The wheel bearing is a metal ring which holds a series of small steel balls together. The purpose of a wheel bearing is to reduce friction so that the wheel can rotate smoothly. A wheel bearing is connected to a wheel hub and metal axle shaft toward the center of the wheel. There is a lot of heat absorbed by the wheel bearing as a wheel is in motion. Air and lubricant create a vacuum which cools down the wheel bearing. There are seals around the hub which keep this vacuum pressure stable. However, if you drive over certain types of debris, especially salty roads near the ocean, then your wheel bearings run the risk of getting damaged. The first sign of this damage will be a strange noise that comes from your wheel bearings.
5 Common Causes of Wheel Bearing Noise
What you must understand is that the wheel bearings are moving whenever your wheels are moving because they’re attached to each other. This can help you figure out the cause of wheel bearing noises once they occur. Below are the top 5 causes of wheel bearing noise. Review these causes and compare them to your own situation to find out where the problem is located.
1) Flooded Streets
Wheel bearings come lubricated already. Sometimes the manufacturer will use petroleum as the main ingredient of the lubricant. This ingredient can increase pressure on the wheel bearings if they’re exposed to water. So, if you’re ever driving on a flooded street and your wheel bearings are saturated with water, the lubrication will diminish on the bearings. The result will be more noises.
2) Bad Installation
If you’ve had new wheel bearings installed onto your wheels, the mechanic may not have performed the installation correctly. Either that or they didn’t install them in a way that satisfies the manufacturer’s recommendation. This will cause the bearings to get damaged and make noise.
3) Rough Streets
If you’re driving on uneven, bumpy, or rough terrain, then your wheels and tires are put under enormous pressure. Any of your wheel bearings could easily get damaged from this. Once your wheel bearings experience damage or imperfections, they’ll be subjected to more heat because the lubricant will diminish. This is when you have more noise occur.
4) Damaged Components
In continuation from the last cause mentioned, other components of your suspension system may get damaged and cause the wheel bearings to make noise. These components include the lower joints, lower control arms, tires, shocks, or and knuckle arms.
5) Wheel Damage
Have you been in a car accident recently? If your wheel has suffered damage because of it, then you can bet your wheel bearing is damaged too. That is why all that noise is coming from it as you’re driving. Whenever you’ve been through any type of car accident, no matter how minor it seems, you should inspect your wheels and bearings carefully. Any signs of damage mean that you need to replace these parts immediately.
Tips to Diagnose
There is an easy way to diagnose whether you have a bad wheel bearing which is causing this noise. It requires you to take a car jack and lift the appropriate side of your vehicle with it. You’ll want the tires on that side to be totally off the ground. Now try to manually push the tires horizontally, and then vertically. Do the tire and wheel feel too free and loose? If so, then the wheel bearing attached to that wheel is probably bad. Do this same test on every tire just to make sure you don’t have more bad wheel bearings.