How would wheel bearings feel if going bad? ***UPDATE***

I have a question…I have a '03 Toyota Camry with 4 cyl and auto trans. This has 118k miles. I’m wanting to know what symptoms bad wheel bearings will give. Why? I am Deaf and obviously can’t hear. I know there’s a way to test for bad wheel bearings by wheel but I’m wanting to know if can do it by feeling? Whenever I’m driving between 40-50 mph, I get a very fine humming feel on my steering wheel. I can sense if there is a wheel out of balance but this doesn’t feel like it…my steering wheel feels like a vibrating sander, you know? Just wondering if that means bad wheel bearings or something else? Thanks!

The feelings you describe certainly seems like a wheel bearing. However, worn-out brakes can also cause this feeling. Worn-out brakes typically feel worse when braking-however. If the feeling only seems to get worse when turning, I think you are on the correct track in assuming a bad bearing.

The best way to test for a bad bearing is to jack up the wheel from the suspected axle side and do a manual feel test. If the properly mounted wheel can be wiggled up and down and side to side, this is a sure sign the wheel bearing has failed. If the wheel bearing is simply worn, but holding, the wheel should be removed, the brake pads removed, and the axle spun by hand. A good wheel bearing with allow the axle to spin smoothly with some small amount of resistance. If you feel any roughness in the spinning motion, the wheel bearing is probably bad.

Just to let you know, I’ve worked on cars for over 20 years, and most of the problems I encounter are determined more by feel than by sound. While I can hear problems in cars as they are pulled up, determining the cause of the sound almost always comes down to feeling for the problem. If you are unable to determine the cause of the vibration yourself, please let a mechanic look it over for you. The feeling your describing appears to be coming from the wheel/hub/suspension components none the less, and a failed component in this area is very dangerous and can lead to loss of control.

Many folks misdaignose problems as tire related when they are actually bearing and CV joint related. I think Busted is right - especially about not waiting to get this looked at.

Ok thanks for the diagnosis. Can it be determined how much it would cost to replace wheel bearings in my area (Knoxville, TN)? Should it be inexpensive? Thanks.

You will just have to call several shops ask THEM how much they charge for this repair…

Failed wheel bearings do indeed make noise, can sound like snow tires at high speed…As Knuckles said, you can jack up the wheels one at a time and FEEL & LOOK for play in the wheels…

There are a couple of ways to check for a worn wheel bearing.

One is to jack the vehicle up so that tire is off the ground. Grab the tire at the 12:00 and 6:00 oclock positions and try rocking the top and bottom of the tire in and out to check for play in the bearing. If the tire rocks that bearing is worn.

Another way to check for a worn bearing is with the tire off the ground, place your hand on the strut spring. Now slowly rotate the tire. If the bearing worn, the roughness of the bearing will be transfered into the strut spring where it can be felt.


With modern units that are basically a hub/bearing assembly sometimes there is no noise or roughness involved at all.

Anytime I suspect a bad wheel bearing I jack up the suspected corner of the car and try to wiggle the wheel while watching for play in the hub area. Just the wheel moving could be a sign of a bad ball joint or tie rod end, but if it’s moving in the hub area it’s the wheel bearing. If you have an infrared thermometer check the temperature of the wheels after driving a few miles. If a wheel bearing is bad usually there will be a significant amount of heat transfer to the wheel. If you check the temperature by hand be careful, I’ve seen wheels get extremely hot from a bad wheel bearing. I actually saw the hub and wheel on my father in laws truck smoking from the heat of bad bearing one time and the lug nuts were so hot I couldn’t touch them.

Ok now…I jacked up the front of the car and did the “12:00 and 6:00” method. Both wheels are tight and snug. I did the hot wheel temperature and both wheels are cool to the touch. With that, I could have ruled out wheel bearings. Now I decided to take a look under the right front corner. And I found the CV joint boot had thrown grease from the boot all over. I think the CV joint is the culprit. Could a bad CV joint cause all this vibration and humming sound?

If the right CV joint is bad, I will go ahead and replace the left one too since it probably isn’t far behind. I just would like confirmation that a bad CV joint can cause all this? Thanks for your advice!

The right CV joint is leaking grease right now. For your information.

Yes, that would be the problem. In all likelihood, that joint needs repairing/replacing. Common repairs often fail (seems to be the consensus from this thread), and since you’re now feeling a humming, that implies there’s some damage to the joint itself. Your best bet, at this point, is to replace the axle with a new or rebuilt unit. Again, the consensus here is that rebuilt shafts don’t work all that well, nor last that long.

I’m not sure who it was (Caddyman? Keith? Someone else?) who had a link for replacement shafts that aren’t much more than rebuilds, but seem to be much more reliable. Hopefully they’ll pop on soon and post the link for you.

Good luck,

Thanks for the info!! I’m praying this will solve the issue. It got worse gradually so its pointing to the CV joints.

Any more advice would be greatly appreciated from the experts here.

An abnormality in tire tread wear can also mimic a worn wheel bearing and this is easily checked. I assume this has been done.
Another possibility could be a failed motor mount which could set up a quirky vibration. (Check the dog bone mount under the hood on the passenger side top. That’s the most common failure and easily fixed if a problem.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve had bad hearing for decades for a variety of reasons and as a mechanic I’ve had to focus more on attuning myself to the feel of a problem rather than the audible end of things.
So yes, you can determine many faults by feel instead of with the ears.

I can confirm for you that a bad CV joint can manifest itself as a 'buzz saw" vibration in the steering wheel. As can other things.

The bottom line is that you’ve searched properly for the source of the vibration, you’ve found that you need new half-shafts, so go ahead and fix that first, then see how it feels.

I’d go ahead and replace the half shaft that has the torn boot. It’s likely the CV joint is damaged from lack of grease and dirt and water getting to it.

I asked my younger brother who was in town for business to drive my car tonight to see if it was making any noise. Sure enough it was. My brother said it was roaring loudly from the front end driving from 25 MPH to highway speed. More scary now since I can’t hear that and not know if it will break on me… I think this is more definite confirmation the CV axles are about to disintergate on me so I will have them replaced this week and post back on if it was the culprit.

Roaring is usually a sign of a faulty wheel bearing, not a CV joint. If this turns out to be a wheel bearing I would suggest replacing both sides if possible

Having now heard that it’s producing a “roaring” sound, I too think it sounds like a bearing. However, you know you need half-shafts anyway, so I’d do those first and see how it feels.

Roaring is usually a sign of a bad wheel bearing and as it get worse will usually turn into a popping or grinding noise, at this point they’re usually on their last few miles.