These minor issues can become major problems, such as reduced stability and control, if left unchecked. Aside from potential safety hazards, these can also lead to costly repairs.
But don’t panic.
We’ll explore the ins and outs of wheel bearings, including how long you can drive on a bad wheel bearing and the potential implications of ignoring it.
Let’s dive in!
This Article Contains:
- How Long Can You Drive On a Bad Wheel Bearing?
- Is it Safe to Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearing?
- How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Bad Wheel Bearing?
- How to Tell Which Bearing Is Bad
- How to Replace Wheel Bearings (Step-By-Step)
- 3 FAQs on Wheel Bearing
How Long Can You Drive On a Bad Wheel Bearing?
There’s no surefire way of determining how far you can drive on a bad wheel bearing since it depends on your driving style, the condition of the road, and many other factors.
Typically, wheel bearings, composed of steel balls housed in a wheel hub assembly, should last between 5 and 10 years or about 100,000 miles.
However, they can fail prematurely, leading to uneven wear on your tires and brake pads and potentially unsafe driving conditions. A grinding noise or more looseness in the steering are two common signs your vehicle’s wheel bearing needs to be replaced by a qualified mechanic.
Now that we’ve explored the lifespan of a failing wheel bearing, should you even consider driving with one?
Is it Safe to Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearing?
There are several consequences to having a wheel bearing fail while driving, from mild to potentially life-threatening.
- Noise increase: Wheel bearing noise sounds like a loud growling or grinding noise from the wheel or tire. A noisy wheel bearing is not only unpleasant to drive with but is often one of the first indications you have a wheel bearing issue.
- Vibration or wobbling: A loose wheel bearing or one that’s deteriorating can cause a noticeable vibration or wobble in the steering wheel. You may notice it worsens when turning or accelerating.
- Steering issues: Once the vehicle’s wheel bearing has failed, it can create steering problems or make it difficult to keep the car straight.
- Wheel lock: In extreme cases, the failed bearing can cause the wheel to seize while driving, making the vehicle difficult to control.
- Wheel detaches: In the worst-case scenario, a worn bearing can fail catastrophically to the point where it can’t support the wheel, causing it to separate from the vehicle.
Bottom line: It’s crucial to have a damaged wheel bearing replaced as soon as it shows signs of wear.
With that, let’s see how much a replacement costs.
How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Bad Wheel Bearing?
Generally, you can pay between $125 and $750 to fix a wheel bearing issue. The cost primarily comes down to the type of bearings your vehicle uses — ball bearing, roller bearing, or taper bearings.
Wheel bearings, often consisting of steel balls, are usually sealed within the hub assembly, meaning the entire assembly would need replacing. Additionally, not all bearings are the same:
- Ball bearing: $10 per bearing
- Tapered bearings: $13 per bearing
- Roller bearings: $32 per bearing
Diagnosing which specific wheel bearing is faulty can be tricky. Fortunately, there are ways to identify a noisy wheel bearing yourself, potentially saving you some diagnostic costs.
Let’s take a look.
How to Tell Which Bearing Is Bad
Here’s a test you can do to try to narrow down the faulty bearing:
- Find a flat, quiet road: You’ll need to make wide turns with your steering wheel, so finding a place with no obstacles is important.
- Open both the front windows: This will help ensure you hear the sounds of a failing bearing. Listen carefully for the rear bearing as well.
- Drive slowly while making large sweeping turns: Weave the car left and right and listen for the wheel bearing noise. Also, pay close attention to how the steering wheel feels.
Alternatively, try jacking up each wheel. Then, firmly grip the top and bottom of the wheel with two hands and try to move it forward and backward. If it’s tight, your wheel bearing is fine, but excessive play can indicate a bad bearing.
When checking the rear wheel bearing, excessive play, both vertically or horizontally, in the wheel can indicate the rear bearing is failing.
Identifying the failing bearing can save the mechanic some time. Once they know which bearing needs replacing, their expertise and the right tools make it a relatively easy job.
How to Replace Wheel Bearings (Step-By-Step)
Here’s a quick rundown of how a mechanic would go about a wheel bearing replacement:
- They’ll begin by loosening the lug nuts before jacking the car, which is crucial in dismantling the wheel assembly.
- With the vehicle lifted, they’ll unscrew the lugnuts and remove the wheel to inspect for a worn wheel bearing.
- If they spot a faulty wheel bearing, they’ll remove the brake caliper and brake pads before removing the rotor.
- Next, they’ll detach the hub assembly from the steering knuckle and take it apart to access the damaged wheel bearing.
- If replacing a worn wheel bearing requires installing a new hub, the mechanic will bolt it to the steering knuckle. If pressing in new bearings, they’ll ensure they’re properly aligned and seated. Faulty installation can lead to a prematurely failing wheel bearing.
- Finally, they’ll reattach the brake rotor, brake pads, caliper, and the wheel.
Next, let’s look at some commonly asked wheel-bearing questions.
3 FAQs on Wheel Bearing
Here are answers to three common queries about wheel bearings:
1. What Is a Wheel Bearing and Why Is it Important?
A wheel bearing is a set of steel balls (ball bearings) or tapers (tapered bearings) slotted inside a ring. The axle connects to the wheel through the bearing and allows the wheel to rotate smoothly.
Wheel bearings are essential for:
- Reducing friction between the wheel and the axle
- Ensuring a smooth ride by maintaining consistent wheel speed
- Load support
2. How Can I Prevent Wheel Bearing Failure?
You can avoid roadside breakdowns and save on auto repair with a few simple car care tips:
- Regular maintenance: The best way to prevent a car’s wheel bearing from failing is to inspect them regularly, especially during routine automotive service. Listen closely for unusual noise — a key indicator of bearing issues.
- Avoid mud and water: Water and dirt can cause the bearings to deteriorate. This is particularly harmful at high speed and can create a wheel bearing problem.
- Steer clear of potholes: Harsh impacts from potholes, curbs, or a speed bump can damage wheel bearings and lead to premature failure. These impacts can also compromise the vehicle’s stability, especially when driving at high speed.
- Refrain from overloading your car: Excessive weight can put extra stress on the wheel bearings. Stick to the manufacturer’s weight limits to be safe. Overloading can also lead to an unusual noise, a common symptom of a bearing or axle shaft in distress.
3. Can a Bad Wheel Bearing Affect Fuel Efficiency?
Yes. A bad wheel bearing can affect your fuel efficiency in several ways:
- Increased friction: A worn bearing likely won’t rotate smoothly, leading to increased wheel friction. This makes the engine work harder to maintain speed, translating into higher fuel consumption.
- Uneven tire wear: A wheel bearing problem can cause misaligned wheels, resulting in uneven tire wear. This increases the rolling resistance, requiring more effort from the engine.
- Wobbles: If a bad bearing has caused the wheel to wobble or vibrate, the engine must compensate for this increased instability.
Stay Safe on the Road With AutoNation Mobile Service
Wheel bearings are a small but mighty component of your car. While driving for a short distance with a faulty wheel bearing is possible, it’s best to avoid doing so.
A worn bearing can be more than just an annoyance — it can create serious safety concerns.
Instead, you should book an automotive service with a mobile mechanic like AutoNation Mobile Service. Our expert mechanics can sort out a wheel bearing replacement right from your driveway.
Contact us for an auto repair quote today.