12 Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms & Replacement Cost

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Bad wheel bearings may seem simple but can quickly escalate into serious complications. At best, faulty bearings can result in a spongy brake pedal or delayed brake responsiveness (due to the rotor teetering on its axle). At worst, they can lead to loss of vehicle control while going 70 mph on the freeway.

Either situation is precarious and is not worth looking forward to — making it all the more crucial to be perceptive of bad wheel bearing symptoms and potential expenditures.

Bad wheel bearing symptoms include illuminated ABS warning lights, steering inconsistencies, wheel bearing grease marks, torque steer, and unusual front-end noises (to name a few). Replacement/repair costs will vary, depending on the affected components and how far gone the issue is.

For a more detailed breakdown, here are 12 of the most prevalent symptoms of bad wheel bearings:

  1. Humming or Growling
  2. Squealing
  3. Clicking
  4. Wobbling
  5. ABS Failure
  6. Uneven Tire Wear
  7. Grease Marks on the Wheel Hub Assembly
  8. Heated Wheels
  9. Torque Steer
  10. Vibrations from the Suspension or Steering Wheel
  11. Loose or Inconsistent Steering
  12. Visible damage

Despite their size, wheel bearings have the Herculean task of supporting a vehicle’s full weight. Given the magnitude of this responsibility, it is only fitting for these components to be afforded proper care and attention.

These end results are possible only if you have a keen eye for spotting early signs of wheel bearing failure. Luckily, today’s guide has got you covered on this matter.

Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Bearing

Jeep Wrangler Front Tire

1. Humming or Growling

Perhaps, the most prevalent type of sound heard by car owners is a low hum or growl from the front end of their vehicles. In its early stages, this wheel bearing noise can be quite negligible, only becoming apparent with increased speed or if the wheel bearing’s condition worsens.

Although wheel bearings are likely to produce this sound, they can also be linked to problematic tires or CV joints (view on Amazon).

In some instances, the sound can be tricky to diagnose since it can be easily confused with rear differential noise. Nonetheless, this confusion is only likely to occur during deceleration.

Should you find yourself at this crossroads, isolate the root cause by checking if the pinion-bearing preload is loose. If not, it would mean your bearings are overly worn.

2. Squealing

Among the classic sounds considered part of bad wheel bearing symptoms is squealing or cyclic chirping. These noises often occur intermittently and tend to intensify during acceleration.

Turning into a corner also makes the sound worse, as pressure is placed on the erring bearing while making the turn.

Despite how ear-piecing it is, this friction sound usually does not manifest until the vehicle is in motion. It also does not help that it is sometimes conditional — only occurring at certain speeds or when a car is carrying a heavy load.

That said, it is advisable to keep an ear out for when it happens. And the moment it does, determine where the sound is coming from and thoroughly inspect that side of your vehicle.

Regardless if you hear the sound when turning or driving on straightaways, immediately replace the worn or defective wheel bearings you have identified.

3. Clicking

Like squealing noises, clicking sounds become more frequent with increased speed and could indicate an issue with the wheel hub assembly or one of its parts.

But unlike the former, it tends to be confused with a bad CV joint. The intensity of this sound varies — either you hear it from the wheel or only when you open your car windows.

This clinking noise often becomes apparent when bad wheel bearings have progressed to a later stage. That said, pull over to the nearest safe location or an emergency bay when you hear this sound.

And since it can be easy to mix up with a malfunctioning CV joint, best to do a thorough check of your vehicle’s undercarriage to ensure you do not misdiagnose the problem.

If the diagnosis can be performed at home, ascertain whether or not you have defective wheel bearings by holding the wheel two ways — a 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock position and a 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock position — with both hands and shaking it. If you hear clicking while doing this step, chances are your wheel bearings are shot.

4. Wobbling

More than its association with Jeep 4x4s, wheel wobbles are known to be part of bad rear wheel bearing symptoms.

Typically, the tire-and-wheel assembly should not budge when inspected on a lift like Sealey 3-Tonne Trolley Car Jack with Rocket Lift (view on Amazon) and rotated from side to side. However, the moment it does is already commensurate to bad wheel bearing symptoms.

You must replace defective wheel bearings immediately, especially if you begin to experience wobbling.

If left unreplaced and pushed beyond its limits, a faulty wheel bearing can cause the tire and wheel to dislodge from your car. This could put you and your passengers in jeopardy.

5. ABS Failure

In some cases, bad wheel bearings may set off the ABS warning light indicator. This symptom is likely to occur shortly after noticing your wheels wobble. However, defective speed sensors can also trigger it.

When it happens, your ABS may behave sporadically or be completely non-responsive. Either way, you should immediately consult a professional mechanic.

6. Uneven Tire Wear

Lumps or uneven tire wear is another indicator of bad wheel bearings. Interestingly, this symptom is easy to spot but difficult to trace back to its problem source.

The reason is that aside from faulty wheel bearings, misalignment, incorrect tire pressure, and compromised suspension components can also lead to disproportionate tires.

7. Grease Marks on the Wheel Hub Assembly

Car Disc Brake

Seeing visible traces of wheel bearing grease on the wheel hub or rim is not exactly the most obvious of bad wheel bearing symptoms.

The reason is that grease marks are often only discovered when performing a visual inspection or during a tire change. Nonetheless, they are as every bit a sign of bad wheel bearings as the rest of the items in this list.

Broken or missing bearing seals are the main culprits to wheel bearing grease stains. Without well-fitted bearing seals, lube leakage happens. In turn, the lack of lubrication caused by the leakage results in severe damage to the wheel bearings — leading to premature wheel bearing failure.

