What are Wheel Bearings? | What are the symptoms of bad Wheel Bearings?

The braking, steering, and suspension system of a vehicle consist of several wheel bearings. The wheel bearings are most commonly used in the front and rear wheels of the vehicle. Every wheel contains multiple bearings. Therefore, it is possible that a wheel bearing can get faulty with time while the other bearings maintain their good condition. Here, you individually must replace the damaged bearing only and do not need to replace all other wheel bearings. This article mainly explains the symptoms and causes of bad wheel bearings. 

What Are Wheel Bearings?

The wheel bearings are small steel balls that are bonded together with the help of metallic rings. Due to the unique design of the wheel bearing, the wheels rotate smoothly with minimum friction.

Every wheel has a solid, hollow metallic piece in its center, known as the “hub.” The bearings are installed tightly in the hubs and run on metal axles. This reduces friction when the wheel spins. 

Wheel Bearings

One of the main differences between wheel bearings and engine bearings is, unlike engine bearings, wheel bearings do not need any continuous source of lubrication. The only way to protect the wheel bearings from dust, water, or debris is to keep them tight.

Wheel bearings are the supporting point of a vehicle. Your vehicle’s weight lies on the bearings; that’s why bearings frequently bear a lot of wear and tear. Therefore, they may damage easily.

Symptoms of Wheel Bearings

As the wheel bearing goes bad or damaged, they produce one of the below-given symptoms:

  1. Grinding sound
  2. Uneven tire wear
  3. Loose steering wheel
  4. One side vehicle pull
  5. Steering wheel vibration
  6. Collapsed ABS
  7. Wheel wobble

1) Grinding Sound

The grinding noise from your car’s wheel is one of the most common symptoms of bad wheel bearings. This sound is due to heat produced by the absence of lubricant inside the bearing. You may feel this sound like the sound of two pieces of metals grinding together.

symptoms of bad wheel bearings

Commonly, this sound comes only from the wheel with a damaged bearing. You can clearly notice the grinding sound while turning or shifting your car.

2) Uneven Tire Wear

Usually, the wheel bearings get damaged or worn out in an uneven way. As the wheel bearing wears out, it may also lead to wear out of the wheel tire. This will lead the corresponding tire to have abnormal tire wear compared to the others.

Uneven Tire Wear

Normally, all the tires of your vehicle wear out near each other, but in case of bad wheel bearing, you may face uneven tire wearing out. So always focus on other symptoms (such as unbalanced tires and bad wheel alignment) to confirm the cause of tire wear.

3) Loose Steering Wheel

The steering wheel of the car sometimes may feel loose or less responsive than normal. This loose steering can be due to bad wheel bearings. More, this can also be the reason for bad wheel alignment. So, if you observe this symptom, please visit your nearest service center.

Loose Steering Wheel

The damaged suspension system may also be the cause of a loose or vibrating steering wheel.

4) One Side Vehicle Pull

When the bearing gets old, the smooth internal layer of the bearing becomes rough and results in vibrations during the movement of the wheel. Because of this vibration, your car may be pulled towards one side of the damaged bearing.

One Side vehicle pull

With the application of the brakes, you will observe a one-sided pull in your car. This one-sided pull is a clear symptom of damaged brake calipers or rotors. But still, the main reason for the whole scenario can be the bad wheel bearings.

5) Steering Wheel Vibration

Sometimes, you will notice a vibration in the steering wheel. That may be due to bad wheel bearings. The intensity of this vibration can increase with the high speed or turning your car at any position.

Steering Wheel Vibration due to bad wheel bearings

But the vibration on the steering wheel can be due to several reasons like tire balancing issues, round tire, or a damaged suspension system of your car.

6) Collapsed ABS

With any issue in the ring or the wheel, the speed sensor of the wheel can get faulty. As a result, the anti-lock system light may shine. After all this, the ABS of your car will not work properly. For a good fix, go to a good service center.

ABS

7) Wheel Wobble

Wheel wobble can be checked by lifting the vehicle and observing the wheel’s movement. If you feel any instability or vibrations in the wheel, you must check the hub assembly immediately. If you prolong this issue, the tire or the wheel will come off and create dangerous situations with huge consequences.

Wheel Wobble due to bad wheel bearings

Causes of Wheel Bearing Malfunction

The following are the major causes of bad wheel bearings:

  1. Wheel Bearing Quality
  2. Driving Conditions
  3. Inadequate Installation
  4. Imbalanced Tires
  5. Uneven Roads
  6. Accidents

1) Wheel Bearing Quality

The life of a wheel bearing depends on its quality. Wheel bearings with high quality will last longer than that regular bearings. The complex design of the bearings makes them a tricky product created with complex production procedures.

Similarly, low-quality steel is less resistant to heat and will be worn out quickly over time. Low quality can also affect the hardness and softness of the metal.

2) Driving Conditions

Regular driving through uneven surfaces like road salt, water, or mud can cause the mall functioning of the wheel bearing. These contaminants can sometimes enter the bearing and mix with grease or lubricants. These polluted lubricants will hence damage the bearings.

3) Inadequate Installation

Wheel end bearings can damage due to the use of the wrong tools or improper use of the right tools. Sometimes, old nuts, seals, and bolts can be the reason for bad wheel bearings and may increase the chances of accidents in the future.

