What Is A Wheel Bearing?
Any vehicle that has wheels will have wheel bearings, such as bicycles, aeroplanes and even boats. They consist of a group of steel balls attached to a metal ring, which is located on a metal axle shaft. The axle is positioned inside the wheel hub, which is the mounting assembly for the wheel of the vehicle and this hub also houses the lugs nuts that are used to bolt the tyre to the wheel. When the wheels of your vehicle turn, the bearings help to speed up their rotation and reduce the amount of friction, which in turn, creates a smooth experience for the driver.
Wheel bearings are designed to support the front and back axle and the weight of your car. They are made out of hard steel, created using a high-precision technique that is designed to withstand all of the regular impacts that the wheels and tyres face, as your vehicle is driven on the road. The bearings consist of rolling parts, such as ball bearings or roller bearings. These roll around on the hardened steel bearing races.
When the engine produces power, the power gets converted in the transmission, which then helps transfer power to the wheels of the car. The drive shafts go through the hub assembly on a vehicle and then rotate them. For the shafts to remain in place, a wheel bearing must be secured around them. Therefore, when the car is put in drive or reverse, the wheel bearings have to do their job. They also prevent your tyres from building up too much heat.
How Long Should Wheel Bearings Last?
Depending on what type of wheel bearings you have, they can last anywhere between 70,000 to 150,000 miles. You could have unsealed bearings, which can be taken out to be cleaned and re-greased. Or you could have sealed ones, which you will not be able to lubricate and would instead require a professional to do this for you. Similar to how engine oil prevents the engine from failing, by keeping the components lubricated, your bearings need to be greased properly or they could become damaged.
Wheel bearings are designed to last a very long time and they are made out of high-quality hardened steel. However, they are still susceptible to wear and tear, losing lubricity and they may become loose due to wear inside the hub assembly. If your wheel bearings break, your tyres and wheels could separate from your vehicle, which would lead to a very dangerous situation.
Most vehicles are equipped with a maintenance-free wheel bearing which is designed to last a lifetime of the vehicle, but even these are still prone to wear and tear eventually, and will still need to be serviced to make sure that they are in working order.
Worn/Faulty Wheel Bearing Symptoms
Luckily, there are obvious symptoms that occur when your wheel bearings may be faulty or need some attention. It’s important that you always look for these signs because having faulty or damaged wheel bearings could cause a lot of damage to your wheel system, and also create a lot of issues whilst driving on the road.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that as soon as you start to recognise that you have worn wheel bearings, it should be addressed immediately and the bearings should be replaced by a professional mechanic.
Abnormal Tyre Wear: You would be lucky if all of your wheel bearings wear out at the same rate, however, we don’t live in a perfect world. Therefore, if one is worn, it’s likely that the same tyre will also wear out quicker compared to the others. For example, if the right tyre on your vehicle is showing signs of wear more than the left, this may mean that there is a problem with the right wheel bearing.
However, if there is an issue with one of your bearings, then depending on the condition of the others on the same axle, your mechanic may recommend that you replace them all at the same time. However, some dishonest mechanics may claim that you need them all replaced when you don’t really need to, which is why you need to make sure you take your vehicle to someone trustworthy.
In regard to abnormal tyre wear, this symptom can be caused by quite a few problems, such as worn shocks and struts, unbalanced tyres or even misaligned wheels. Therefore, it’s important to consult a professional before making any assumptions.
Grinding Or Roaring Noises From Your Wheels: If you start to hear a loud roaring or grinding sound coming from the tyre area, then you may be dealing with bad bearings. The sound can resemble metal moving against metal and it’s usually due to the loss of lubrication in the bearing, which is caused by too much heat building up in it.
You may hear it from one side only, rather than both at the same time. It is more common that it will only be coming from one wheel, and you will probably also notice some tyre wear on the same side as where the noise is coming from. When your bearings do start to lose efficiency, it happens very quickly, which is why it’s important to keep an eye out for any bad wheel bearing sounds.
Snapping, clicking or popping sounds coming from the wheels of your vehicle may also indicate there is an issue with your bearings. Whilst it is often an indicator of a CV joint issue, it could also be due to inadequate bearing clamping. You might hear this sound slightly increased when you make sharp turns around corners.
Steering Wheel Vibration: Another one of the most common symptoms of bearing wear could be a vibration coming from your steering wheel. This is because there will be a lack of control/stability and this symptom usually shows up when the vehicle is driving at slow speeds and will get worse as the vehicle accelerates.
Excessive Play In The Wheels: Generally, you would have to take your car to a mechanic to detect this symptom. If you can jack your car up or it is on a hydraulic lift, you can try to move the wheel from one side, and if it wobbles or moves from side to side, then this could be a sign of a bad wheel bearing. If the wheel bearings are adequate, it will not wobble.
Clutch/Neutral Gear Issue: You may notice that your vehicle has a difficult time rolling when the clutch is down and you are in neutral gear. If the wheel bearings are worn out it will create friction in your wheel bearing system.
Your Vehicle Pulling To One Side: This symptom, again, can be caused by other problems, such as misaligned wheels, a stuck brake calliper or worn suspension components. However, a bad wheel bearing can also be the culprit.
