axles to connect the transmission to the front and sometimes the rear wheel hubs.

These joints at either end of the axle which allows it to articulate with suspension movement are all called CV joints due to they allow the axle to bend while continuing to spin.

The CV joints typically last about 100,000 to 150,000 miles. But bad CV joints tells these symptoms, sometimes diagnosing inner versus outer CV joint failure can sometimes be a bit tricky.

Step 1

You should shift the vehicle into drive while your foot is on the brake and listen. Note that a bad CV joint will exhibit immediately a clunking sound as the transmission engages.

When this clunking sound happens, during this phase of testing, it indicates either an inner or outer CV joint is failing; however, if you listen closely, sometimes you may be able to tell which side it’s coming from.

Step 2

Now accelerate your car to about 10 MPH and keep the speed. You can now depress the accelerator very fast so your car shoots above 20 MPH and then listen for another clunking noise.

You should accelerate from 20 to 30 MPH and listen for noises, and then 30 to 40 MPH. sometimes you may also hear a light thump under sudden braking.

Step 3

Now shift the car into reverse and jab the throttle quickly for a few times. In case you hear a similar sound but far softer clunk than you did when accelerating, then you certainly have a bad inner CV joint. But you can listen carefully for a grumbling vibration, sometimes this could indicate damage or severe wear on the inner CV joint.

Step 4

Try eliminating any possibility of it being an outside CV joint failure by just doing acceleration testing while you are driving around in a fairly close circle.

Once the CV joint becomes louder or quieter or even have an observable change in pitch while you are still turning your car in either direction, then you have a bad outer joint.

But if the wheel angle doesn’t affect the CV joint sound noticeably, then it’s the inner joint.

What Can Happen If You Have A Bad Wheel Bearing

It is normal to drive with a bad wheel bearing, but doing so can be dangerous. However, when it is left unattended to, a bad wheel bearing can create hazardous conditions such as the following:

  • A Lose Control of Your Vehicle

Indeed, a bad wheel bearing can cause the wheel/tire assembly to loosen, this means driving with a bad bearing can be extremely dangerous, especially when driving at high speeds. Sometimes you could even end up losing control of your vehicle.

  • Issue with Your Vehicle Brakes

Note that a bad wheel bearing can cause the brake rotor of your vehicle to wobble, and this can reduce braking performance. As we already know, anything that causes problems with a vehicle’s brake system can be extremely risky.

  • Removal of Vehicle’s Wheels

Just as said before, a wheel bearing allows the wheel/tire assembly to rotate. It is the hub portion of the bearing assembly that serves as a mounting point for the wheel and tire.

However, in some extreme cases, a failed wheel bearing can cause the wheel and tire to pull off completely. If this happens, it may also cause you to lose control of your vehicle immediately.

Is it ok, driving with bad wheel bearing

Our answer is No. Note that this can be very dangerous to drive if one of your bearings is worn out, especially when it might cause the wheel to stop while driving.

Also, a damaged wheel bearing can put a lot of stress on the hub, that is the CV joint, and the transmission itself.

Remember that the wheel bearings in your vehicle works with the tire, the hub, and wheel to ensure a smooth ride while you are driving down the road.

This means that if a wheel bearing goes bad, more friction will be placed on the wheel, which will make the wheel wobble.

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