While bearing seal replacement seems like the most evident fix to this problem, it would pay to also look into transmission fluid levels and the condition of the vehicle’s axle shaft.

Include hub caps and axle vents in your inspection while at it, as these components getting compromised can also be a factor for leaky wheel bearing seals.

8. Heated Wheels

Because bad wheel bearings prevent your car wheels from turning freely, they inadvertently produce friction that causes intense heat.

While the resulting heat is not enough to set your knobbies ablaze, it will make your wheel feel hot when inspected (not to mention speed up tire wear).

9. Torque Steer

While it is a given for high-performance vehicles with transversely mounted engines, a car pulling to one side should never be an expectation for four-wheelers with a different configuration. If it occurs, it would likely signify an issue with one of three things — rotors, brake calipers, or wheel bearings.

Should you suspect the latter, observing which side your car pulls toward would tell you the location of the faulty bearings.

At this point, you need only do a visual inspection to ascertain whether or not the components are defective. While at it, consider checking its smaller components, such as inner/outer races, seals, and lug nuts.

10. Vibrations from the Suspension or Steering Wheel

Because wheel bearings are designed to connect the wheel and axle, they are bound to cause looseness and excessive vibrations when flawed. The shuddering is felt from the front end and is often linked to the steering wheel (view on Amazon) or suspension.

However, note that these indicators can also be attributed to damaged suspension components, bad ball joints, or a flat spot on one of the tires. That said, checking all these components and working your way based on the findings is ideal.

11. Loose or Inconsistent Steering

One way to tell if you have bad wheel bearings is when your steering feels less precise or less responsive than usual. Either that or you may notice excessive play or slack in the steering wheel or tires.

Whichever indicator you observe, inspect your wheel bearings for looseness or damage and do the needful. Should the bearings check out, determine if your car requires a wheel alignment next.

Luckily for inexperienced drivers, steering inconsistencies are usually preceded (if not accompanied) by front wheel bearing noise symptoms.

This is not to say that hearing an accompanying growl or squeal from your vehicle automatically means your wheel bearings are at fault. But since some of the symptoms overlap with bad ball joint markers and the like, having grating noises and steering inconsistencies happen synchronously would make it a tad easier to narrow things down.

12. Visible damage

Finally, we have physical damage to the wheel bearing itself. Many things can cause this, such as poor road conditions or impact damage (either from speed breakers or an accident).

There is no other fix to this apart from replacing the damaged wheel bearings alongside other affected components.

Causes of Wheel Bearing Failure

  • Incorrect or improper wheel bearing installation
  • Hitting curbs or potholes at a brisk speed
  • Crossing bodies of water deeper than your vehicle’s fording depth
  • Tires larger or wider than stock or those with lower tread walls
  • Road salt, sand, elements, or other impurities getting past the wheel bearing seal
  • Wheel bearing grease insufficiency or contamination
  • Out-of-balance tires
  • Bad suspension components
  • General wear and tear
  • On-road accidents or collisions
  • Non-adherence to OEM-recommended upkeep and servicing
  • Disregarding early bad wheel bearing symptoms

Wheel Bearing Replacement Cost

Car Wheel Bearing

According to Motor Verso, replacement costs for wheel bearings alone range between $130 and $1,000 (including parts and labor per wheel bearing) and could be any of the following:

  • $130 — $220: Serviceable assembly, which entails taking the wheel bearing out of the hub and replacing it.
  • Up to $400: Non-serviceable assembly, which entails the replacement of the entire wheel hub (last ditch effort when defective wheel bearings cannot be taken out).
  • Up to $400: Similar to the first scenario but requires using a machine press to lodge the wheel bearing back into the wheel hub.
  • Up to $1,000: Addressing bad wheel bearing symptoms on luxury or performance vehicles

These rates are true for near-ideal circumstances where only the bearings are found defective. But should relevant issues or complications be discovered, repair/replacement costs are guaranteed to go up.

Depending on a vehicle’s make and model, the wheel bearings can be difficult to access — requiring the removal of components like the steering knuckle (among others). That said, a similar effect on repair expenses is to be expected.

How Long Do Wheel Bearings Last?

Barring complications, wheel bearings typically last an average of 85,000 to 200,000 miles (or the lifetime of your vehicle) before completely failing.

However, its longevity can be considerably reduced depending on the following factors:

  • Road conditions
  • Driving behaviors
  • Quality of wheel bearings
  • Condition of relevant tire-and-wheel assembly and suspension components
  • Whether or not the vehicle frequently carries a heavy load
  • Exposure of the car to road salt, water, and other contaminants

Because of what wheel bearings are designed for, normal wear and tear are inevitable. However, you can help extend the service limit of these components by ensuring they are of high quality, properly installed, and aptly lubricated.

It will also help if the wheel bearings are not pre-heated or “hot mounted,” as this procedure can lead to premature bearing failure (not to mention wheel bearing deformation).

Conclusion — Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms

In conclusion, below are 12 of the most common signs of a bad wheel bearing:

  1. Humming or Growling
  2. Squealing
  3. Clicking
  4. Wobbling
  5. ABS Failure
  6. Uneven Tire Wear
  7. Grease Marks on the Wheel Hub Assembly
  8. Heated Wheels
  9. Torque Steer
  10. Vibrations from the Suspension or Steering Wheel
  11. Loose or Inconsistent Steering
  12. Visible damage

A wheel bearing is engineered to carry your car’s weight while absorbing high radial and axial forces. Because of how crucial its role is, you must never put off (more so ignore) bad wheel bearing symptoms — no matter how trivial they may seem.

Heeding this advice will improve tire and wheel bearing longevity and ensure uncompromised ride comfort and driver/passenger safety.

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