A common problem that can occur when the vehicle has high mileage is that the front wheel bearing fails. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms of a bad wheel bearing, how to check a wheel bearing and how to replace it yourself.
1. What is a 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 spin 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 drivability issue.
It is important 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 normally. Modern vehicles, however, have sealed bearings that are not serviceable - meaning when they fail, they need to be replaced completely instead of taken apart and put back together again.Back to top
2. Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Bearing
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 noise may be there all the time or only when you making a turn.
Noise is a very common symptom when a wheel bearing is on its way out. Some of the noises 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 speed whether low or high speed. This also applies to humming noise as well. The reason for the growling or humming noise is due to lack of lubrication inside the wheel bearing. Like most bearing today, it is completely sealed especially for a pressed in a ball bearing. The lubrication is already in the pressed 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 an eventual failing bearing.
A wobbling wheel is one of the most obvious 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.
3. How to check for a bad wheel bearing
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. In addition, 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 are able to, the ball joint is bad. Next, position your hand on 9 and 3 o’clock and move the wheel inside and out. If you are able to, 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 like worn.Back to top
4. How to replace a wheel bearing yourself
It is possible to replace the wheel bearing yourself on your driveway. You will need 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.
5. Wheel Bearing Cost
Wheel bearings for Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and Chevrolet vehicles can be purchased for less than $100. Wheel bearings for certain cars cost as low as $20-$25 per bearing.
You can buy replacement wheel bearings for your car online.Back to top
6. Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost
Replacing one or more wheel bearings is expensive because of the labor involved. The wheel and brake mechanisms have to be removed in order to access the bearing and replace it. In addition, a bearing replacement is challenging because in some cases requires a wheel bearing press in order to get the bearing in and out of the wheel hub that it sits in.
Cost will vary from each vehicle. It depends on where you take your vehicle to get service. A typical wheel bearing labor is around $100-$500 depending on location and vehicle you drive and parts usually run about $20-$200.
In addition, 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.
7. Causes of Wheel Bearing Failures
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 through a flooded street or through 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 are 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 a true circle because of a flat spot or tread that is warped) are prone to bearing damage because of how hard they hammer the road.Back to top
8. Wheel Bearing Replacement Tip
When replacing a bad wheel bearing make sure to use high-temperature wheel bearing grease. This is very important because the wheel bearing grease provides lubrification. The grease you use needs to resist high temperature and provide water washout resistance. There are several popular wheel bearing greases such as the Mag 1 Red High-Temperature Lithium Wheel Bearing Grease and Pennzoil Premium Wheel Bearing Grease.Back to top