Snap. Grind. Pop.

When you hear these unusual sounds while driving, chances are, your wheel bearings need immediate attention.

Get Your Bearings

It is unsafe for you to keep on driving when you hear strange noises coming from your car. This means that there is a problem somewhere, and that you should take the time to have the car checked as soon as possible.

Sounds like clicking, grinding, or popping are just some of the tell-tale signs that there might be something wrong with your wheel bearings. Automotive wheel bearings are tiny steel balls set together in a steel cage. These sets of balls are responsible for helping wheels turn and spin freely. At the same time, they help reduce friction and secure the wheel onto your vehicle.

These bearings work hard, so they eventually succumb to wear and tear. Once they are worn down, the abovementioned noises start.

Here are some tips from a trusted bearings manufacturer for spotting the signs and symptoms of a bad wheel bearing:

1. Abnormal side pulling

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You should give appropriate attention to your car when you experience an unusual side pull while stepping on the brakes.

While a faulty caliper could be the cause of this problem, one cannot rule out loose bearings as another source of the abnormal pull. Severe looseness of the bearings can lead to excessive turnout which, in turn, causes the brakes to pull or pulsate.

2. Clicking, popping, or snapping sounds

You usually hear this noise when cornering or making sharp turns.

Clicking, popping, or snapping sounds are usually caused by a worn or damaged CV-joint. However, the cause could also be excessive bearing endplay, which is usually the result of poor clamping.

3. Grinding while the car is in motion

You usually hear this noise when turning or shifting.

This type of noise is normally a sign of a lack of bearing integrity, often caused by raceway or roller damage. It could also mean that there is existing mechanical damage within the wheel-end system.

4. Growling, humming, or howling sounds

These kinds of noises can start up when you are driving in a straight direction.

The sound increases as you turn the wheels slightly to either direction. Normally, the defective side is the side opposite of where the noise is coming from.

5. Uneven or abnormal tire wear

Worn or excessive looseness in the bearings can cause abnormal tire wear.

In addition, other common causes for tire wear can be attributed to improper tires, misalignment, incorrect tire inflation or pressure, and damaged or worn suspension components.

6. Wobbling or wheel vibrations

Wobbling or wheel vibrations can be caused by an improper clamp (or the lack of it). It can also be because of mechanical damage in the bearings.

This symptom is also commonly connected to suspension, worn tires, or wheel components. Severe chassis misalignment could also be a culprit.

7. Anti-lock Braking System failure

If the Anti-lock Braking System lights up, then this is a sign of extreme mechanical damage. Due to incorrect movement in relation to too much endplay, the car can experience loss or lack of bearing clamp. This loss or reduction in bearing clamp is usually brought about by mechanical damage caused by corrosion.

When this happens, it is crucial that you bring the car to an authorized service center right away so you can avoid any untoward incidents on the road.

Bear in Mind

Your car’s wheel bearings and hub take on too much load, especially if you use your car every day. This means these parts are also prone to excessive wear and tear and will eventually break down.

Depending on external factors such as heat, moisture, or road salts, wheel bearings are built to endure for a long time. Typically, these can last for about 160,000 kilometers, so you may only have to replace it about once in a car’s lifetime.

Regardless of this fact, when you notice the signs and symptoms discussed here, it would be wise to bring your car in for a thorough checkup. Head to your trusted auto repair shop and have a professional mechanic or auto technician take a look. Authorized service centers also have the appropriate diagnostic and repair tools to ensure that your car will be back in tip-top shape in no time.

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Hassanein Alwan is the Managing Director of Mineral Circles Bearings with more than 10 years' experience in the bearing industry's technical support division, sales and marketing, plus strategic business development consultancy.