Wheels or tires or something else?

Hi everyone,

I recently bought a 2009 Hyundai Elantra Touring. It only has 53,000 miles but I notice a rumbling sound that corresponds to the wheels moving at least about 15 - 20 mph. It’s FWD and the front two tires were replaced recently by the previous owner. The mechanic who checked it out before I bought it thought that it was the rear bearings, but when he looked at the tires, he was pretty sure the sound was coming from the tires. I don’t mind the noise, but if it’s not the tires, it’s something I should fix. I took it to a shop today and the mechanic today and he drove around with me and though the sound was coming from the front of the car and thought it was either something with the rotors or the bearings. I’ve gotten the speed upwards of 70mph on the highway and I wouldn’t say the sound gets any worse when you do that. (I mean you can still hear it, but for instance I didn’t even notice it on my first test drive, and the radio mostly drowns it out.) Also given that these two mechanics can’t seem to tell whether the sound is from the front or the back, I’m not sure that rotating the tires and listening is going to be a helpful as a lay person.

It’s not a “clunk da clunk” sound, rather it’s like a vacuum cleaner hum.

Also maybe relevant, the rotors and pads on the rear wheels need to be replaced pretty soon. This all seems like bizarre wear to me, but the price on the car was good…

Anyway, the new mechanic is gonna look at all four tires next week and check the bearings (all for free, if you’ll believe it) so hopefully I’ll have answers soon. My questions are: 1) Should I be fine to drive around this week and weekend? I might drive 20 miles out of town to go hiking - given that I wouldn’t have noticed this sound without someone pointing it out, I’m not too worried. But the internet says things like “your wheel will fly off! don’t drive until you get it to a shop.” 2) How easily can a mechanic actually look at the car and tell whether it’s the brakes, wheels, tires, etc. I’m the type of person who’s comfortable paying for repairs that will give me peace of mind, but I’d rather not shell out money for “maybe it’s this”-style repairs.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Without a recording of the sound the only thing you’ll get over the internet is wild guesses.

Bearings usually get louder before they go.

The only vacuum cleaner sound I’ve ever heard was coming from a failing alternator.

Without hearing the sound, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s safe to drive around this weekend. Perhaps a rental would be in order if you HAVE to drive this weekend. Just to err on the side of safety.

Wheels and tires can be checked. If your mechanic has a machine that’ll do “road force” balancing they can be checked very well. The machine simulates the road by pressing a spinning drum against the tire as it spins the wheel… Even without a machine, the wheels can be checked for roundness (hit any potholes lately?) and bent spots, and the tire wear can be evaluated for anomalies. That might even lead to checking the alignment (hint).

Bearings can also be checked. On a lift, the wheels can be spun and be checked for play in all axis (axises? I ain’t too good wit da English sometimes).

Let us know how you make out. We do care.

Thanks for the help - I really appreciate it. I drove it home today and on the brief stretch of highway the sound almost went away completely - but then when I got under 40mph it came back. It’s really like a strong rumble - like what your tires sound like in some parking garages. The car is probably shaking a bit too, which maybe points to tires or alignment? I’ll try to minimize driving it, in any case.

It’s a bit annoying - I just got a car this week, after a mechanic giving it the go ahead that the noise wasn’t anything to worry about. But now that I’m driving it around town, I’m noticing it more and more and hoping it’s not something serious. I guess we’ll see what this other mechanic says next week.

If it sounds like it is coming from the front, can you temporarily swap the front and rear tires? If so, and the noise moves to the rear, you’ll know it has something to do with the tires, and not the brakes. Rumbling sounds can occur if a tire is out of round or has a flat spot for example. Or is not mounted correctly.

Yea, there’s a power steering recall (computer program issue, i think) that I’ll take it to the Hyundai shop this week - maybe I can ask them to rotate the tires and see if this makes any difference.

Has the tread on the tires been inspected to see if there are any odd wear patterns? Any feather edging and things of that nature can cause tire hum noises. In some cases, a particular type of tire may be inherently noisy due to the tread design or compound that it’s made of.

