Here is a comprehensive guide that unveils the truth about wheel bearings – what it is, the types, symptoms & causes of bad wheel bearings, average lifespan, how to fix the issue, its replacement cost, and FAQs.
Did you ever notice any odd grinding or strange humming while cruising? It might be an issue with your vehicle’s wheel bearings.
Wheel bearings are a collection of steel balls or rollers encased in a metal ring (bearing race), and it is crucial for smooth wheel rotation, impacting steering, suspension, and braking. Safeguarded within a sealed casing in the axles, the wheel bearing ensures the wheels spin effortlessly, contributing to optimal vehicle performance.
Each wheel has its own bearing, and if they wear out, it can cause drag and steering problems. Regular lubrication is vital for their longevity. This article explores symptoms, causes, and replacement costs for both front and rear wheel bearings, keeping you informed about potential issues. Whether you’re curious about strange sounds or gearing up for a repair, let’s delve into the world of problematic wheel bearings.
- What is a Wheel Bearing?
- Common Types of Wheel Bearings
- Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms (For Both Front and Rear)
- What Causes Wheel Bearings To Go Bad?
- How Long Do These Wheel Bearings Last?
- How To Fix the Bad Wheel Bearings?
- How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Wheel Bearing?
- Bad Front & Rear Wheel Bearings – FAQs
What is a Wheel Bearing?
A wheel bearing is a crucial component of a vehicle, situated within the wheel hub assembly. Its primary function is to secure the wheel hub to the vehicle’s suspension, facilitating proper & smooth wheel rotation. This integral safety feature enables the wheels to turn smoothly, supporting the vehicle’s weight, maintaining alignment, and ensuring a safe and comfortable driving experience. The assembly comprises a set of small metal balls or rollers encased in a ring, commonly referred to as a bearing race. It requires periodic lubrication to minimize friction and wear.
Timely maintenance and replacement are vital for road safety and optimal vehicle performance. If wheel bearings deteriorate or fail, various issues may arise, such as unusual noises, increased friction, and compromised steering and handling.
Common Types of Wheel Bearings
In general, there are two main types of wheel bearings commonly used in vehicles. Here’s a detailed explanation:
1. Tapered Roller Bearings
It is a traditional type of wheel bearing that has been in use for several years. It consists of tapered inner and outer races, with rollers placed between them, and it is designed to handle both axial (thrust) and radial loads. It is ideal for vehicles with towing or heavy load capabilities due to their durability and ability to handle high-speed conditions.
2. Ball Bearings
It is another type of wheel bearing that is often found in smaller vehicles and lighter applications. It consists of spherical balls positioned between an inner and outer race. Known for its smooth operation and lower friction, these bearings contribute to enhanced fuel efficiency. However, it may not be as durable as tapered roller bearings and require more frequent maintenance or replacement in high-stress situations.
Verdict: However, the choice between these two types depends on several factors including the size, model, and weight of the vehicle, and your intended use. Tapered roller bearings are commonly used in trucks and larger vehicles, while ball bearings are often employed in smaller cars & vehicles prioritizing fuel efficiency. Proper maintenance and timely replacement of worn bearings are essential to ensure safe, smooth, and comfortable vehicle operation.
Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms (For Both Front and Rear)
Whether it concerns the front or rear wheel bearings of a vehicle, there are some of the common signs and symptoms that indicate apparent, signaling potential issues.
Take a look at the most common bad wheel bearing symptoms:
- Unusual Noise – One of the foremost common bad wheel bearing symptoms is its persistent noise. Typically, it begins as a subtle humming or growling sound, which may intensify, especially when driving at higher speeds. Notably, the bad wheel bearing noise changes when turning the steering wheel, reflecting the shifting load on the bearing.
- Vibration – A faulty/compromised wheel bearing causes vibrations that are transmitted via the vehicle’s structure. These vibrations manifest in the steering wheel, floorboard, or even the passenger seats. As the bearing further deteriorates, the intensity of vibrations amplifies/worsens.
