You already know your vehicle cannot operate safely or effectively without robust wheels. You may not realize that the wheel is not a specific component. In reality, a great deal of complexity is involved in constructing a wheel, and multiple components must be connected.
A prime illustration of this is the wheel bearing. Wheel bearings are essential for the smooth operation of your wheels, particularly the hub, tire, and components. They are also susceptible to overuse, which makes it imperative to recognize the signs and symptoms of a failing wheel bearing.
What Are Wheel Bearings?
A set of ball bearings or tapered bearings is what we refer to as a wheel bearing. Ball bearings are made of steel, and tapered bearings are made of steel. A metal ring known as a “race” keeps these bearings in place so they can rotate freely. It is called a “hub,” a hollow piece of metal located in the middle of the wheel. The wheel bearings are designed to fit within the hub, which helps the wheels to rotate.
How Does a Wheel Bearing Work?
To make it easy, imagine 2 rings, one bigger than the other, then you put one inside the other and insert multiple mini steel balls between them. Now you hold the inner ring still, and the other one will be able to move as it would roll, thanks to the mini steel balls.
How Long Do Wheel Bearings Last?
Although wheel bearings are designed to last the whole life of a vehicle, they can wear out and break. Wheel bearings typically last between 85,000 and 100,000 miles before they must be changed. Some vehicles’ wheel bearings live significantly longer than others, while others require replacement relatively soon. It depends on the quality of your wheel bearings and the conditions under which you typically drive.
Since wheel bearings are positioned on the wheel, they must survive hard driving and weather conditions, including potholes, speed bumps, rain, dust, and more. These complex conditions can shorten their lifespan, so instead of relying on a schedule, you should keep an eye out for the indicators of a deteriorating wheel bearing.
What Can Cause Wheel Bearing Damage?
Wheel bearings are especially susceptible to damage when struck by a pothole, a high curb, or a speed bump at a high rate of speed.
If water, mud, road salt, or sand penetrates the seal and comes into contact with the bearings, it will contaminate the grease, causing the bearings to wear out prematurely and fail. Additionally, disregarding damaged wheel bearings might cause harm to the vehicle’s constant velocity joint (CV joint) or automatic transmission. The outer CV joint connects the driveshaft to the wheels, while the inner CV joint connects the driveshaft to the transmission.
Symptoms Of Bad Wheel Bearing
1- Humming Sound
The first sign you will notice is the distinctive sound. It serves as a form of trademark for this issue.
Typically, first comes a barely audible buzzing sound that is readily confused with, for instance, an underinflated tire. As the issue worsens, though, the buzzing becomes nearly as loud as the engine in its latter stages.
2- Howling And Squealing Sound
In most cases, the humming is followed by a sound first described as a howl and later as a screeching.
As the wheel bearing sustains additional damage and uses up an increasing amount of its oil, it dries out. After that, the sounds are caused by an increase in the friction that exists between the inner metal parts. When you drive faster, more force is applied to the bearing, which increases noise.
3- Clicking Sound
When the problem has progressed to a later stage, you may hear a clicking sound from the wheel while driving. It’s not all that loud, but if you open the window while driving, you can hear it.
Initially, it sounds like a small metal ball striking the wheel, but it gets significantly more noticeable as time passes.
As was the case with the humming sound, this is easily misunderstood as a malfunctioning CV joint, for example. If this is the only symptom you are experiencing, it is essential to thoroughly examine the undercarriage to prevent making an error.
4- Grinding Sound
The wheel bearing has reached the end of its useful life when it begins to make a grinding sound. In most cases, this indicates that the bearing’s internal components are barely holding together and that a total failure of the bearing is on the horizon.
Even to the point where it’s possible for the bearing to become jammed, preventing the wheel from turning. There is a loud, distinctive sound similar to metal, and it sounds like bits of metal are grinding together. I feel obligated to point out that you should strive not to let the problem reach this point and act before the grinding begins.
5- Steering wheel vibration
A faulty wheel bearing might produce vibrations in the steering wheel, particularly if the front wheels are afflicted. If only the rear wheel bearings are faulty, the vibration is primarily felt beneath the seats.
Unbalanced wheels typically cause steering wheel vibration; consequently, you should only investigate a faulty wheel bearing if the vibrations are accompanied by a humming or grinding sound.
6- ABS Warning Light Comes Up On The Dashboard
Since the speed sensor is (in the vast majority of instances) placed within the same wheel assembly, the ABS warning light may illuminate. When the wheel bearing has reached the end of its useful life, it may wobble, leading to a fault in the ABS.
7- Wheel Wobble
This is one of the indications of a severely deteriorated wheel bearing. Similar to the grinding sound, if you see this symptom, you should immediately replace the wheel bearing. Since the bearing holds the entire wheel to the drive shaft, damage results in undesirable play.
This indicates that the entire wheel has undesirable play. The most typical cause of this is damage to the cage and rollers within the wheel bearing. This can be easily detected by raising the vehicle and attempting to rotate the wheel from side to side. The play will then begin.
8- Vehicle Pulls To One Side
Since the wheel is practically unbalanced, you may notice that your vehicle pulls to one side in addition to the wheel wobbling. It’s very similar to when a car’s tires aren’t correctly balanced or when one of the tires isn’t inflated to the correct level. In the beginning, the pull is hardly perceptible; nevertheless, if you do not take action in time, it may pull significantly to one side.
10- Steering Wheel Response
The fact that the wheel hub assembly on one side isn’t functioning correctly will manifest in the vehicle’s steering if the problem persists. It is possible that, rather than having the normal snappy response, it will feel somewhat delayed or as though it is putting up a bit of a battle. Overall, this is one of the negative symptoms associated with the wheel bearing, and it feels bizarre.
11- Greasy Marks On The Wheel Hub, Wheel Rim, Or HubCap
The last symptom on this list, greasy stains on the wheel hub or rim, is possibly the least obvious. In most cases, all of the initial symptoms are already present. Therefore you will likely not notice this. Nonetheless, if you see this, such as when changing a tire or performing an inspection, give it a second look. Make an immediate inspection if you notice thick, typically black or green, oil around the center of the wheel hub, on the inner portion of the wheel rim, or on the hubcap.
This is caused by a broken or missing seal on the bearing, which allows all lubricants to escape. Lacking lubrication, the wheel bearing will eventually become severely damaged.
When discussing problematic wheel-bearing symptoms, it is crucial to recognize them and respond promptly. Again, the first symptom you will notice is the humming sound, followed by the other sounds. The duration of these sounds before the onset of the other symptoms is considerable. By long, I mean at least a few hundred or even a few thousand kilometers, giving you more than enough time to resolve the issue.
Until then, the vehicle is drivable, but this should not be used as an excuse for not resolving the issue. When the problem progresses to the point where the wheel wobbles, the steering wheel vibrates, or the wheel has excessive play, the issue may be severe. Serious indicates that the vehicle’s stability may be impaired, which is risky. It is best to avoid letting the situation reach this point and to address the issue as soon as the buzzing begins.