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A noisy wheel bearing is not a sound that most car owners are familiar with. The sound, a chirp or growl, is often mistakenly attributed to some kind of an engine issue. It is important to diagnose the problem correctly, as you will see here.
A noisy wheel bearing can be a sign of damage, which may cause difficulties in controlling a car steering. If the wheel bearing is ignored, there is a dangerous possibility of a tire to fall off in the most extreme cases.
Here you will find an explanation of why you should care about that weird sound coming from your wheels. You will also find guidelines on how to ensure that the wheel bearings operate smoothly throughout the duration of your car’s lifetime.
What Does a Bad Wheel Bearing Sound Like?
A wheel bearing is a set of steel balls held together in a metal ring known as a race. The hub holds the wheel bearings together as they ride on the metal axle shaft, which helps reduce friction as the wheel spins.
Most of the wheel bearings used today are of the ball bearing variety, although roller bearings are also used.
Wheel bearings should be looked at if:
- If you notice a grinding/grating noise coming from your wheels
- Check to see if the noise intensifies as you accelerate your car
- Your car seems less responsive to steering
- You notice uneven wear and tear in your tires, the tires on one side of the vehicle are more worn than tires on the other side
The sounds may even disappear momentarily as you drive, only to come back later.
What Can Cause Wheel Bearings to Become Worn Out?
Wheel bearings do not have a constant source of lubrication to stave off wear and tear, unlike engine bearings. For this reason, it is important that your wheel bearings are set tight enough in order to avoid being infiltrated by road dust and water.
Wheel bearings will also take on wear and tear more rapidly if you regularly traverse rough roads with lots of potholes.
Why Are Worn Down Wheel Bearings Dangerous?
A damaged wheel bearing causes stress on the hub, CV joint, and the transmission system of a vehicle. Your vehicle may not be as responsive to steering as it should be.
A bad wheel bearing can cause your tires to wear down more rapidly than they would otherwise. It may also lead to uneven wear on the tires of your vehicle.
In the worst cases, a bad wheel bearing can cause the wheel to stop in the middle of driving. If left to worsen for long enough, a bad wheel bearing can even cause a tire to fall off, according to Midas.
Typically, the passenger side wheel bearings are the first to fail. This is because the passenger side bearings are typically exposed to the most water.
How Can I Keep Wheel Bearings From Getting Noisy?
You can take action now to help prevent wheel bearing issues from affecting your vehicle in the future. The most common cause of wheel bearing failure is simply driving, as components break down with repeated use.
You can extend the lifespan of a wheel bearing system by servicing the wheel bearings regularly to protect them from accruing damage from heat, dirt, and water.
You can service the wheel bearings yourself using a wheel bearing grease such as Valvoline Full Synthetic Moly-Fortified Gray Grease. Check the owner’s manual of your vehicle to see which type of grease you will need for your vehicle.
The equipment you’ll need in order to grease the wheel bearings include the following:
- A container/tub of wheel bearing grease
- New grease seals for the wheel bearing
- Make sure that you are purchasing parts that are compatible with the make and model of your vehicle.
- Cotter Pins
- You can find an assortment of cotter pins here
- Basic hand tools such as a set of socket wrenches
- Spray Brake Cleaner
- Gloves (optional)
- A lug wrench
Servicing the Wheel Bearings
You will begin servicing the wheel bearings by:
- Clean off the old grease by spraying the brake cleaner on the old wheel bearings
- Observe the condition of the bearings. You may need to replace the bearings if you see some form of damage such as bluing, hotspots, or other damage.
- Force grease between the inner and outer races of the wheel bearing.
- A bearing packing tool can make this task easier.
- Rotate the bearings while adding grease
You can find the full instructions for servicing your wheel bearings here.
How Easy Is It to Replace Wheel Bearings by Yourself?
Replacing the front wheel bearings is usually pretty simple. The wheel bearings at the front of the car are replaced as a hub/bearing assembly, and you will probably not need any extra parts to fix things up.
The wheel bearings at the rear axle can be a much different story, according to these auto experts.
When you are replacing the wheel bearings at the rear, you might uncover some other underlying issues:
- The rear brake pads can become contaminated with axle lubricant.
- The rear axle bearing houses, races, seals, and axle can take on some form of damage as well.
How Often Should Wheel Bearings Be Replaced?
The majority of serviceable wheel bearings should receive maintenance every 25,000 to 35,000 miles, as is stated in this article.
This amounts to the same duration of mileage between maintenance on brake pads as well. If the wheel bearings are never serviced, the lifespan of the sealed wheel bearing and hub assembly will be somewhere in the territory of 85,000 to 100,000 miles.
Research performed by Babcox Media around 2014 showed that:
- 51% of bad wheel bearings were replaced after car owners complained about unusual noises
- 24% of bad wheel bearings were discovered during a brake job
- 19% were discovered during a wheel alignment
Guidelines For Preventing Future Wheel Bearing Failures
Most wheel bearing failures have been attributed to a few common causes. The most common causes of wheel bearing damage, as recorded in Tire Review, include:
- Inadequate lubrication
- Faulty installation
- Improper adjustment.
Wheel bearings can also accrue damage if they become bogged down frequently by a vehicle that has been overloaded.
Bearing components are heat treated in order to prevent wear and tear from exposure to the elements, such as frequent exposure to road salt. Even if the bearing has been heat-treated properly, there is a portion of the bearing left that has not received the full treatment.
Once the heat-treated layer of the wheel bearing has been broken apart, the softer metal part of the bearing will deteriorate more rapidly than the heat-treated portion did.
Guidelines for Preventing Damage
Here are some guidelines for keeping the wheel bearings from becoming damaged to the point of being squeaky:
- Never re-use grease seals
- Try to avoid buying and installing excessively cheap bearings; these bearings have probably not been full heat-treated
- Make sure that you are buying the right grease for the grease seals
- Use a torque wrench for installation
If you follow these strategies, you should be able to avoid having your wheel bearings become damaged to the point that they are noticeably squeaky.
Also read: Is A Noisy Boiler Dangerous?