A loud groaning and grinding are coming from your wheels and tires. Your car is beginning to handle more loosely, and vibrations are wobbling through the steering wheel. If you’ve gone through a few diagnostic checks and you’re still unsure what it is, it might be time for you to check your wheel bearings.
Most bearing failures are a result of simple wear, and if the above symptoms are left ignored, more serious consequences may occur. Thankfully, changing your wheel bearings is a straightforward process, and with a little bit of research, you can get your car running normally again.
If you’re not sure what a wheel bearing is or how to replace it, this guide is for you. We outline everything you need to know from how to spot a faulty wheel bearing to getting it replaced.
- What Is a Wheel Bearing?
- What Makes Wheel Bearings Break?
- Life Expectancy of a Wheel Bearing
- Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Bearing
- Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost
- Final Thoughts
What Is a Wheel Bearing?
A wheel bearing is a collection of steel ball bearings held together by a metallic ring. Wheel bearings are part of the front and rear wheel hubs. The hub is what connects the wheel to the suspension’s steering knuckle.
Wheel bearings allow the hub connected to it to spin as smoothly as possible. They will enable the vehicle to move with as little friction as possible, which ultimately improves the vehicle’s speed and performance.
There are four common types of wheel bearings, but standard ball bearings and precision ball bearings are the only types used in cars.
Wheel bearings are essential for your wheels to move correctly. Hence, when they begin to wear out, you have to replace them as soon as possible. It’s vital to know how much you are likely to be charged for a wheel bearing replacement service, to ensure that you are prepared when the time comes.
What Makes Wheel Bearings Break?
Over time, your bearings will naturally begin to wear out. Excess wear on bearings can occur if your vehicle is overloaded, causing the bearings to break down. A lack of lubrication can also contribute to the typical wear and tear of the bearings.
Life Expectancy of a Wheel Bearing
Various factors contribute to how long your bearings will last, and this includes your typical driving conditions and the bearings installed in your car. Most vehicles have sealed bearings that do not require any maintenance at all. Sealed bearings will last 100,000 miles or more.
Weather conditions also play a role in how long your bearings will last. For those that drive in moist conditions a lot, the bearings are likely to rust relatively quickly.
If you are using high-quality bearings, it will be unusual for them not to last over 150,000 miles. However, if you are using your car in extreme environments such as high heat, your bearings will need to be replaced more often.
Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Bearing
In most cases, problematic bearings are very easy to spot, and you can quickly determine if there is a problem by evaluating any changes in your car’s steering. There are a few reliable symptoms that point out faulty bearings:
Rumbling or Grinding
Grinding, groaning, or rumbling noises are indications that your bearings are beginning to wear. The noise will be more apparent the longer you drive, as the sound gets louder. The grinding noise occurs as the bearings begin to lose their lubrication, and the metal parts rub against each other aggressively.
To verify this issue, try increasing your car speed steadily to 40 MPH. You can easily detect whether it’s a front or rear bearing problem by listening to both the passenger and driver sides. Wheel bearing noise can be confused for sound coming from defective tires, though, so it’s always best to get your car checked by a professional mechanic.
Snapping or Popping
Snapping, popping, or clicking sounds are clear indications that your CV joint is beginning to wear out. The CV joint connects your wheel to the axle, which makes turning your car possible—and when it wears out, turning gets worse.
The more severe your turns are, the louder the snapping becomes. If you hear this noise while driving, there’s a good chance that your axle will need a checkup. Again, it’s essential to listen to which side the sound is coming from to get a good idea of which bearing is going bad.
Vibration and Wobbling
If you begin to notice any wobbling or vibrating in your steering wheel, this is a good indicator that you have bad bearings, and you need to replace them. When your bearings wear out, your car will feel loose for the most part, resulting in a shaky or vibrating steering wheel.
If your bearings are in good shape, your car should have little to no wobble at all. Sometimes, you will see your wheels smoking, and this occurs when your wheel bearings are entirely damaged.
Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost
The cost of replacing a wheel bearing significantly depends on the type of car you have, the model, year, your location, and the price of the mechanic. Without this information, it’s difficult to determine the actual costs. But to give you an idea of how much you are likely to spend, we have outlined the average bearing replacement costs for most vehicles.
Experienced home mechanics can replace their own wheel bearings, but we recommend that most people seek professional help, as this is not a simple repair.
Front Wheel Bearings
Front-wheel bearings typically last longer and often cost more to replace than the rear ones. The average cost for buying parts is between $150 and $200, and the average labor costs are between $350 and $450. That means you end up paying a total ranging between $500-$650 to get everything done for you.
Rear Wheel Bearings
Rear-wheel bearings will cost you less to replace. For most vehicles, the rear bearings do not last as long as the first ones and require more attention. You can expect to pay anywhere between $100-$150 for the parts. If you have to pay for a mechanic, it will cost you anywhere between $350-$450 for their service.
Front and Rear Wheel Bearings
On average, you will spend less money replacing all the wheel bearings in your car than replacing them individually. If you have to replace both the front and rear wheel bearings, it will cost anywhere between $800-$1000.
Hub Wheel Bearings
Some vehicle models use hub bearings in the rear, and for this type of vehicle, the wheel bearing is attached to the hub assembly. In some cases, you will have to replace the entire hub assembly, which makes it a bit more costly.
The costs of parts vary significantly with the type of car you have, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $400-$800 or even more.
If you experience any of the signs of faulty bearings, it’s essential to get them checked as soon as possible. When getting this done, it’s necessary to find the right mechanic, since the cheapest service is not always the best. Look for a car mechanic with good ratings and high customer satisfaction, because failing to properly resolve wheel bearing problems can have catastrophic consequences.