Wheel bearings are located at the centre of a wheel hub and allow a car’s wheel to spin freely and with almost no friction.
Most wheel bearings are tough components and should be able to last the entire life of your wheels. However, poor installation of the wheel, accidents, and a bad seal can cause dirt to enter the wheel bearing or corrosion to start forming. When that happens, they may need to be replaced soon to prevent a host of other problems or even a bad accident from potentially happening while driving.
Today you’ll learn more about how wheel bearings work, how to diagnose and avoid problems caused by them, the cost of wheel bearings, and where and how to replace them.
The Cost of Replacing a Wheel Bearing
Wheel bearings come in various sizes and are made by various manufacturers, which influence their price.
As with most car parts, there are cheaper aftermarket wheel bearings available as well as higher-quality ones that work just as good or even better than the original from the manufacturer.
Based on prices gathered from 39 brands, the cost of a replacement wheel bearing for a single wheel can range from $1.29 – $867. Keep in mind that this does not include the hub assembly, which may be bundled together with a wheel bearing.
Here are some of the most popular brands and their respective price ranges:
- Timken – $3.54 to $271.14
- OPGI – $22.33 to $265.55
- Motorcraft – $14.22 to $77.92
- Genuine – $7.63 to $147.40
- Koyo – $9.15 to $157.85
- Dorman – $28.23 to $65.21
- ACDelco – $4.65 to $285.36
- Beck Arnley – $6.00 to $156.01
There are many options of wheel bearings to choose from. The most important thing to pay attention to is that the bearing fits your wheel size. The size and quality of the bearing influence its price. You’ll usually get what you pay for, so expect higher quality parts to cost more. We recommend you don’t skimp on buying good wheel bearings, because a generic or poor quality one can lead to damage to other more expensive parts, such as your hub assembly or the wheel itself.
Once you’ve found the right replacement wheel bearing, you need to get it fitted to your wheel. It’s highly recommended you get it replaced at an auto service centre by a qualified mechanic. However if, and only if you have the right tools and expertise to do it yourself, you can try changing it yourself.
Labour charges at service centres can vary depending on the location, however expect the cost of replacing a wheel bearing to cost around $96 to $256.
Here are some of the costs of replacing a wheel bearing inclusive of labour charges for some various car makes.
|2003 Mazda 6||$176|
|2003 Volvo S60||$160|
|2007 Lexus GS450h||$228|
|2009 Ford Ranger||$124|
|2010 BMW X6||$246|
|2012 Porsche Panamera||$302|
Where to Have Wheel Bearings Replaced?
Most major car manufacturers usually have service centres and licensed repair shops that exclusively carry parts for their brand. Their mechanics are trained to specifically handle issues related to a certain make or model. It’s recommended to seek out such a repair centre in your local area.
If you have a rare car make or there aren’t any manufacturer service centres in your area, there are plenty of other auto parts suppliers to choose from. Here are the ten most popular auto parts suppliers in the United States:
- AutoZone Inc.
- Advance Auto Parts
- O’Reilly Automotive Inc.
- Genuine Auto Repair
- Icahn Automotive Group (Pep Boys & Auto Plus)
- Fisher Auto Parts
- Uni-Select Inc.
- Replacement Parts Inc.
- Auto-Wares Group of Companies
- Automotive Parts Headquarters (Hedahl’s Auto Parts & Benco Equipment)
What is a Wheel Bearing?
Also known ‘hub bearings’ or ‘wheel hub bearings’, wheel bearings are made of a ring of steel balls that are set on a grooved metal ring called a ‘race’. They’re protected by seals on the front and back to stop dirt and any material from entering.
The seals also help to keep grease inside the bearing from escaping. Most wheel bearings are made of hardened steel and are built to withstand plenty of abuse.
Wheel bearings help the wheels to spin with as little friction as possible. They are encased in the center of a wheel hub which is attached to one side of a car’s axle.
The lug bolts which are visible from the outside of the wheel are what connect the wheel to the wheel hub. Wheel bearings come in pieces and are assembled in small parts – there are an inner and outer race and one or two sets of bearings (balls).
Even though they’re small, they are still important components of a car’s wheels and if they fail to function properly or sustain damage, various other systems can become comprised such as the ABS (anti-lock braking system). Fuel consumption and efficiency are also negatively affected.
