Wheel bearings are an essential part of your vehicle's steering and suspension system. Wheel bearings are responsible for keeping the wheels attached to the vehicle. They allow each wheel to spin freely and at the desired speed. Wheel bearings take a steady amount of abuse. They support the entire weight of your vehicle while traveling over rough roads, potholes and other rugged terrain. Wheel bearings are one of the longest lasting steering and suspension parts, but it really depends on driving habits, driving conditions and other factors.
If a wheel bearing becomes worn out or damaged, it can affect the wheel's ability to rotate smoothly, independently and securely. This can lead to unsafe driving conditions and is something that should be addressed immediately. Some wheel bearings are equipped with ABS or speed sensors. If a bearing is worn or damaged, the ABS system may not work properly, also affecting the safety of a vehicle. A worn wheel bearing can disturb the alignment of the vehicle creating additional issues with tires and other suspension parts over time.
Top Warning Signs Your Wheel Bearings Need Attention:
Grinding, squealing, or unusual noise from your wheels when you drive
The most common and often most identifiable symptom associated with a bad wheel bearing is noise coming from the wheel or tire area of the moving vehicle. If you listen closely you are likely to hear grinding, grating, or whirring that gets louder as the vehicle accelerates. It's not a common occurrence, so the noise may be misinterpreted as something else. A bearing can be worn and not make noise, and a bearing can make noise and not be worn. Unusual noise is not the only indicator of a worn wheel bearing.
Steering wheel feels loose or rattles when you drive the car
As a wheel bearing begins to wear down, it becomes loose inside the wheel hub and spindle. This wear makes your vehicle feel loose or shaky while steering. If you experience this type of steering or handling, it's definitely something to address promptly.
If a wheel bearing is locked up, the wheel will not easily move forward
When the seal on a wheel bearing is compromised, the noise you may be hearing becomes louder over time. Seals are critical components for the longevity of a bearing. If air, dust, salt, sand, etc get inside, they can contaminate the lubricants and other components. Once this occurs, it can break down the lubricants and other components causing friction. If a bearing gets really hot, cages and seals could be deformed and lead to bearing lock-up. This may feel like the parking brake has been applied and you may notice resistance when you accelerate. You'll want to have this checked out immediately.
We all recognize the importance of rotating tires to promote even wear, but keep in mind a broken wheel bearing can lead to uneven tire wear too. The looseness of the wheel, and the vibration that reverberates through the wheel, can cause your tires to wear unevenly. Ultimately meaning you may be shortening the life of your tires.
Wheel bearing replacement is not a common occurrence, so the warning signs may be challenging to identify. It may seem like the brakes are grinding or the alignment is off which is pulling the car to one side. In all of these instances, it's best to let a certified technician properly evaluate the root cause.
Early detection and properly resolving the issue can save time, money and aggravation in the long run.
What causes Wheel Bearings to go bad?
Wheel bearings can generally last for a long time; however much of this depends on driving habits, type of vehicle, driving conditions and other external factors. Driving on rugged terrain or hitting potholes and curbs can all contribute to wearing down wheel bearings. If the seals of the bearings are compromised – air, dust, salt, sand and other contaminates can get inside to corrode or damage parts. Once this occurs, it can break down the lubricants and other components causing friction. If a bearing gets really hot, cages and seals could be deformed and lead to bearing lock-up. This may feel like the parking brake has been applied. You may notice resistance in trying to accelerate.
When should I have Wheel Bearings replaced?
Wheel bearings should last for quite a while. If your car is operating fine, you may want to have the wheel bearings inspected about every 30,000 miles. Otherwise, if you notice any of the warning signs listed above, you should have your vehicle examined promptly. A certified technician can properly advise you on when or if it's time to replace your bearings.
My wheel bearings are making noise. What could be the issue?
The most common and often most identifiable symptom associated with a bad wheel bearing is noise coming from the wheel or tire area of the moving vehicle. If you listen closely you are likely to hear grinding or grating that gets louder as the vehicle accelerates. It's not a common occurrence, so the noise may be misinterpreted as something else. This could be an early signal of an issue with your wheel bearing and should not be ignored.
How can I determine which Wheel bearing is bad?
Unless you're a skilled mechanic, it may be challenging to identify which wheel bearing is bad. You may hear unusual noises, but it's difficult to pinpoint the origin. With the proper tools and equipment, some people are able to elevate the vehicle and then check each tire for looseness. If there is extra play, that may be the culprit. For most drivers, it's best to bring the vehicle to a reputable tire service center to have the vehicle properly inspected.
How long does it take to replace Wheel Bearings?
Replacing a single wheel bearing can take 90 to 120 minutes depending on the type of vehicle and complexity. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be maintained and properly sealed to complete this type of work.