When it comes to the maintenance of your automotive vehicle, an often overlooked and misrepresented component is the wheel bearing. Not only is the wheel bearing crucial in supporting the load of the vehicle, it also allows the wheel to freely rotate with as little friction as possible. It allows your vehicle to roll down the road smoothly without any problem.
With proper knowledge and maintenance, your vehicle’s wheel bearings should last the expected service life — or at the very least, up to 150,000 miles. However, there is a possibility that wheel bearings will start acting up once your vehicle has accumulated over 75,000 miles. At that point, top bearing companies suggest that it’s a good preemptive measure to have it checked by a licensed mechanic for an intensive inspection.
Once symptoms of a bearing failure appear, it’s important to avoid delaying maintenance checks or repairs to avoid serious problems in the near future. Doing so, however, may cause catastrophic damage which is something worse than you can actually think of. Once wheel bearings suddenly get dismounted from their place, in most cases, they take other parts along with them. This, then, becomes a significant safety issue that can cause serious harm.
This article elaborates on why wheel bearings need to be maintained based on your machine’s manual or your licensed mechanic’s advice.
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Wheel bearing maintenance
Found inside the wheel assembly, a wheel bearing is located between the brake disc (also known as the “brake drum”) and the drive axle which is responsible for supporting weight regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion or is at a standstill.
Though considered a low maintenance automotive component, care for an average wheel bearing should be considered every 25,000 to 30,000 miles particularly the third generation ones which should last up to 150,000 miles. However, consider having maintenance done on the latter between 85,000 and 100,000 miles just to be sure about the consistency of their performance.
Failure to do so may result in:
- Diminished gas mileage capabilities
- A reduction in performance handling
- An uncomfortable riding experience
It’s a must to know that diligent maintenance and the scheduled replacement of wheel bearings guarantee optimal vehicle operation.
It’s also important to note that low maintenance does not equate to zero maintenance. As an enclosed component, wheel bearings use multi-purpose grease to remain lubricated allowing them to spin properly. If wheel bearings are not properly maintained, this lubricant can escape its housing assembly increasing friction which can result in overheating.
Wheel bearing failure
If too much lubricant displacement occurs and wheel bearings lose their grease, the wheel bearings cannot turn freely.
Failing wheel bearings affect other parts of the wheel assembly, including but not limited to:
- The hub assembly
- The CV joint
- The axle
- Eventually, the transmission
Ultimately, bad wheel bearings can cause the wheel to seize up. This can cause the wheel to fall off entirely — an undesirable outcome in any situation, particularly while the vehicle is in motion.
Firstly, besides safety concerns, failing wheel bearings can also make a huge impact on your time and money. As previously mentioned, driving with wheel bearing failure can cause mechanical downtime. As more components of your vehicle fail, the longer service is going to be required to establish optimal driving conditions.
Secondly, bad wheel bearings can have an impact on your vehicle’s tires as well. Wheel bearing failure may cause your tires to wear out faster. Uneven tire wear can result in poor driving conditions, and you will be required to replace your tires sooner than expected – which reduces the longevity and durability of your entire car.
In general, wheel bearings have a significant impact on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. If you suspect that your wheel bearings are failing or are damaged, it’s important to bring your vehicle to a licensed mechanic for intensive inspection to know how you can perfectly deal with and prevent possible problems that may arise.
Diagnosing wheel bearing failures
When diagnosing the symptoms of poor wheel bearings, it’s best to use your senses. Wheel bearings that are failing do not do so quietly. If you hear new or unusual noise coming from your wheel assembly, do not simply ignore it for small changes can cause big problems in the future.
Noise in the wheel assembly is one of the most common indicators that your wheel bearings are failing. This is particularly true if you hear grinding at different speeds.
Other symptoms of failing wheel bearings include:
- Snapping, clicking, or popping, which can indicate excessive bearing endplay
- Wheel vibration or wobble which is generally associated with a wheel bearing that has lost adequate clamping or bearings with extreme damage
- Abnormal side pull particularly when brakes are applied
- Slack front suspension which can be associated with a lack of lubrication in the wheel bearing assembly
As the wheel assembly is a complex part of the vehicle with many components, not every symptom is associated with wheel bearings alone. While it can be bearing-related, such symptoms may also indicate a problem with another component in the wheel assembly. If any of these symptoms occur, take your vehicle to a professional mechanic to accurately diagnose the problem.
If you are going to DIY the bearing-related problem, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Avoid reusing components or parts. Simply replace them to get the most out of them.
Invest in your wheel bearings. Avoid purchasing low-quality steel bearings with poor heat tolerance and use, instead, the ones with OEM recommendations. This includes using the correct tools, investing in quality oil seals, and other quality bearings. Most importantly, always consult your vehicle’s manual first. Following the recommendations set out by the manufacturer ensures you don’t void out any warranties.
Bearing all this in mind, it’s important that you don’t panic at the first sign of trouble. Wheel bearings are made of strong steel and are highly durable. But with that said, the longer a wheel bearing problem is ignored, the more issues become compounded. Any potential scope for mistake can lead to severe damage further down the line. To avoid catastrophic failure later on, be sure to contact your licensed mechanic.
Hassanein Alwan is the Marketing Director of Mineral Circles Bearings with more than 10 years’ experience in the bearing industry’s technical support division, sales and marketing, plus strategic business development consultancy.
With a degree of Master of Science in Engineering from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and an International Diploma in Business from the University of Cambridge, he started his career in Sweden as a Machine Safety engineer for Gröna Lund and as SAAB Aerosystems’ Aeronautical engineer. Today, he serves as a member of the Know Your Market Committee after joining EPTDA in 2013