Wheel bearings failure has some well-known symptoms. For instance, your vehicle makes abnormal noises. The steering wheel shakes during driving. But what about the brakes? Do wheel bearings affect brakes too? Yes, and it can result in horrible road accidents.
There might be two kinds of problems with your brakes in this case. Firstly, you will feel the pedal is lower to the ground (or flatter) than usual. Secondly, failed wheel bearings can upset the ABS. As a result, you might find your brakes locked your wheels during emergencies.
The solution is to deal with your faulty wheel bearing properly. Find out how you can do that cheaply and with the least effort.
How Does The Wheel Bearing Affect The Brakes?
Bad wheel bearings disturb the mechanics of the braking system. Also, the computer unit that keeps your wheels from locking up during hard brakes can’t collect its necessary data. As a result, your brakes become unresponsive and unpredictable.
Spongy or Low Brake Pedal
When you put your foot down on the brake pedal, it pumps fluid into the caliper piston. So it moves and contacts the brake pads.
The friction resulting from the rotor and the brake pads brings the vehicle to a halt.
The wheel bearings are responsible for the alignment of these brake rotors.
When one or more bearings are damaged, the rotor becomes clumsy. It forces the caliper to stay further away from it than usual.
So, when you push down on the brake pedal, the piston has to travel an extra distance. This makes the pedal feel spongy, low, or flat.
Undesired Engagement of the ABS
The wheel speed sensors in your car collect information about the wheel bearing. It sends this data to the Anti-lock Braking system.
The ABS analyzes the data and assesses your wheels’ speed and rotation. It then decides whether or not to engage the brakes.
A faulty ball bearing messes up the data and causes an error in the ABS. As a result, the system starts to act erratically.
For instance, you might find the brakes locked when trying to stop your car. Or the brakes can engage during driving.
What Are the Symptoms of A Defective Wheel Bearing?
Faults in the wheel bearing will manifest in various ways. You must identify them early and take action. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with extensive damage to your car in the future.
Look out for these symptoms when your vehicle is nearing the 100,000 miles landmark.
- During acceleration, a squealing, growling, grating, grinding, or humming noise comes from the wheel.
- The car veers off to one side when driving (usually, this side’s bearing is affected).
- You can manually shake the tire and wheel (a ‘wheel wobble’).
- Illuminated Anti-lock Warning light.
- Vibrating and loose steering.
Sometimes a wheel bearing can produce these symptoms much before the car hits 100,000 miles. This is especially true when you regularly drive on roads riddled with potholes.
What Can Happen If You Keep Driving With A Bad Wheel Bearing?
Driving with a bad wheel bearing can do passive damage to other parts of your car. Eventually, you would have to spend money on costly repairs.
In the worst-case scenario, you can meet with a fatal accident. And at the least, it can make driving uncomfortable for you.
Tires Will Wear Out Fast
The wheel bearing’s function is to reduce friction during the spin. A faulty bearing fails to deal with the friction.
As a result, the wheel becomes misaligned and loses sync with the rest of the vehicle.
When you drive with this wobbly wheel, the tire experiences uneven stress along its threads. Therefore, it loses its threads faster and quickly wears out.
Wheel bearings are crucial in holding the tires in place. But worn down bearings lose their ability to do the job properly. As a result, the attachment of your wheel to your car becomes weak.
Ultimately, it can result in your wheeling falling off while you are speeding through the highway. And that’s one deadly accident.
Meanwhile, faulty bearings also make your car’s brake system unresponsive. So, you might be unable to stop your vehicle to avoid collisions.
Damage To Constant Velocity Shaft
The Constant Velocity shaft relays power from the transmission to the wheels. And the wheel bearing is at the junction where the wheel and shaft connect.
When the wheel bearing is blown, the shaft becomes loose. This causes excessive movement of the shaft and damages the axle spindle.
The CV shaft is what moves your car forward. So, damage to this part can make your vehicle totally useless.
