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OK, scored a nice 08 3 hatch (S version) for daughter, its got the 2.3 liter with the 5 speed automatic. Fixed a few things, but...

Its got a growl that sounds like a wheel bearing. Did all the usual things to try and figure out which one. Eliminated tires by swapping on winter tires I have from the old Mazda 6 i'm getting rid of, no change.

Rear wheel bearings seem fine, can spin by hand, nice and quiet.

Front harder to tell - driving and turning left and right doesn't cause much change, spinning by hand on jack stands also hard to tell with shaft etc. rotating. Noise seems worse at around 35 - 45, just like a wheel bearing. No play at either wheel.

Took to shop i use from time to time. They said its fine, no noise, me and daughter think they are deaf.

Could be axle carrier bearing, how to tell without disassembling?

Seems like the only way for sure would be to remove stub axle nut and pull out from hub and spin by hand and see how it feels. I know they can be noisy, but not have play.

Anyone got any thoughts on how to figure this out before i kill a lot of time taking it all apart?

Drive it some more and see if noise gets louder or hub gets a bit loose?

Thanks, Mike
 

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Try taking it out for 10 minutes at highway speed, then park it, get out on the ground and point an infrared/non-contact temp gun at the back of the steering knuckles (near the hub bearing, of course) and compare the temps of each side. Presumably one would be significantly hotter from the friction of failing. Reasonably accurate temp guns can be had for $20-$30, and they're plenty useful to have in your assortment of tools.

Edit: corrected "spindles" to "knuckles"
 

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You ever had success doing this?
No, but knock on wood I haven't been faced with a failed wheel bearing. Years ago, with my old Mazda 626, I was concerned about an unbalanced tire taxing a wheel bearing, so I searched for a more practical way to monitor it, rather than putting the wheel in the air every time I would want to check. I think my advice was borne of other advice that said to point a non-contact thermometer at the center of the wheel; 'seems to me that targeting closer to the hub at the back of the knuckle is a bit more awkward, but possibly more reliable/accurate.
 
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