Being a car owner means that safety should be your priority. Whether you’re alone or with friends and loved ones, it’s important to be safe on the road. That means keeping your vehicle in the best possible shape and a bad wheel bearing noise doesn’t fit the picture.
The simplest issues can cause serious damage, so performing regular checks is a must. Especially if you hear or feel something wrong. Bad wheel bearings are not uncommon and there are telltale signs that will indicate it’s time to fix or replace them.
Today, we will discuss bad wheel bearings in-depth. With this guide, you’ll understand what bad wheel bearing noises mean, what to do to fix it, and so much more!
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What Is a Wheel Bearing and What Does It Do?
A wheel bearing is an important part of wheel assembly because it’s what attaches your wheel to the axle of your vehicle. It’s a metal ring that holds together a set of balls, which are made of hardened steel, and it will fit inside the hub, which is the hollow metal piece at the center of your wheel.
The wheel bearing rides on the metal axle shaft so the wheel can rotate without causing friction. Wheel bearings support the weight of your car while it’s moving and they are always working.
They are meant to sustain radial and axial loads caused by acceleration, gravitation, cornering, and braking, which is why they always need to be in the best condition. If they go bad, you have to replace them or get them fixed immediately.
Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Bearing
There are a few symptoms that will alert you to a bad wheel bearing if you pay attention. This list will give you an idea of what to look for if you suspect a bad wheel bearing:
Bad Front Wheel Bearing Symptoms
- Uneven rotor wear or brake pad. A worn wheel bearing may lead to severe looseness and that can cause rotor or brake pad wear.
- Grinding noise when moving. If you hear a grinding noise, it means the wheel-end system has some kind of damage. This noise will be more prominent when you’re turning or shifting.
- Humming, growling, or rumbling noise. If you hear these kinds of noises when you’re driving straight or whenever you turn slightly into any direction, you may be dealing with a bad wheel bearing. To better understand bad wheel bearing noise, check out this video.
- Vibration. Though vibration could be a symptom of imbalanced tires or worn suspension parts, it could also mean that the wheel bearing or hub is damaged.
- Uneven tire wear. When a wheel bearing is loose or worn, it will cause abnormal wear in the tires, which makes your ride feel shaky and uncomfortable.
Bad Rear Wheel Bearing Symptoms
- Unusual side pulling when you brake. Though this symptom can be caused by a bad caliper or equalizer, it can also be a sign of a worn wheel bearing.
- Snapping, popping, or clicking noise. When your wheel bearing is going bad, you can hear these types of noises whenever you corner or make a sharp turn.
- ABS failure. This can be a symptom in extreme cases because the excessive movement will damage the ABS sensors, leading to failure.
- The wheels wobble a lot. If you feel like your wheels are wobbly, it may be a sign of a bad wheel bearing. Remember, this piece is what connects the wheel to your car. If it’s worn or broken, it will cause an imbalance.
Once you identify the kind of symptoms you’re dealing with, it won’t be difficult to determine which wheel bearing needs to be replaced. You can also go a step further and check your wheel bearings to gauge their condition. This video guide will help!
Tire Noise or Wheel Bearing Noise: How to Tell the Difference?
When your car starts making noises when you’re driving at certain speeds or performing certain actions, you may wonder whether the issue is your tires or your wheel bearings.
Sometimes, it’s not easy to tell the difference between tire noise and a bad wheel bearing noise unless you know what to look for. Here are a few of the most effective ways to tell these two kinds of noises apart:
The Noise Changes When You Turn
If the noise changes when you turn, whether it gets louder or quieter, it means when you turn the opposite direction of the wheel with the faulty bearing.
For example, if your left wheel bearing is bad, the noise will get louder when you turn left and quieter when you turn right. This happens because when you turn, the load on the wheel bearing changes.
The Noise Changes Depending on the Surface
If the noise changes depending on the surface you’re driving on, it could indicate there’s a problem with the brakes. The surface type has very little effect on a bad wheel bearing noise, but some tire brands are louder on hard surfaces, such as concrete, and quieter on softer surfaces, such as gravel or asphalt.
Your Tires Are Heavily Treaded
Tires that are heavily traded are a lot noisier than regular car tires. It all depends on the depth of the tread. Also, there are certain types of tire wear that will affect how noisy the tires are. However, if you change your tires and the noise persists, then you could be dealing with bad wheel bearings.
If you want to learn more about the difference between bad wheel bearing noise and tire noise, this article provides more information so you can learn to identify the kind of noise you’re dealing with.
