When Is the Right Time to Replace Wheel Bearings? | Power Sports and More

In most cases, many vehicle owners will never ever hear of a wheel bearing until their friendly-neighborhood mechanic suggests that it needs to be replaced.

Like the car’s wheels, the bearings are components that are often taken for granted, and they’re not exactly a huge concern for many people. However, the bearings are very important so it’s in your best interest not to ignore your mechanic’s warning.

For this article, we outlined a guide that will help you determine if it’s the right time to replace your vehicle’s bearings.

Before we proceed, first let’s find out what exactly is a wheel bearing and its importance to the operation of your vehicle.

The bearings are components that play an important role within the drivetrain of any vehicle. This is because they act as the initial connection between the moving and static parts of the vehicle.

At its most basic, the bearing is a friction reduction device that’s placed within the wheel in order to ensure efficiency in the rotation. This is made possible because rolling produces much less friction force when compared to sliding.

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The wheel bearing accomplishes this by utilizing small metal balls that roll between two rings of metal. The bearing rotates in conjunction with the wheel’s rotation. With a healthy amount of grease, the rolling motion of the balls enables the wheel hub to rotate as
freely as possible.

The bearing is located within the hub assembly, and it works by providing the static connection with the carrier via an outer ring or racer. Roller bearings are usually used on the wheels of the car, while tapered bearings are generally used for non-driven wheels.

Like any mechanical parts of the vehicle, bearings are vulnerable to wear and tear since they rub, rotate, and roll.

When your car’s wheel bearing goes bad, you will notice a couple of symptoms:

  • Noise – Perhaps the most common and identifiable symptoms associated with a bad bearing is the noise that originates from the wheel or tire area of a moving car. The noise can be mistaken for a running engine but when you listen closely, there’s a distinctive grinding or grating sound that gets louder as the car accelerates. This is a symptom that’s often overlooked since bearings don’t really wear out that frequently and the noise is entirely attributed to something else.
  • “Loose” feeling – When you hear mechanics talk about a car that’s “loose”, there’s a good chance that you don’t know what that means. For the uninitiated, this looseness is referred to the steering of the vehicle which involves the bearings. Wheel looseness, or also referred to as wheel play, is a common symptom of a bad wheel bearing. As the bearing starts to be worn down, it becomes loose inside the hub and spindle which makes the steering wheel feel loose.
  • Uneven tire wears – Many motorists know the importance of tire rotation in order to promote even wear and tear. However, did you know that a defective wheel bearing can also result in an uneven tire wear too? Due to the vibrations and looseness of the wheel, the tires will not wear out evenly which usually leads to an untimely and costly tire replacement. 
  • Steering wheel vibrations – Another very common symptom with other mechanical issues in the drive and steering assembly is the vibration in the steering wheel which can be attributed to worn out bearings. Unlike the aforementioned tire balance problems that are more prevalent at higher speeds, a steering wheel vibration because of worn out bearings is more noticeable at slower speeds and will progressively get worse as the car accelerates.
  • Additional wheel play – This symptom is not a very common problem for car owners to diagnose. However, if you have a hydraulic lift handy, you can check this one out on your own. Grab the wheels on the opposite side and try rocking it back and forth. If your wheel bearings are still good, you won’t observe any wobbling on the wheel. On the other hand, if the tire or wheel assembly moves back and forth, your bearings might be worn out and need to be replaced as soon as possible.
  • Issues with braking – While the common symptom of a bad bearing is the cyclic chirping, squealing, or growling noise, the audible clicking sound as the car accelerates is a sign that there’s a problem with the wheel hub assembly, which houses the wheel bearings. This problem can cause the brakes to pulsate and pull whenever the brakes are applied. Also, be on the lookout for an uneven wear on the brake pads.

Image source: Pixabay

If any of these symptoms are present in your vehicle, there’s a high chance that it can compromise the operation of your vehicle and may lead to catastrophic failure if not addressed.

If left unattended, a catastrophic axle failure may happen which is exactly as bad as it sounds.
Basically, this failure causes the wheel to separate from the car. So, the wheel can literally come off while you’re on the road. This is somewhat of a rare case, but this scenario can occur due to extreme long-term neglect.

But really, do you really want to take chances?

The wheel bearing is simply a component that you don’t take chances with. So many of you are probably asking, “just how much can I drive with a bad bearing?” Well, the answer is a resounding “don’t even think about it.”

Image source: Pixabay

Wheel bearing failure is due to many reasons like heavy-duty usage, ignorance, improper servicing, and poor maintenance. Recognizing the symptoms is one of the best ways to catch the
problem before it gets progressively worse.

For an experienced individual, replacing the wheel bearing is not a tough task at all. However, the
replacement process does require a lot of steps which we won’t cover here (but perhaps we can save that for another article). Remember, replacing the bearings on your own requires a good know-how of how vehicles are built and how they work.

If you are a complete novice, it’s highly recommended that you get in touch with a professional mechanic instead.

Vehicle Maintenance

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Maintaining your vehicle is not just about washing it and cleaning some parts here and there. Many people just overlook the much-needed maintenance of bearings.

It’s important that you always monitor these parts and be on the lookout for the symptoms that we have outlined above. With that said, the wheel hub bearings are supposed to be placed properly and maintained on a regular basis since they hold the weight of the vehicle in both motion and standstill.

Greasing is one of the best ways to keep your vehicle in good shape. For this, on top of checking for symptoms, adequately grease the bearings to keep them in top working condition. The bearings are considered to be low maintenance parts, but it doesn’t mean that you should ignore them. Apply great for at least once in three months.

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Greasing minimizes friction while the wheel bearing operates, which is absolutely vital.

It’s said that the wheel hub bearing has an average lifespan of 85,000 to 100,000 miles. So as a good rule of thumb, check and examine the bearings every 25,000 miles.

So that concludes our guide on when to replace your vehicle’s wheel bearings.

Driving with a missing or defective wheel bearing is considered very dangerous. So, if you have observed any of the symptoms that we have provided above, it should be in your best interest to contact a mechanic immediately. A defective bearing is not immediately dangerous but definitely,
don’t wait for months before getting it sorted.

If you have any questions about this guide or about bearings in general, feel free to drop a comment below. Also, feel free to share tips and tricks when maintaining the vehicle’s bearings.

KW: wheel bearings

Featured image via Pixabay