Imagine driving on the freeway when suddenly the left front tire and wheel break off, sending your out-of-control vehicle skidding across several lanes of 65 mph traffic. This is reality, and this can happen if you fail to notice the signs the wheel bearings are deteriorating and need immediate repairs. This is not an exaggeration.
What are Wheel Bearings?
Wheel bearings are important components of a vehicle’s braking, steering, and suspension systems. The one-piece hub assembly, located between the drive axle and the brake disc or drums, incorporates the hub, wheel bearings, ABS wheel speed sensor, and mounting flange.
It’s the component that allows a wheel to turn.
The bearings are tightly packed in a grease-filled, waterproof, sealed metal ring. This housing, called a race, is located inside the hub, and each wheel has one. Wheel bearings have a Herculean responsibility: They are engineered to support the vehicle’s entire weight.
What’s the Life of a Wheel Bearing?
Wheel bearings are theoretically engineered to last the life of the vehicle. There is no maintenance schedule for replacing wheel bearings, and there is no constant source of lubrication. However, they can be damaged. They are especially vulnerable if you hit a pothole, tall curb, or a speed bump at a brisk speed.
If water, mud, road salt, or sand get past the seal and touch the bearings, it will contaminate the grease, causing the bearings to wear down, eventually leading to fail prematurely. Also, ignoring worn-out wheel bearings can damage the vehicle’s constant velocity joint (CV joint) or automatic transmission. The outer CV joint attaches the driveshaft to the wheels, and the inner CV joint connects to the transmission. Find a reputable service technician for advice.
Custom Wheel and Tire Caution
Another thing, if you are planning to customize your vehicle, be careful what you do. The original equipment bearings on your vehicle are engineered for specific loads. Those bigger and wider tires look cool, so do tires with lower tread walls, but they place higher loads on the wheel bearings, possibly resulting in accelerated wear. Stick with an automaker’s specifications when it comes to replacements.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Wheel Bearing?
Finally, the cost to replace one front-wheel hub assembly varies widely. Among the variables are the vehicle brand and model, the garage’s labor rate, and the cost for parts. The average out-the-door price without taxes is about $350; however, luxury brands are more expensive to repair. If bearings go bad at one wheel, it is unnecessary to replace the bearings at the other wheel on the same axle. Don’t let someone talk you into work that is not needed. Get the price estimate for wheel bearing replacement for your make and model of car.
1. Humming Noise
The most easily identifiable and common symptom of bad wheel bearings is audible. But it can be confusing. For example, the source of a humming noise can be linked to other issues, such as tires and the CV joint.
2. Squealing, Growling
The typical sounds of worn-out wheel bearings are squealing and/or growling. The sound intensifies as vehicle speed increases. Try to pinpoint the location of the noise because it will identify the location of the worn-out wheel bearings.
3. Clicking Sound
If you hear a clicking sound that increases in frequency as the vehicle accelerates, there could be a problem with the wheel hub assembly.
4. Wheel Wobble
Technicians can check for wheel wobble by putting the vehicle on a lift and manually checking for wheel movement. Normally, it would be impossible to shake the wheel and tire. However, if it moves, the hub assembly needs immediate attention. The tire/wheel can literally come off the vehicle at any time, at any speed, if the issue is not repaired.
5. ABS Failure
The anti-lock warning light may illuminate. If the ring, tire, and wheel wobble, the wheel’s speed sensor are no longer operating properly, and the ABS may operate sporadically or not at all. See a professional for a repair.
6. Uneven Tire Wear
If one tire is wearing out faster than the others, it could be a sign that the wheel bearings are worn. However, it also could be a sign the tire is improperly inflated (too much air pressure or not enough), the tires are improperly aligned, or the vehicle has damaged or worn suspension components.
7. Vehicle Pulls to One Side
Worn bearings may cause a vehicle to pull to the left or right when brakes are applied. The direction the vehicle pulls signals where the worn bearings are located, left or right side of the vehicle. However, this also can be a signal of brake rotor or brake caliper problems.
8. Steering Wheel Vibration
Bad wheel bearings can cause the steering wheel to vibrate. The intensity increases as the vehicle speed increases and the vehicle turns to the left or right. However, the vibration could be linked to an out-of-round tire (there could be a flat spot on the tire) or is no longer balanced. Another cause is damaged or worn suspension components.
9. Steering Feels Loose
If there is excessive play in the steering, meaning the steering seems less responsive less precise than normal, worn bearings could be causing the problem. Also, this could be a sign the vehicle needs a wheel alignment. If you have any of the signs listed above, visit a dealer service or auto repair shop.
When you’re ready, use Kelley Blue Book to find a repair shop that will fix your wheel bearings.