Wheel bearings are integral to your vehicle’s safety and function, and can be destroyed without proper care and maintenance. If you don’t maintain them and you start noticing bad wheel bearing symptoms, you might just lose your entire wheel.
For many vehicle owners, concerns around cost and time spent can prevent them from getting their vehicle’s bearings the care that they need. A lack of underlying knowledge around symptoms of bad wheel bearings also makes it difficult.
If you suspect that you may be dealing with wheel bearing malfunction, we recommend researching and determining what the symptoms of bad wheel bearings are, as to avoid possible misdiagnosis, and what the average wheel bearing replacement cost is.
This way, you’re aware of every option and avenue available to you, and can walk away with the greatest possible benefit from your vehicle maintenance experience.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms of bad wheel bearings that you should watch for on your next drive.
1. Braking issues
One of the most alarming and noticeable signs of bad wheel bearings are brake issues, which can occur when your wheel bearings are worn down and loose in the housing. You may notice inefficient braking on the road, brake “slips,” or uneven wear on your brake pads.
Loose wheel bearings cause the rotor to shift, which can cause the piston to have a further overall distance to move when you tap on your breaks. This can cause the inconsistent wear patterns and “spongy” braking experience you’ll see with loose bearings.
2. Uneven tire wear
Loose wheel bearings have a direct effect on your tires, and can cause them to unnecessarily shift and pivot when on the road. This can cause inconsistent wear patterns on your tires, which you will be able to see with regular tire inspections.
Uneven wear on your tires can be a symptom of other car maintenance needs, such as inflation issues, suspension problems, or misalignment from unfavorable road conditions or collisions.
3. “Vibrating” steering wheel
If you notice a vibration when you steer your vehicle, it may be time to check your vehicle’s wheel bearings. You might notice that this vibration becomes more severe with excessive speed, or through particularly steep turns.
This is because there is significant “bearing play” occurring in your wheel bearing housing area, which is causing quicker rates of failure and could lead to loss of tires if untreated.
4. ABS service light issues
Lights on your vehicle’s dashboard, such as your ABS or your tire pressure gauge light could be a symptom of a bad wheel bearing. This is because loose wheel bearings can put undue pressure on the braking and tire functions of the vehicle, which can cause the light to falsely illuminate.
If you notice this, you may benefit from running a code check on your vehicle. While there isn’t a code that exclusively indicates a loose wheel bearing, there are codes that indicate ABS speed sensor malfunction – which could really mean that your wheel bearings are failing and straining the system.
5. Humming or growling noises
If you’re hearing a low hum or “growl” as you drive your car, there’s a good sign that your wheel bearings are being strained. You’ll hear these noises due to the frequency and speed of the vibration in the wheel bearing housing, made worse by the looseness of the components.
While these noises can be caused by other issues (such as a CV joint issue or frame problem), a noise that’s a symptom of a bad wheel bearing will get increasingly louder depending on how loud you’re driving. This is a great rule of thumb to help you to avoid misdiagnosis.
6. Less precise driving and steering
Mechanics call this phenomenon “looseness.” Looseness indicates a less precise driving experience, and can feel as if your car is less responsive or just a few seconds late to whatever you’re trying to do during the course of your drive. This is often one of the first signs of wheel bearing failure, which can be made worse when driving at high speeds.
7. Clicking noises
A clicking noise can also be a sign of a faulty wheel bearing, indicating a problem with the assembly itself. This, like the other noises, can be more accurately attributed to wheel bearing issues if the sound gets worse when you accelerate.
What happens if you drive with a bad wheel bearing?
It can be very dangerous to continue to drive normally with a faulty wheel bearing. If you drive with a bad wheel bearing, you risk losing your entire wheel. Your wheel could stop in the middle of your driving experience, which could put you at a higher risk for a crash.
You can also risk permanently damaging your CV joint and transmission, as the systems will be working to compensate for the inconsistent driving and wear due to the faulty wheel bearing. Knowing these bad wheel bearing symptoms can help you to more quickly identify when there’s a problem, and can help you to get the maintenance you need more efficiently – minimizing your risk of long-term issues.
How long can you drive with bad wheel bearings?
If you suspect that you’re dealing with faulty wheel bearings, we don’t recommend driving for distances longer than a few hundred miles. It’s best to minimize driving as much as possible to reduce the risk of permanent system damage or transmission problems, and to get your vehicle serviced as soon as you can after you notice the onset of symptoms.
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