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Old 08-15-2018, 05:56 PM   #1
DonP1
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Default How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

My 1999 SC2 seems to have a fair amount of noise in the cab. It's quiet up to 40mph, then gets noisy and less noisy at certain speeds.

I bought the car with 138K on it; it now has 144K and has always made this noise.

The tires are new - $40 Walmart Douglas cheapies. I thought new tires would help, but the noise is about the same.

I get 30+ mpg in 40% city 60% hwy driving.

So is the noise bad bearings or just road noise from the tires?

Thanks.

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Old 08-15-2018, 08:10 PM   #2
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Bearing noise will increase as you go higher in speed. This can be similar to tire noise too, but if the pitch didn't change at all when you swapped tires then it could likely be the bearing. You can try slalom'ing (if that's a word) the car to see if the pitch changes as the weight of the car shifts, but that's hit or miss.

If you do need bearings, buy Timken. The cheap China ones they sell at stores will fail within the year.

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Old 08-15-2018, 09:55 PM   #3
Sc2Zr2
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

i would jack the car up and feel/listen for play/wear in the bearings with the tires off the ground. try moving the tire on the vertical and horizontal axis. spin the wheel and listen for bearing noise. any slop or grinding would indicate a bad bearing. like MacGyver said, while you're driving at speed you could try turning the wheel left and right, kind of driving in an s pattern to see if that affects the noise. (slaloming lol, did you watch that etcg also?) if you hear it while turning right id check the left bearing. if its worse while turning left check the right. it could also very well just be low quality tires.

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Old 08-16-2018, 01:23 PM   #4
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Here's a good video by Eric the Car Guy diagnosing a Saturn SL1 with a bad wheel bearing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdRpnK5MGQ8

Be cautious doing this, as Eric states in his video.

SKF is a Swedish brand with a decent reputation and quality control as well.

Last edited by hholbein; 08-16-2018 at 01:30 PM..

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Old 08-16-2018, 11:23 PM   #5
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Usually, a wheel bearing is a growling sound, and will increase with speed.

My mentality about wheel bearings is that if you're replacing one, you might as well replace the other side too.

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Old 08-17-2018, 02:17 AM   #6
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

wheel bearings are growling sounds could jack up car check for play in tire wiggling 12 o clock and 6 clock and 3 clock n 9 o clock and see if there is any play also if you turn left or right and the noise goes away then its wheel bearing forsure

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Old 08-17-2018, 07:52 AM   #7
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Thanks guys.

I does seem like I'm driving on a gravel road even on a newly paved road. It seems to come from the rear of the car. It's an SC2 which seems to amplify the rear noise.

I guess I'm dummy because I've driven with this since I bought the car. The dealer said it was just tire noise. How far can people drive with bad bearings? My mpg seemed good.

I did get front bearings with my rotors but didn't install them. They are likely made in China. Should i skip these and get better ones?

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Old 08-17-2018, 11:28 AM   #8
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Bad bearings are normally described as sounding like a jet engine spooling up, more of a whine. They’ll make a whine long before any increase in play, and by then you’d get a lot of vibration. I don’t think you have a wheel bearing issue. You might check the condition of your bushings if you hear more of a rattle.
-Robert

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Old 08-18-2018, 01:57 PM   #9
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertGary1 View Post
Bad bearings are normally described as sounding like a jet engine spooling up, more of a whine. They’ll make a whine long before any increase in play, and by then you’d get a lot of vibration. I don’t think you have a wheel bearing issue. You might check the condition of your bushings if you hear more of a rattle.
-Robert
Thanks. This is not a whine, engine spooling, or supercharger / turbo type of sound.

It is a low grumble and I feel a lot of the road surface through the car. Maybe worn out shocks or struts besides the bushings?

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Old 08-26-2018, 08:02 AM   #10
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Could be a bad tire, could be a bad wheel bearing. Rotate your tires and see if the sound moves up front. If it doesn't, replace the wheel bearings.

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Old 10-01-2018, 08:45 AM   #11
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Just to update this thread,

I went ahead and ordered two Timkin rear hubs (assuming it was a hub that was bad). Jacked up the rear driver side. Wheel didn't seem loose or move around much.

Jacked up the passenger side rear and yep, that was the bad one (moving it around you could tell it wasn't on tight like the other side, and "grinds" when spinning).

Swapped out the hub and now the car drives smooth as silk.

Yet another case of a lying dealer. I drove on that bad hub for over 5K miles.

I've decided not to put in the other hub because I have two Saturns and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'll save it until there is a problem I need to fix.

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Old 10-01-2018, 10:58 AM   #12
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

I never joined this thread when it was active, but here are a couple of late comments:

Bearings might last for a long time (thousands of miles) after noise is detected, it all depends on what in the bearing is causing the noise; there are a variety of failure modes.

I like and use Timken, but be aware that they may also be made In China. Quailty of the bearings, like any product, depends on what the nominal vendor (like Timken) insists on from their suppliers. China can make very good bearings, and they can make very poor ones; it all depends on what is asked for. Are you old enough to remember when anything from Japan was "Jap crap"? Now we accept all their products as being the finest quality. Point is... those front bearings you have may be just fine. And do be aware that how those front bearings are removed/installed, and condition of knuckles, can make a big difference on how they last.

Me? I think I will try the Timken tapered-roller style (Set 39?), if I can be assured they will fit my year, if I have to do another. I thing the tapered-roller is more forgiving and rugged than ball, although probably a bit higher in friction.

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Old 10-01-2018, 11:19 AM   #13
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

Quote:
Originally Posted by DonP1 View Post
.....I guess I'm dummy because I've driven with this since I bought the car. The dealer said it was just tire noise. How far can people drive with bad bearings?
If you have the bearings that haven't been installed, examine them. You're likely to see how robust construction design shows them to last the life of most vehicles. Look carefully. You should see a double row of bearings. A double row rarely fails but one out of the two bearings may. When one bearing fails, its supported by the good one and may be difficult to tell when rocking a tire off the ground.

I ruined a front bearing some years ago when I drifted into a curb at low speed with 4-6 inches of snow mixed with salt. The streets weren't plowed yet but traffic made this mix like a very light mud. One control arm was replaced back then. Everything else was fine. No bearing noise, no wheel imbalance. A highway drive this year revealed a strange new humming and wheel imbalance. A tire shop found the wheel bearing worn and attempted to show me by rocking the tire. I couldn't tell but the wheel bearing was replaced, the side that hit a curb a few years earlier....... noise is gone. I simply related the curb incident with a few years of trouble free driving until the bearing finally failed. It was on the counter when I went to get the car.

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Old 10-01-2018, 05:13 PM   #14
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Default Re: How to tell if wheel bearing is bad?

I had a noisy stock rear bearing last well over 5k. Less weight on the rear if you never have rear passengers

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