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Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms

How do you know if you have a bad wheel hub or bearing? There are number of symptoms that can indicate a bearing or hub is bad. They include:

  • Grinding noises coming from the wheels
  • Sounds of clicking, popping, or snapping from the wheels
  • Steering that feels loose or sloppy
  • Steering wheel vibrations that get worse at higher speeds
  • Roughness or difficulty rolling in neutral gear
  • Pulling to one side when you use the brakes
  • Unusual or uneven tire wear on one side
  • Lit up ABS dashboard light– on many cars the anti-lock brake system sensor is built into the hub

What Can Go Wrong With a Wheel Hub?

Usually it’s the bearing, rather than the hub itself that goes bad. The bearing is what allows the hub to turn smoothly. It consists of two rings with metal balls in between and grease for lubricant. A seal keeps contaminants out. If the seal gets worn or broken dirt and debris can get into the bearing and make it work less smoothly, causing grinding and vibrations.

The parts inside the bearing can also get worn down over time, making them looser, causing “play” in the wheel, and loose steering.

On some cars, the anti-lock brake system sensor is built into the hub. If the sensor gets damaged by road debris or the electronics stop working, your dashboard ABS light will come on. In some cases, unfortunately, you’ll have to replace the entire hub if that happens.

wheel bearings close up photo

Signs of a Bad Wheel Hub

If you have noise from the wheel hub, you might notice that it gets better or worse when you turn to one side or the other. Usually the sound will get worse when you turn to the side with the good hub, and will lessen when you turn to the side with the bad hub. It seems counterintuitive, but it happens because, in a turn, the outside wheel does more work. So, for example, if that groaning noise goes away when you turn right, it’s probably a right side hub that needs to be replaced.

It’s a bit trickier to decide if the problem is with a front or rear hub, but, if you’re feeling vibration in the steering wheel, it’s more likely the problem is the front wheel bearing.

How Do I Check my Wheel Hub and Bearing?

If you have a jack, checking a wheel hub is pretty straightforward. Use the jack to raise the wheel you suspect has a problem. Make sure you wheels are chocked and put the transmission in neutral. Spin the wheel by hand. The wheel should turn smoothly. If it doesn’t or if it makes any of the noises mentioned above, then you’ll need to replace that wheel hub.

If it spins smoothly, there still might be play in the bearing. Grab the tire at the three o’ clock and nine o’ clock positions and try to shake it side to side. If the wheel feels wobbly, you’ll have to replace the hub.

If that felt firm, grab the wheel at twelve and six o’ clock, and perform the same test. Again, any wobbling or play indicates a bad hub. You can see an example of these test at around 1:05 in this video:

You can then put your transmission in first gear or drive and lower the wheel to the ground with the jack. If you want to be extra sure that you’ve identified the problem hub, you might want to check all four wheels.

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Can I Replace a Hub Myself?

Replacing a hub yourself can be an involved job. Whether or not you want to tackle it yourself may depend on your prior experience. If you’ve done a brake job before, a hub replacement is just a couple more steps. You’ll have to remove your brake caliper, pads, and rotor to access the hub. Then you’ll have to separate the axle from the bearing, and remove the bolts from the hub and pull the hub off the wheel knuckle. Then you can put everything together in the reverse order.

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