My Wheel Bearings Are Shot. What Do I Do?

There are problems with your car that you can ignore and then there are wheel bearing issues. The tiny pieces...

There are problems with your car that you can ignore and then there are wheel bearing issues. The tiny pieces of metal behind your car’s wheels play important roles in the vehicle’s operation and your safety, but they don’t last forever. Over time, wheel bearings wear out, just like nearly every other part of your car. When it comes time to replace them, your car will start warning you with sounds and vibrations.

You can jump into action and do the job yourself, but it can be a hard project to get just right. Even if you let the pros take over, you should be aware of the warning signs of bad wheel bearings and know what you need to do when you notice a problem. Car Bibles’ editors have experienced their fair share of wheel bearing failures and are here to help you get started in style.

Let’s get rolling.

What Is A Wheel Bearing And How Does It Work?

Wheel bearings are sets of steel balls that are held together by metal rings. They enable a car’s wheels to spin quickly with little friction involved. In cars, they ride on a metal axle shaft and fit inside the hub. The hub is responsible for holding the lug bolts in place to secure the wheel. 

Wheel bearings function like nearly all other ball bearings, in that they are lubricated and roll inside a contained environment, which in the case of cars is a metal ring called the race. Their purpose is to reduce friction by eliminating rubbing, replacing it with rolling balls.

Wheel Bearing Symptoms, Causes, Issues

Over time, the bearings can wear or lose lubrication. When this happens, heat and friction can build up and cause problems. The two main warning signs of bad wheel bearings are noises and steering issues, but there can also be problems with the vehicle’s ABS system, as the ABS sensor is sometimes integrated into the wheel end bearing.

  • Noise

When the bearings are damaged or lose lubrication, they’ll make noise. At first, the sound is faint, but it’ll become louder and more noticeable over time. It’s similar to the sound of a deck of cards being shuffled or the sound that a rumble strip makes when hit with tires. You may also notice a buzzing, whirring, or grinding sound when the vehicle is in motion.

  • Loose Steering

As the wheel bearings start to go, they can allow more play in the steering system. This will feel like a vagueness or will seem like the steering wheel has to be turned quite a bit further than it used to. You may also notice a vibration in the steering wheel as the changes in speeds or directions.

Car Bible’s Glossary for Wheel Bearings

Welcome to Bible School!

  • Hub

Hubs are located at the ends of a car’s axles, in the center of the wheels. They are the connection points between the wheels and the vehicle.

  • Axle

Axles are essentially large rods that support the weight of the vehicle. Parts of the axle spins to move the vehicle’s wheels. 

  • Wheel

Tires are mounted to your wheels, which are mounted to the hubs, and as the wheels spin, the car moves.

  • ABS

Anti-lock brakes, or ABS, are part of a safety system that is designed to help the driver maintain control when the brakes are pressed hard. This prevents a complete lockup, which would lead to a loss of control.

Your Questions, Our Answers on Wheel Bearings

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

Q: Can I Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearing?

A: Unfortunately, no. Driving with a worn or damaged wheel bearing can cause safety issues or damage to another vehicle component. The good news here is that wheel bearings don’t usually fail without a lengthy warning period. In other words, you’ll notice that a wheel bearing is on its way out long before it actually fails.

Q: Can I Install New Wheel Bearings Myself?

A: You can, but we recommend leaving this job to the pros. Why? Well, you’ll need the right tools (such as a wheel bearing puller) and have the ability to use them properly to achieve the correct installation. The safety issues that could come as a result of poorly installed wheel bearings are enough for us to recommend having a pro do the job.

Q: Ok, I Won’t Risk It. How Much Will A Repair Cost?

A: Replacing a wheel bearing won’t break the bank. On average, count on paying up to $250 to have the work done. Most of that cost is related to labor, which can run upwards of $150 for the job.

Video on Wheel Bearings 

Car Bible’s Favorite Wheel Bearing Related Products 

Rather than overload you with a sales pitch, we’ve selected a few of our favorite products to get you started diagnosing your wheel bearing problems like a pro. The Pro-Lift Jack Stand, Mechanix Work Gloves, and Innova OBD2 Scanner are affordable, useful, and well-reviewed. 

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Chris Teague

Chris TeagueChris used a passion for all things automotive into a good excuse to leave the corporate world and pursue a career as a writer and podcaster. Originally from Tennessee, he now lives in Maine, where he’s become an expert on how “you can’t get there from here.” Contact the author here.