You hear a grinding noise from underneath your SUV and wonder if it might be the bearings in your wheels. What are the symptoms of bad wheel bearings?
The first indication of a bad wheel bearing will be a whining or grinding noise that increases as the vehicle moves. Other signs might be vibration in the steering wheel, loose steering, clunking noises when going over a bump, or an ABS light. Bearings should be replaced as soon as symptoms occur.
Every automotive vehicle needs good wheels to get anywhere, but there’s more happening down there than just a little bit of rubber fastened to a steel rim.
There are many components of a wheel assembly, not the least of which are the bearings.
A wheel bearing is crucial to the vehicle’s operation, and its vitality can affect many other components. Bad wheel bearings can lead to further problems with steering, suspension, and even braking, none of which is welcome news to an owner.
That is why it is always a good idea to know the symptoms of faulty bearings so that the issue can be addressed when it happens.
What is a Wheel Bearing?
A wheel bearing is a ball bearings located on a metal ring inside a wheels hub (the place where the axle is connected to the wheel).
The bearings are lubricated with grease to reduce the friction caused by the stress forces exerted on the wheel while accelerating, braking or cornering.
In addition, the bearings have a direct relation to how well the car or truck rides, how aligned the wheels are, and even if the wheel stays connected to the car. Because the bearings are involved in every aspect of a wheel’s function, they must be replaced when symptoms appear.
How Long Do Wheel Bearings Last?
On average, depending on the vehicle, driving conditions, and the quality of the bearing, an owner should expect the wheel bearings to last between 85 k – 100 k miles.
What Makes a Wheel Bearing Go Bad?
Most wheel bearing go bad due to outside contaminants getting past the seals and into the bearings. These foreign substances (dirt, dust, mud and the like) foul up the lubrication and tend to keep the bearings from moving a efficiently as before.
Eventually, the bearings takes on so much outside dust and dirt that they fail completely.
Owners who have adverse driving conditions (drive in areas of extreme sand, dirt or mud and moisture) often have trouble keeping wheel bearings from wearing out prematurely.
What are the Symptoms of Bad Wheel Bearings?
There are several main symptoms that can indicate bad wheel bearings on a vehicle. While the most common sign are noises coming from one side of the vehicle or the other, there are other warnings that owners should be able to spot.
Grinding or Humming Noises as The Car Moves
A growling, humming or whining noise that increases in intensity as the speed of the vehicle becomes greater can be a sign that wheel bearings are going bad. Another way to identify this issue is if the noise is present while making a turn.
Sometimes when a vehicle makes a hard turn, the noise of a knocking or grinding will occur.
Uneven Tire Tread Wear
Most car owners rarely pay attention to how the tread on their tires is holding up, but they should. The wear pattern on a tire can tell you a great deal about how your car or SUV is performing. Excessive wear on a tire edges can indicate that your tire needs an alignment, but it could also be sign of bad bearings.
When a bearing goes bad, the tire tends to wobble, which translates to very uneven tread wear, particularly on the corner edge of a tire’s tread.
If you notice that the tread on one tire is wearing much faster than the other three, have someone check the bearings on the wheel, when you go to replace the tire.
Many owners have diagnosed humming noises from their wheels as bad tires, and certainly, unevenly worn tires can cause noises from the front. The best thing to do to determine the cause of the tread wear and the noises you hear from the wheels is to take the vehicle to a repair shop to have it diagnosed.
Loose Steering Play or Vibration
If you are experiencing a loose play in the steering, then it is quite possible that you might have a bearing issue. If you seem to feel a vibration that increases with the speed of the vehicle, this could be a sign that you have a bearing that is going bad.
ABS Failure or ABS Light on Dash
There are ABS sensors that are located in the wheel assembly and connected to the wheel end bearing.
Most of the time, the sensor will detect an issue and trigger a DTC (diagnositic trouble code) on the instrument panel. If your ABS light ignites, (chances are the ESC light might be on instead).
It should be noted that a faulty speed sensor can also trigger these lights, so it is necessary to have a mechanic hook up an OBDII scanner to assess what exactly the trouble codes represent.
Vehicle Pulls to the Right or Left
Bad bearings can cause a vehicle to pull to the right or the left when braking.
While the direction of the pull does indicate the side the bad bearing is on, movement like this can also signal a bad caliper or warped rotor.
What Does It Cost to Replace Bad Wheel Bearings?
The average cost to fix bad wheel bearings is about $300 – $400 per tire and depending on the type of vehicle being serviced. (As you might expect, a luxury SUV will cost more, simply because the dealer knows that their customers likely can afford it).
If bearings are worn on one side of an axle, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the bearings on the other side are bad. (Many a customer has been told differently by a technician, and ended up paying for work that was not needed at all).
Is it Safe To Drive On A Bad Wheel Bearing?
It is not safe to drive on a bad wheel bearing due to the fact that the wheel might stop, fall off, or create an accident.
Additionally, a busted wheel bearing might create further complications with the CV joints or suspension and braking systems.
In some extreme conditions, a cars transmission can be affected.
When one considers the additional expense that is generated by the replacement of other components that can be affected by the failure of a wheel bearing, owners are much better off getting bearings fixed as soon as possible.
- A bad bearing will likely make a noise that grows as the vehicle speed increases.
- Bad Bearings can lead to many other issues.
- Symptoms of bad bearings are noises, pulling to one side while braking, steering vibrations, and worn tire wear.