Though wheel bearings are one of the most crucial components of your vehicle, they often get overlooked. They’re just as important as your wheels, yet when it comes to performance, they are rarely mentioned.
As vital parts of the wheel assembly, wheel bearings play a factor on vehicle steering and handling which are crucial for car safety and reliability. Wheel bearing failure can be disastrous to performance and overall safety wherein malfunctions can lead to unmanageable vehicle control.
As important components of any automobile, it’s therefore significant to understand when and how these fail. Here are some signs to determine if your wheel bearings require servicing.
Grinding when the vehicle is in motion
When your vehicle gives an audible grinding noise while in motion, it may be indicative of a mechanical damage in the wheel assembly.
The grinding may occur at different speeds but will often be heard during turning or if there is a shift in load. While many components of the wheel assembly may contribute to audible grinding noises, one of its potential culprits may be the wheel bearing.
On the other hand, if grinding is related to the wheel bearing itself, the failure may be in its roller or raceway which can result to performance unreliability and ideally requires immediate inspection or repair.
Leaking oil seals
While oil seal leaks predominantly display more frequently with heavy-duty automobile types, these are still a maintenance concern for commercial vehicles.
Oil seals are designed to protect wheel bearings against foreign contaminants from entering the wheel bearing. From time to time, these can be subjected to external forces thus reducing their performance. Potholes or debris along the roads can result in breakage or indentation in the bearing’s seal.
Wheel bearings house a certain amount of multi purpose grease to ensure optimal performance. The introduction of foreign contaminants can result in this multi purpose grease to leak which will damage wheel bearings rather quickly, causing premature failure. It is vital then that any sign of lubrication leakage be fixed sooner than later.
Wear in new tires
If your vehicle has just recently changed its tires or has completed a wheel alignment, yet unusual wear is present, it may be indicative of poor wheel bearings.
When a wheel bearing fails to deliver despite optimal conditions, compensation in performance occurs through the remaining wheels. More stress and weight are subjected on functioning tires which can cause uneven wear. While early detection is possible through the physical examination of your car’s tires, it’s crucial to examine other factors as well.
Uneven tire wear can also be indicative of improper inflation pressure, out-of-spec tire alignment, camber wear, and heel or toe tire wear. If your vehicle is experiencing unusual wear patterns, it’s imperative that a technician performs an inspection. He can quickly determine the cause, thus saving you additional time and money.
Vibration when stopping
If your vehicle is experiencing vibration or pulls when brakes are applied, your wheel bearings may be failing.
Modern vehicles will present an ABS warning light when detecting anything unusual in the wheel assembly. While most will assume the ABS light as an indicator of brake problems, it may actually be bad bearings. The ABS system cannot fully determine the cause of unusual activity happening in the wheel assembly.
Vibration or brake “pull” that causes excessive “runout” when brakes are deployed is a clear indication of bearing problems. It is a good idea to submit your vehicle to a licensed technician to examine the root cause.
Check your service journal
Wheel bearings that perform to their full-service life can operate up to 30,000 miles. If bearings are regularly maintained and lubricated every 2,000 to 3,000 miles, they could function optimally for 100,000 miles.
Your vehicle’s service records can give an indication of when your car needs new wheel bearings. If your wheel bearings are unable to function the allotted 30,000 miles then that could be an early indication of bearing failure. Your service journal is a good bookmark to dictate the last time your wheel bearings have been serviced.
Wheel bearings are essential to the optimal performance of any vehicle. As such, it’s important not to overlook these vital components when aiming for your vehicle’s maximum performance. Drivers should be familiar with the symptoms of bad wheel bearings. When in doubt, have your vehicle inspected by a licensed mechanic. Their expertise and knowledge, coupled with the tools necessary for the job will ensure a correct diagnosis.
Hassanein Alwan is the Marketing Director of Mineral Circles Bearings with more than 10 years’ experience in the bearing industry’s technical support division, sales and marketing, plus strategic business development consultancy.
With a degree of Master of Science in Engineering from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and an International Diploma in Business from the University of Cambridge, he started his career in Sweden as a Machine Safety engineer for Gröna Lund and as SAAB Aerosystems’ Aeronautical engineer. Today, he serves as a member of the Know Your Market Committee after joining EPTDA in 2013.