Holding the wheels to your vehicle’s axles and allowing them to spin freely, you will find the wheel bearings. Over time the internals of these bearings will start to fail. Debris will invade and the lubrication will become contaminated.
Once the clean environment within the bearing begins breaking down, the internals will begin to rub against each other. This will manifest as some fairly easy to diagnose symptoms when you are driving.
I invite you to read this guide and I will show you how to tell if you have a bad wheel bearing and the costs that are involved in getting it repaired.
Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms
There are 5 common bad wheel bearing symptoms to look out for in your vehicle. One symptom alone is usually not enough to diagnose that you have a bad bearing. A combination of 2 or more, however, will make it pretty much certain that this is the problem.
Uneven Tire Wear
If one of your car’s tires is wearing out faster than the others, it is likely being caused by a bad wheel bearing. When the bearing isn’t working properly it causes the tire to not roll smoothly. This in turn creates additional friction and drag on the tire, wearing it out faster than normal.
Bad Wheel Bearing Noise
The most common symptom of a bad wheel bearing is a grinding noise whilst driving. This is caused due to the excess friction inside the bearing as it’s metal parts grind against each other. If there are contaminants or inadequate lubrication within the bearing then it is going to be making a lot of noise.
Also be aware that the sound will get stronger the faster the wheel bearing is rotating. So, the higher the speed you drive at, the louder the grinding noise will become. The noise is also usually stronger when the steering wheel is turned, like when going around a corner.
There are many reasons that car’s tend to make strange noises, but keep in mind the above points so you can try and pinpoint whether it is the wheel bearing that is responsible.
Feeling Vibrations in the Steering Wheel
This symptom will usually only be noticeable if the wheel bearing becomes really worn out. The vibrations from the damaged bearing will become so strong that they travel through the axle to the steering wheel.
Just like the noise discussed above, the vibrations will be somewhat noticeable at low speeds and become more obvious as you accelerate. Likewise, making turns will tend to make the vibrations more intense.
Wheel Has a Bit of Wobble
If you suspect a bad wheel bearing, an easy way to confirm it is to jack the car up and try rocking the suspect wheel back and forth. If there is excessive play (wobbles too much), it is a very sure symptom of wheel bearing failure.
When the wheel bearing is in good condition, there should be very little wobble from side to side at all. If you are unsure, try wobbling the other wheels on your vehicle and compare if there is any obvious difference.
Car Pulls to the Side
Another one of the signs of a bad wheel bearing is if your car tends to pull in one direction while driving. The excess friction inside the wheel will cause it to turn very slightly slower than the others. This in turn will cause your car to drift to the side unless you constantly compensate with counter steering.
However, there are a few other causes for a vehicle to pull in one direction, such as the need for a wheel allignment. But if you notice this symptom in combination with others listed above, it will help you narrow the problem down to a bad wheel bearing.
Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost
The cost to replace a bad wheel bearing will of course vary depending on the vehicle you drive as well as the mechanic you take it to. European and luxury cars will tend to be more expensive for both the part and the service. If you wish to save some money, you can always do the work yourself – it is not much more difficult than changing a tire.
Rear Wheel Bearings
Generally the rear wheel bearings will be less expensive than the front. You should expect to pay between $50 and $100 per wheel bearing. If you opt to have your mechanic replace them for you, labour charges will cost between $100 and $200 per bearing. So, the total cost will range between $150 and $300 for a single wheel bearing. Double that if you need both replaced.
Rear wheel bearings will tend to become worn out faster than the front, especially in RWD vehicles. They will typically be larger since they have to bear the weight of whatever is loaded on the rear axle.
Front Wheel Bearings
For front wheel bearings, expect to pay between $40 and $90 for a single wheel. The labour charges should be the same as for the rear, so all it will cost between $140 and $290 for each wheel bearing.
Front wheel bearings are engineered differently to the rear, they have to deal with torsional forces as they pivot on the front axle. Another major difference between the two is how they are mounted.
A hub bearing is a combination of a rear wheel bearing, seals and sensors inside a single unit. They are more expensive to replace than a regular rear bearing, both in part cost and labour. You will likely pay from $200 to $400 total to have a single hub bearing replaced, depending on the vehicle.
You should be aware that there are many budget aftermarket wheel hub bearings available on the market. However, in this case you really do get what you pay for, I would suggest avoiding them due to quality concerns.
Mechanic vs DIY
Roughly two thirds of the cost of replacing wheel bearings goes to labour charges by your mechanic. However, while a little more time consuming, replacing the bearings is not much more complicated than changing a tire. Also, the required tools are very minimal, just a jack and some wrenches in most cases.
The following video shows the process of changing both the front and rear wheel bearings in good detail. If you are feeling confident, why not give it a try yourself?
Frequently Asked Questions
It is a mechanical component that connects the wheel to the axle and allows it to spin smoothly. Each bearing contains a ring of lubricated steel balls which work to dramatically reduce friction as the wheel turns.
Yes, it is still possible and quite safe to drive on, at least for the short term. However, if you continue to drive for months at a time and neglect to replace it, the steering control can eventually degrade till it does become dangerous.
The simplest method is to jack up the car so the suspect wheel can spin freely. Then try to wobble it side to side and see if there is excess play in the wheel on the axle.
It can be a little difficult to determine the difference between a bad bearing and tire noise. The bearing noise will sound rougher and more “grindy”. It will be more irregular and metallic.
Roughly one hour per wheel bearing if you know what you are doing. If you don’t have any experience or need to run around for tools, you should probably double this time estimate.
You should be able to hear by opening your car windows one at a time while driving. Listen carefully for when the sound becomes louder and try to pinpoint it’s origin.
To confirm, you will need to jack up your vehicle and rotate and wobble each wheel in turn.
Including parts and labour for a single bearing, it will you somewhere between $140 and $300. Expect to pay on the higher end if you drive a European or exotic vehicle.
Only 1/3 of that bill will be for the part itself, the other 2/3’s will go to the mechanic to fit it.