How Do I Know If I Need New Wheel Bearings?

Dustin Hawley | Sep 15, 2022

Your wheel bearings are an essential part of your car’s suspension. They allow your wheels to remain firmly attached to the vehicle, but the consequences can be severe when they fail.

How Do I Know If I Need New Wheel Bearings

Thankfully, it’s easy to diagnose and replace worn wheel bearings well before they reach the point of total failure. In this guide, we’ll describe the symptoms of a worn-out wheel bearing so that you can make the necessary repairs.

Signs Of A Faulty Wheel Bearing

1. Strange Noises

A wheel bearing consists of a set of rotating rings with tiny ball bearings between them so they can rotate freely. As you might imagine, this produces a lot of friction, so the inside of the bearing is packed with grease to keep things moving smoothly. If this grease leaks or has degraded, the ball bearings will grind together, producing excess heat and additional stress that damages them over time.

This most often happens when the bearing’s seal wears out, resulting in unusual noises. Typically, there’s a growling or an intermittent squeaking as the wheel bearings rub together. The sound can also change depending on what speed you’re driving.

2. Uneven Tire Wear

When wheel bearings wear out, they develop a looser fit inside the housing, causing your wheels to wobble back and forth while driving. Also known as “bearing play,” this phenomenon is very subtle, and you won’t feel it in your steering wheel – at least not at first.

However, it can be readily apparent when you inspect your tire tread. If the tire tread is worn more on one side than the other, your wheel bearings may be at fault. You should visit a mechanic to ascertain this since it can also indicate improper wheel alignment or balancing.

3. Pulling To One Side

When your wheel bearings are in good condition, your car’s handling should feel tight and responsive. If your vehicle tends to drift to one side or stops feeling responsive, your wheel bearings could be at fault.

You’ll need to visit a mechanic if you’re experiencing steering drift. All sorts of factors can impact your vehicle’s steering, and a mechanic can get to the root of the problem.

4. Other Steering Issues

When bearings deteriorate further, it will eventually get to the point that you can feel a wobble in your steering wheel caused by corroded bearings that have developed a lot of play. This wobble can get progressively worse as you accelerate. When experiencing that kind of wobble, your wheel bearings are almost always to blame.

5. Braking Issues

Degraded bearings don’t just cause problems when accelerating; they will also show distinct symptoms when you’re coming to a stop. When the wheel bearings wobble badly enough, they can damage the wheel hub assembly, worsening the wobble.

When this happens, the brakes may come in and out of contact with the rotors. This makes them pulse when you’re braking, causing uneven wear on your brake pads or even causing your ABS light to come on. These are signs of excessive bearing play.

Wheel Bearing FAQs

How Long Do Wheel Bearings Last?

In theory, wheel bearings can last as long as the vehicle itself. However, depending on road conditions and driving habits, you can expect to replace one wheel bearing for every 150,000 miles of driving. 

Does My Warranty Cover Wheel Bearings?

Different manufacturers will cover your wheel bearings in different ways. They’re covered under the powertrain warranty, which can last for ten years or 100,000 miles. In other cases, your bumper-to-bumper warranty covers ball bearings.

Remember that your wheel bearings will not be covered if you damage them in an accident. Instead, you’ll need to file an insurance claim.

How Much Does A Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost?

Wheel bearing replacement costs depend on labor. Tapered roller bearings come in a pair and bolt directly to the steering knuckle or spindle. Because they’re bolted into place, these bearings require less labor, costing around $80 to $180, plus $65 for the wheel-bearings.

In some cases, wheel bearings must be pressed onto the knuckle instead of bolted. Doing this results in higher labor costs between $120 and $250, although the bearings themselves cost slightly less, at around $40 to $120. Bearing replacements on larger trucks can cost $1,200 in parts and labor.

If Only One Bearing Is Bad, Do I Have To Replace Them Both?

No. Your car’s wheel bearings are entirely separate, and a failure in one bearing does not affect the others. You only need to replace the bearing that has failed.

Do Wheel Bearings Require Maintenance?

In general, no. Other bearing styles are fully sealed and cannot be re-greased. However, tapered roller wheel bearings may require periodic greasing; check your owner’s manual if you’re unsure.

Summary

A damaged wheel bearing can pose a severe safety risk and cause your car to handle poorly. Fortunately, it's easy to diagnose wheel-bearing issues. Replacement costs are relatively affordable, and a mechanic can perform the work in just a couple of hours. No matter how degraded your bearings are, your mechanic will have you back on the road in no time.

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