Are my bearings going bad?

I have a 2003 Saturn Vue with 155,000 miles on it. Until recently I’ve not replaced any of the wheel bearings. Its loud, there might actually be a low growl. But if so, its hard to distinguish from regular road noise. In fact, on the few stretches of smooth highway I have available to me, it doesn’t sound that bad. I’m suspicious I bought noisy tires, as my mechanic started commenting on this after replacing the rear tires. My hubs aren’t lose. It doesn’t make more or less sound when I turn. Its not coming from a particular tire. My mechanic has been telling me for 15,000 miles the bearings in both rear wheels are bad. I recently had some electrical work done at the dealer, who informed me my rear left hub was about to fall apart. I drove it to my local mechanic who replaced it, but warned me the rear right was about to fall apart as well. But the thing is, I can’t tell any difference in the noise. If my left hub was bad, I should be able to detect some difference. And over 15,000 miles shouldn’t this be getting worse? I still drive this car 60+ miles every day for work. I’ve bought the components to change the hubs myself, if for no other reason than to stop worrying about it. I bought a jack, stands, slide hammer, and hubs for what replacing the one hub cost me at my mechanic. My question is, is there really any hurry to this? I’m not sure I believe my hubs are bad, they certainly don’t appear to be getting worse if they are bad? Any reason I can’t space this work out over the next couple months?

thank you

Yes it is important to get it done. You could lose a tire at 65mph and kill someone.

One has already been replaced…what needs to be spaced out…one more hub???

To diagnose the bearings…Jack up that wheel off the ground. Grab the tire with both hands at 12 and 6 oclock positions and try to wiggle it. There should be almost no play. Then spin the tire and note if you hear any grinding and as you spin it you may even feel the roughness.


Bad wheel bearings can be very dangerous, particularly at high speeds. If they fail there is a good chance the wheel will lock up and you’ll lose control of the vehicle. If they are indeed bad, you’re driving a time bomb

You can test the bearings yourself if you like. It requires the car to be jacked up though. With the tires off the ground, grasp the top and bottom and try to rock it, there should be practically no movement. Also put the car in neutral and spin the tire. It should 100% smooth without grinding or roughness.

I would just bite the bullet and replace all the wheel bearings or at the very least the ones suggested by your mechanic. If you’re due for brakes, now would also be a very convenient time to change those too, since you’re gonna have to take them off anyways.

Not sure how Saturn’s are designed, but if you’re just planning on replacing just the bearing and tracks, you’re most likely going to need a press to remove and install them. However, since it seems you have entirely new hub assemblies it’ll be a piece of cake. Here is a good quick write up if you’re replacing the entire hub:

Here is a helpful tip too… I had a civic whose hub seemed like it was welding on the CV. Do yourself a favor and buy a can of PB blaster and most importantly RENT A HUB PULLER from your local auto parts store (auto zone, advance auto and etc). It’s free (they return your deposit when you return the tool) and it’ll save you ALOT of frustration. Also do forget to really pack that bearing!

Good Luck!

thanks for the link!

This pushing and pulling on the wheel is not a test for wheel bearings unless you have a dial indicator connected to the body and set to measure wheel movement. The tolerance for lateral wheel movement is so small, you cannot visually or tactually sense a bad bearing.

The best home test it put it up on jackstands, remove the wheel and then slowly turn the hub and listen for even the slightest grinding sounds. The hub should have a little drag from the grease in the bearings so if it spins too freely, that is not good either. There should be a slight drag and no noise from the hub.

The way I pull these hubs is to remove the nuts holding them in place, then I put the wheel back on and only turn the lug nuts about three turns. That gives the wheel about a half inch of play. I push the wheel in and then jerk it outward. The hub usually comes out on the first or second jerk. If it doesn’t, then you really have a damaged bearing that has caused the housing to swell.

thank you, good advice

You’ve had two separate mechanics come to the same diagnosis. Generally, that means the diagnosis is correct. Given that you’ve already acquired the needed tools, why the hesitancy re: fixing this? The actual cost of the bearing is bupkis, relatively. Even if the bearing passes inspection, at 155K mi, it’s mostly used up anyways, most likely–you’re not leaving a lot of $$ on the table.

I’ve actually had two mechanics give me different diagnosis, I’ve followed one with no improvement. I have every intention of changing all the bearings, what I don’t have is time…

The rears are easy, as @keith described. The fronts are not as easy. You will need a ball joint taper removal tool, ($16 or so at Harbor Freight) and a bearing press and a bearing splitter.

The big nut in the center is for the halfshafts. Remove those. Pop the ball joint taper and the steering link taper and unbolt the 2 lower strut bolts. Remove the knuckle. Remove the big snap ring. Push the hub out from the back, the outer race will remain on the hub. Use the splitter to remove the race or use a dremel and cut partway through the race and split it with a chisel. Press the rest of the bearing out of the knuckle. When you are ready to push in the bearing, put the bearing into the freezer overnight, heat the knuckle to about 350 degrees and push in the bearing. It will go in easily at this point. Let return top room temp and press in the hub. Reinstall in the car. Be sure and use a new nut on the halfshaft.

The fronts are not as easy.

That is an understatement.

I use a small pitman arm puller to separate the ball joints and tie rod ends instead of a pickle fork (ball joint taper removal tool). It cost about the same and does less damage to the seals.

Take the steering knuckle to a shop and have them replace the bearing for you. I’d recommend getting a new hub as well as it is difficult to get the bearing off the hub without damaging it in some way. A dealer should have all the correct adapters for the press so they may be the best place to have it done. It is easy to damage the bearing when inserting the hub if you don’t have the right sized adapter on the bearing.

Dealer? No dealers anymore, it is a Saturn. That year Saturn was a Z chassis car with no GM equivalent so GM dealers won’t be very helpful (not that they ever are).

I see on RockAuto you CAN get the hub and bearing together as a package so + to @keith, replace the hub, too. They cost about $20 to $30. Buy both, less painful. Any decent machine shop or well equipped indie mechanic should be able to do this.

The hub and bearing are not assembled as the bearing has to be pressed in first, then the center race has to be supported while the hub is pressed or the bearing will be damaged. By dealer, I meant GM dealer.

Edit: because this bearing assembly is so common with GM vehicles, a lot of good independent shops may have the required adapters as well. They are almost universal now.

I had bad rear wheel bearings on a VW Rabbit one time, and the symptom was very close to what you describe. It sounded a lot like noise road surface, only louder, and gets even louder the faster you go. And the more miles you drive, it gets even louder.

If that describes your symptoms, good idea to get it fixed straight away as it presents a safety issue.

If you do the hub replacement yourself, be aware that you’ll probably need to have the alignment checked after the job is done. Make a note where the alignment eccentrics are set now, that will get you close.