- Uneven Tire Wear – Wheel bearing issues contribute to uneven tire wear. The affected wheel may exhibit a slight wobble, resulting in irregular/uneven tire tread patterns. Regularly checking tire tread patterns is crucial, and any abnormal wear suggests a potential problem/sign of a faulty wheel bearing.
- Steering Instability – A compromised front wheel bearing impacts the stability of the vehicle’s steering. Drivers may experience imprecise or loose steering, posing challenges to maintaining control, particularly at higher speeds.
- ABS Warning Light – In some modern vehicles, wheel speed sensors are integrated into the wheel bearings for the ABS (anti-lock braking system). The bad wheel bearings can trigger the ABS warning light on the dashboard due to irregular wheel speed readings.
- Heat Build-Up – Severely damaged wheel bearings generate excess heat, noticeable by a hot wheel or hub after driving (hot to touch them). This heat acceleration contributes to further bearing wear and potentially severe issues if not promptly addressed.
- Wheel Play or Wiggle – Elevating the vehicle via jack and manually moving the wheel may reveal excessive play or wiggle if the wheel bearing is compromised/worn. Such movement indicates a loss of bearing integrity, necessitating replacement.
- Reduced Fuel Efficiency – In some cases, faulty wheel bearing symptoms raise rolling resistance, resulting in diminished fuel efficiency. Notifying any sudden drop in gas mileage could be indicative of a wheel-bearing issue.
Verdict: It is imperative to inspect the wheel bearings when experiencing any of these symptoms. Prompt replacement by a qualified mechanic is advised in the presence of a failing or bad wheel bearing. Ignoring these faulty wheel bearing symptoms may lead to more extensive damage and compromised road safety.
What Causes Wheel Bearings To Go Bad?
We all know that wheel bearings are integral components of a vehicle’s suspension and wheel assembly. It can undergo various issues that compromise its functionality. Recognizing the causes of these failures is crucial for implementing preventive measures and ensuring the longevity of these critical components.
- Lack of Lubrication – Properly lubricated wheel bearings reduce friction and wear during their usage. Contaminated or insufficient lubricated bearings result in increased friction and heat buildup, which in turn, causes premature wear and eventual failure. Sometimes, water intrusion is a common culprit that washes away grease and promotes rust, further compromising lubrication.
- Excessive Heat – High temperatures expedite the regular wear and diminish the overall lifespan of wheel bearings. Factors including vehicle overloading, heavy braking, or aggressive driving generate excessive heat in the bearings. However, prolonged exposure to high temperatures causes lubricant breakdown, compromising the structural integrity of the bearings.
- Contamination – The penetration of dirt, dust, debris, and moisture into the wheel-bearing seals over time contributes to their deterioration. Here these contaminants get mixed up with the grease and allow abrasive particles to expedite the wear and tear. Also, this contamination deteriorates the bearing seals and permits even more debris to damage the bearings.
- Improper Installation – Overtightening or under-tightening of the wheel bearing during installation results in premature failure. Proper installation, following manufacturer specifications, is essential for its proper functioning. Inadequate torque or incorrect fitment results in uneven loading and excessive stress on the bearings.
- Impact Damage – Striking curbs, potholes, or other obstacles at high speeds transmits shock loads to wheel bearings. Sudden impacts cause microscopic damage to bearing surfaces and races, leading to wear and eventual failure.
- Neglected Maintenance – It is essential to have routine maintenance like checking or repacking wheel bearings with fresh grease for their longevity. However, neglecting the maintenance causes dried-out or worn-out grease that further results in increasing friction and wear on the bearings.
- Age and Mileage – Just like other mechanical components, wheel bearings have a finite lifespan. This makes them wear out naturally over time and with high mileage, due to their constant use and elements exposure. So, it is essential to perform routine inspections and replacements according to your vehicle’s manufacturer to prevent any sudden failure.
