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Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Bearing

The wheel bearings on your vehicle have two essential functions: They let your wheels spin with a minimum amount of friction, and they keep the wheels attached to the vehicle — pretty important stuff. 

The type of wheel bearings you have depends on how old your car is. Vehicles made before 2000 or so have bearings that can be cleaned and repacked with grease at regular intervals. More recent vehicles have sealed bearings that can’t be serviced and have to be replaced when they wear out. 

Regardless of your car's age, it has front wheel bearings, which help out with steering, and rear wheel bearings, which don't. Each wheel on your vehicle has its own wheel bearing, and problems could start with any one of them. If you notice any of the following symptoms of a wheel bearing problem, get it to your mechanic immediately.

 

Get it diagnosed by a professional

 

Symptoms of wheel bearing problems

Here are some of the more common signs your wheel bearings need attention.

You hear noises coming from the wheels or tires: Worn bearings often make a grinding, groaning, growling, roaring or rumbling sound that increases with the speed of the vehicle. The noises may also get louder when you make a turn. Scraping or clicking noises can sometimes be heard at low speeds. If the noises come and go when transitioning to different road surfaces, then the issue is likely from the tires and not the wheel bearings. 

Your car handles more loosely: If your vehicle starts to feel loose and sloppy, like the wheels are not securely attached, you could have a bad wheel bearing. Worn wheel bearings result in excess play between parts inside the bearing, which produces that imprecise feeling when steering or just cruising down the road. 

You feel vibrations and wobbling through the steering wheel: Worn bearing components in your front end can be transmitted through the steering system, right to your hands on the wheel.

Your car pulls to one side as you drive: This may occur at random, giving you the feeling that you do not have complete control of your vehicle. 

Your tires wear unevenly: Your tires may be telling you that your wheel bearings are in bad shape. A pattern of extremely uneven tire wear can be caused by the vibration and looseness of worn bearings.

Your wheel starts smoking: Things are getting really bad if this happens. Your wheel bearing’s internal parts are making metal-to-metal contact, generating intense heat and setting fire to whatever grease remains inside. Your wheel bearing is about to totally fail. Stop driving immediately.

Your wheel comes off the vehicle: If you don’t get your car repaired when you notice the above warning signs, this will be the end result. Your wheel bearing will disintegrate, and the wheel and tire will detach from your vehicle, rolling away and causing you and other drivers great danger.

Resolving your wheel bearing problems

Catching a wheel bearing problem early will help ease the financial damage to your pocketbook — and prevent any actual damage, too. At the first sign of odd wheel noises, pulling, looseness or vibration, take your car to your mechanic. 

The repair process involves removing the wheel and tire, as well as the brake disc or drum. The wheel bearing can then be repaired or replaced, depending on the type and the amount of damage done. The hub or suspension may also need to be removed, depending on the vehicle’s suspension design. The wheels may also need to be aligned after replacing the wheel bearings.

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