Your wheels and tires are what connect you and your vehicle to the road when driving. Your wheel bearings (or wheel hub bearings) are what connect those wheels to the to the axle. Remember the old song about "the knee bone is connected to the shin bone...?" It's kind of like that. If the wheels are the feet of your car (with the tires being your shoes), then the wheel bearings are part of the ankles. In other words, they are very important to your vehicle being able to move around.
What is a Wheel Bearing?
The wheel bearing is a critical part of the wheel assembly that connects the vehicle's axles to its wheels. A bearing is made up of a series of lubricated steel balls (ball bearings) or tapers (tapered bearings) held together within a metal ring. The bearing allows the wheel to rotate smoothly with as little friction as possible. Wheel bearings are vital to the performance and safety of a car. They allow you to drive and sustain both radial and axial loads caused by acceleration, deceleration, cornering and gravitational forces.
What Happens if a Wheel Bearing is Damaged?
If one or more of your wheel bearings is damaged, installed correctly or not properly maintained, it can lead to serious safety concerns and will impact everything from handling to fuel economy. A failing wheel bearing means one of your wheels isn't rotating as freely as it should and this is not a good thing. To use another analogy, just think of that shopping cart you seem to get every time you go to the grocery store. There is always one wheel that is locked up and really annoying! Now imagine how bad that is for a 2-ton car or truck to be driving on a bad wheel.
A wheel bearing can fail for any number of reasons. It may not have been installed properly, it could just be an inferior part, or it can be neglected during routine maintenance. It's smart to get your wheel bearings checked with each service visit and lubricated/greased as needed to keep things working correctly. A damaged wheel bearing can happen from a rough impact on the road (pot hole or speed bump). It can also happen if driving through a lot of mud, snow or rain, where moisture and other contaminants might seep into the bearing ring and weaken the lubrication.
Signs of a Failing Wheel Bearing
There are a few signs that can let you know that you might be dealing with a damaged wheel bearing:
1. Noises—Strange noises are often associated with failing wheel bearings. You might hear a humming, rumbling or growling noise when you make sharp turns and/or accelerate. Or, it could be a constant loud grinding or whining noise while driving at certain speeds (or at all times). Sometimes, it may be clunking noises when driving over bumps and rough road surfaces.
2. Loose Steering—If your steering wheel (or control of the car, in general) feels unusually "loose," it is cause for concern. A bad wheel bearing may be the culprit or it could be a number of other power steering, suspension, brake, drivetrain, wheel or tire issues worth getting looked at by a professional mechanic.
3. Vibrations—Often felt while turning or accelerating/decelerating, significant vibrations in your steering wheel can be a sign of a damaged wheel bearing.
4. ABS Malfunctions—There is an anti-lock braking system (ABS) sensor integrated in the wheel-end bearing of most modern vehicles. You may see your ABS warning light come on, which could be the sign of a brake system issue or a problem with one of your wheel bearings.
What Should I Do if I Have Wheel Bearing Problems?
A wheel bearing is one of those minor parts we don't think about until it becomes a problem. However, it is actual a major component that drastically affects handling, safety and performance. At the first sign of wheel bearing issues or any other concerns with your wheels, brakes, axles or tires, you should get your car inspected as soon as possible. You also want to make sure your wheel bearings are inspected and maintained as part of your regular maintenance routine. This is how you keep your vehicle running right!
If you are in the Northern Delaware area and are concerned about any automotive issues—or if you just want a routine inspection and general maintenance—call Fox Run Auto today at (302) 597-9205 or schedule your service appointment online.