Wheel Bearing: yea or nay?

eb2143

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Car is a 2001 Jetta with 234,300 miles with modifications as in signature. The entire suspension has been replaced (no component older than 75,000 miles). It has had three front wheel bearing replacements (front right x2, last by me at around 210,000, front left also done at 210,000 when I was wrong about which side was failing). One of the rear bearings has been replaced because I needed to get to the dust shield, but I cannot recall which one. The CV joints and axles are original and untouched. No recent (10,000 miles) work to the car.

So, I would like help diagnosing a vibration and noise when drifting right at higher speeds. Symptoms are very unlike the two wheel bearings I have had, but with N = 2, I wanted to see if this could still fit with a wheel bearing.

The vibration is not noticeable until speeds of around 55 mph and is mild at all speeds above that. It begins immediately right-of-center and makes highway driving annoying because every rightward correction is met with a vibration through the entire car (passenger can feel it) with an associated noise that I wouldn't describe as a steady hum but more like a slightly cyclical hum (sounds like tire noise). The noise appears to be coming from the front, but is difficult to localize. If I had to guess, I would say front left.

Interestingly, the noise disappears when the turn is tightened up and load increases: I hear it drifting right for lane changes or small corrections to course and on slight highway bends to the right, but it is not present on tighter highway corners and will disappear if I decide to make my lane change quickly. I've never had a wheel bearing that did this. Again, it is not noticeable at speeds below about 55 mph.

I was convinced it was a tire issue so took my snows off a little early yesterday. I did find a nail in the inner sidewall of the FL, but the vibration and noise is unchanged with the all-seasons on.

The has been going on for about 1,500 miles and has not gotten perceptibly worse. There are no unusual wear marks present on the snow tires I took off yesterday. The car tracks straight and true, though is maybe a little more easily blown around by passing trucks or cross winds.

Wheel bearing? Tie Rods? Control arm bushings? CV joint? Ball joint? Strut mount? Motor mount? Help!
 
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Nutsnbolts

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Weare, NH
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2000 Jetta, Silver Arrow
It certainly sounds like a wheel bearing...jack up each wheel individually (in a quiet place), and give them a spin to compare the noise side-to-side. It may just be starting to fail. If so, then it could take as much as 10,000 miles to really be able to nail it down, but I find the jack trick very effective at localizing the noise.

-Rich
 

eb2143

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It certainly sounds like a wheel bearing...jack up each wheel individually (in a quiet place), and give them a spin to compare the noise side-to-side. It may just be starting to fail. If so, then it could take as much as 10,000 miles to really be able to nail it down, but I find the jack trick very effective at localizing the noise.

-Rich
Thanks Rich. You're not swayed by the disappearance of symptoms when load is increased? That was the thing that most unlike my previous wheel bearings. Also the vibration is more pronounced than the sound in my case currently; previous bearings for me started with humming sounds at low speeds, then progressed to become audible at all speeds and to include some vibration .

But you have vastly more experience with the intricacies of wheel bearing symptomatology than me! It sounds like you've seen bearings that fit this case.
 

reebo

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Mar 23, 2013
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ottawa Canada
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97 tdi jetta
from what you describe, sounds like wheel bearing. If you have a mechanics stethoscope - cheap. you have the front in the air and spin the wheels at around 60 kms . you touch the scope to the knuckle, you will hear the bad side.

I do the axle nuts really tight...
 

Corsair

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Auburn, New York
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2002 Jetta GLS TDI 5M
Sounds like a wheel bearing to me, also. Right front wheel bearing on my 04 wagon recently went bad and had similar symptom- Right turns / quick lane changes (ie. shifting weight off the bearing and / or taking weight off the particular side of the bearing race that was failing...) would silence the noise. I replaced both wheel bearings just because....
 

eb2143

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Well thanks everyone thus far. I did a basic inspection of components and checked for play at 6 and 12 and 3 and 9. Also cranked on the axle nut but couldn't move it.

I don't think anything is dangerous so will keep driving and keep these thoughts in mind. I kind of like the tie rod hypothesis. It's also interesting that my two previous wheel bearing failures started to act up in early spring.
 

jobob307

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Jan 22, 2006
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2001 jetta, 2002 jolf
Defiantly a wheel bearing. The problem is incorrect installation . Whoever is installing them is bending the seal while pressing them on, which is why they aren't lasting.
 

