Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms, Causes, and How To Replace

Detecting a bad wheel bearing is crucial as it not only causes strange noises but can also lead to potential hazards like wheel lockups. Learn the symptoms of a bad wheel bearing.

Symptoms Of a Bad Wheel Bearing

Wheel bearings play a critical role in ensuring smooth vehicle acceleration, providing support, and efficiently carrying heavy loads.

These essential components come in various types, such as roller bearings and ball bearings, which are commonly employed in vehicles. Their design allows them to withstand both axial and radial loads effectively.

Recognizing the signs of a faulty wheel bearing is essential for maintaining vehicle safety and preventing further damage. This article explains the bad wheel bearing symptoms, causes, and its replacement cost.

Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms

A bad wheel bearing produces the following symptoms:

  • Grinding Noise from the wheel
  • Unusual Tire Wear
  • Shifting Noise from Right to Left
  • Car Feels Loose
  • Play in Wheels
  • Vehicle Pulls To One Side
  • Steering Wheel Vibration
  • ABS Warning Light

1) Grinding Noise from the Wheel

Bad Wheel Bearing Noise

The grinding noise coming from the car’s wheels is one of the frequent symptoms of a bad wheel bearing. Sometimes mistaken for engine noise, this issue typically produces a distinct grinding noise that becomes more distinct as you increase the speed of your car.

While wheel bearings are generally durable, they can still resist severe challenges. The primary culprits behind bearing failure are moister and heat. Inadequate lubrication generates heat, and water may enter the bearing, compromising its integrity.

 To oppose these issues, modern wheel bearings are typically made of hardened steel. The seal prevents the bearing from water and contaminants. But when the seal becomes damaged, your wheel bearing may fail and produce a loud sound.

2) Unusual Tire Wear

tire wear

Unusual tire wear is also one of the clear signs of a faulty wheel bearing. Excessive wear in the wheel bearing may create play in your vehicle wheels, leading to faulty wheel alignment and unusual tire wear patterns.

Therefore, it is essential to inspect the tire of your car when dealing with wheel bearing issues. However, it’s important to remember that unusual tire wear may also be caused by many other reasons.

Read More: Tire Shredding Symptoms and Causes

3) Shifting Noise from Right to Left

Steering noise, symptoms of bad wheel bearing

Another clear sign of a bad wheel bearing is the production of noise when driving your vehicle at approximately 40 mph and you gently turn it to the right and left by changing its weight.

It’s crucial to perform this test cautiously, avoiding abrupt movements and high speeds, as they may be hazardous and potentially tip your vehicle over.

When steering your car from right to left or vice versa, you may notice different sound effects. For instance, if you steer left and the noise reduces, it indicates that there is something wrong with your right wheel bearing. Conversely, if the noise reduces while turning right, it suggests that your left wheel bearing is damaged.

4) Car Feels Loose

If you notice that your car’s wheels have excessive play or feel loose, it could be a sign of faulty wheel bearings. As the bearing of your car wears out, it causes the wheel to move more than it should, causing the car to feel less stable as you steer.

This instability can be particularly noticeable at higher speeds on the road. If you experience this issue and suspect it’s caused by a faulty wheel bearing, it’s essential to address it instantly.

5) Play in Wheels

Wheel Play

If you use a floor jack to raise the suspension of your vehicle and notice unusual movement or play in all directions as you hold and rock a wheel back and forth. This unusual movement or play may indicate a problem with the wheel bearing.

However, it’s important to consider that such play might also be caused by many other reasons, such as a faulty steering tie end.

It’s worth noting that some old vehicle models may have slight play in the wheel bearing from the manufacturer, which is generally not a cause for concern. However, if your vehicle model is just new, any noticeable play in the wheel bearings suggests that something is amiss and requires attention to address the issue promptly.

6) Vehicle Pulls To One Side

If your vehicle is pulling to one side, it is also one of the clear symptoms of a bad wheel bearing.

When the wheel of your car becomes unbalanced, you might feel your car pulling to one side along with the wheel shaking while driving. This issue is the same when your car’s tires are unbalanced properly or when one tire doesn’t have sufficient air pressure. At first, the pull may be subtle, but if you don’t address it early, it can become more significant and noticeable.

7) Steering Wheel Vibration

Steering Wheel Vibration

When a wheel bearing fails, it may cause vibrations in the steering wheel, especially if your vehicle’s front wheel bearings are affected. If there is an issue with the back wheel bearings, you’ll mostly feel the vibrations under the passenger seats.

