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Old 04-07-2019, 06:49 PM   #1
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A mechanic mystery - wheel bearing noise that isn't a wheel bearing, I'm stumped

2003 Ford Focus LX, 2.3L, 140k miles.

So let me start with the sound - directionally from the front, drivers side. Sounds for the life of me just like a wheel bearing noise - a light growling/whirring sound that varies directly proportional to speed. Faster = louder. If you heard it, you'd say "your front left wheel bearing is going out".

Drop it into neutral at speed, the sound does not change.

I'll move into what it isn't, and then give a brief history of fixes to the car below. It isn't a wheel bearing, front, right, or carrier bearing in the pass side half axle. It isn't a rotor and is not tire related - the sound stays up front left, when I move around tires.

Here's the car's history (since I have owned)

Transmission was rebuilt about 20k miles ago by reputable local tranny shop, tranny has run flawlessly since.

Changed driver and pass side wheel bearings about 18 months ago to fix what I thought was bearing noise (used cheap bearings to replace). Realized afterwards that it was the carrier bearing integral to the pass side half axle, so I swapped that out and the sound went away. Car still had a (pre-existing) wobble over 65 mph - very rarely does it get driven that fast so I ignored it.

After about a year, starting hearing bearing noise again. Pulled the right front, and the bearing was definitively bad - probably the cheap parts. So I replaced both fronts again with mid-price part (Raybestos) and sound went away. During this replacement I also replaced the outer tire rod end on the drivers side, as the nut had stripped around the bolt (no the bolt wasn't turning), so I ground the old nut/bolt off and put on new outer tire rod end.

Around that time, discovered that my "wobble" was from a bent rear rim, so I replaced the rim, wobble went mostly away. That rim had spent time up front (during tire rotations) and I thought it may have contributed to the first bearings wearing out so quickly.

A few months later (recently), "bearing" noise re-appears again - this is the current bearing noise described in my opening, definitively coming from front left. Replaced front left bearing (a third time now) with premium Timken part. Doing so made zero impact on current noise.

I am confident on the work done on the bearings. Am convinced is not a bearing noise now - again, the most recent Timken replacement did not change the sound at all. Rotors (and brakes) were also replaced about 18 months ago, so do not believe they are the issue - they look and perform well currently.

All suspension parts up front look solid, boots, bushings, rods, etc. Don't see anything that could rubbing with wheel rotation.

I am stumped on current noise. A bearing in the tranny? Am taking it to the tranny shop tomorrow to see if they have any thoughts. Anyone else have thoughts?


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Old 04-07-2019, 08:17 PM   #2
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IDK how long(time frame) you've swapped out the bearings....A bearing thats going out, gets worse over time, but then for you possible= the more you drive it the worse it gets. I really don't think its a carrier bearing....I take it you torqued the axle nut correctly? What do the c/v joints look like? If the axle true? Hows the trans fluid look like? Is it topped off?
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Old 04-08-2019, 08:23 AM   #3
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Have you inspected the hubs and knuckles for damage to be sure they are not part of the issue? Also, are you following the torquing procedure when reinstalling the axle nuts?
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Old 04-08-2019, 10:33 AM   #4
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Yes, and torqued to 223 ft/lb exactly.

Most recent wheel bearing swap was just last weekend (to the Timken). Even if somehow that bearing was bad out of the box, or I fouled the installation, I would have heard some kind of change in the sound - a different tenor or some such. But no, sound was precisely the same as before.

Tranny fluid looks clean and to the right level. Hub was swapped with the bearing as part of the kit. Knuckle looks good. Keep in mind there have been points as recently as a month ago where everything was quiet and good.

As a side note, was listening to it this morning, and it is not entirely accurate to say that the noise gets louder the faster you go. It definitely (the noise) gets FASTER, the faster the car travels, but may not actually be increasing in decibels after it starts kicking in around 25-30 mph.

CV Axle looks good and true (though it is probably next on my list to swap just as further process of elimination if the tranny guy doesn't have ideas).

Last edited by cmyer00; 04-08-2019 at 02:29 PM.
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Old 04-08-2019, 04:24 PM   #5
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Wow, I had this exact issue on my 2010 SES sedan. Had the trans rebuilt around 115k miles, had the weird whirring noise starting around 145k miles. Replaced the pass front then driver's front wheel bearings (both with OEM parts). Does yours go away briefly if you go over a decent sized lump in the road (as the weight is off the front end of the car (like mid-bounce))?

Had the car in the air a few times, it sounded like it was coming from the transmission area on the passenger-side, but definitely not internal to the transmission. Trans acted completely OK every since the rebuild too. Myself, 3 "car guys", and 2 senior Ford dealer techs couldn't figure it out.

Unfortunately I lost the car 6 months ago at 157k miles because some kid slammed into the back of me while snap-chatting. Never figured it out.

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Old 04-08-2019, 06:24 PM   #6
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I'm honestly not sure if it goes away over a lump - I'll have to try to pay attention to it. I have it at the tranny guy at the moment.

Interesting though - sounds eerily similar.
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Old 04-08-2019, 06:25 PM   #7
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You never had any trouble with it until the car was wrecked? Just went on making that noise?
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Old 04-08-2019, 07:16 PM   #8
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Yeah my symptoms exactly matched yours. Speed sensitive, no change if in neutral when moving, etc.

We pulled the traction control fuse and got it 'up to speed' with the car in the air, and the noise was still there but much quieter than when driving.

But yeah the car was flawless in the roughly 120k miles I owned it, other than the trans being rebuilt like I mentioned above (had a few burnt clutches in one of the clutch packs, RPMs would flair up 2nd-3rd gear change).

When I had the knuckles off, both axles seemed good. Never replaced the passenger side one with the carrier bearing, but there was no play and it was smooth. The sound was louder some days, but was usually there. Went away for a few days on a couple occasions. But yup it was there the last roughly 15k miles til the car got hit (just checked my service record mileage for the first attempt).

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Old 04-08-2019, 07:46 PM   #9
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The tires themselves can make a very similar noise but usually never on the front, back only. The front engine weight precludes them making noise up there. If you do not rotate then the backs go out of round due to no damping rear end weight, commonly that tire rotated up front doesn't make noise but not impossible.

Why I never rotate, I change fronts only in pairs for max driveability and the old fronts go to back to stay there then they wear completely out going out of round while doing it. Haven't changed all 4 tires at once in 30 years.

Not rotating lets the car go much longer with excellent overall driving, the backs going to front once they wear out of round then handle funky even not making noise they make on the back. Every FWD car I've ever owned does that but nobody seems to know about it at all. Too busy rotating tires to make car handle worse I guess.

The trans if ATX will past a point make a whirring noise when the 3 gear train begins to wear out of plane due to bearing preload dropping with wear, but that sounds like a gear noise. Those parts generally get passed on at rebuilds as they involve too much trouble to get set back up right. Could be a diff carrier bearing maybe.
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Old 04-09-2019, 11:50 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by amc49 View Post
Not rotating lets the car go much longer with excellent overall driving, the backs going to front once they wear out of round then handle funky even not making noise they make on the back. Every FWD car I've ever owned does that but nobody seems to know about it at all. Too busy rotating tires to make car handle worse I guess.
Says nobody who's been on a track. Everybody that I've seen on the track rotates tires if they can to get the most life out of it, especially the grassroots and amateur racers. Not rotating tires lets the alignment eat up the tires, especially the aggressive alignments with front tires.
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