The front tires were replaced recently so I could bring up another theory. What if the car has suffered a curb strike which ate up the front tires due to an alignment issue. It would not take long for new tires to start developing a treadwear oddity and which could then cause noise.

You might turn the wheels one way and inspect the tread on one tire for oddities and do the same for the other side. Sometimes those oddities can be easily seen or felt by brushing the hand over the tread.


Note the feathering example in that link. It’s a bit young for wheel bearings but that’s also a possibility if the car was driven in deep water due to heavy rain. Maybe some of that will help. Or not… :smile:

Hey everyone,

The mechanic took the car in today and determined that the bearings were fine, but that the wear on the rear tires was causing the sound. He said the tires were cupped, and suggested rotating them to the front, but then later changed his mind because he thought it made more sense to keep the good tires up there. (Seems sensible) He said if the sound annoys me, I can put new tires on, but in the meantime I can just hope the tread wears a bit better and the sound isn’t as bad.

Thanks for all your help - I hope this thread can help others too.

Thanks for the update OP. Sounds like you now have this issue under control. Next time your car is at the shop, ask them to check the rear suspension components, may have a bad bushing or one of the struts may be near the wear limit. Best of luck.

If your tires are cupped, than you need a good look at the suspension. Bushings, struts, and other items should be checked. The wheels should be spun to find out if they’re dented or out of balance as well. Have all four corners checked out.

Cupped tread will NOT correct itself. And unless the cause is corrected, any new pair you put on will cup too. Find the cause(s) of the cupping and get that corrected first. Then get new tires.

What this mechanic is telling you is not giving me a warm cozy feeling. Try a new shop, preferably a reputable independently owned and operated shop that’s been in the business for some years.

I agree with Mountainbike, this mechanic may not be as informed about tires and suspension as he should. If the tires are cupped they will not cure themselves.

It’s very doubtful that your car, at 53k miles has worn out suspension components. Noisy tires can happen from lack of timely rotation as per the specified schedule in the owner’s manual. You can easily check the tires yourself by raising a tire off of the pavement and then closely inspecting it with your fingers and eyes especially at the outer tread rows. Flat spots that make noise will be obvious.

Tire or failed bearing noise can be difficult to identify regarding front or rear location. Oddly worn tire tread noise has consistently gone away for me with increasing speed. Failed wheel bearings have made three types of noise for me. A (1) ker-chunk every time the wheel turned when a rear drive front wheel bearing roller was crushed, (2) a click when a rear ball bearing outer race developed a pit (overloaded a small wagon with too much firewood) and the (3) rrr-RRR-rrr-RRR noise that is similar to an oddly worn tire that has not been rotated in a timely manner. I had that one repaired while on a trip so I don’t know what happened to the bearing but it was likely brought on by a 22 year old me from too much fast cornering on bumpy curves.

A personal observation . . .

If new tires are installed, but the guy does a lousy job balancing the rims, the tires will wear very badly. Sometimes they even get cupped and/or scallopped

For what it’s worth, I’ve managed to “correct” these situations

Scenario . . .
My colleague installs new tires, and does a lousy job balancing the rims
Truck comes in a few thousand miles later for regularly scheduled service, with cupped tires, and I work on it
I balance the rims CORRECTLY and rotate the tires
The truck comes back a few thousand miles later for regularly scheduled service, and all the tires are no longer cupped. In fact, the tread is worn perfectly

TSM is correct, find out why the tires are cupped before you go any further.

There is nothing unusual about tire cupping on the rear of small, front drive, cars. This is even more common if the tires have not been rotated.

Oldtimer, I don’t think I agree, as for many years (about 25) I drove Jetta’s, and never had any cupping problem that I knew of, and I rarely rotated tires. The one time I did have a cupping problem, on a larger car (Passat), it was due to a rear alignment issue (or that is what I was told).

fwiw, my mechanic came highly recommended from friends. Next time I’m in, I can ask to look at the suspension more closely and check the alignment, but he’s the 2nd mechanic to look at the car and tell me “It’s just the tires, I wouldn’t worry about it as long as the noise doesn’t annoy you.”