Despite being one of the most essential parts of a vehicle, most people don’t know the first thing about wheel bearings. If that sounds familiar to you, read on to find out the answers to the most common questions about wheel bearings.
1. What are wheel bearings?
A wheel bearing is a component commonly found at rear and front wheels. It consists of a metal ring (a race) and a set of steel balls. In the center of your wheel is the hub – a hollow piece of metal – where the wheel bearings are housed and which connects to the hub carrier through the racer. Wheel bearings are equipped to handle the weight of the vehicle, and the force of the gravity facilitates the bearing’s rotation.
2. Why are wheel bearings important?
Wheel bearings are vital to your car as they function as a connection between the vehicle’s moving and non-moving parts. Each time your wheel spins, the wheel bearings help to reduce friction, which allows them to be more efficient. The wheel bearings are able to do this through the rolling of the metal balls along with the rings of metal.
Adding grease to the bearings helps the wheel hub to rotate freely when the steel balls move. It allows the rotation to perform seamlessly by reducing the friction and such. It requires a bit of technical knowledge to know which grease is applicable for you. Hence, it’s highly recommended to consult your trusted technical service provider to make sure that you’re getting the best option you have.
3. Are there different types of bearings?
There are different types of bearings that are widely used for both industrial and automotive applications. For an example, in a passenger car, you can spot two types of wheel bearings in it, namely: ball bearings and tapered bearings.
On the other hand, in some applications that vary in capacity, performance and requirement, there are other types of bearings available such as alternator ball bearings, cylindrical roller bearings, tapered roller bearings, thrust ball bearings, needle roller bearings, wheel hub bearings, tensioner bearings, and spherical roller bearings.
4. How do wheel bearings get damaged?
Just as with all components of a vehicle, wheel bearings can become damaged over time. When maintained correctly, wheel bearings should serve you for thousands of miles. Nevertheless, the lifespan of wheel bearings can be considerably reduced. Usually, this happens from an inward collision following a side impact, incorrect alignment due to the wrong installation, and a broken bearing seal.
Out of these three scenarios, the most frequent cause of bad wheel bearings is a broken bearing seal. Once a seal gets damaged, the grease that lubricates the steel leaks and enables water, dirt, and debris to make their way inside. Unfortunately, if this happens, the metal that comprises the balls breaks.
5. Can I drive if my ball bearings are damaged?
You should certainly not drive your car if the ball bearings are worn out as this can cause the wheels to stop abruptly while driving. Moreover, broken bearings can add extreme stress to other vehicle parts (such as the CV joint and the transmission), leading to more significant damage in the car. Plus, if wheel bearings fail, your safety is severely compromised.
6. How do you know if ball bearings have gone bad?
If your ball bearings have gone bad, you will be able to notice one (or more) of these signs. First and foremost, a grating or grinding noise (that gets louder when you accelerate) will emerge from the wheels or tires. Your vehicle may also squeal or growl. Additionally, if you feel like your car is less responsive than usual (the steering feels loose) or it is pulling toward a different direction than you are steering, then this may be a sign that the bearings are too worn.
If you are unsure about whether or not bad wheel bearings are the reason for these signs, have a look at your tires. Usually, tires will wear unevenly if your wheel bearings are faulty. Never disregard the symptoms of bad wheel bearings, as these can significantly jeopardize your safety and that of your passengers. Furthermore, the longer that broken wheel bearings are in the car, the more considerable damage they will cause to your vehicle.
7. How do I select the right lubrication solution?
Bearings suppliers recognize that the wrong grease often causes early bearing damage. In fact, utilizing the wrong lubricant causes around 50 percent of wheel bearing damage – more than environmental factors and improper installation.
In order to choose the right lubrication solution for your wheel bearings, you first need to ascertain your vehicle’s OEM specifications. With this information, you can then determine the specific lubrication requirements of your car. Once you know the grease type and viscosity levels that your car needs, investigate the appropriate additives and base oil. Generally, grease with a synthetic base oil works well. Last but not least, don’t overlook the importance of consistency and thickness.
8. Should I replace or repair my wheel bearings?
Most professionals will recommend replacing all your wheel bearings if you think they are faulty as the last thing you want is a total failure while driving. To properly replace your wheel bearings, take your car to a qualified mechanic or consult a technical expert who can inspect your bearings and suggest the better option for you.
This tool is the best way to guarantee the accuracy of alignment. Otherwise, if wheel bearings are improperly installed, they will wear down rapidly and again cause issues.
9. Where should I purchase wheel bearings from?
If you are in the market for new wheel bearings, you want to ensure that you are only purchasing them from top bearings manufacturers and trusted suppliers. In all cases, the highest quality bearings are produced by the top three biggest manufacturers: SKF, Schaeffler, and NTN. These three bigwigs have the necessary technical expertise to guarantee that each of their bearings is equipped to handle the effective operation of valuable engine or machinery.
As your wheel bearings perform an integral role in the movement of your vehicle, it is highly advised that you ensure yours are the highest quality.
Have you ever had any issues with your wheel bearings? Do you have any tips for other vehicle owners? Let us know your thoughts, relevant experiences, and any additional questions in the comments below!
Hassanein Alwan is the Managing Director of Mineral Circles Bearings with more than 10 years’ experience in the bearing industry’s technical support division, sales and marketing, plus strategic business development consultancy.