Everything you ever wanted to know about wheel bearings and the noises they make
One of the more common complaints people bring to mechanics is that “my car’s making a funny noise”.
And while cars are complex machines that can emit strange noises from all manner of places and for a number of reasons, wheel bearings are components that tend to make a noise when they are defective.
This guide will talk you through what a bad wheel bearing sounds like, and what you need to do about it.
What is a wheel bearing?
Each wheel on your car has a wheel bearing, and this component connects the wheel to the axle of the car. A wheel bearing comprises a set of ball bearings (small, smooth metal balls) or metal tapers (small, smooth metal cylinders) held together inside two rings of metal, surrounded with grease.
When the wheel turns it does not rotate directly on the axle; rather, it rotates around the wheel bearing, which allows it to turn smoothly. Wheel bearings exist to reduce friction.
What causes a wheel bearing to become worn?
Friction can never be truly eliminated, only reduced, and over time wheel bearings themselves wear out, though the most common reason for wheel bearings to fail is that their seals let the grease out, and water and grit in, damaging the balls and tapers.
Frequently driving through mud or water can speed up the failure of a wheel bearing, while if you have one replaced and the new bearing is not installed in perfect alignment, this can cause premature wear.
Worn wheel bearing symptoms
Regular servicing and the annual MOT test should pick up a failing bearing, which will often reveal itself by the wheel not spinning as smoothly as it should when the car is in the air.
As a driver, the most common way of telling a failing bearing is a grinding noise that tends to get worse the faster you go, or the noise may only present itself when you are turning.
You may also detect that the car pulls to one side, or the tyres may wear unevenly – though this can also be a sign that the wheels need realignment.
How can you stop a wheel bearing making noise?
Unfortunately you can’t: the only solution to a worn, noisy wheel bearing is to have it replaced by a garage; bearings are not repairable.
Can I replace a wheel bearing myself?
If you’ve come online trying to find this piece of information out, probably not. Replacing a wheel bearing requires a good working knowledge of mechanics, and potentially some specialist tools.
Wheel bearings are replaced in one of two ways: either a press is used to force the bearing out of the wheel hub, and force a new one in, or the entire hub assembly is replaced. Whichever method is used, you’ll need to know what you’re doing.
How much does it cost to replace a wheel bearing?
This will depend on the car and how much parts are, and what your garage’s hourly labour rate is, but wheel bearings are not hugely time consuming to replace, and £200-£250 should get the job done.
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