How to identify bad wheel bearings

Written by philippa jones
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How to identify bad wheel bearings
Identify bad wheel bearings by a distinctive grinding sound. (only quality!bearings image by Sergey Goruppa from

Wheel bearings play an important role in the mechanism of a car. They support the weight of the vehicle and enable the wheels to spin freely without interference. Each bearing contains small balls which facilitate this movement. Consequently, if these balls or the seal that encloses them become damaged, you will experience bad wheel bearings. It is possible to identify this issue by performing a few simple tests, even if you are inexperienced in automotive care.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Roll down the windows of your car and drive it forward in a straight line. Listen for any unusual noises. Bad wheel bearings make a distinctive humming, clunking or grinding sound.

  2. 2

    Loosen your grip on the steering wheel to see if you experience any drag or wandering of the steering to one side. Damaged wheel bearings can cause this to occur.

  3. 3

    Turn a corner in the car and continue to listen for abnormal sounds. As the wheels turn in rotation at a severe angle, this will make the sound more distinctive and easier to hear.

  4. 4

    Jack up the car off the ground. Raise it high enough so that you can crawl underneath the car to inspect the bearings.

  5. 5

    Hold each wheel with one hand at the top of the tire and the other at the bottom. Wiggle the wheel back and forth. Bad wheel bearings loosen up with this movement so that the wheel wobbles. Normally, the tire is secure and will not move significantly as you perform this test.

  6. 6

    Spin the wheel manually and listen to the sound that comes from it. When debris, sand and grit enter the bearing mechanism, the balls' surface become uneven and damaged. As such, they will grind against metal and cause an unusual noise, such as humming. Listen for this sound, just as you did in Step 1.

  7. 7

    Slide underneath the car on your back and look at the outer seal of the wheel bearing, located behind the tire. If the seal is broken or loose, this indicates a bad wheel bearing as the opening allows water to enter the mechanism and damage it.

  8. 8

    Put your finger inside the seal and press on its inner rim. The surface is lubricated to assist with the bearing's function; however, if the grease feels coarse and gritty, this indicates a bad wheel bearing. The bumps are indicative that debris has entered the mechanism, having not been stopped by the seal.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not go underneath the car while it is jacked up unless you are certain that the jack can support the weight of the car. If you're uncertain, ask a mechanic at a garage to perform this test for you.

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