You may not think about the wheel bearings in your car often—but when there’s a problem with them, it’ll cause issues that make driving noticeably harder. Of course, figuring out exactly what issues come from worn-out wheel bearings can be difficult for people without a lot of mechanical experience. That’s why we’re here to help.
We know all about wheel bearings, why they fail, and when they need to be replaced. Read on to learn about 8 common signs of wheel bearing problems so you can recognize a failing bearing in your own vehicle and order a high-quality replacement for it before it leads to other problems.
#1: Sluggish Acceleration
One of the first signs of worn out wheel bearings you should look out for is what feels like a reduction in your car’s power. Worn out bearings often create significant wobbling in vehicles, which can make your car unsteady above certain speeds and create friction that prevents them from accelerating properly.
#2: Vibrations in the Steering Wheel
That wobbling we just mentioned will probably first be noticeable in your steering wheel. You might not feel as though it’s much of an issue at first—but if you don’t replace the bearings soon, the friction will increase and can cause your entire car or truck to vibrate. In these cases, it’s best to replace the bearing ASAP to prevent unnecessary friction on your driveshaft and the rest of your transmission.
#3: Loose or Unresponsive Steering
Enough wear and tear on your drive axle can eventually affect the way your vehicle steers. If you notice that your vehicle no longer handles as responsively when turning the wheel (especially if it’s more prominent on one side, since bearings on both sides of a vehicle rarely wear out at the same time), have the bearings in your car checked by a professional mechanic ASAP.
#4: Noise When Turning or Accelerating
When bearings wear out or lose their lubrication, they can create a grinding noise. This noise is normally more noticeable when turning your vehicle to the side with the worn out bearing on it. If you hear grinding, loud humming, or rumbling coming from your vehicle during turns or while accelerating, there’s a good chance your bearings are due for replacement.
#5: Uneven Wear on Tires
When the wheel bearings on one side of your car begin to fail, they’ll cause more friction in the hub assembly of the wheels they’re attached to. As a result, that wheel won’t turn as fast as the one on the other side of your vehicle—which means the tires won’t wear evenly on both sides.
If you suspect a problem with your wheel bearings, one good rule of thumb is to take a closer look at the rubber on your vehicle. If the tires are balding on one side and have plenty of tread on the other, a worn-out bearing is likely the culprit.
#6: Clunking Noises When Hitting Bumps
When wheel bearings wear down and stop moving smoothly, they may produce a clunking or banging sound. Often, this is only noticeable when a bearing has experienced significant wear and tear—although it can also be apparent when travelling over surfaces with uneven patches.
#7: Problems with ABS
In many newer cars and trucks, wheel hub assemblies also contain the sensor for the anti-lock braking system. When the bearings inside the hub assembly fail, the ABS sensor on your dashboard may turn on.
You might think this is just an annoying light on the dash you can ignore while driving, but we strongly recommend against doing so (or driving while any of your dashboard’s warning lights are on). The ABS sensor determines when your anti-lock braking system engages—and if it detects significantly more friction on one side of your vehicle than the other, it may turn ABS on when you’re not expecting it, creating a serious safety hazard.
#8: Pulling to One Side When Turning
Even in cars without ABS, driving with worn-out bearings can cause major handling problems. Enough friction on one side of the car can result in your vehicle pulling to one side. This can make turning in one direction much more difficult than the other, reducing your ability to manoeuvre in potentially dangerous situations. It can also cause you to drift to one side while driving in a straight line unless you’re constantly applying pressure in the opposite direction—which can cause you to become fatigued more quickly, making longer drives less comfortable and much less safe.
Why Wheel Bearings Fail
Most of the time, wheel bearings fail when the seal protecting them breaks. This allows heat, water, dust, and other debris to enter the hub assembly, where it can contaminate the lubricant that keeps your bearings moving smoothly while you drive. This contamination can eventually cause the bearings to rust, which prevents them from moving smoothly against each other and creates friction within your hub assembly—putting strain on your driveshaft and ultimately your transmission.
When Should Wheel Bearings Be Replaced?
Wheel bearings just aren’t meant to last forever. In general, it’s a good idea to replace them every 85,000–100,000 miles (roughly 136,000–160,000 kms). Of course, the lifespan of your wheel bearings also depends on the quality of the products you buy—our high-quality aftermarket replacement wheel bearings are designed to last significantly longer than the cheapest options you’ll find online.