Tires And Wheels

Tire Noise or Wheel Bearing - Diagnosing & What To Do!

Mike Cross
Updated Mar 31, 2022

A vehicle making noises where it shouldn't is never a good sign, especially when it comes to its tires. When I first heard a humming noise from my front wheel when driving, two questions instantly came to mind:

  1. What on earth is making that racket?
  2. Is this something I need to spend money on a mechanic for, or can I fix it myself?

As it turns out, asking these questions about tire noises and my wheel bearing not only saved me a bit of money, but it may have saved my life too.

Tire Wear

One of the most common answers to any noise coming from your tires is that your tires are wearing down unevenly. This can be caused by issues such as tire inflation, potholes, a lack of tire maintenance, or even just time.

Upon close examination of your tires, the specific type of tire wear should be easily identifiable and can help you detect the underlying issues…

Center Wear

Center Wear is identifiable by the center of your tire worn down more than the edges. This is most often caused by your tire being over-inflated.

Edge Wear

Edge Wear is identifiable by the edges of your tire is worn down than the center. This is most often brought on by an under-inflated tire.

Toe Wear

Toe Wear is identifiable by excessive wear on the inner or outer edges of your tire. This happens when there are wheel alignment issues, which we will touch on later.

Patchy Wear

Patchy Wear is identifiable by the wear on your tires appearing as sporadic patches. The culprit is out of balance wheels, and of course, this means your tires are overdue for a spin and a rotation. Get dizzy!

Cupping Wear

Cupping Wear is identifiable by diagonal wear-marks on your tires. This is a warning sign that your suspension needs immediate attention if you cherish keeping comfortable.

Are you worn out yet? There are antidotes…

Preventing Future Tire Wear

Though all the tires are prone to wear and will inevitably need replacing, there are steps we can all take to keep our tires in good shape and noise-free for as long as possible.

It may seem obvious, but the best you can do for your tire is regularly check its air pressure. Double-check the manual, or do a quick Google search as I did, to make sure you fill your tires to their ideal PSI for the best longevity.

Regularly rotating your tires and correcting the alignment at least once a year should help prevent uneven tire wear for as long as possible. Scheduling tire services on a semi-regular basis depending on mileage and road conditions is also recommended if you aren't comfortable doing it yourself. I am not either.

Alignment Issues

Here is another one. If in addition to the humming your tire makes odd drumming noises like Rainbow's Cozy Powell at a live concert, it may allude to your car or truck having wheel alignment issues. It may even feel like you blew a flat tire and make noise at a low speed. As mentioned earlier, alignment issues can also be identifiable by “Toe Wear” on your tire’s treads.

To fix any alignment issues yourself, check your vehicle's manual specifications. With the help of determination, a friend, and a solid measuring tape, determine the “toe,” the difference between the back and front edges of the tires, and then measure the “camber,” or the vertical angle of the wheels.

Once you have your measurements and have identified what’s not lining up, find the L-shaped tie rod ends behind your tire, between the wheels and the steering system. After loosening the lock nut, you should be able to adjust the alignment as needed, according to your vehicle specs.

Wheel Bearing Problems

Tire noise or wheel bearing

The loudest and most dangerous reason for hearing noise from your tires is that you need a new wheel bearing. In short, wheel bearings allow your car to turn and assist with braking, steering, and suspension.

A fully deteriorated or broken wheel bearing most recognizably sounds like a helicopter flying overhead. The inside of your car may even shake violently. Early on, a broken wheel bearing sounds like it's humming or moaning. You can especially hear a wheel-bearing noise when turning.

This is dangerous! The worst-case scenarios could result in your tire and wheel breaking off as you're driving. Rest assured, just by knowing that the issue needs fixing, you've significantly reduced your chances of this happening.

Though wheel bearings are intended to last a vehicle’s lifetime, it's not uncommon for them to break from a pothole, a curb, or a weekend of off-roading. Additionally, if things like mud, snow, or sand reach the bearings, they can cause deterioration or contamination of the grease.

Replacing Your Wheel Bearings

With so many ways for wheel bearings to break, it’s a good thing there are easy ways to replace them too. If you want to replace your wheel bearing at home, you’ll need some standard tools, in addition to bearing grease, a cotter pin, and the replacement wheel bearings specific to your vehicle.

Step by Step Instructions

  1. To start, raise your vehicle using a reliable jack.
    Don’t forget to put chocks behind the wheels.
  2. Carefully remove the tire closest to the wheel bearing that needs replacing.
  3. Locate the brake caliper and use a ratchet to remove the caliper’s bracket bolts from the spindle.
    I recommend using a screwdriver or a similar tool when removing the caliper itself.
  4. Using pliers, take off the cotter pin and retaining nut.
  5. Remove the outer wheel bearing.
  6. Remove the rotor and inner wheel bearing.
    It's paramount to remember that every vehicle is different, so refer to your car manual for any specifications regarding accessing and replacing wheel bearings.
  7. Rub the bearing grease into the casing of the replacement wheel bearing.
  8. Install the replacement as you saw the original.
    Remember to replace the cotter pin as well.
  9. Now it's a matter of reassembly and triple-checking your work.

Summary

Whether it sounds like a flat, much like a helicopter or like the car is on its way to its first audition for The Blue Man Group, there's always a root cause for your tire making noise. Among the most common causes of tire noises are wheel-bearings, tire wear, and alignment issues, but the answer could be as simple as that your Goodyears are overdue for replacing.

Whatever the problem may be, it's always worth investigating. I don't know what would have happened had I not caught my truck’s busted wheel bearing when I did. But let's face it, is it not amazing how many problems can be prevented by ourselves by listening to and paying attention to what oour cars try to tell us?

What unusual noises does your car make?

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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