Usually, if the wheels are not balanced, they lead to steering wheel vibrations. So, you should pay attention to a bad bearing if the vibration is coming along with a grinding or humming noise.  

Read More: Why Steering Wheel Is Hard To Turn?

8) ABS Warning Light

ABS Light, symptoms of bad wheel bearing

The latest vehicle models contain traction control or ABS systems. In such models, when the wheel bearing becomes faulty, it may activate the ABS warning light on the dash.

When the ABS light illuminates on your vehicle dashboard, along with experiencing other signs discussed earlier, it may be a clear symptom of a bad wheel bearing.

Causes of a Faulty Wheel Bearing

Your wheel bearings may become faulty due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Poor lubrication
  • Frequent aggressive and high-speed driving
  • Excessive loads on the bearings
  • Dirt and water may go into the wheel bearing assembly, reducing its performance and causing damage over time.
  • Hitting curbs, potholes, or other obstacles at a high speed
  • Wrong installation during vehicle assembly or wheel bearing replacement
  • Normal wear and tear

Function of a Wheel Bearing

The wheel bearing is one of the most important parts of your vehicle. Wheel bearings allow the wheels of a vehicle to rotate efficiently with very little friction.

These bearings also play a vital role in maintaining proper wheel alignment and help to deliver wheel speed sensor information to the car’s drive systems.

Wheel Bearing

They also play a significant role in the drivetrain in connecting the moving parts of the vehicle to the stationary ones.

When these bearings don’t work properly, they produce various drivability issues, some of which are easy to notice, while others can be unclear. Diagnosing the issue can be challenging because you need to drive the car to see the symptoms.

Wheel Bearing Location

Wheel Bearing Location

Wheel bearings are positioned behind the wheel hub and brake disc on the external area of each suspension.

Many wheel bearings are pushed into the wheel hub that cannot be seen without removing the wheel hub and the brake disc. On the other hand, some bearings are located as a complete hub with bolts, making them easier to inspect.

Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost

The replacement cost of the wheel bearing varies according to the vehicle model and labor cost. The average replacement cost of the wheel bearings at one wheel is about $360. 

FAQ Section

Is it safe to drive with a bad wheel bearing?

Driving with bad wheel bearings is not safe. If the bearings are severely damaged, they may force your wheel to lock up while accelerating at high speed, leading to accidents. Additionally, bad wheel bearings may cause further damage to other components of your vehicle, leading to expensive repairs.

How long can I drive with a bad wheel bearing?

It is not recommended to drive with bad bearings. If you know that the car bearings are bad, avoid driving the car excepting cautiously to a professional. A faulty wheel bearing may lock your wheels, which may cause accidents.

Can a bad wheel bearing affect acceleration?

Yes, a bad wheel bearing can reduce acceleration. When the wheel bearing becomes faulty, it may produce excessive resistance and friction in the wheel assembly, which may lead to wheel play and affect your car’s ability to accelerate smoothly.

What does a worn wheel bearing sound like?

A worn wheel bearing produces a grating, grinding, or growling sound while running at higher speeds. The noise produced by worn wheel bearing may change in volume while turning the steering wheel a little at a higher speed.

Can my tire fall off with a bad wheel bearing?

No, bad wheel bearings are unlikely to cause the tires to fall off because they are still grasped by the brake disc. But a bad bearing may lead to the locking of your wheels, which is almost as dangerous as the tire falling off.

How long do wheel bearings last?

A wheel bearing is considered to last the whole life of a car, but it may be damaged and worn out over time. Typically, the wheel bearings have an average service life of 85,000 to 100,000 miles. The lifespan may vary depending on the quality of the bearing and the vehicle’s driving conditions.

What can cause wheel bearing damage?

Wheel bearings can be damaged when the car hits speed bumps, high curbs, or potholes at high speeds. Additionally, sand, road salt, mud, or water getting entering the bearing may contaminate the grease and cause premature wear and failure.

How to tell which wheel bearing is bad while driving?

You can recognize a faulty wheel bearing by listening to a constant humming or growling sound that increases with vehicle speed. When steering your car from right to left or vice versa, you may notice different sound effects. For instance, if you steer left and the noise reduces, it indicates that there is something wrong with your right wheel bearing. Conversely, if the noise reduces while turning right, it suggests that your left wheel bearing is damaged.

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