As a driver, being able to know the warning signs of a faulty wheel bearing can save you thousands of dollars in repairs – and save you the trouble of unsafe driving experiences. By learning how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, you can keep your car driving safely on the road.
Let’s talk about the function of the wheel bearing, the causes of a faulty bearing, the symptoms of a non-working wheel and suspension system, and the average repair costs for wheel bearings!
What is the wheel bearing?
A wheel bearing is a set of steel balls held together by a metal ring called a rise. They help wheels spin fast, smoothly, and with title friction as possible to go the right speeds and glide smoothly. They are used on all kinds of cars, trucks, sedans, coupes, bicycles, and aircraft.
On your vehicle, they are generally on a metal axle shaft and fit tightly inside of the hub, which is a hollow chunk of metal at the center of the wheel. The hub then is in charge of holding the lug bolts that you use to connect the tire on the wheel. The wheel bearing is then pressed into the wheel hub from the back of the front wheel bearing.
For drivers to learn how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, they need to know the function of this part in your car and the mechanism for how it operates.
Causes of Bad Wheel Bearings
When a bearing is cooling off after being used, the contracting metal, air, and lubricant can cause a vacuum that needs to be held by the seals. If the seals are damaged and cannot hold the vacuum, the bearing or the hub will suck in any outside debris and water. In some parts, it is almost as bad as excess salt or ocean water on the front wheel bearings.
If you notice that your front wheel bearing is going bad, a driver may notice some steering wander or looseness in the steering wheel, or noise coming from the vicinity of the wheel. The noise may change when the wheel is turning, or when the wheel bearing noise disappears at certain speeds. If you notice loose steering, this is one way to learn how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad.
When a wheel bearing wears out, it is usually a case of not enough lubrication, improper installation, or faulty adjustment. For the wheel bearing repair to be successful, you must first determine why the bearing failures previously occurred in your car. For sealed hub units, you will have to analyze the internal bearings and see the condition they are in.
Exposure to Outside Elements
The most common failure pattern for wheel bearings is for the bearings on the passenger side of the vehicle to fail first. The passenger side front bearings are exposed to the most standing water in the gutter. If the bearings on the driver side fail first, this can lead quicker to full failure.
As you can see, learning the causes of the bad wheel bearings can educate car owners to learn how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad.
Symptoms of Worn Wheel Bearings
Clicking or Snapping Sounds
One of the most common signs of a worn-out or damaged wheel bearing is loud clicking, snapping, or popping noises. If you hear any of these sounds, you may have a damaged CV joint, damaged end of the bearing, or poor clamping.
- If you need to replace the CV joint, the replacement price is between $95 and $120 for just the parts, while the total replacement price is between $165 and $800. When looking at how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, you need to keep an eye out for any CV joint issues.
The next most common sign of how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad is grinding sounds and feelings. This usually means that there is mechanical damage within the wheel system, hinting that there might be damage to the integrity of the entire structure.
Clunking or Knocking Noises
If you hear clunking or knocking noises from under the hood, this is a foolproof way to know how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad. If you hear excess noise, it indicates too much play in the U-joint or backlash with various gears.
- Replacing the U joint typically costs between $200 and $450, including the labor and the cost of the parts.
- The average price for the u-joint replacement cost ranges between $190 and $260 for the replacement, while the labor on this job runs between $170 and $210 on average. The cost of the parts ranges between $20 and $50.
- Keep in mind, the average u-joint replacement cost will vary depending on the type of vehicle, the model year, and any other problems in your car.
Rumbling or Humming
The rumbling noises that are low and guttural typically come from electrical, tire, or drivetrain issues.
- Replacing the drivetrain in your vehicle is usually part of multiple repairs in your car, including the labor price coming in between $100 and $200 per hour.
- Replacing the tires on your car usually range between $100 and $1,000 depending on the tire set, the type of car, and if you use tires for high-performance use.
No car driver wants to feel as if they are unsteady while driving. Wobbling and wheel vibrations are typically shown by worn tires, suspension damage, and wheel components that have broken down over time. When looking at how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, you may need to inspect the mechanical damage to the wheel hub or bearings.
- Replacing the car frame can help you remedy some of the problematic symptoms, like fixing the bent structure for around $300.
- The average cost of suspension repair is between $100 and $5,000 to fix wheel vibrations, helping figure out how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad.
Shuddering or Vibrating
Shuddering or vibrating at constant speeds shown worn-out suspension components or signs of the tires being unbalanced. When finding out how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, you may need to pay for a tire alignment in your vehicle.
