If you've recently noticed a grinding, groaning, or vibrating sound coming from one or more of your vehicle's wheels while turning into a parking space or headed right at a red light, you may be dreading a potentially expensive repair and ready to grit your teeth through the embarrassment until the problem becomes too major to ignore. However, in many cases, these sounds may be indicative of a problem with your wheel bearing -- and left unrepaired, this could cause your wheel to lock up or even fall off while driving, putting both you and the other drivers on the road in grave danger. How can you tell whether you're dealing with a failing wheel bearing, and how should you have this issue fixed? Read on to learn more about the signs of a problem with one of your wheel bearings, as well as what repair (or replacement) options may be best.
What are some signs that you're dealing with a damaged or failing wheel bearing?
Your wheel bearings are a crucial part in keeping your car moving. These bearings are round and permit your wheels to spin quickly without encountering friction. When wheel bearings become clogged with debris, bent, or otherwise damaged, your wheel may have more difficulty rotating in sync with the others and can make a variety of noises as it tries to continue spinning at normal speed.
In many cases, your wheel bearing's failure may be obvious -- a noticeable grinding or groaning sound when you turn your steering wheel side to side at low speeds. You may also notice a whooshing or helicopter-like sound when traveling at higher speeds, almost as though something is stuck in your tire, or feel a heavy vibration that causes you to turn up your radio in order to hear it clearly.
However, not all groaning, grinding, or vibrating noises coming from your wheel are necessarily due to bearing failure. In some cases, worn brake pads or bent rotors could be the culprit, making replacement a much simpler and less expensive option. One telltale sign that your wheel bearing has gone bad comes when you begin to notice symptoms of wheel bearing failure at all speeds, not just when you're slowing or braking. A mechanic should be able to quickly diagnose your exact issue and provide you with a repair quote.
Should you have your entire wheel replaced if multiple bearings fail?
Generally, having the individual bearings replaced is a less expensive prospect than purchasing an entirely new wheel assembly. However, the bearings of certain wheels are more difficult for a mechanic to access and remove than others, and labor costs can add up quickly. Even for the routine replacement of a wheel bearing, the cost of parts is generally eclipsed by the cost of labor. If you're facing the removal and replacement of more than one wheel bearing, or if your vehicle is notorious for having hard-to-remove bearings and you can't afford to be without a car for more than a day or two, you may want to instead opt for an entirely new wheel hub and assembly rather than removal and replacement of your wheel bearings.
You'll also want to pinpoint the cause of your wheel bearing failure, if possible. If your wheel is subject to a recall or your manufacturer has recently been criticized (or even sued) for faulty wheel bearings, fixing the bearings within your existing wheel may not be the wisest option. Purchasing an entirely new wheel assembly (especially one with a limited warranty) can help you avoid the frustration of having your car in the shop for future bearing replacements on a fundamentally defective wheel. Click here to continue reading more about auto repair options you might pursue in a situation like this.