Car Doctor Q&A: Diagnosing Wheel Bearing Noise

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Wheel bearings allow your wheels to spin with as little friction as possible. When they go bad, they need to be replaced, but sometimes, it’s hard to figure out which side the noise is coming from. AAA Car Doctor John Paul has the answers.

Q. I do a lot of my own repairs and have a 2008 Buick that I’m sure has a wheel bearing noise.

The problem is I’m not sure if it is the left or right, but definitely the front. Do you have an easy way to figure out which one it is? I don’t want to make a $150.00 mistake and replace the wrong one. Do you have any other tips for locating noises?

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A. Start with a careful inspection jacking up the car and look for any movement from the bearing. This is a sealed bearing and should have no play.

If both left and right are tight, an old trick that always worked for me was spin the wheel by hand and put your other hand on the coil spring. If you feel a vibration in the coil spring you have identified the worn bearing.

In my tool box I also keep a mechanic’s stethoscope (has a fixed rod for identifying vibration) and a medical stethoscope. Both can be very helpful for locating noises.

When all else fails a long piece of rubber hose can work. Hold one end up to your ear and use the free end to listen for problems.

John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950 and 550.

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John Paul