While it's hard to ignore your tires or brakes, it's all too easy to overlook your wheel bearings. Despite being one of the most crucial parts of your vehicle's steering and drive axle system, wheel bearings are often ignored until they're on the brink of failure. If and when that happens, a wheel bearing failure could easily put you and other motorists at risk.
It's always a good idea to have failing wheel bearings replaced as soon as possible. Here are several warning signs to watch out for when it comes to deteriorating wheel bearings.
Excessive Play and Vibration in the Steering Wheel
Excessive steering wheel vibration and overall looseness are common symptoms for wheel bearings that have gone bad. In most cases, the vibration will show up at low speeds, only to increase as speeds increase. You might also notice extra play in the steering wheel as you turn it back and forth.
Steering wheel vibrations can also be caused by tire balance issues, so it's a good idea to have your mechanic rule out any balance problems before deciding on a bad wheel bearing as a diagnosis.
Excessive Play in the Affected Wheel
If there's excessive play in the steering wheel, then chances are there's excessive play in the wheel containing the bad bearing. One way to check for excessive wheel play is to place the vehicle on jack stands or a hydraulic lift. Once the vehicle is off the ground, firmly grasp the wheel with your hands at the 12-o'clock and 6-o'clock positions and gently shake the wheel back and forth.
If you can feel play in the wheel, then the wheel bearing should be replaced. You can also detect a bad wheel bearing by rotating the wheel and listening carefully for any grinding or other metal-on-metal noises. A failing wheel bearing may also cause the wheel to feel rough as you rotate it.
Uneven Tire Wear
Uneven tire wear is yet another issue that can be caused by bad wheel bearings. Aforementioned play in the wheel containing the worn bearing causes the tire to wiggle at speed, allowing the tire to wear faster than usual. This usually results in an uneven wear pattern that's distinct from wear seen on the other wheels.
Keep in mind that uneven tire wear is also a common indicator of other suspension and tire issues, from worn shocks and struts to worn-out CV joints and improper tire inflation. It's a good idea to have an ASE-certified mechanic take a look at other suspension components in addition to your wheel bearings.
Roaring or Grinding Sounds
Loud roaring or grinding sounds are usually the sign of a wheel bearing that's on its last legs and on the brink of failure. In many cases, this noise can easily be heard throughout the cabin and even outside of the vehicle. This sound is usually generated by heavily damaged or destroyed wheel bearings rubbing against the inner and outer bearing races. In many cases, the noise gets louder the faster you go.
Excess Wheel Heat
Unsurprisingly, the tremendous friction caused by failing wheel bearings also generates a lot of heat. If your vehicle's steel or alloy wheels feel uncharacteristically hot after even a short drive, then chances are a failed wheel bearing is generating large amounts of friction.
If you encounter any of these problems, you should have your mechanic take a look at your vehicle as soon as possible. Your mechanic will be able to not only diagnose your wheel bearing issue, but your mechanical also have the tools and expertise to safely and reliably replace the wheel bearing. Discover more on car repairs by reach out to a local shop.