- Corrosion – Exposure to road salt, harsh weather conditions, and chemicals causes corrosion of the wheel bearings, especially in regions with harsh winters. Corrosion can weaken the bearing’s structural integrity and compromise its proper functionality.
- Manufacturing Defects – Some wheel bearings can have manufacturing defects, including inconsistencies in material quality or design flaws. These defects can make them more prone to premature failure.
Verdict: Practicing proper maintenance, driving cautiously to avoid impacts, and promptly addressing any signs or symptoms of wheel bearing issues can significantly extend the lifespan of a vehicle’s wheel bearings. Regular inspections and servicing by a certified mechanic are crucial for detecting and preventing problems before they become severe.
How Long Do These Wheel Bearings Last?
On average, the wheel bearings can last from 85,000 to 100,000 miles (137,000 to 161,000 kilometers). However, their estimated lifespan/longevity isn’t fixed and can vary significantly based on various factors, including maintenance practices, driving conditions, bearing quality, and the weight of the vehicle. Also, harsh driving conditions like towing heavy loads, or recurrent off-road use will accelerate wear and eventually shorten their lifespans.
Regular maintenance that includes periodic inspections and greasing will surely extend the lifespan of the wheel bearings. It is essential to remain vigilant, promptly address any signs of trouble, and adhere to the recommended maintenance schedule to maximize the longevity of the wheel bearings. By doing so, vehicle owners can optimize the performance and durability of these crucial components, ensuring a smoother and safer driving experience.
How To Fix the Bad Wheel Bearings?
Here is a step-by-step guide that lets you address the faulty wheel bearings:
- Diagnosis – Initially, it is essential to diagnose which wheel bearings are bad, whether in the front or rear of the vehicle.
- Vehicle Elevation – Lift the vehicle safely to provide support and facilitate the removal of the worn/bad bearings.
- Wheel and Brake Removal – It’s time to remove the wheel and brake assembly to access the wheel bearings effectively.
- Disconnection of Hub Assembly – Disconnect the wheel bearing hub assembly, ensuring the disassembly carefully.
- New Wheel Bearing Hub Installation – Install a new wheel bearing hub and reassemble the brake and wheel components by replacing the worn/faulty one.
- Reassembly of Brake and Wheel Components – Properly reassembling the brake and wheel components will ensure proper alignment and connection.
- Vehicle Lowering – Lower the vehicle and torque the wheel nuts safely as per the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Test Drive – Conduct a test drive of the vehicle to determine its proper operation and check for any unusual noises.
- Regular Maintenance – Implement a routine maintenance schedule to maintain and inspect the wheel bearings regularly. This will prevent future issues and aids in the proper functioning of the wheel bearings and vehicle.
Verdict: By following this comprehensive step-by-step guide, you can effectively fix faulty wheel bearings, ensuring the optimal performance and safety of your vehicle. However, regular maintenance and timely replacements are crucial to prevent potential complications.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Wheel Bearing?
Here’s how to determine the cost of wheel bearing replacement:
The replacement cost of a wheel bearing varies widely based on various factors, including the vehicle’s make and model, local labor rates, and type of wheel bearings (front or rear). On average, the price of wheel bearing replacement falls within the range of $100 – $400 per wheel bearing. However, the overall cost includes the price of the wheel bearing itself, which typically falls between $40 – $200, and the local labor charges.
Luxury or high-performance vehicles consist of more expensive wheel bearings, and if multiple bearings require replacement, then the cost will be higher. Also, it is essential to consider alignment and other associated expenses. Neglecting proper installation and maintenance results in premature bearing failure, and potentially leading to higher expenses in the long run.
By considering these factors, vehicle owners can gain a more accurate estimate of the expenses involved in wheel bearing replacement, ensuring a transparent understanding of the overall investment.
We hope this in-depth guide has covered all the telltale signs of trouble, the reasons behind their demise, the ins & outs of bearings, and even peeked into the wallet-friendly replacement costs. While wheel bearings won’t be the most glamorous part of the ride, they play a vital role in the safe, smooth, and comfortable driving experience. Ensure to keep your ears tuned for odd sounds and stay alert to any unusual sensations (vibrations or unexpected pull in steering).
