Your car is made up of various components, each designed to maximize its performance and for it to seamlessly function. Although you cannot see most of these, it is vital to have an understanding of how each component affects your car’s performance and the passengers’ safety.
And one of the vital components that each vehicle owner needs to be aware of is wheel bearings. How important is this component, and how does it affect one’s automobile?
Effects of bad wheel bearings
Wheel bearings can be found in your car’s drive axle assembly, and they aid in rotating the wheel smoothly while reducing friction in the drivetrain. It’s designed to allow wheels, especially in passenger cars, to turn on an axle even under heavy loads.
With its significant contribution to a car’s performance, what could possibly happen if you’re driving a car with a bad wheel bearing?
Vibrations in the steering wheel
One sign that the wheel bearings in a car need to be replaced is the vibrations in the steering wheel.
Steering wheel vibrations can be attributed to a few other causes like uneven tire wear, or tire imbalance. But when the primary culprit is the wheel bearings, you will immediately notice the vibrations even when you are driving at a slow speed. The issue worsens when you attempt to drive at higher speeds.
Like steering wheel vibrations, tire wear can be attributed to a variety of causes like improper inflation and damaged shocks, struts, and CV joints.
If your mechanic has ruled out these causes, the next place to look into is the wheel bearings. Bad wheel bearings cause the vehicle to wobble from side to side, placing undue stress on the tires, wearing it down prematurely.
Excessive heat in the wheels
Friction is a by-product of the different processes involved in running a car. However, excessive friction can lead to an increase in temperature in the different parts of the vehicle, and this increase in heat can lead to the premature wear of different car parts like the brake system and the wheels.
When the wheel bearings in your car have been damaged or have gone beyond their lifespan, these can cause unnecessary friction, which is converted into heat.
One way to check if the wheel bearings have gone bad is to touch the tires, especially after a long drive.Check if the temperature is unusual and by then, you would instantly notice that the bearings need urgent replacement already.
Left unchecked, bad wheel bearings can cause serious (and costly) damage to the entire vehicle. One car part that can be severely affected are the axles. A vehicle cannot go far with a bad axle as, over time, the problem will spread to other car parts like the wheel hub, suspension, and the drivetrain.
When to replace wheel bearings
Wheel bearings are designed and manufactured to last for a substantial amount of time. However, there are certain circumstances, especially the unprecedented ones, when these need to be replaced immediately.
Your car after a collision
Although wheel bearings are sturdy by themselves, their performance can be compromised when you are involved in a car accident. Especially, depending on the degree of damage caused by the collision.
The impact of a side collision may break the seal of the wheel bearing assembly. And when this gets broken, the bearings become more open to possible contamination by foreign objects such as dust. Likewise, the grease inside the assembly should also be taken into consideration as this may also leak out which, in turn, can lead to unnecessary friction.
If you have had your car wheel bearings replaced, make sure that a licensed technician or a trusted technical service provider performs the replacement procedure. Failure to do so might result in more problems down the line. Failure to properly align and balance the bearings in its position can cause serious damage to the car itself or to its passengers.
Always make sure that the bearings that will be installed in your car are of high quality and from your trusted supplier or distributor.
Sometimes, the bearings that come with your car or the ones used for replacement are faulty to start with, or are made from cheap materials that easily break down in just a few miles of running. This is why it is crucial to purchase from a trusted bearings manufacturer that can provide a warranty, technical assistance and, of course, the assurance that you will not get less than the best quality for your car.
Generally speaking, the wheel bearings found in modern cars are sealed and do not require regular servicing, unlike those present in vintage vehicles or older models. Bearings are usually replaced when they turn bad or during the circumstances covered above.
If the bearings need to be replaced, most mechanics recommend replacing these by pairs. For example, if the bearings on the front passenger side need new ones, then the bearings found on the driver’s side also need to be replaced. This is to ensure that the car would have the same bearing quality and performance.
However, this is often not necessary and only applies depending on the person who inspects your bearing’s health, or if the bearings on the other wheels are still good for a few more runs.
The importance of being keen when it comes to wheel bearing health should come naturally to you. The moment you notice the signs mentioned above, you should have your car wheel bearings immediately checked.
If they need quick replacement, have it done by a professional, licensed technician. Left unchecked and unattended, bad wheel bearings can compromise your car brake and steering systems which can potentially lead to accidents and undesirable circumstances.
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.