Why Does a Wheel Bearing Need to Be Replaced?
Wheel bearings are built to last and they’re never intended to be a replaceable part. When a vehicle is constructed, it’s sealed up tightly within the wheel hub and plenty of lubrication is added to the interior.
Problems can happen with the wheel bearings but keep in mind that they should be infrequent. Most people begin to have issues when the car reaches a certain age or has about 100k – 150k miles on it.
Damage is the number one reason wheel bearings need replacement. Wheel bearings aren’t damaged so easily, as they’re so well-sealed up and not exposed to the elements. It’s really only when the seals on the wheel bearings break, that the bearings becomes exposed and could get damaged..
Corrosion can also come about when a wheel bearing is penetrated by water or exposed to heat. The only way that water could enter the bearing is if the vehicle is submerged or driven through water and the seals have given way.
Grease may become dirty as a result of the water or simply over the course of time. Tiny particles of metal or dirt can build up on the surface of the bearing and given the heavy pressure put upon it by the car, indentations can begin to appear which will not allow the axle to rotate smoothly anymore.
Damaged wheel bearings can cause a tire to rotate unevenly and thus, cause a certain part on the tire to wear down faster than the rest which will result in the tyre deforming and handling to be affected. In the worst case, the wheel can actually come off if the damage is bad.
How to Know If You Have A Broken Wheel Bearing?
The most obvious symptom of a wheel bearing issue is from the sound it makes. Damaged bearings will make noises that can be heard from within the car while you’re driving. They may start off faint but begin to grow louder as time goes by. The sound is similar to the sound made by playing cards placed against moving bicycle spokes.
Identifying the source of the noise can be tricky, especially given that issues with the tyre can also make a similar sound.
Listen carefully and attempt to observe if the noise is coming from the left or the right side so that you can get a better idea of which wheel it’s coming from. If the sound isn’t as loud when turning right, the bad bearing is probably on the left, or vice versa. Here’s a video that can give you an idea of what the noise sounds like:
It’s important you never simply guess which wheel the sound is coming from and change the wheel bearing based on where you think the sound is being produced.
The most accurate way is to examine the car while in your garage. You’ll need jacks and a jack stand to keep the car up. Get an assistant to press the accelerator until it reaches about 40 mph while you wait next to the wheels. Since the wheels no longer have any surface to roll on, it’s easy to rule out bad tires as the problem.
Place a stethoscope on the hubs and listen for the flapping sound. If you don’t have a stethoscope, you can place the tip of a screwdriver on the hub and your ear on the handle.
It is very important that you identify which wheel has the problem to save you money from replacing the wrong one accidentally.
Besides the flapping sound, the car may also feel ‘loose’ while you’re driving. This isn’t really something that can be explained. But if you’ve been driving for a while, then you should be able to know and feel when the steering feels loose or funny. It’ll seem like the vehicle has a mind of its own and will respond irregularly to steering inputs.
How to Make Your Wheel Bearings Last Longer?
As wheel bearings can become bad simply due to old age or unforeseen circumstances, constant inspection is the key to preventing issues and allowing your bearings to last a long time. Whenever you’re getting any work done on the brakes, it’s recommended to have the wheel bearings checked out at the same time.
As you have learned, wheel bearings that run out of lubrication or have contaminated lubrication can make things worse. A car’s wheel bearings should be re-lubricated every 24,000 miles at the very least.
Oftentimes car owners overlook lubrication and only commit to having it replaced whenever the brake pads or brake shoes go out. This means that the bearings are being used for almost twice the recommended amount of time without a lube change.
Wheel bearings need to be handled with care, especially when they’re brand new and haven’t been installed yet. Although they’re made of solid metal and seem strong, they are extremely sensitive to damage in shipping or mishandling. Wheel bearings are carefully designed to rotate as smooth as possible, any damage can cause its internal parts to be misaligned.
When new bearings are being installed, care must be taken to ensure that the work area is clean and no small particles of dirt are allowed to enter. As water is one of the biggest contributing factors to the demise of a wheel bearing, have your vehicle inspected if it has recently been submerged in water or you have driven through any watery terrain.
You can also extend the lives of your bearings by changing the seals whenever you have the brakes checked. Keeping the seals strong and new will lessen the chances of having to replace the bearings.