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How Do You Know Your Car Needs New Wheel Bearings?

Educational  ·  January 16, 2023

How Do You Know Your Car Needs New Wheel Bearings?

Wheel bearings are the unsung heroes of any vehicle with wheels. The bearings ensure your wheels spin smoothly with minimal friction and noise. As with everything that’s good, they don’t last forever. Wheel bearings eventually wear out, so what are the signs to look out for?

You’ll know your car needs new wheel bearings when the existing ones make weird noises like grinding, humming, growling, or clicking. Your wheels might wobble, or your car might pull to one side even when driving straight. You’ll also notice vibrations in the steering wheel and uneven tyre wear in the long run.

Note: We’ve also discussed uneven tyre wear in this article on car alignment and balancing and another piece on rotating and changing tyres.

There are no indicators or warning lights for when wheel bearings become problematic, but you’ll know what to look out for when you read this guide.

What Is a Wheel Bearing, and Where Can You Find It?

All cars rely on plenty of bearings to ensure their parts can move smoothly, silently, and with little friction. Your vehicle's wheels are a perfect example of that, which is why you'll find that each one has a wheel bearing connecting it to the axle.

The wheel bearing is a part of the wheel assembly, and as mentioned above, its purpose is to help the wheel turn with as little friction as possible. The less friction there is, the less power is wasted, and the less noise is generated.

More importantly, it’ll ensure that the turning metal parts don’t grind against each other and cause damage.

Each wheel has its wheel bearing, and they all experience roughly the same amount of wear. So, if one goes bad, it's safe to assume that the others will also go bad in no time. That's why it's always an excellent idea to replace them simultaneously as a complete set.

As you’ll read below, a wheel bearing that wears out or goes bad can be hazardous for you and anyone else in your vehicle. So, keep reading to learn how to detect the problem.

What Happens When a Wheel Bearing Goes Out?

Earlier, you read that the wheel bearing is a part of the wheel assembly, which means you won’t be able to visually detect any problems from afar.

Thankfully, there are a handful of other symptoms that will tell you it’s time to take your car to a workshop to get checked. You only need to be more observant.

Here's what happens when one or more of your car's wheel bearings go out:

1. Unusual Sounds

The first and most common sign of a problem is when you hear an unusual wheel bearing noise. A wheel bearing can suffer wear and damage in different ways, so the sounds you hear can be different.

Some of the unusual noises coming from your wheel bearing include the following:

Other car parts can produce the same noises when they become faulty. So, you must find the source if you hear those noises while driving. Alternatively, you can drive in a quiet area with the window rolled down to test your vehicle for any of those noises.

A noisy wheel bearing is never normal, so you must troubleshoot the issue as soon as you hear any of the above sounds.

2. Wheel Wobbling

Remember: Wheel bearings allow your wheels to turn smoothly and, at the same time, also cause problems for the wheel when they go bad.

For example, driving with faulty wheel bearings will cause your wheel to wobble. Worse, the wobbling will intensify when you increase your vehicle's speed.

Many things can cause wheel wobbling, but you'll still want to inspect the wheel bearings to rule out the bearings issue or replace them with a new set if necessary.

3. Loose Steering or Vibration

Whenever there's a problem with your car's wheels, there's a good chance that you'll feel it through the steering wheel. That's certainly true regarding wheel bearings that are no longer good.

This symptom is straightforward. Bearings help your wheel to turn smoothly, so problematic wheel bearings will undermine smooth rotation, and you'll feel the vibrations coming through the steering wheel.

Besides, you'll feel loose steering, like there's too much play. The faulty bearings prevent the affected wheel from turning at the same smoothness as the others, and that's why you're sensing those abnormal conditions when steering.

4. Car Pulls to One Side

Another clear sign that your car needs new wheel bearings is that the vehicle tends to pull to one side as you drive. In other words, you'll struggle to keep the car moving in a straight line.

That happens again because the affected wheel isn't spinning as freely and smoothly as the others.

There is a silver lining, though. The direction your car pulls tells you which bearing is affected. For example, if your car keeps pulling to the left, start troubleshooting by inspecting the wheel bearings on that side.

Ruling out the right side (in the case of our example) will save you time and effort, so you’ll find the faulty wheel bearings quickly.

5. Uneven Tyre Wear

Some signs are much more subtle and only become evident after an extended period, perhaps after several months or even years.

For example, you’ll likely need a wheel bearing replacement if you notice uneven tyre wear. More specifically, the tyres in one particular position of your car wear out faster than the rest.

Once you rule out other common problems like alignment and balancing problems, check to see if the wheel bearings are to blame.

How Long Can You Drive with a Bad Wheel Bearing?

Your car will remain mobile for an extended period despite needing new wheel bearings. However, you must never use that as an excuse to delay taking your car to the workshop to have them replaced.

You’ll spend significantly less to replace a wheel bearing as soon as you discover it. If you ignore it, overlook it, or decide not to replace it, you’re looking at more expensive repairs later.

In a worst-case scenario, the affected wheel could seize up entirely and cause a dangerous road accident.

So, if you suspect you need new wheel bearings or your mechanic says so, replace them immediately. Plus, if only one seems affected, you should still replace all of them simultaneously as preventive maintenance.

Remember: If one wheel bearing is already worn-out, it stands to reason that the rest will follow suit very soon. So, replacing them together now will save you from another head-scratching in the next few weeks or months.

Find any car part you need by checking out CarpartAU. Submit a request through the Part Finder and sit back as suppliers from all over the country give you their best offers. You can also find great deals on used parts through the Marketplace and save money on car parts!


By Ray Hasbollah

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