Wheel bearings are very important to the safe operation of your vehicle. The wheel bearing holds your wheel in place and allows it to spin and turn without creating heat-generating friction. Without a properly operating wheel bearing, your wheel will start to rub against the housing and the axle. Eventually a bad wheel bearing will cause the wheel to fall off. It is important to become sensitive to the signs that your wheel bearings are going bad.
Click and Pop
Bad wheel bearings will create a clicking sound that is often accompanied by a popping sensation that you can feel through the floorboards. If the bad wheel bearing is on the driver's side of the car then you will also feel the popping through the steering wheel. Initially this clicking and popping will only occur when you turn the vehicle. But as the condition worsens, the clicking will get louder and the popping will get more intense even when the vehicle is going straight.
Since bad wheel bearings cause the wheels to start leaning inward, you will start to see telltale wear on the tires. As the bearing loosens, the tire will begin to lean inward and rub on the wheel well. This will cause a ring of wear on the side of the tire facing the wheel well that will strip the tread right off the tire.
If you start to suspect bad bearings, one of the tests you can use to confirm your suspicions is the wiggling tire test. The safest way to do this is to get the car up on a safe hydraulic lift and wiggle each tire. They should not move. If they wiggle when you move them, the bearings are bad.
One of the more subtle clues that you are developing bad bearings is a rubbing noise. It will start out very quiet and will get louder when you turn the wheel. Over time the rubbing will get more noticeable and constant. It is the sound of the tire rubbing on the wheel well.