Is it Time for a Wheel Bearing Inspection or Replacement?

Background of metal bearings. Close up.

Wheel bearings are low-maintenance parts, but they don’t last forever! Here’s a look at what they do, how long they typically last, and some signs your wheel bearings might need replacement.

What Are Wheel Bearings?

Wheel bearings are an essential part of the wheel assembly that connects the wheel and the axle. Each wheel has a set of wheel bearings located within the wheel hub. The bearings are small steel balls or tapers, which are held together by a metal ring and packed with grease.

Wheel bearings are designed to reduce rolling friction and allow the wheel to rotate smoothly. As you might imagine, wheels can generate a lot of heat when they’re rotating! Beyond smooth wheel rotation, the bearings also help reduce heat and friction.

The lifespan of your wheel bearings can vary depending on the manufacturer, but they typically last 75,000-100,000 miles under normal driving conditions.

Why Do Wheel Bearings Fail?

Wheel bearings can fail for a number of reasons, including:

  • Faulty installation, such as using inappropriate tools during installation or reusing old accessories like bolts, nuts, split pins, etc. rather than replacing them with new ones
  • Poor road quality or impact damage from driving over potholes, speed bumps, or hitting a curb
  • Driving through mud, water, or other conditions that cause the lubrication of the bearing to become contaminated
  • Vehicle modifications, like bigger or wider rims, tires with lower thread walls, or stiffer shock absorbers and suspension springs

Low-quality wheel bearings constructed from poor materials can also have a higher failure rate than higher quality wheel bearings.

Signs You Have a Bad Wheel Bearing

Fortunately, there are some obvious signs when you have a bad wheel bearing:

  • A humming, whirring, rumbling, or grinding noise coming from the wheel
  • Uneven tire wear
  • Loose steering
  • A rough ride or excessive vibration
  • The wheel locks up
  • Issues with traction control, stability control, ABS, or other driver-assistance systems

Can Wheel Bearings Be Serviced?

You may remember the days where wheel bearing needed to be “packed.” At one time, all wheel bearings were serviceable, and you would need to add fresh grease to them occasionally.

On many modern vehicles, the wheel bearing assembly is sealed, so there’s no maintenance required. This, unfortunately, means that if the wheel bearing becomes damaged, the entire assembly must be replaced. It’s generally best to replace all four wheel bearings at the same time to ensure even, balanced driving.

Why You Should Have Your Wheel Bearings Inspected

When wheel bearings fail, it can cause the wheel to seize up—and in some cases, the wheel can even break off. Following a regular inspection schedule is the best way to prevent this potentially dangerous issue. In addition, damaged wheel bearings can put excess stress on nearby components, like the hub, CV joint, and even the transmission. Our technicians can perform a check to make sure your wheel bearings are in good condition and functioning safely.

From inspections and routine maintenance to replacement and repairs, you can rely on EuroCar Service for all your auto care needs. We specialize in all European makes and models, including BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Fiat, Volvo, Volkswagen, Saab, Smart Car, and Mini-Cooper. Contact us today at (206) 527-8828 or request an appointment online!