This component is meant to have a smooth surface, to allow the wheel hub assembly to rotate smoothly and in turn, the wheels to turn fluidly. When a wheel bearing begins to wear out, its smooth surface may become rough due to wear and tear and this can trigger the grinding noise from that specific tyre and vibration from the steering wheel. Also, the vehicle may begin to pull to the side. For example, if your left wheel bearing is damaged, then you may feel your vehicle veering to the left.
If you’ve been hearing strange noises from one of your wheels and then this occurs, you will need to cease driving your vehicle in this condition and take it to a garage, where the issue can be diagnosed and the bad bearing can be replaced if necessary.
What Causes Wheel Bearings To Become Worn/Damaged?
It’s inevitable that every time you drive your vehicle, your wheel bearings will wear a little, just like any other component. However, there are certain things that can cause them to wear out at a quicker rate. Above we mentioned the symptoms of worn bearings and now we will be discussing what can cause them to become damaged prematurely.
Uneven Roads: If we told you to imagine a rough and bumpy road, you can probably name a few… dozens. Let’s just say a common issue these days is the poor quality of the roads, especially since they’re littered with potholes! So, think of the beating your wheel bearings receive when your wheels are travelling on these uneven roads. The chances of them collecting damage is high and then this can cause more friction for the wheels, as the bearings will become too worn.
Floods and Flooded Streets: When you drive in a flooded street or through long, deep puddles, the seals on the wheel system will not be able to stop the water from entering your wheel bearings. Even though they have seals, if they are exposed to water for an extended period of time, they will eventually wear out and need to be replaced.
All the wheel bearings are already lubricated when the car is manufactured, with a petroleum-based mixture which does not mix well with water. In the worst-case scenario, too much water exposure can cause the grease to come off and then damage will be caused because of the lack of lubricant.
Unbalanced tyres: If there is an uneven distribution of weight around the wheels, it will mean that certain wheel bearings are subjected to more pressure than others, which can cause them to wear at different rates. You may begin to notice that your wheel will become noisy and then the damage has already begun to occur.
Part of good car maintenance is to make sure that all of your tyres are balanced. Some common symptoms of unbalanced tyres are uneven tread wear, low fuel economy and vibrations in the steering wheel. Therefore, it’s important to carry out this service, to keep your vehicle running smoothly and put equal amounts of pressure on all of your wheel bearings, so none of them needs replacing prematurely. You can do this by taking your car to a professional, or have them checked whilst your vehicle is being serviced.
Car Accidents: If you have been in an accident where your wheels have collected some damage, you should check if your wheel bearings are in good condition, as it is possible that they could have been affected by the impact too. It’s good to check that no unusual noises are coming from the wheels and that your wheels are functioning adequately. It is best to have them checked by a professional to ensure you are not a hazard on the road.
Bad or Faulty Installation: If you have just got your wheel bearings replaced and you’re already experiencing issues, such as a strange grinding noise and abnormal tread wear, the mechanic who installed them may have done so incorrectly or not to the manufacturer’s specification. Sometimes, human error cannot be avoided, but it is best you take your vehicle to the original place you purchased your car from and make sure that the correct bearings are installed and adjusted correctly.
Is It Safe To Drive If My Wheel Bearings Are Worn?
The short answer is no. it is not recommended that you drive your vehicle if you suspect that your wheel bearings are damaged or faulty. Failure of your bearings is a gradual process, but it could be caused immediately after hitting a pothole or having another kind of sudden impact to the wheel, such as a car accident.
Sometimes, the unusual wheel bearing noise could be present for a while before the issue becomes a serious hazard. When the wear on the bearing slowly increases, it’s hard to predict when it will fail, and this is the reason why it is best not to drive with this issue. If you ignore or delay the replacement of this worn component, you will run the risk of it breaking or seizing while you are driving and you will lose control of the vehicle.
When your car hits around 100,000 miles, it is recommended that you replace both bearings on the axle at the same time, if you have never had them replaced before. Make sure that you get a professional to check any noise that may be coming from your wheels or tyres; in some cases, there could be an issue with your tyres, rather than the wheel bearings.
How is a Wheel Bearing Replaced?
The complexity of the replacement procedure usually depends on the model and make of the vehicle. It also depends on where the bearing is located (front or rear) and the vehicles drive type (all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive). Here is a basic outline of what steps your mechanic could follow when replacing your bad wheel bearings:
- Step One: Firstly, the brake and calliper are removed, when dealing with vehicles that have unitized wheel bearings or hub assemblies.
- Step Two: The axle is then pushed back through the middle of the bolts that hold the hub assembly to the steering knuckle after the axle nut is removed.
- Step Three: The hub is removed from the knuckle and then the installation of the new hub to the knuckle is started. The bolts will be the same as the factory specification and the old axle will be replaced. Over-tightening and under-tightening could cause damage to the new bearing that has been installed.
- Step Four: The brake rotor and calliper will be reattached and the wheel will be put back on and tested on the road.
On some vehicles, the wheel bearings are pressed onto the axle shaft. The axle must be taken out from the axle carrier in this case.
Wheel Bearings Replacement
Power Steering Services is based in Greenwich, London and we offer a range of high-quality services. If you are suffering from any of the symptoms of worn wheel bearings, we can diagnose if your bearings are in fact damaged or incorrectly installed, and we can then offer the necessary service, whether it be readjustment or replacement. Book in with us today, either by filling in our easy online form or contacting us on 0208 853 3343.