In this article, we discuss the symptoms of a bad wheel bearing, how to check for a bad wheel bearing, and a brief overview of how to replace a bad wheel bearing. 

Symptoms 

If you hear noise coming from one of the wheels while driving down the road, there is a chance that the wheel bearing is going bad.

Wheel bearings can make various noises when they are failing, but one of the more common ones is an unnerving whirring/grinding noise as you accelerate. The sound may be there all the time or only when you are making a turn. 

Noise

Noise is a prevalent symptom when a wheel bearing is on its way out. Some of the sounds are growling and humming.

As you drive on the road, the growing noise will start to get louder as you drive faster. The growling noise can be heard at all speeds, whether low or high speed. This also applies to hum noise, as well.

The reason for the growling or humming noise is due to a lack of lubrication inside the wheel bearing. Like most bearing today, it is completely sealed, especially for a pressed in a ball bearing. The lube is already in the pushed in bearing and requires no maintenance.

However, over time, the lubrication starts to dry up, and eventually, the bearing will lose its lubrication, thus leading a final failing bearing.

Wobbling wheel

A wobbling wheel is one of the most apparent signs of a bad wheel bearing. As you drive, the wheel tends to wobble from all directions. This is due to the wheel bearing failing.

Other symptoms include the following:

  • Excessive play in the steering wheel.
  • Vibrating in the steering wheel while driving.
  • Abnormal tire wear.

How to check for a bad wheel bearing

how to check if wheel bearing is bad

To test for a bad wheel bearing, lift the vehicle with a floor jack and place it firmly on jack stands. Remember to lock the wheels that are not being checked with wheel chocks.

Position your hand on 12 and 6 o’clock of the wheel and rock the wheel back and forth. A bad wheel bearing will cause the tire to wobble at 12 and 6 positions.

There should be minimal movement. Also, position your hand on 9 and 3 o’clock and rock the wheel again. If there is movement, it’s possible the wheel bearing is bad. Furthermore, spin the wheel with the vehicle on a jack stand, and if the bearing is bad usually it will make some noise.

Be mindful when conducting this test.

Make sure you do not have a bad tie rod, axle, strut, ball joint. Inspect the condition of the suspension components before condemning the wheel bearing.

With the vehicle still up in the air, try to lift the wheel; if you can, the ball joint is bad. Next, position your hand on 9 and 3 o’clock and move the wheel inside and out. If you can, the inner or outer tie rod is bad.

Furthermore, inspect the strut make if none of the issues are found. The wheel bearing is mostly worn.

What is a Wheel Bearing

picture of a new wheel bearing

Wheel bearings are made up of a set of steel balls that are held in place by a race, or a set of steel rings where the balls spin around. A wheel bearing helps the wheel to turn as fast as possible with the least amount of friction.

The wheel bearing is part of the suspension system.  Wheel bearing consists of steel rings (the race) and a set of steel balls. On modern vehicles, the bearings are sealed and self-lubricated. 

The wheel bearing requires little to no maintenance; it also depends on the type of wheel bearing your vehicle may have. In the past, most wheel bearing requires maintenance every 30,000 miles or so. Today, it is designed and engineered to last longer, typically over 100,000 miles.

However, like all moving parts, the wheel bearing will start to wear and tear and cause a drivability issue. 

It is essential to understand that wheel bearings on older vehicles (specifically, those manufactured before 1997) were usually designed to be serviceable - meaning that they can be taken apart, repacked with new grease, and put back together and function often.

Modern vehicles, however, have sealed bearings that are not serviceable - meaning when they fail, they need to be replaced entirely instead of taken apart and put back together again.

How to replace a wheel bearing yourself

wheel bearing diy

It is possible to replace the wheel bearing yourself on your driveway. You will need a Wheel Bearing Removal Tool.

Also, make sure to torque all nuts and bolts according to the manufacturer's specifications. Call your dealer to get the recommended torque values.

Replacement Cost

Replacing one or more wheel bearings is expensive because of the labor involved. The wheel and brake mechanisms have to be removed to access the bearing and replace it.

Also, a bearing replacement is challenging because in some cases requires a wheel bearing press to get the bearing in and out of the wheel hub that it sits in.  

The cost will vary from each vehicle. It depends on where you take your car to get service. A typical wheel bearing labor is around $100-$500 depending on location and car you drive, and parts usually run about $20-$200.

Also, just because one bearing has failed, does not mean that you necessarily have to replace the one on the opposite side.

Bearings are made to last a long time, and depending on the type of vehicle it is, sometimes, one bearing can fail before the one on the opposite side does.  

Why do wheel bearings fail? 

wheel beraing problems symptoms

Cracked Seal

  • The seals can crack or break, allowing grease to leak out or dry out, compromising the function of the seals, which allows moisture and dirt or debris to enter. This will slowly ruin it over time and eventually require it to be repaired or replaced.

Driving Style

  • Driving through a flooded street or other areas with high water will inevitably allow moisture to enter the bearing, which will impair its function. Another driving situation that can potentially damage a wheel bearing is hitting a pothole too fast or going over a curb or some other hard surface too hard or fast.

Alignment or Tire Issues

  • Tires that are out of round (meaning that they no longer rotate in an exact circle because of a flat spot or tread that is warped) are prone to bearing damage because of how hard they hammer the road.