A wheel bearing connects the wheel and the axle which, in turn, enables the wheel to rotate smoothly.
Wheel bearings have a high lifespan, around 100 000 miles, but as with everything in the car 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 the symptoms of a bad wheel bearing and replacement cost are considered, we will go through what a wheel bearing is.
Let us get started with the basics first!
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What Is A Wheel Bearing?
As previously stated, 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 made depending on the shape of the object that is between the two metal rings. Different shapes have different properties in terms of handling 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 withstand those forces well.
The wheel bearing is located in the hub assembly at 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 greases inside to keep everything running smoothly. If debris or water comes in contact, 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 huge pothole, wheel bearings usually deteriorate gradually and therefore give you enough time to act.
Wheel bearings deteriorate faster when you run into potholes or drive in other unfavorable driving conditions such as deep water and mud.
So even if the inner kid in you wants to drive on that big puddle, you should abstain from it, for multiple reasons.
Nevertheless, if you do have problems with your wheel bearings, some symptoms may occur such as:
- Loud noise
- Steering problems
- Uneven tire wear
- ABS malfunction
The most common way a bad wheel bearing presents itself is through noise. Depending on the cause of the problem, different types of noise may be produced.
It may be that you hear a rumbling or growling noise as soon as you move forward with your car or when you turn.
The noise may stop momentarily to later come back. Also, due to the sound isolation of modern cars, it is 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 whining noise. It is also possible that you hear a faulty wheel bearing when driving on an uneven road surface.
The wheel bearing plays a great role in steering. A faulty one may lead to several problems.
The two main steering manifestations are loose steering and steering wheel vibrations.
The vibrations on the steering wheel usually get worse the faster you drive. If this happens while you drive, you should stop the car as soon as possible.
If your car pulls to one side while driving straight, it might be a sign of a bad wheel bearing. Realistically, this problem is in most cases due to a problem with improper wheel alignment or brakes (if it happens during braking).
Still, it is good to know that if your wheel alignment is fine, it could be due to the wheel bearings.
It is possible that you feel the whole car shaking, but just like the problem described above, it could be attributed to many different causes.
Uneven Tire Wear
Another symptom that is usually attributed to a bad wheel alignment is uneven tire wear. A bad wheel bearing may make the wheel wobble, causing uneven contact with the ground and consequently, uneven tire wear.
Again, this is a symptom that is usually attributed to other faulty components, so make sure that all the other potential culprits are ruled out.
The anti-lock braking system, or ABS for short, can throw out an error code if the wheel bearing is in a disastrous state.
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 the driving should be kept to a minimum.
If the wheel bearing gets abruptly bad and the wheel starts wobbling, you should safely stop as soon as possible. A broken wheel bearing puts great stress on the rest of your car components.
Ideally, you should get your car to a professional mechanic as it is very important that the wheel bearing gets installed correctly.
An incorrectly installed wheel bearing only leads 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, just like most other car parts, depends on the car model you drive.
Not only does the brand play a role, but cars either come with a wheel bearing that you can separate from the hub, or the wheel bearing comes as a package with 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 last option – buying a new wheel hub. In this case, it is much more labor-friendly, but buying a new hub will cost you more than just buying a new wheel bearing.
For example, 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 bad quality.
Wheel bearings need to be made of quality materials to withstand all the forces they are exposed to. A cheap wheel bearing with low quality will cost you a lot more in the long run and can compromise your safety.
The labor cost for a wheel bearing replacement also varies, but generally, it costs $60 – $300. It takes about 1 to 1.5 labor hours to change the wheel bearing.
To sum it up, the replacement cost to change wheel bearing is around $150 – $800 and depends on if the whole hub is changed, or just the wheel bearing, which is specific to the car model.
Wheel bearings are an important component of your car that makes your wheel rotate smoothly. They usually have a long lifespan, lasting typically for around 100 000 miles.
There are different types of symptoms that your wheel bearings are bad. Most of them will produce a sound when driving and turning.
Other symptoms may occur as well, such as steering difficulties and uneven tire wear.
Wheel bearings usually degrade gradually, however, there are situations where they abruptly go bad. If you notice that the 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 most cases, the wheel bearings on most cars are so-called tapered rolling bearings.
A more important characteristic of the wheel bearings is if they are separable from the wheel hub assembly.
This is important as it dictates the cost of labor and parts of a wheel bearing replacement. In some cars the wheel bearing can be separated from the hub, meaning only a new wheel bearing needs to be bought.
This means that you will spend less on parts, but it is more labor-intensive, and you need specialized tools to separate the wheel bearing from the hub.
In other cars, the wheel bearing and the wheel hub are inseparable which means that you have to buy a new wheel hub assembly if your bearings go bad.
If that is the case with your car, the project will be less labor-intensive but the part you are replacing is higher.
To protect the wheel bearings, it is recommended to avoid potholes, mud, deep water and, other unfavorable driving conditions.