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Bad Wheel Bearing ... Or Not?

1999 Ford Escort, manual transmission. Car has 190K miles. I was driving home Thursday when in the last couple miles of my trip I started to hear a grinding/clunking sound from the front right wheel. Seemed to coincide with the speed of the vehicle. Got worse when I turned right and alleviate when I turned left. I didn’t get a chance to troubleshoot that night but did so last night (Friday).

I first drove it again about a mile and the sound got substantially worse in that short period of time. I’m thinking it’s either the cv half shaft or the wheel bearing. I take the front tires off and look at both half shafts - they look okay. Rubber boots are intact and shafts look okay from what I can tell. I put the tires back on. I spun the wheels freely while in neutral and didn’t hear really any grinding. I grab each tire at 12 and 6 and shake violently - no slop or noise on either tire. I do the same at 3 and 9 - each tire had a touch of slop but they were equal. Well, at this point I don’t have much to go by except that maybe it’s a bad bearing though now I don’t have much evidence.

I decide to go for one more quick drive to try to collect more ‘data’. The noise is completely gone. I’m bewildered. I decide to take it to the highway and get it to 60 mph … no noise. Nothing. How could that be? Could I have done something when I shook the wheels violently (knocked out debris?). I find this impossible to believe.

Thanks for the thoughts!

it may be a pebble between the brakes disk and the protective metal cover, once it’s gone, the sound is gone

Did you check your outer brake pads for wear?

Hopefully it’s the pebble in the wheel or brakes theory. If the problem comes back, good chance it is the wheel bearing. However there’s some reason to think it’s not the wheel bearing theory, b/c if it was the right side bearing, then the sound would usually get worse when turning left. You post it gets worse when you turn right.

Posters here with a lot of experience diagnosing wheel bearing problems say that it’s fairly common that there’s no obvious problems when checking for play by pulling the wheel up/down, right/left, and no sounds at all when hand-spinning the wheel; but the driving symptom is enough of a clue to replace the wheel bearing anyway, which generally fixes the problem.

This doesn’t act like a CV problem, but don’t rule that out entirely. They can still fail even though the boots remain completely intact.

For future reference, if the noise gets louder when you turn right, it is likely the left wheel bearing. When you are making a right turn, you are shifting more weight to the left wheel.

Wow, this is all great information - thank you everyone! The brake pads and rotors are brand new - I replaced them about 6 months ago because they were in bad shape. They shouldn’t be too bad but I can take a quick scan today.

George and company - I will drive it some today and see if it happens again. I’ll keep in mind that if the noise does come back, it could be a bad bearing … but on the driver side. Indeed, the noise was getting worse when I was turning right and going away when I turned left.

I’ll update in a handful of hours once I get more info. Thanks again everyone - this is a huge help!

Like this? Listening to vikes on radio. No tv in garage.

You may have just had new pads put on, but if one of the caliper pins froze, it will wear down the outer pad very quickly, I have seen a wheel go from new pads to cut through the rotor in two months because of a frozen caliper pin.