Have you ever been in a situation where you have issues with the wheel of your vehicle – like it produces noise?
The reason for the noise is often because of the wheel bearings.
Thus, the aim of this article is to provide answers on what a wheel bearing is, and if it is safe to drive on a bad wheel bearing.
What is Wheel Bearing?
A wheel bearing is one of the major components of the wheel assembly designed to connect the wheel to the axle.
It comes as a set of steel balls or tapers joined together by a metal ring.
Its major function is to enable the smooth and easy rotation of the wheels with low friction.
Due to the design of the bearing assembly, it doesn’t need constant lubrication and is held tightly to prevent the inward flow of water, dust, and debris.
Types Of Wheel Bearings
Wheel bearings come in different forms, depending on the wheel type.
Even though they are distinguished into two categories, i.e., Radical Bearings (shaft turning) and Thrust Bearings (axial load), they come in two common types.
Ball Bearings are the commonest type. They are wheel bearings that can support both radial and thrust loads.
While they can handle low weights, they also have the capacity to support loads with special construction.
Ball Bearings are common in cars in the automotive and aerospace industry.
Tapered Roller Bearings
Tapered Roller Bearings are more intense compared to the Ball Bearings. They can handle heavy loads due to their construction.
These are versatile bearings with inner and outer rings to support different weights. They are often used in heavy-duty vehicles.
Ball Thrust Bearings
Ball Thrust Bearings are another known option due to their ability to handle heavy loads but at low speeds.
They often come in two configurations: Single Row and Double Row Ball Thrust Bearings.
Roller Thrust Bearings
Roller Thrust Bearings are much more intense options.
They can handle larger weights at any speed. These bearings are constructed in most car transmissions to support the gears (especially the helical types).
Other known wheel bearings are Needle Roller Bearings, Spherical Roller Bearings, Rolling-Element Bearings, and Double Row Angular Contact Ball Bearings.
Why Wheel Bearings Make Noise?
If your wheel bearing starts making noise, you can assume that it got worse due to poor maintenance.
However, there are other specific reasons why you could have a bad wheel bearing sound. They include:
One of the major reasons why you have a bad wheel bearing is poor installation.
Your wheel bearing starts making grinding noise if you don’t install it properly after you must have replaced the old ones with a new one.
Sometimes, when you use old items such as bolts, seals, nuts, and pins, your wheel bearing begins to act strange until it becomes noisy.
Low-Quality Wheel Bearing
Another reason why you could have a noisy wheel bearing is if you spend your money getting low-quality products.
Most people find it difficult to get the right item; unfortunately, it does more harm than good.
You need to go for wheel bearings that fit the specification of your vehicle and more importantly, are in good condition.
Road Hazards and Driving Conditions
If you drive on a bad road too often, you may start having issues with your wheel bearings.
You should also avoid speeding over speed bumps so your wheel-bearing lifespan doesn’t reduce too quickly.
More so, most wheel bearings have been designed to stay tight to prevent the entry of water or contaminants.
Thus, a bad driving condition allows these substances to enter the wheel bearing and damage it.
Sometimes, bad wheel bearings aren’t the only cause of grinding noise from the wheels; the vehicle also contributes.
Using wheel bearings on modified vehicles may cause issues.
For instance, if your front tires have been replaced with lower thread walls or suspension springs, your front wheel bearings must keep up with such changes.
For modification, you should check out the manufacturer’s guidelines on wheel bearings.
How to Distinguish Bad Wheel Bearing Noise?
Knowing what causes bad wheel bearing noise isn’t enough, you should also know the signs that come with it.
Clicking or Snapping Sounds
Snapping sounds is one of the noises you will hear that distinguishes a bad wheel bearing. You will only hear this sound when making sharp turns or doing quick cornering.
If you hear a humming sound when driving, you might think it’s because the electrical components of your vehicle are faulty. However, a bad wheel bearing makes this sound too.
If you also hear a howling sound when driving straight or turning slightly in any direction, you have a bad bearing.
Can you drive with a bad wheel bearing?
No, you shouldn’t.
If you have a bad wheel bearing, your car doesn’t stop working immediately. In fact, it might take some days before it finally stops.
However, your safety is important. So, if you notice that you have bad wheel bearings, your priority should be fixing it immediately.
If you keep a worn wheel bearing for too long, it can break, causing the wheels to fall off and that’s a risk to your life.
Is it safe to drive with a bad wheel bearing?
No, it isn’t.
A bad wheel bearing can cause an accident. Your brakes will fail immediately the bearings are worn out, making you lose total control and if moving at high speeds, it could result in an accident.
How long will a wheel bearing last after it starts making noise?
If you want to know how long a wheel bearing can last after it starts making noise, you should try and observe the following.
Loud vs soft noise when driving
One way to tell if you have a worn wheel bearing is by making sharp turns – left and right.
If you turn in a particular direction where the exterior wheels work the hardest and they don’t make noise, that means you have a good bearing.
However, if you turn in a direction and you start hearing a humming noise and it keeps getting loud, then that means you have a failed wheel bearing.
Steering Wheel Vibration
The steering wheel is another way you can tell if you have a damaged wheel bearing or not.
If you start feeling the vibration on the steering wheel when you speed or turn, that is a sign of a broken seal and that means a bad bearing.
Constant Whining and Growling Noise
When you start experiencing a growling sound or constant whining when your car moves, that is another sign of a bad wheel bearing.
Clunking Noise When Driving
If you are not sure whether you have a bad wheel bearing or not, you should try driving straight down an uneven road.
For every bump you encounter, your vehicle should make a clunking noise – it amplifies as you drive.
Apart from a noisy wheel bearing, another way you can confirm if you have a damaged wheel bearing is when you experience an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) Failure.
In short, your bearings are damaged when you experience an uneven brake pad or rotor wear.
How do I know if my wheel bearing needs replacing?
Apart from a noisy wheel bearing, you know you need to replace your bearing if you experience the following:
There is so much damage a bad wheel bearing can cause, hence, you have to constantly observe your wheels.
If you feel you have loose or wobbly wheels, you should have it looked at immediately.
There is a likely chance that the bearing connecting the wheel to the vehicle is broken or worn.
Abnormal Tire Wear
How do I replace my worn wheel bearing? A Step-by-Step Guide
If you want to have your worn bearing replaced, you can do that yourself; however, it is advisable to hire a mechanic to do the job.
If you insist on replacing a wheel bearing yourself, then you need some important tools like diagonal cutters, gloves, pliers, torque wrench, screwdriver, and a floor jack.
Step 1: Insert the chocks behind your wheels
Step 2: Loosen the lug nuts and lift up the vehicle
Step 3: Remove the lug nuts and remove old wheel bearings – first the brake caliper and bracket, then the outer and inner wheel bearing with the rotor.
Step 4: Install new wheel bearings
Step 5: Replace the brake caliper and rotor
Step 6: Install the wheels
“How long can you drive with a noisy wheel bearing safely?” The answer: you should never drive at all when you start noticing strange sounds coming from your wheels.
Wheel bearings are important components of a vehicle. You need to always check them and look out for warning signs against wheel damage.
With this article, you know now how and ways to protect your wheel-end system.
Overall, you should constantly have your vehicle inspected for your own safety.