The fact is that cars do talk — you just need to know when and what to listen for. Some people don’t have difficulties understanding car language; they just have a naturally developed sixth sense for it. An experienced person would know how to check both rear and front wheel bearings without looking at the car.
On the other hand, there’s a group of people that feel like they are in a spaceship while driving a car. Everywhere they turn, there are buttons and flashing lights and many other potential causes of an anxiety attack.
However, the true moment of paralyzing panic comes at the very moment your car starts making weird noises. Considering that it’s an alien language you’re hearing, your first impulse is probably to shut the car down and run before it starts hovering.
Fortunately for your future means of transport, I have some good news for you. You can learn car language — it’s like with any other, you just need some time to pick it up.
To begin with, I’ll teach you how to differentiate some basic car noises caused by wheel bearing problems. You’ll find out how to recognize the problem and what to do when your car starts complaining.
What Is a Wheel Bearing?
If you put your wheels apart just for the fun of it, you can find the piece I’m talking about at the center of it. You can stop looking once you find a metal ring with a steel ball in its center — that’s a wheel bearing.
Wheel bearings are actually a simple yet quite necessary car parts. Thanks to them, your wheels can spin well because there’s less friction.
However, that’s not the only function of wheel bearings. While you’re driving, the entire weight of your car is actually on them.
Because they play an important role, wheel bearings need to be properly protected from outside factors. That’s why you’re not able to see them when you look at the wheels — they are protected from dirt, dust, and damage.
So basically, bearings grease your wheels; it’s easier to turn, brake, and generally drive because of them. That is — if the wheel bearings are functioning properly.
What most people don’t know is that wheel bearings aren’t made to last an eternity. Like most car parts, wheel bearings have a lifespan.
Although the exact expiration date depends on manufacturers, a wheel bearing should last for around 150,000 miles. After you cross that distance, it will wear out.
When that happens, you will start experiencing difficulties while driving. It’s quite important to act at the first sign of problems — taking immediate action could save your life.
How to Recognize There Is a Problem
Both movies and real life have shown us those people who turn on the car, listen for a second, and start nodding their heads in a knowledgeable way. A talented mechanic doesn’t need much time to determine the core of your problems.
Although this may be impressive, it’s also annoying at times. Chances are you spent hours dwelling on what might the problem be and looking for problems below the hood of your car.
In spite of what your instincts tell you, you are not supposed to look — you’re supposed to listen and feel. When wheel bearings become difunctional, the quality of your drive will go down.
Although snapping noises don’t necessarily point to problematic wheel bearings, they are still a fairly good indicator that you’re having a wheel bearing problem. To determine that’s indeed correct, pay attention to the following situation.
You’re making a sharp turn on your driving route — coincidentally, there’s also a bend along your way. While you’re turning, your car starts making snapping noises.
The next thing you should do is drive your car to your mechanic because you have a problem with your wheel bearings.
You should also know another problem if you can hear snapping sounds. If the bearings aren’t the problem, your CV joint is worn out.
As I mentioned, wheel bearings withstand a lot of pressure even though they are tiny when compared to the entire car. Once they wear out, wheel bearings won’t be able to control the level of friction.
So, in case you’re noticing grinding noises while you’re driving, you have a problem with wheels. More often than not, the problem is at the very core — in your wheel bearings.
In case your wheel bearings are becoming worn out, you might hear rumbling noises as well. It won’t be necessary to make turns or be on a special kind of road for this experiment — rumbling noises often appear on the straight lane.
In addition, you might be able to follow the rumbling noises to your bearings when making slight turns too.
Interestingly enough, you should not exactly follow the noise to find a dysfunctional bearing. Usually, a problematic wheel bearing is not the noisy one, but the one in the opposite position.
Now that I led you through the guide of car noises, let’s focus on the feels. If you can actually feel your car disagreeing with its parts by vibrating, the issue is probably more serious than you know.
First of all, before you start panicking, check if your lug bolt is loose. In some cases, that may be the only reason why your car is complaining.
However, if that’s not the case, your wheel bearings are in serious trouble. Chances are that the lifespan of your bearings ended a long, long time ago.
Are You Constantly Changing Tires?
Another sign of worn out wheel bearings is the state of your tires. It’s quite simple really — if you have worn-out bearings, they will wear out your tires too. So, faulty wheel bearings can infect other car parts and cause new problems.
Therefore, if you’re constantly buying new tires because the old ones keep going to waste, wheel bearings are probably the ones to blame.
Although you may not see it right away because of the added cost, there’s a silver lining in this situation. You will know exactly which wheel bearing is the problem because that will be the tire you keep changing.
A follow-up piece of advice — when purchasing new ones, make sure to get quiet tires. This way, you’ll contribute to road noise reduction and you’ll find your drive more pleasurable.
How to Find the Problematic Wheel Bearing
Now that you know how to recognize a problem related to wheel bearings, it’s time to get in the car and follow the noise. My suggestion is to find a quieter driving route — after all, you do need to listen and recognize the noise.
Have another thing in mind — your car isn’t in its best state. For that reason, you shouldn’t drive fast or far away from your home. This way, you won’t get yourself in a dangerous situation or damage your car additionally.
Now, you have all the instructions — all that’s left is to follow the noise. You’re familiar with the basic sound types — snapping, grinding, and rumbling — which should lead you to a faulty bearing.
The best way to hear where the problem is coming from is to lower your windows and concentrate on one bearing at the time. Also, you should remember to both take a sharp turn and drive on a straight lane.
For most drivers, noises are helpful when it comes to finding a problem with front wheel bearings. Considering that the rear pair of bearings is a bit distant from the driver’s seat, it may be difficult for you to define the problem.
In this case, I have another solution for you.
How to Check the Rear Wheel Bearings
If you’re not what you’d call handy and safe to be around tools, this is probably not a DIY project for you because you might get hurt. The following method requires you to get your hands dirty — it’s time to jack up your car.
Step 1 — Consult Your Manual
If you conduct a small online research, you’ll be able to find many videos of people jacking up their cars with painful or expensive consequences. Considering that you’re trying to fix your car and not cause more damage to it, you shouldn’t be hasty.
Most of those consequences happen because people are too lazy to check their manuals. Cars are different — not every vehicle should be handled the same way.
For that reason, I urge you to check your manual and find out how to jack up your car in a safe way.
Step 2 — Get a Grip of Your Wheel
Once you jack up your car, you need to rotate your tire. The right way to do it is to put one hand at the 6 o’clock position and the other at 12. Then, you should rotate your tire counterclockwise.
Another way to inspect your tire is to rock it back and forth. Make sure to keep your hands in the same position for this process too.
Step 3 — The Outcome
If you notice any grinding noises while you’re rotating your tire counterclockwise, you have a problem with your wheel bearings. On the other hand, if the tire is turning smoothly, you’re looking at a functional wheel.
When rocking your tire, you should pay attention to how freely the wheel is moving. In case there’s too much room for movement, it’s time to visit your mechanic.
Like with anything else, you need time to master car language. In case you get your car on the road and you’re ready to do the noise experiments, don’t get frustrated if you can’t really hear anything at first.
My suggestion is to bring along someone who has experience with cars. Considering you’ll be on the road, it may be difficult to bring forth one sound to examine while leaving the rest in the background. An experienced ear can help you — someone who works with cars knows exactly what noise to follow.
What you need to remember in case of any problem with your vehicle, not just with wheel bearings, is how important is not to drive your car before you take it to your mechanics. I’m sure you’ll be able to find other means of transport until your problem is solved. This way, you’ll protect the lives of other drivers as well as your own.