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10 Ways to Spot a Worn Wheel Hub Bearing

Hearing abnormal noise is one of the most basic signs of a bad wheel bearing or wheel hub bearing.  However, some may be difficult to detect, because a worn wheel hub may vary in severity.  Often, the wheel hub bearing will be damaged even before the signs will be detected.  But if you know other indicators of a worn wheel hub, you can prevent more damage.

1.       Rumbling, growling or humbling noise.   As mentioned, noise is one of the classic damage indicators.  These noises are normally related to the tire or any of the electrical and drive train components.  If it has something to do with the bearing, you should hear the noise or vibration when you are driving in a straight line, and should intensify when you turn the steering wheel to the right or left.  Normally, the side that is opposite the noise is the defective side.

2.       Grinding when the vehicle is moving.  Usually, this indicates mechanical damage in the wheel-end system, or a loss of integrity of the bearing, like a roller or raceway damage.  You should hear the noise when you are turning or when there is a shift in load.

3.       Clicking, popping or snapping.  These can mean a worn or damaged outer CV-joint.  Or, it can also be related to too much bearing endplay, which is associated with inadequate clamping.  These noises are usually heard when cornering or making sharp turns.

4.       Knocking or clunking.  These might be caused by excessive play in the CV-joints or U-joints, or by extreme backlash in the differential gears.  You should hear these sounds when shifting from changing directions, ex. from forward to reverse, or shifting from accelerating to coasting.  But normally, it is not associated with the bearings. 

5.       Shudder or vibration at constant speed.   Some shimmy or unwanted vibration is usually related with worn or damaged suspension parts or tires that are either out-of-balance or out-of-round.  It is not usually associated with hub or bearing damage.

6.       Wheel vibration.  When the wheel vibrates or wobbles abnormally, it is most often related to a damaged or worn tire, or the wheel or suspension parts, or maybe even some severe misalignment in the chassis.  There might be chances that it is related to the hub or the bearing, and it usually means you have lost a clamp or you have a bearing with extreme mechanical damage.   Another possibility is when the lug nuts are not properly torqued.

7.       Abnormal tire wear.  Unevenness or abnormality in tire wear may be caused by several different things.  Mostly, these are worn or damaged suspension components, improper alignment, or even bad tire selection or inflation.    There is a slight chance that it is also caused by some damage in the bearing, or its looseness, but it is not as common as the others previously mentioned.

8.       Uneven rotor or brake pad wear.  Severe looseness in a worn or damaged bearing can cause extreme run-out, which can cause uneven wear on the brake pads or the rotor.  But more often, it is caused by a bad caliper or a bad equalizer, and the most common cause is a warped rotor, when the caliper is not retracting.

9.       Abnormal side pull when braking.  This can also be caused by worn brakes or rotors, but are usually associated with a defective caliper or equalizer.  Also, when there is severe looseness of the bearing, it can also cause extreme run-out, causing the brakes to pulsate or pull. 

10.   ABS Failure.  In more extreme cases, the internal and external sensors may have some damage due to too much movement from excessive end-play.  This can mean a loss or missing bearing clamp, which is usually due to mechanical damage. 

If you encounter any of the signs mentioned here, do not delay and take immediate action.  If you don’t this may result in bigger and more serious damage in both your vehicle, and your life.  Of course, correct handling procedures are essential, and proper maintenance must be kept up at all times.

  While you may do some checking and repair by yourself, remember to always follow the installation instructions given by your car manufacturer.

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