- Paying for a tire alignment is usually between $50 and $75 for two-wheel alignment and around $100 and $150 for a four-wheel alignment.
Side Pulling When Braking
If you find your car moves to one side when braking, this is a sign of damaged rotors or brakes.
- Replacing your brake rotors costs between $200 and $400 for the parts and around $150 for the labor. The total for the brake rotor replacement comes to between $350 and $500 when looking at how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad.
- Replacing the brake pads in your vehicle is usually between $150 to $300 per axle.
Uneven Brake Pad Wear
When drivers try to determine how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, any damage or wear and tear to the brake rotors show that bearings can cause severe looseness and excessive friction on the rotors and brake pads.
- Replacing the brake pads in your vehicle is usually between $150 to $300 per axle.
Uneven Tire Wear
Uneven tire wear is one of the most common symptoms that something is wrong with your wheel bearings. Excess looseness and too much bearing wear can cause an uneven wear-down of the tires, often resulting in a tire replacement.
- The most inexpensive price for replacing tires is between $50 and $150 each, with the total replacement price ranging from $400 to as high as $1,800 for high-end cars.
Lastly, the final sign when looking at how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad is ABS failure due to damage to the external or internal of the hub wheel bearing assembly.
- Replacing the ABS module in your vehicle is usually between $897 and $946, with the labor coming to between $99 and $124 and the parts between $799 and $821.
Average Cost To Repair Wheel Bearings
The cost to replace the wheel bearings is between an average of $260 and $480.
The wheel bearings are built into the steering knuckle arm assembly and connect to your vehicle’s axle components. These wheel bearings are made to last for multiple years and shouldn’t have to be replaced. However, sometimes you may have to find out how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad.
The parts line for replacing the front wheel bearings on both sides is between an average of $120 and $200. However, the labor will be more expensive than the parts, costing between $140 and $280. The exact cost will depend on the prices of your local repair shop and the specific make, model, and year of your vehicle.
If you are just replacing the front wheel bearing on one side, then these costs will be half the price of both of the parts. For the total cost, expect to pay around $139 and $220, with the parts being between $60 and $100, and labor between $70 and $140.
Steps to Replacing Wheel Bearings
- Remove the Caliper and Bracket – The first step is to remove the caliper using a ratchet and socket set.
- Remove the Outer Wheel Bearing – Next, remove the outer wheel bearing by prying off the central dust cap and exposing the retaining nut. Use the pliers to remove the cotter pin and nut, then sliding the rotor forward to release the outer wheel bearing.
- Remove the Rotor and Inner Wheel Bearing – Once the outer wheel bearing is removed, replace the retaining nut on the spindle and grab the rotor with your hands. Pull the rotor off the spindle, releasing the internal bearing and grease seal.
- Rub Bearing Grease on the Casing – Place the root face down with the backside facing upwards. Take the larger bearing and rub the bearing grease on the casing. If you are looking at how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, you may see signs of damage to the outer wheel bearing on this step.
- Install the New Bearing – Once this is complete, you can install the new bearing. Place the new bearing into the back of the roto and grease both sides of the bearing cavity. Pack the smaller bearing with grease and slide it onto the spindle in the router.
- Install the New Cotter Pin – Tighten the retaining nut and turn the rotor counterclockwise to get a snug fit.
- Put the Brake Rotor and Caliper Back On – Now that the new bearing is installed in your car, re-install the brake rotor and caliper using a ratchet and sockets.
- Install the Tire – If you are trying to analyze how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, you may notice some damage to your tire on this step. If you find uneven tread wear, talk to your mechanic about getting new tires. If not, reinstall the old tire by replacing the wheel and tightening the lug nuts by hand.
- Complete the Installation – The final step is to use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts and lower the vehicle to the floor.
- Test the New Wheel Bearings – Take your car for a test drive to ensure the wheels are spinning properly, the braking system is operating properly, and you feel in control of the vehicle. When analyzing how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad, you should be able to tell a big difference between the old bearings vs. the new bearings on your car.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, determining the root causes of any wheel bearing damage or wheel issues can help you keep your car on the road safely. By being aware of the causes of wheel bearing issues, like damaged seals or O-rings, and noticing the signs of faulty wheel bearings, like side pulling when braking or shuddering, you can help reduce any repair costs.
As a driver, analyzing the steps and the process for ‘how to tell if the wheel bearing is bad’ can help your car continuously perform at a high level.