FlyingFin

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A4 Avant AFN
Sounds like rear wheel bearings...


Are they tapers (two piece) or rollers one piece?
 

pruzink

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Granbury, Texas
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GLS, 2004, silver
I had a noise once that sounded just like a bad wheel bearing. It ended up being a bad tire (A belt must have been failing). You have a full size spare to check this possibility out.
 

Nutsnbolts

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Weare, NH
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2000 Jetta, Silver Arrow
Eric- did you try the spin technique? Sometimes the front bearings will indeed become silent when they are placed under load, and get louder when weight is transferred to the other side...

-Rich
 

Chris

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Thanks Rich. You're not swayed by the disappearance of symptoms when load is increased? That was the thing that most unlike my previous wheel bearings.
It's possible that it's the RF wheel bearing, making noise as it pulls outward on the bearing but that when load is increased (turn is tightened) that the steering geometry and weight transfer unload it somewhat in favor of the LF wheel.
Just a thought.
 

eb2143

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Additional Observation

I haven't had a chance to dig into this or try the spin-and-listen.

It's clear from everyone's feedback this could clearly be a wheel bearing despite it not matching my previous experience with them. Thanks.

The other piece of information I haven't divulged is that the tie rods are aftermarket Febi-Bilstein. 5 years ago I slid into a curb at about 5 mph and bent the R outer tie rod end; A shop in Walla Walla WA replaced both sides (inner + outer) since the alignment was the major expense. For some reason, they didn't take the plastic covers off the outer tie rod ball joints when they installed them?!
 
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dilkie

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do check the tie rods. I almost had one come off because I ignored a "vibration when turning left at speed" issue on the highway.
 

eb2143

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The update on this was that several weeks ago I brought the car to trusted club mechanic--Chris Smith at Dupont's Service Center in Dover NH---it was the warmest day yet of the year and for the first time in months, the symptoms were hardly perceptible.

Despite not being able to experience the problem first hand, Chris gave everything a very thorough inspection. He cleared the car of any safety issue and basically said the components were in very good shape, though the inner tie rod on the right was a little dry (he injected some grease and better secured the boot). On a long shot, he recommended airing-down a bit from 42 psi to 36 psi, which I did -- I can say there was no difference with tire pressure.

However, over the last few weeks I have grown quite confident that the symptoms are modified by ambient temperature, which sure surprised me. With the weather warming, I am frequently unable to detect the issue these days. It seems that above about 60 degrees this is the case. Between 50-60 degrees it's definitely there, and the few times the temperature has dropped into the 40s, it's been annoying again. ????

So that's where I am now. No closer to identifying the cause, but a lot less nervous after Chris confirmed no major issues.
 
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matt.welham

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Apr 12, 2013
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Illora spain
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golf 1.9 tdi 110bhp
I have had similar problems with my golf for the last 6 months,changed bearings,suspension and tried lots of different things,it turned out to be the gearbox!!!
 

matt.welham

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Apr 12, 2013
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Illora spain
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golf 1.9 tdi 110bhp
Just picked up my golf after having the gearbox replaced,turbo mended,new wheel bearing,thrust bearing and clutch!!! but now the car is like new:).
As i said before i had problems for ages then i took it to this young spanish mechanic who knew straight away it was the gearbox,sounded like wheel bearings but when the car was jacked up there was no play but when i spun the wheels the gear box whined.The reason that the gearbox went is because when i first got the car i got the local garage to change the gearbox oil(which was a big mistake) as i have been informed today that on my golf you have to take a plug out higher up,i think its the sensor one.what the garage had done was to take out the one half way up which looks like the right one but isn't,so as a result of this the gearbox was only filled up about a litre or so meaning that the bearings were starved of oil over a period of time,I have learnt my lesson now in the future i will be taking it to the young mechanic who knows golfs.
 

eb2143

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New Symptom

Hello Everyone:
As expected, this problem has not gotten any better, though the primary symptom is not really any worse (vibration and play in steering just right of center, only noticeable at higher speeds and worse when the ambient temperature is below about 60F).