Why Do Wheel Bearings Go Bad?
There are many reasons why wheel bearings go bad. The most common one is wear and tear, so after some time, you’ll have to replace these parts. However, there are other things that may affect your wheel bearings, such as:
Bad Wheel Bearing Installation
When your wheel bearings are not properly installed, they will start to fail a lot sooner than they should. If the installation was done with the wrong tools, it can cause damage to the interior or exterior of the wheel end bearing.
Also, using old accessories, whether it’s bolts, seals, circlips, etc., instead of new ones, will affect the operation of the wheel bearing, leading to greater wear and you also risk getting in an accident.
Impacts from driving can damage your wheel bearings as well, so when you drive through potholes, drive over speed bumps or hit the curb, your wheel bearing can suffer and it will shorten its lifespan.
Wheel Bearing Quality
Wheel bearings are constantly under a ton of pressure. They support the weight of your car the entire time you’re driving and they are always working. So, when these parts are made of low-quality materials, it’s not shocking that they fail or don’t last very long.
Driving conditions can also affect your wheel bearings, causing them to fail. For example, driving through mud or water can shorten the lifespan of these parts. Not to mention dust and road salt could get into the bearing and cause more wear.
There are many people who enjoy modifying their cars. However, it’s wiser to stick to the manufacturer’s specifications. When you fit your car with rims, springs, shock absorbers, or tires that are not really meant for your vehicle, you’re putting an extra load on the wheel bearing, which accelerates wear.
What Noises Do Damaged Wheel Bearings Make?
A bad wheel bearing can make different kinds of noises depending on the action you’re performing. Knowing these different noises will help you determine the issue, so here’s a list you can use as a guide:
Noise When Turning
We already talked a little bit about noise when turning and how it’s a symptom of a bad wheel bearing. When you turn in the direction of a bad wheel bearing, the noise will get louder.
When you turn away from it, the noise will decrease. So, if you go on a short drive and make a few turns in different directions, you will be able to identify very quickly which wheel bearing needs to be replaced.
Constant Whining and Grinding
If your car is making this relentless whining and grinding noise while the car is in motion, it can be because of a bad wheel bearing or because of your differential. This kind of noise is loud and often gets even louder when you accelerate, so it’s not difficult to identify.
When you’re driving on uneven roads and you hear a clunking noise, it means you have a bad wheel bearing. The noise will get louder thanks to the constant bump from the road and it’s a problem because it could cause the wheel bearing to break.
Steering Wheel Vibration
If your steering wheel vibrates whenever you take a turn or accelerate, you could be dealing with a broken wheel bearing seal. This seal is meant to provide protection from foreign elements so they don’t get inside the wheel bearings. So, if the seal broke, your wheel bearing will malfunction.
Excessive Play in Your Steering Wheel
When the wheel bearing is worn, it can lead to excessive play in your steering wheel. That means you won’t have as much control of steering and we don’t have to tell you how dangerous that can be.
Test your steering wheel by turning it to the side at a 3 and 9 o’clock position or 6 and 12 o’clock position. If it feels loose, you have a bad wheel bearing that should be replaced ASAP.
How Long Can You Drive on a Bad Wheel Bearing?
Though the wheel bearings may seem like an inconsequential car part, they are actually a nightmare when they go bad. They don’t only affect the durability of your tires, they also make your ride feel rough and bumpy. Not to mention it compromises your safety and that of others on the road.
Bad wheel bearings affect how smooth and responsible your car is, so when you start hearing any of the noises explained above, you have to do something about it right away. A bad wheel bearing noise is not something you want to ignore.
However, it’s not always possible to get a bad wheel bearing fixed right away. Maybe you’re in the middle of a drive, miles away from safety or assistance. So, you ask yourself, how long can I drive on a bad wheel bearing? Well, you can’t drive for long but you will be able to get there.
All you need to do is avoid accelerating. The faster you go, the louder the noise and the higher the risk of breaking the wheel bearing. So, you want to reduce your speed and when the noise gets quiet, maintain that pace until you reach your destination.
Additionally, you want to drive as carefully as possible. Avoid potholes, speed bumps, or hitting the curb. The less impact, the better. If you don’t and you also accelerate, you risk losing control of the car and getting into an accident.
On average, you have 1,000 to 1,500 miles to get to a service station or a mechanic before the wheel bearing completely gives up. So, keep that in mind and make the right decision. If you’re too far from help, it’s best to play it safe and get your car towed.
How Long Does It Take to Replace a Wheel Bearing?
