How to Diagnose a Failing Chevy Malibu Wheel Bearing

Premature wheel bearing failure is one of the most common problems Chevy Malibu owners experience. This usually happens on newer Malibus with at least 44,000 miles.

If you ignore the problem too long, the wheel could fall off and cause some serious damage to your car. Who would’ve thought a small part could lead to such big problems?

A shop will charge you about $400 to diagnose and repair a faulty wheel bearing, but you can easily do it at home for a fraction of the cost. Malibu hubs and bearings (Part No. 13589507) usually go for about $200 (or $115 on our site).

Wheel bearing

Here, you can see where the wheel bearings go on a wheel. Photo credit: Hannan Ahmed

Common Causes of Wheel Bearing Failure

  • Hard impact on a pothole, large debris on the road, or a curb
  • Misaligned tires and wheels
  • Worn or broken suspension components
  • Moisture or debris coming in through broken seals
  • Normal long-term wear and tear

Symptoms to Look Out For

It’s hard to catch a failing wheel bearing early on as the symptoms don’t start cropping up until the wheel bearing damage becomes moderate to severe. We suggest testing your wheels as soon as you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Noise coming from one of the wheels
    • Metal-on-metal grinding
    • Knocking while turning
    • Snapping, crackling, or popping while making sharp turns
    • Humming, rumbling, or growling while making slight turns at a moderate speed
  • Wobbling and/or vibrating sensation on the steering wheel
  • Uneven wear on your tires

Diagnosing Wheel Bearing Failure in 3 Steps

Shops usually use fancy equipment to locate faulty wheel bearings. The good news is that there’s a much simpler method you can enlist right in your garage. The method can be summed up in 3 easy steps:

  1. Take your Malibu out for a spin. Grab a friend and have him drive the Malibu with you sitting in the passenger seat. Ask him to drive at a low speed, preferably 10-20 mph, and listen to the grinding noise carefully to pinpoint which wheel it’s coming from. You can also have him brake and see if the car pulls to the side. If it does, that side is where the failed wheel bearing is.
  2. Remove the tire and wheel. Bring your Malibu back home, lift it, and then remove the tire and wheel where the broken bearing is. If you couldn’t locate the problem area while driving, you’ll have to test each wheel until you find it.
  3. Rock the hub. With one hand on the top part and another hand on the bottom part, gently rock the hub. If the hub moves, then it’s not stable and a faulty bearing is likely the culprit.

Bonus step: Keep in mind that some of the causes of wheel bearing failure may also damage other parts. So it can’t hurt to perform a quick check on the following parts to see if they need to be replaced as well:

  • Bearing hub
  • Tie rods (Part No. 13286686)
  • Ball joints (Part No. 13333929)
  • Struts
  • Chassis components
  • Suspension components

Replacing the Wheel Bearing

We have good news for you: wheel bearings are pretty easy to replace with the right tools. There are two different types of bearings you can use: bolt-in or pressed-in. The latter is more common, but it’s a little more complicated to install.

Here's a great video tutorial on replacing a front wheel bearing. If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions, GMB.net offers a step-by-step guide here.