What do you do when a customer brings you a vehicle with a roaring or howling noise coming from a wheel? In most cases, it can be coming from a worn tire, or a worn bearing. It is not easy to tell, but there are ways to determine what is causing the problem.

  • First, test drive the vehicle, see if you can determine where the noise is coming from. If possible, have someone riding in the rear to see if the noise is coming from a rear wheel.
  • Next, run your hand over the tires checking for uneven wear pattern such as cupping or sharp edges. This will cause road noise and will also indicate a suspension problem such as worn struts, worn ball joints, and loose or worn tie rods. It can also be caused by improper alignment both front and on some cars, rear alignment.
  • If the tires seem alright, then check the hub bearings or rear wheel bearings. Some vehicles have sealed hub bearings on all wheels, others may have tapered wheel bearings on the rear and hub bearings on the front. Older vehicles may have tapered wheel bearings on the front and sealed axle bearings on the rear.
  • Once you are able to determine where the sound is coming from, raise the vehicle and spin the tire to see if you can hear the bearing making noise. Try the opposite side also to see if you can notice a difference in the sound.

We put together this noise guide to save you some labor time. You can have your technicians find the noise that best describes what they’re hearing in the list below. From there, they may be able to figure out what the issue is.

Humming Or Growling Noise

bearing noise

Most common causes: Bad wheel bearing or chopped tire tread

If the noise is more “growly”, then the issue is likely a bad wheel bearing. The noise may become louder the faster you drive.

Yet, if the noise rises with speed, it may also be a sign of chopped tread. This is often the result of:

  • A lack of tire rotation
  • A failing suspension component

It can be hard to figure out if the noise is caused by a wheel bearing or a tire. There’s something you can try, though. Turn the steering wheel slightly to the left or right. If the noise gets worse, then it’s likely one of the wheel bearings.

If the wheel bearing and tires look good, you may want to check the drivetrain. Sometimes a humming or growling noise is a sign of an issue within the drivetrain.

Snapping Or Clicking Noise

Most common causes: Bad wheel bearing or damaged outer CV joint

A snapping or clicking noise coming from under your vehicle is normally caused by either:

  • Excessive bearing endplay
  • Worn or damaged outer CV joint

If the issue is a worn wheel bearing, you’d typically hear this noise while cornering or making sharp turns with moderate speed. A bad CV joint can be heard at low speeds with the steering wheel all the way to one side or the other. It can’t hurt to check both the wheel bearings and CV joint(s).

Knocking Or Thumping Noise

Most common causes: Bad wheel bearing, a flat spot in a tire, under-inflated tires, or improperly aligned tires

If the problem is a worn wheel bearing, then you’re hearing a knocking noise because the bearing isn’t rotating as freely as it should. A bad tire can cause a knocking or thumping noise, too. To be more specific:

  • A flat spot in a tire
  • Under-inflated tires
  • Improperly aligned tires

The best way to figure out the cause of this noise is to check the tires first. If the tires look good, then check the wheel bearings.

Howling Noise

Most common causes: Bad wheel bearing or loose pinion-bearing preload

A worn wheel bearing can cause a howling noise. If you’re also hearing a rumbling noise when turning, then it’s likely a bad wheel bearing.

You may also trace this noise to a loose pinion-bearing preload. It’s likely the case when you only hear the noise when decelerating.

Squealing Or Grinding Noise

wheel squeal

Most common causes: Bad wheel bearing, under-inflated tires, or improperly aligned tires

If you’re hearing this noise, the issue may be a bad wheel bearing. To confirm it, change the speed of the vehicle. If the noise becomes worse the faster you drive, then it’s almost certainly a bad wheel bearing. If the noise remains the same, then the issue may be the tires instead.

The noise may be the result of an under-inflated tire or improperly aligned tires. These issues cause part of the tires (or one tire) to be scrubbing on the pavement. That causes a squealing noise.

Sometimes It May Be Both

In extreme cases, a failed wheel bearing can cause abnormal tire wear. When that happens, the noise you’re hearing is caused by both a bad wheel bearing and a worn tire.

If you’re still not sure whether the issue lies in the tires or one of the wheel bearings, check out the most common symptoms of each issue:

The Most Common Symptoms Of Worn Tires

  • Tire warning light (on some modern vehicles)
  • Low tire tread
  • Cracked tires
  • Irregular tire wear
  • Tire vibration

The Most Common Symptoms Of A Bad Wheel Bearing

  • Loose steering
  • Vibration in the steering wheel
  • Vehicle veering in a particular direction
  • Play in the wheels

The Importance Of Using Quality Replacement Parts

GMB parts

If you’re replacing a bad wheel hub bearing, you want to make sure that your techs use high quality replacement parts. Using high quality replacement parts:

  • Reduces comebacks
  • Keeps your customers safe on the road
  • Ensures customer satisfaction

This post will help you find a quality parts manufacturer. GMB is a reliable manufacturer of OE-quality hub assemblies and wheel bearings. Check out this page to find out why GMB wheel bearing and hub assemblies are the prime choice.


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