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Diagnosing Bad Wheel Bearing Side-to-Side Play

February 14, 2024

Here’s how to diagnose a bad wheel bearing by checking for side-to-side play, which can help isolate the issue from other suspension components like tie rods, control arms or strut mounts.

Diagnose a Bad Wheel Bearing:

  1. Inspect for Play: Check the wheel for side-to-side play by rocking it at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, and also at 12 and 6 for vertical play. This can be done with the vehicle lifted or on the ground. Sometimes when the play is very minor, checking with the vehicle on the ground is better because it transmits a more tactile click through your hands.
  2. Stabilizing the Hub by applying the brakes: Once you’ve identified some movement, firmly apply the brakes to stabilize the hub. Since the rotor assembly is attached to the hub, and the brake caliper is affixed to the strut this action isolates the hub from the rest of the suspension allowing for a focused check on the bearing. When the brake is not applied, the hub can move relative to the strut, when applied, it can’t. This means that if you apply the brakes and still feel side to side play, its very unlikely to be coming from the hub assembly.

Significance of Side-to-Side Play:

  • Early Detection: Some wheel bearings may begin to exhibit side-to-side play before other symptoms, like noise or grinding, become apparent.
  • Preventive Measure: Catching play early can prevent more serious bearing failure and the subsequent safety issues and repair costs.

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