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Diagnosis: bad wheel bearings, is my diagnosis correct?

Vehicle: 2007 Corolla.

Diagnosis: bad wheel bearings, is my diagnosis correct?

While driving on the highway, the steering wheel started wobbling, it seems more pronounced at higher speeds. So, I pulled over to take a look at the front wheels, maybe it’s a rock stuck in the treads (but usually stuck rocks make a clicking sound)----there are no rock pebbles. There is a burning smell, almost like burning rubber coming from the wheel well but the tires look fine, no signs of rubbing. I looked at the inner part of the tires to see if it’s rubbing against something, some suspension component perhaps: nope, looks all good. I reckon if there’s rubbing I would probably feel and hear it inside the car. The burning smell seems to be coming from the passenger front wheel well.

Over the next couple of days, I observe that the car kind of “lurches” while creeping at very slow speeds. It also feels like there’s a kind of drag and release against the car… like something is holding it back and letting it go. It’s subtle but I can feel it at slow speeds.

Since I’ve had a faulty tires that caused steering wheel wobbles before, I considered that it could be the tires, but these tires are nearly brand new… the tires don’t quite explain the other symptoms.

I think it’s the wheel bearings. How else to explain ALL these symptoms ?

However, there is one thing that prevents me from being absolutely certain and that is my reasoning that bad wheel bearings on one side that causes the car to lurch and drag would also cause it to pull to one side… this is not happening, it’s not pulling to one side…

What do you think of my diagnosis?

If you have an IR thermometer, compare the difference in temperature between the passenger side front wheel and the driver side front wheel after a 5-10 minute drive at highway speeds. If you don’t, very carefully touch the wheel with your finger near the lugnuts to compare - but be warned, it might hurt if what I think is wrong is actually wrong.

Sounds to me like you have a dragging brake caliper combined with an uneven rotor. If I’m right, then your impression is correct - something quite literally is “holding it back and letting it go.”

The burning smell would be hot brakes, which you should really only smell if you’re in the vicinity of a race track. On a street car it means the brakes are being overworked, in your case because the brakes are rubbing on the rotor while you’re driving.


Jack up the vehicle and grab the tire at the 6:00 and 12:00 O:clock positions and try wiggling the tire.

If the tire wiggles, that’s one indication of a bad wheel bearing.


Thank you so much for the quick replies.

I’m going to take both suggestions and report back.

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Lift 1 tire off ground with jack. Put on parking brake. Idle motor in drive and listen to right side, than left. If ur lucky only 1 wheel will rumble.

concur w/the above ideas, more likely some kind of brake problem. My own diy’er experience w/bad wheel bearings is that heat or steering wheel wobbling aren’t the symptoms you first notice. What you notice first is a sound, a sort of growling sound, that gets louder the faster you go. It sounds sort of like when you drive over a road with a rough-textured surface. Often the wheel bearing sound gets worse when turning too, when turning in the other direction from the side the growling is coming from.

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If it’s a stuck caliper, wouldn’t that cause pulling to one side when braking?

One other reason I suspect the wheel bearings is because: If I drive the car after it has been parked for a day, the symptoms don’t appear until after a some 10 minutes of driving…

What do you think?

It might be a small pull…but maybe not. Depends on how sticky the caliper is but the symptoms you just posted scream “brake caliper dragging”

Keep in mind that might be a sticking caliper or a failing brake hose at that corner. Internal failure can act like a check valve and not let the caliper release. It’s a 10 year old car, FWIW, I had the first brake hose failure on my truck at 7 years.

It seems to me that if a caliper is sticking and not fully releasing that a pull would be more likely when the brakes were not being applied. Braking would even out the braking and tend to eliminate or reduce a pull.

When was the last time this car had brake work? Recently?

Any time ever I’ve experienced a sticking caliper it was immediately or shortly following brake work (requiring retracting the caliper pistons).

Your steering wheel wobbling? That’s intermittent pulling to one side. :wink: By the time the high side of the rotor rolls around again, you’ve reacted to the steering wheel wobble and pulled the car back to straight. If you were only a little bit less competent a driver you’d have your diagnosis by now. :smiley:

Just took this off my new to me accord. Seller said ball joint was bad. I moved car 10 ft in his driveway and said wheel bearing is bad too.

All right, here’s an update:

You were all right, it was the calipers. In your experience, you knew it was the calipers. My reasoning led me to wheel bearings but I’m an amateur DIY’er.

I removed the calipers to reinstall and lube the guide pins, it was difficult to remove which is consistent with stuck calipers. Then I pumped the brake pedals to push the caliper piston out, and once out it was IMPOSSIBLE to push it back in even with a lot of effort and that caliper piston push-in tool.

I’m ordering a brand new Raybestos caliper (not remanufactured) from RockAuto right now.

The replacement procedure looks like something I can do.

Thanks all.

Thanks for the update OP. Sounds like you got it under control. Best of luck.

I’m not recommended this, but if you decide to replace the rotors for some reason, be sure to clean them thoroughly with hot water/soap before installing. They are coated with an anti-rust chemical, and forgetting to clean it off is the source of quite a few problems reported here.

Thanks for the tip, I inspected the rotors with my fingers and it felt smooth just like the other side. I think the rotors and pads are fine. If not, well it’s another fun project.


I replaced the calipers today, it took a full week to get the part from RockAuto–I ordered Raybesto’s “Opti-Cal” line, it’s a brand new part rather than remanufactured (I chose it because I’ve had good results with Raybestos Advanced Tech brake pads.)

I hadn’t planned on gravity bleeding all 4 sides but I discovered that it had been leaking brake fluid from the last time I tried to diagnosis the problem. This was my first time bleeding brakes and I did it using the gravity method. It worked out better than I expected. It was fairly quick too, about 10 minutes per side of dripping. I think I replaced a lot more brake fluid than I needed to but I wasn’t concerned.

All those warnings about not letting the master cylinder go dry, not a big deal!

All in all, it took 5 hours. That’s right, 5 hours. Next time, probably 2 or 3 hours.


That’s how it works! :smile:
Good job!