For bigger and moderately expensive models, the cost of a CV shaft can be a little above a thousand dollars. Plus, there’s the complicated and costly replacement service.
Stress on Transmission System
Wheel bearings are responsible for the seamless transition of power from the transmission to the wheels.
Faulty bearings make this impossible. This makes the transmission system unstable and stressed. Over time this wears down the system, and you might soon need a replacement.
Transmission replacement is one of the costliest car repairs. For the average car, a new transmission’s price can be more than two thousand dollars (plus the high labor charges).
Your steering wheel will always shake and vibrate when you have bad wheel bearings. And this will only get worse as you increase your vehicle’s speed.
At the same time, you will always feel like the car is irritatingly pulling to one side. On top of that, there will be a constant grinding or humming noise.
All of this adds to the existing stress of navigating through busy traffic. Thus, driving becomes an unpleasant experience for you.
What To Do When Wheel Bearings Are Damaged/Bad?
At first, you will want to make sure the wheel bearing is to blame. Many other damaged parts can present the same symptoms.
After confirmation, locate the damaged set. Next comes replacement. This will differ according to your wheel assembly type.
Properly Diagnose the Problem
If you suspect a wheel-bearing problem in your car, try to make a definitive diagnosis yourself. This will save you time and give you an upper hand at the auto shop.
You can drive your car at 10-20 mph and listen carefully to identify the location of the grinding noise.
At the same time, try to feel which side the car is veering off to. That way, you can pinpoint which set of bearings is failing.
If your symptoms are more subtle, perform a simple test for wheel wobble. Lift your vehicle several inches above the ground using a jack and put it on jack stands.
Now position your hands at 12 and 6 o’clock on the wheel and try to shake it. A healthy wheel would never bulge. If the wheel is wobbling, undoubtedly, there’s a bearing issue.
Apart from being confirmatory, this can also be a diagnostic test. In that case, you will perform it on all the wheels.
Replace Only the Wheel Bearings
In older cars, you don’t need to replace the entire wheel hub for a damaged wheel bearing.
These are called serviceable hub assemblies. You just take the old bearing out of the hub and put in the new one. It’s easy enough to do on your own.
Plus, you are only changing the bearings and not the entire hub. So, the amount of money you spend on the repair will also be low.
Replace the Entire Wheel Hub
Modern cars have quite a different kind of bearing. They can be either the pressed-in or the bolt-in type.
They are part of a non-serviceable hub assembly. So, you must take apart the entire wheel hub to replace the bearings.
However, in this hub assembly, the wheel bearing is intricately connected to the rest of the hub.
As a result, damaged bearings often mean extensive damage to the rest of the hub. So, in most cases, you must replace the entire wheel hub.
You wouldn’t have many options here but to take your car to the repair shop. But if you are doing it yourself, follow proper jacking-up protocols. Also, be ready to deal with a lot of greases.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
The above discussion can help you understand your vehicle’s wheel-bearing problems better. However, it may not have covered all your queries. So, if there are further questions, we will gladly answer them here.
Can Wheel Bearings Last You A Lifetime?
Wheel bearings are not supposed to wear down like brakes, tires, and other parts. So, in theory, they can last a lifetime. However, driving conditions and road impacts significantly affect them. Therefore, most cars require a replacement after crossing a hundred thousand miles.
How Much Does Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost?
Wheel bearing replacement costs can significantly vary according to your hub assembly and vehicle type. On average, you can expect the costs to be around 350 dollars.
Why Do Wheel Bearings Get Damaged?
When you drive on bumpy roads, the impact breaks the seal of your car’s wheel bearings. This permits the entry of mud or water, which contaminates the grease. Eventually, rust and corrosion will destroy the steel balls.
How Can I Maintain Good Wheel Bearings For A Long Time?
Make sure your wheel bearings are properly installed from the very beginning. And during your yearly or half-yearly car servicing, apply proper lubrication to the system. Check and, if necessary, replace the bearings when you reach the 100,000-miles mark.