Feel free to share your queries or experiences related to wheel-bearing issues with us in the below comments section. We will respond promptly to address your questions, ensuring you have a safe & trouble-free ride on the road.
Bad Front & Rear Wheel Bearings – FAQs
Ans: It is not advisable to continue driving with bad wheel bearings. Doing so can result in a variety of problems that compromise the handling and stability of the vehicle (wheel stoppage, or stressing vital parts like transmission, hub, or CV joint). Thus, unpredictable steering and diminished control accelerate wear on other suspension components and result in expensive repairs. Finally, neglecting the bad wheel bearings poses serious safety risks, making it vital to address this issue promptly.
Ans: Wheel bearings fail due to numerous reasons, including insufficient lubrication, exposure to excessive heat or contaminants, neglected maintenance, impacts from potholes or curbs, and natural wear and tear associated with time and mileage. In rare cases, manufacturing defects contribute to premature bearing failure. Prompt attention and regular maintenance to symptoms of bearing issues prevent failures and ensure safe driving.
Ans: The most common and often identifiable symptom associated with a bad wheel bearing is noise from the wheel or tire area of the moving vehicle. Pay attention to specific characteristics to distinguish bad wheel bearing noise. Oftentimes, you think that it is engine noise but if you listen closely, then listen out for grating or grinding sounds that get louder as the vehicle accelerates.
Typically, it is a low-pitched, rumbling, or growling sound that intensifies as the vehicle’s speed increases and may change during turns. Unlike other vehicle noises, they often come from a specific wheel and become more noticeable while shifting the vehicle’s weight. Also, the noise tends to reduce while coasting or applying the brakes, which helps to identify the wheel bearing causing the problem.
Ans: While it is possible to fix or change the wheel bearings all by yourself, this task demands essential mechanical skills, proper tools, and access to a safe workspace. However, due to its complexity, DIY wheel bearing replacement is challenging and carries safety risks. Any errors during the replacement process can result in safety risks and further cause damage to the vehicle.
Consulting a qualified mechanic is recommended for wheel bearing replacements, especially if one lacks sufficient knowledge or experience. While this may incur a labor cost, it is a crucial investment in the vehicle’s safety and performance. Professional expertise ensures that the work is done accurately and securely, preventing potential complications and promoting optimal functionality.
Ans: Regular inspections are crucial, especially if you notice symptoms of bad wheel bearings. Additionally, include wheel bearing checks in routine maintenance schedules, such as during tire rotations or brake inspections, to catch potential issues early and prevent further damage.
Ans: Yes, driving with bad wheel bearings can accelerate wear on other suspension components, leading to additional issues and potentially more costly repairs. Addressing bad wheel bearings promptly helps mitigate these secondary problems.
Ans: Yes, driving with bad wheel bearings can compromise handling and stability. It may result in unpredictable steering, diminished control, and accelerated wear on other suspension components.
Ans: Ignoring bad wheel bearings poses serious safety risks, as it can lead to unpredictable vehicle behavior, compromised handling, and potential accidents. Additionally, prolonged neglect can result in more extensive damage and increased repair costs.
Ans: Ceramic bearings are more expensive and perform better due to their material combination – a mix of ceramic and high-quality steel. They are lightweight yet have a super hard exterior but a ceramic powder interior. They last longer than steel bearings but the temperature and the presence of contamination, the speed, and the load will impact their lifespan.
Ans: Each wheel has its own wheel bearings. For instance, a car should have 4 sets total. The wheel bearings have a heavy impact on the vehicle’s handling. It would be extremely dangerous to drive with old wheel bearings, as it might cause the wheels to stop turning entirely and abruptly.
Ensure that the vehicle’s wheel bearings are entirely separate and any failure in one bearing won’t affect the others. Thus, it allows you to replace the specific bearing that failed without changing all of these wheel bearings.