The new symptom: The car is quickly darting to the left when the clutch is depressed during a period of acceleration. The car is tracking straight when the engine is under load accelerating, but the action of pressing the clutch in causes the car to move left a small amount and the steering feels momentarily different, until I get load back on the engine/drivetrain. The severity of this symptom is actually very variable. It was particularly noticeable today accelerating away from a tollbooth, so I thought I'd post an update. I can recreate similar movement, sometimes, but in the opposite (R) direction, by abruptly letting off the accelerator pedal as well.

I have also noticed that if I hit a highway expansion joint or other sharp bump at highway speed, the steering seems momentarily "dazed" -- it feels like there is more play in the steering with maybe some vibration in the steering for 1-2 seconds after hitting the joint.

What do you all think...tie rod, inner? Very unlikely to be a wheel bearing IMO.
 
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POWERSTROKE

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2002 Golf
Sounds like cv or axle. When I had bearings go bad it was a groan and no vibration.
You're latest symptom sounds like tie rod. Probably have to get it up in the air and check it out. Something has play, and a lot of it. I would check it out. My friend had an escort where the tie rod totally became disconnected and the car became a clown car. Luckily he was going at a low speed.
 
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POWERSTROKE

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If it were a bearing, I would think that you would have had a terrible groan for a while leading up to the vibration. My educated guess without hearing it is that it is not a bearing. Are the tires balanced and true? Lower balljoint in my experience is more of a pop or crack, and hat goes for really worn out lca as well. Lca bushings usually make noise when they're totall shot Nd you start from a stop and slow down.
 

eb2143

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In Response to Suggestions Above

So as I pointed out above in old posts, the car was given a thorough inspection about 2000 miles ago by an excellent trusted mechanic and nothing was amiss in the least -- no play in any suspension components, no visible wear, no loose hardware.
I would think a ball joint would be less likely to have such pronounced steering symptoms, and I would also think a ball joint this bad would make some noise over rough roads, but anything is possible.
I've had two wheel bearings go and this is very unlike those. There is really no noise associated with this.
Control arm bushings would be toward the top of the list as well -- but these are only about 15,000 miles old and had no play 2,000 miles ago. There is no noise starting from a stop or slowing down. No vibration on braking.
The tie rod assemblies, on the other hand, are aftermarket Febi from about 60,000 miles ago.
I'm not sure about whether an axle could cause this, that is a question I had.
Also wondering if some problem with the strut assembly or motor mounts could be responsible. So many options.
 
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Chris

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Jan 27, 2000
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Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA
My balljoint suggestion came from a problem I experienced with a Honda CRX. it had upper and lower control arms in front and the upper ball joint was shot. When I accelerated the spindle would shift position, effectively changing the caster.
With the McPherson strut your lower balljoint isn't supporting the car so I thought it might shift like that.
Really just a guess...
 

POWERSTROKE

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I had a bad balljoint. I'm not saying its not the case, but mine made a pop sound on sharp turns, like makin a right slow speed turn. Vibration points to something rotational I would think. A motor mount is possible. I also think a tie rod is possible considering your steering inconsistencies. An unbalanced half shaft is also possible. I don't know how those are tested. (Half shaft) also, how are the cv joints? Control arms I would think from my experience are slop, especially stopping and starting.
 
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eb2143

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Well folks, I've gotten to the point where I'm going to go with my gut and take a stab with new tie rods, inner and outer, genuine Volkswagen parts from 1st VW. I had a friend drive the car and he really noticed the looseness in the steering at high speed, so I'm not imagining things or being hypersensitive.

I will bring it in with the expectation that the tie rods will be done, but will request a prior inspection to avoid throwing parts at it if there is an obvious issue now. Off chance I'll have some tie rods for sale I guess.

Will keep this updated with the solution.
 

eb2143

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Why not just replace the tie rods and ball joints and be pretty much done with hat part of it. That stuff is pretty cheap. Them go get it aligned.
Ball joints only have about 15k on them. Tie rods are cheap in the aftermarket, not so much genuine ($72 per side + shipping + boot kit). I've gotten burned on just about every aftermarket bushing and ball-joint-containing-piece I've purchased, so I'm sticking with VW now.
 
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