A wheel bearing connects the wheel and the axle, which, in turn, enables the wheel to rotate smoothly.
Wheel bearings have a high lifespan of around 100,000 miles. However, as with anything else in the automotive world, they will eventually need to be replaced.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about wheel bearings, how to notice when something is wrong, and how much it costs to fix the problem.
Before I take a closer look at the symptoms of a bad wheel bearing and the replacement cost, I will first explain what a wheel bearing is.
Let’s get started with the basics!
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What Is A Wheel Bearing?
As mentioned previously, a wheel bearing allows the wheel to rotate seamlessly. In a car, the bearings are usually tapered rolling bearings, but roller and ball bearings exist as well.
The distinction is based on the shape of the object between the two metal rings. Different shapes have different properties in the way they handle the load.
As the wheel of a car is prone to many forces from different directions when accelerating, braking, and turning, the wheel bearing must be able to withstand those forces.
The wheel bearing is located in the hub assembly of every wheel. A wheel seal is fitted to protect the bearings from water and debris.
This is important because the wheel bearings contain lots of grease to keep everything running smoothly. If debris or water finds its way in, it will diminish the work done by the grease, causing damage to the bearing.
Symptoms Of A Bad Wheel Bearing
Unless there is a sudden problem with the wheel seal or you hit a large pothole, wheel bearings usually deteriorate gradually, giving you enough time to act.
Wheel bearings deteriorate faster when you run into potholes or drive in unfavorable conditions such as deep water and mud.
So, even if the inner kid in you wants to drive through a big puddle, you should refrain for multiple reasons.
In any case, if you do have problems with your wheel bearings, some symptoms may appear, such as:
- Loud noise
- Steering problems
- Uneven tire wear
- ABS malfunction
The most common way a bad wheel bearing presents itself is with noise. Different types of noise may be produced depending on the cause of the problem.
It could be that you hear a rumbling or growling noise as soon as you move your car forward or turn.
The noise may stop momentarily, only to return later. Also, due to the sound isolation of modern cars, it’s possible that you won’t hear the noise as you drive the car, but a pedestrian outside will.
Sometimes, the noise is constant and produces more of a whine. It is also possible that you will hear a faulty wheel bearing when driving on an uneven road surface.
The wheel bearing plays an important role in steering. A faulty one may lead to several problems.
The two main steering issues that could arise are loose steering and steering wheel vibrations.
The vibrations of the steering wheel usually get worse the faster you drive. If you notice this while driving, you should stop the car as soon as possible.
If your car veers to one side while driving straight, it could signal a bad wheel bearing. However, this problem is usually due to improper wheel alignment or brakes (if it happens during braking).
Still, it is worth knowing that if your wheel alignment is fine, the problem could be due to the wheel bearings.
It’s possible that you will feel the entire car shaking, but like the problem described above, this could be attributed to many different causes.
Uneven Tire Wear
Another symptom that is usually attributed to bad wheel alignment is uneven tire wear. A bad wheel bearing may make the wheel wobble, causing inconsistent contact with the ground and resulting in uneven tire wear.
Again, this is a symptom that is usually the result of other faulty components, so ensure that all the other potential culprits are ruled out.
The anti-lock braking system (ABS) can suffer an error if the wheel bearing is in poor condition.
A wheel speed sensor that works closely with the ABS is located on the wheel hub. If the wheel bearing is bad, it will compromise the sensor as vibrations and wobbling occur.
Because of this, an ABS warning light will illuminate as the system cannot work properly.
A bad wheel bearing should be replaced as soon as possible, and you should keep your driving to a minimum.
If the wheel bearing suddenly goes bad and the wheel starts wobbling, you should stop as soon as safely possible. A broken wheel bearing significantly strains the rest of your car’s components.
Ideally, you should get your car to a professional mechanic as it is very important that the wheel bearing is installed correctly.
An incorrectly installed wheel bearing will only lead to more problems down the road. A lot of specific (and expensive) tools are needed to replace most wheel bearings.
If you have the tools available, you probably also have the skill to replace them.
The cost of replacing a wheel bearing, like any other car part, depends on the car model you drive.
Not only does the manufacturer play a role, but cars either come with a wheel bearing that you can separate from the hub, or the wheel bearing comes as part of the hub.
If it is possible to separate the wheel bearing from the hub, the cost of only buying the wheel bearing is logically much lower than needing to buy the whole hub.
The downside of only replacing the wheel bearing is that it is more labor-intensive, and special tools are needed.
That leaves us with the final option: buying a new wheel hub. This is much more labor-friendly, but buying a new hub will cost you far more than only buying a new wheel bearing.
On average, a wheel bearing will set you back $50 to $120, while a new wheel hub costs around $200 to $500.
Be careful when buying new bearings and wheel hubs, as many cheap parts are, unfortunately, of low quality.
Wheel bearings need to be made of quality materials to withstand all the forces they are exposed to. A cheap wheel bearing will likely cost you much more in the long run and can put your safety at risk.
The labor cost for a wheel bearing replacement also varies and will generally cost anywhere from $60 to $300. Changing the wheel bearing should take between 1 to 1.5 hours.
In total, the cost to replace a wheel bearing is around $150 to $800. This depends on if the entire hub is changed or just the wheel bearing, which will vary depending on the car model.
Wheel bearings are important components of your car that help your wheel rotate smoothly. They usually have a long lifespan, typically lasting for around 100,000 miles.
There are various possible symptoms that your wheel bearings are bad. Most of them will produce a sound when driving and turning.
Other symptoms could also occur, including steering difficulties and uneven tire wear.
Wheel bearings usually degrade gradually. However, there are situations where they abruptly go bad. If you notice that a wheel is wobbling when driving, stop the car immediately and get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible.
There are different types of bearings. In general, the wheel bearings of most cars are so-called tapered rolling bearings.
An important characteristic of the wheel bearings is whether or not they are detachable from the wheel hub assembly.
This is important as it dictates the cost of labor and parts for a wheel bearing replacement. In some cars, the wheel bearing can be separated from the hub, meaning you will only need a new wheel bearing.
This means you will spend less on parts, but it is more labor-intensive, and specialized tools are needed to separate the wheel bearing from the hub.
In other cars, the wheel bearing and the wheel hub are inseparable, which means you have to buy a new wheel hub assembly if your bearings go bad.
If that applies to your car, the project will be less labor-intensive, but the part you are replacing will cost more.
To protect the wheel bearings, it is recommended to avoid potholes, mud, deep water, and other unfavorable driving conditions.