4) Imbalanced Tires

The imbalanced tires are one of the main causes of bad wheel bearings. Balancing the imbalanced tires of a car is a crucial part for any car professional.

The ability of a bearing to bear the weight may vary from bearing to bearing. That is why some bearings can long last than others. The damaged bearings can cause imbalanced tires, and you need a good mechanic to diagnose and fix this issue.

5) Uneven Roads

Frequently driving on uneven and rough roads increases the chances of bearing damage. With time, minor damage to wheel bearing will enhance that damage and fails to eliminate friction for wheels. If that’s the case, it’s time to visit the nearest repair shop.

6) Accidents

Accidents are one of the major factors that can cause intense and sudden damage to any part of your car. Due to accidents, even minor hits can cause dents in bearings and damage them. As a result, they cannot work properly and can rectify the damage with time. Some other factors like speed bumps, potholes, and hitting curbs can also cause damage to the wheel bearings of your car.

Types of Wheel Bearings

Following are the major types of wheel bearings:

1) Ball Bearing

Ball bearing is a rolling element in which smooth spherical metallic balls are present between the two metallic races. Ball bearings are commonly used in electric motors, skateboards, or some domestic machinery. Due to their unique spiral shape, small balls can move in any direction and endure both radial and thrust loads.

Ball bearing

Read More: Different types of Ball Bearings

2) Roller Bearing

Roller bearings have rollers or bearings installed in between two metallic rings where these rollers and needles are free to move in any direction. The roller bearing is also known as the needle bearing or roller basket bearing.

Roller Bearing

These types of wheel bearings have high robustness and reliability. These wheel bearings are mostly used in transport equipment coasters. They have steel rollers that are present in a steel cage.

3) Plain Bore Bearing

Plain bore bearing is a simple linear bearing in which two flat surfaces are designed to move. Plain bores are simple, maintenance-free, cost-effective, and corrosion-resistant in contrast to other bearings. They are designed to use at a slow speed in the device that involves fewer movements. Plain bore used in light duty and transport equipment coasters.

Plain Bore Bearing

4) Tapered Roller Bearings

These types of wheel bearings consist of two metallic rings. Some tapered rollers are installed in between these rings. Tapered rollers bearings are the type of bearings that are used in various wheels, cars, and trucks.

Tapered Roller Bearings

The unique shape of the cone makes it able to reduce the friction to its maximum even at the highest thrust load. With the turning of the car, the angle of the wheel shifts to different degrees. During this situation, the tapered roller bearings help in protecting various parts from grinding.

Read More: Different types of Pillow Block Bearings

5) Precision Ball Bearings

Precision ball bearings are one of the important and best ball bearings that are designed to use at high pressure with maximum performance. These perfect ball bearings are used in high-speed racing cars and airplanes. Precision ball bearings are constructed to endure extreme radial and thrust loads.

Precision Ball Bearings

Read More: Different types of Bearings

What is the average Cost to Replace Front, Rear, and Hub Wheel Bearings?

Replacement Cost of Front Wheel Bearings

The average cost for the replacement of only a single front wheel bearing will be from $120 to $230. The cost of the parts will be between $70 and $110, and the labor cost will be $50 to $90.

The bearing replacement cost of both front wheels can cost you from $250 to $500. The cost of front wheels bearings can cost you about $120 to $200.

Usually, the labor cost for the replacement of front wheel bearings is a little high, from $140 to $280. The cost of these bearings varies with the model of your car and locality.

Replacement Cost of Rear Wheel Bearings

Replacement costs for the one rear wheel bearing will be from $120 to $240. Parts will cost around $50 to $90, and $70 to $140 will be its labor cost.

The replacement cost of bearings for the rear wheels is cheaper than front wheels. The average cost for the whole replacement process will be from $240 to $460. The cost of the parts only will be $100 to $180, and the labor cost will vary from $140 to $280.

FAQ Section

What is the average lifespan of wheel bearing?

An average wheel bearing can drive a maximum of 136,000 to 160,000 km. Still, this lifespan depends on your vehicle’s quality and driving conditions. If your routine drive is through rough roads, the bearings life can be shorter, and in the case of smooth roads, this lifespan may increase.

How to tell if wheel bearings are bad?

We have discussed several symptoms that can help you in detecting bad wheel bearings. Grinding sounds, uneven tire wear, wheel wobble, collapsed ABS, and Pulling of the vehicle at one side are the most common symptoms of bad wheel bearings.

What does a bad wheel bearing sound like?

Grinding noise from your wheel is the most common sound you will hear if your car has bad wheel bearings. More, if the wheels of your vehicle are making clicking, squeaking, or humming sounds, they can also be a sign of bad wheel bearings.

Can you drive a car with wheel bearing issues?

No. It can, in fact, be very dangerous to drive if one of your bearings is worn out, especially since it may cause the wheel to stop while driving. Additionally, a damaged wheel bearing puts a lot of stress on the hub, the CV joint, and the transmission itself.

What are the causes of bad wheel bearings?

Following are the major causes of bad wheel bearings:

  1. Vehicle accidents
  2. Wheel bearing quality
  3. Driving conditions
  4. Inadequate installation
  5. Imbalanced tires
  6. Uneven roads
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