On average, getting a wheel bearing replaced can take from 30 minutes to 1 hour if it’s a front wheel bearing or 15 to 45 if it’s a rear wheel bearing. However, it depends on many different factors, such as skill level and expertise and the type of car you own.
In some cases, it may even take more than 1 hour, maybe 2 hours. Wheel bearings are not made the same and they vary depending on the make and model of the car, so we can only give an idea of what to expect.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Wheel Bearing?
The cost of replacing a wheel bearing also depends on many different factors, such as the position of the wheel bearing and the kind of car you own. However, we can give you an estimate. The first thing to keep in mind is that the costs include both the parts and the labor.
Usually, labor costs a lot more than the parts. Of course, replacing a wheel bearing is something you can do on your own but only if you have some knowledge about auto mechanics. If you’re confident you can do this yourself, you’ll save a pretty penny.
However, if you have doubts, it’s best to leave it at the hands of professionals. After all, you don’t want to risk faulty installation because it shortens the lifespan of your wheel bearing.
When you’re dealing with rear wheel bearing, you can expect to spend $190 to $310 on parts and $225 to $350 on labor, for a total of $415 to $660 or more. If the issue is your front wheel bearing, you can expect to spend $350 to $450 on parts and $150 to $300 on labor, for a total of $500 to $750 or more.
If you have to replace both, it can cost you $800 to $1,000 in total. When the issue is the hub bearing part, you can expect to spend $400 to $500 for both the parts and the labor. We’re only estimating here, but it should give you a general idea.
Changing a wheel bearing is a job that requires intermediate knowledge, so it’s something you can do yourself. Do keep in mind that you’ll need the right mechanic tools for the job, such as screwdrivers, socket set, ratchet, torque wrench, wheel chock, safety jack stands, and more.
Of course, you will also have to get the right wheel bearings for your car and make sure you do your research. The process involves many different steps and it’s important that you understand it very well. You need to make sure everything’s done as it should.
To help you with research, here’s a video that shows you how to replace a front wheel bearing
and a second video on how to replace a rear wheel bearing.
Of course, we recommend you dig deeper and if you don’t feel like this is a task you can do well, take your car to a professional. It will save you time and stress!
Humming Noise After Wheel Bearing Replacement
Let’s say you successfully replaced your wheel bearing or successfully paid a professional to do it. Either way, the problem should be gone, right? Well, sometimes people report a persistent humming noise even after the bad wheel bearing has been replaced.
If that’s the case for you, the simplest explanation is that you changed the wrong wheel bearing. This doesn’t happen too often, but human error can’t always be avoided, so it’s a possibility. If you suspect that’s the case, you need to take the car back and have it checked.
However, if you replaced the right wheel bearing and the humming noise is still there, it may have something to do with your tires. Remember that bad wheel bearings can lead to uneven tire wear, which produces a noise very similar to a bad wheel bearing noise.
To determine if the tires are the culprit, swap them out or rotate the tires before taking your car out for a spin to see if the noise changes or goes away entirely. If it does, the issue was the tires.
Wheel Bearing Noise When Braking
If your car is making a noise when you brake, it could be because of a bad wheel bearing or bad brakes. This kind of noise can be caused by many different things, such as damaged or warped rotor, loose or damaged brake caliper, bad wheel bearing, etc.
To determine the cause of the noise, you may need to have your car checked by a professional. They will have to lift the car and check the tires, wheel bearings, and brake assembly to see where the noise is coming from.
However, you can get an idea by taking the car for a test drive. What you need to do during this test drive is listen very carefully to determine what kind of noise you’re dealing with. A grinding noise is common when the issue is a bad bearing or bad brakes.
You also have to identify when the noise occurs. For example, if the noise only happens when you’re braking, it may not have anything to do with bad wheel bearings. The issue could be the brakes.
Of course, you can also rule out a bad wheel bearing by keeping the symptoms in mind. When you have a bad wheel bearing, the noise will get louder when you accelerate, the steering wheel can become loose or vibrate while you’re driving, and the noise may change when you make turns, etc.
Bad breaks have different symptoms, such as a slow response and brake pedal vibration. It can also make the brake pedal feels softer or make the vehicle veer in a particular direction whenever you brake. Knowing the difference will help you identify the issue and if you still can’t, it’s time to take your car to a professional.
A bad wheel bearing noise is the sign of an issue that’s a lot more important than it seems, which is why you need to be familiar with the symptoms. We hope that this guide has helped you understand the different signs to watch out for so you can stay safe on the road and give your car the care it deserves.