Car ownership 101: The wheel bearing

Don't overlook these vital parts
by Paulo Rafael Subido | Aug 7, 2018

A wheel bearing is a vital component of every car. It's a good thing you will know right away when it needs to be replaced. The sound sound alone will be enough to make you worry.  A bearing failure can lead to a catastrophic event. Don't let it happen to your ride. 

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Difficulty level

Hard. You will need a bearing press for most applications. 

Don't forget the specified wheel bearing for your ride. Plus, a jack and jack stands, and a mallet and screwdrivers. 

Here's how to identify a worn-out wheel bearing

1) The sound 

If you hear a humming noise that gets louder as you increase speed, that means that at least one of your car's wheel bearings is in need of replacement. Simply put, a wheel bearing is what holds the wheel in place as it rotates. It is located outboard of the driveshafts of the driven wheels. In a FWD car, it is on the steering knuckle. At the rear, it is integrated with the wheel hub. Note that not all cars follow this configuration. 

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2) Lift the car

Sometimes it is hard to identify where exactly the noise is coming from, whether it is from the front or rear, or the left side or right side. The only way to be sure is to put your car on a lift, or up on jack stands. Please be very careful and take the necessary steps to make sure the car doesn't fall off the stands before proceeding to the next step.

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3) Weird movement

Hold the wheel in your hands and move it laterally and vertically. It there is some play, that means the wheel bearing is worn out. Check all four corners to be sure. Also, if you spin the wheel, you will feel some roughness and perhaps even hear a grinding sound. When the car is driven at speed, that is what you are hearing. It is amplified the faster you go.

4) Identify the type of bearing

A bearing integrated into a wheel hub is easy to replace. But one that is pressed into a steering knuckle requires special tools and a bearing press. We suggest going to a shop that already has one, instead of having it done elsewhere and having to shell out money a second time.

Extra tip

Sometimes, even a bad bearing won't show any lateral movement on the tire. Rotate the tire to feel for roughness or noise. Get a second opinion if you cannot identify the noise emanating from your car's underchassis 

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PHOTO: Paulo Rafael Subido
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