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New noise, wheel bearing?

Decided to visit some of the National Parks again; Big Bend, Petrified Forest, Joshua Tree, Hurst Castle, Yosemite, Zion, Monument Valley, 4 corners and Mesa Verde. Upon leaving Mesa Verde, as I got above 40 MPH, it sounded like an airplane propeller from the front wheel. Another description would be a low tire, a winter tire on dry pavement, or the old Firestone FR680 tires that came on the car.

It is coming from the right front tire and the pitch is totally dependent on speed. Changing gears, coasting, accelerating or braking have no affect. Max volume is around 60 mph, the the pitch continues to rise with more speed even though the volume decreases. It does not sound like the growling sound I usually associate with a wheel bearing but it does get louder when turning to the left and quieter when turning to the right. The brakes now shake the steering wheel violently above 50 mph with a medium to hard application. No shaking below 50 mph or very light braking above 50. Also no shudder in the brake pedal, it is strictly in the steering wheel.

I’m in Elk City OK for the night. The sound has not gotten much worse since it started, if any worse. There is no play in the wheel when I shake it and it is not getting any hotter than the left wheel near the hub. I think it is the wheel bearing but I’m open to suggestions. I’ll finish the trip tomorrow, about 600 or so more miles, probably won’t get to look at it till Wed or Fri.

BTW, at 70 mph, road noise from rough surfaces or concrete pavement can drown out the sound but it is usually audible at 60 no matter the surface, even if only barely. It is most noticeable on a smooth, blacktop surface. Also there is a squeaking sound of metal scratching metal at very low speeds, <5 mph, dependent on speed and is not continuous. The repetition rate of the squeak is dependent on speed only but the frequency of the squeak doesn’t seem to change. I do not know if they are related but the squeak started somewhere in California and seems to only happen when slowing down from high speeds.

For those who don’t know me, 2002 Saturn SL, 5 speed, 274k miles.

It sounds like your front brake rotors may be warped

But it also sounds like you have a bad RF bearing

if it were my car, the brakes would take priority, for the time being

I think I’ve heard few descriptions that say “wheel bearing” like that one does. That includes the braking vibration IMO.

Allow me to suggest a couple of “quick tests”.
First, jack up the suspect front wheel, with the tranny in neutral, the parking brakes applied, and the rear wheels well chocked. Spin the suspect wheel by hand while a friend slowly applies the brakes. If your rotors are warped, you’ll feel the variations in friction. Listen for grinding noises while you do this, and try wobbling the wheel to check for looseness. Either would be a symptom of a bad bearing.
If you’ve found nothing, try removing the wheel and turning the hub slowly by hand (no brake application). Sometimes you can feel roughness that’s attenuated by the weight of the wheel and tire.

Post the results here. We do care.

The pitch change when you rock it left and right is the signature of a bad wheel bearing.

Made it home. Mowing the lawn will take priority to the car. It isn’t going anywhere. I did wobble the wheel a few times on the ground and there wasn’t any detectable play.

It was kind of odd though, no abnormal noises until I came up to a stop sign, Then as I accelerated up through 50, it started. My experience is that wheel bearing noise comes on kind of gradually, but possibly the cage got sprung or one ball just disintegrated.

Loosened the axle nuts on both sides, jacked it up and removed the wheels and calipers. Yep, its the wheel bearing. It doesn’t sound too bad right now but since I am selling it, and the car is in position, I’ll go ahead and replace both front wheel bearings, even though only the right side is making any noise. Rockauto here I come.

R&R wheel bearings and hubs. No more propeller noise, no more shaking of the steering wheel when using brakes above 50 mph (tested up to 75 mph).

Nice work
Sincere best.
By the way, if I’d noticed it was you I wouldn’t have bothered to go into such detail in such a “layman’s terms” way. But, alas, I did not notice… old age is catching up with me.