Wheel bearings work with the tires, the hub, and the wheel to ensure a smooth drive. If wheel bearings become worn down or fail for some reason, there will be more friction on the wheel, which might cause it to wobble. When this happens, you might have a difficult time controlling the vehicle.
So, the short answer to the question, “Is it okay to drive with a bad wheel bearing?” is “No, it’s not okay.” However, it would be better if you can learn more about this particular component of your vehicle, including how it works and how to tell if it’s time for a bearing replacement or a technical inspection for your car.
How Wheel Bearings Work
Basically, wheel bearings work to reduce friction when the wheel is turned or spins from turning. Wheel bearings also support the total weight of the car and get a lot of stress when you drive over potholes, rough roads, and even lateral forces during turns.
It is also worth noting that wheel bearings aren’t the same as engine bearings. While the latter has a constant source of lubrication, wheel bearings don’t. This is why they have to be sealed tightly to prevent water and dust from compromising their integrity.
How to Tell If Your Wheel Bearings Needs Replacing
Like other automotive components, wheel bearings can show signs of wear and tear. In some cases, this may require a replacement of this particular component.
You can tell if it is truly the right time for a new wheel bearing by watching out for these three warning signs:
1. Unusual Noises
Listening for unusual noises is the first thing you should be doing to determine whether you need a new set of wheel bearings. There are several kinds of sounds that could indicate a need for wheel bearing replacement, including:
- Grinding or grating
Grinding or grating noises from your tire or wheel is a clear sign of a bad wheel bearing. These sounds usually come about when you take a turn or shift the load carried by your vehicle. The grinding might mean that there is mechanical damage, which needs to be checked and repaired immediately.
- Popping, snapping or clicking
You might also hear popping, snapping, or clicking sounds when you make sharp turns or take a corner. This is also an indicator that your wheel bearing needs replacement.
- Humming or rumbling
Rumbling or humming isn’t a normal sound for an automobile driving on a straight line. These are actually indicators of a worn-down wheel bearing. If it gets louder when you turn on one side, it means that the opposite side from the sound is where the worn wheel bearings are.
When you start hearing these sounds on your wheels or tires, be sure to call your mechanic or your trusted technical expert for a vehicle check-up.
2. Tires Get Worn Out Too Quickly or Show Signs of Uneven Wear
Aside from the noise, another clear sign that your car’s wheel bearing needs to be replaced is premature or uneven wearing of the tires.
If you’re regularly rotating your vehicle’s tires but still see signs of uneven wear, it is best to have your wheel bearings checked. Performing precautionary measures would help you save on hefty costs, avoid bigger problems, and have peace of mind while you’re on the road.
3. Loose Steering Wheel
Since wheel bearings are connected to your steering wheel, their integrity can also affect how the wheel performs.
In case of a bad wheel bearing, you might get a loose steering wheel. This is often characterized by wobbling and reduced responsiveness of the wheel. In some cases, it also affects wheel precision when you attempt to turn the vehicle to one side.
If this is the case, you should bring the vehicle to a mechanic immediately. If the steering wheel is loose, you may not have full control over your car while you drive, which can cause other automotive components to get worn down faster – or worse, you could get into road accidents.
Why You Shouldn’t Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearings
Aside from reducing the lifespan of your tires, a bad wheel bearing can also prevent you from having a smooth drive. On top of that, compromised wheel bearings may also cause safety concerns.
You must make sure that your vehicle is inspected at the first sign of wheel bearing trouble. Not only does having bad wheel bearings make it uncomfortable for you to drive, but it can also cause the wheel to stop functioning while you’re on the road. Additionally, a bad wheel bearing can also compromise the integrity of the CV joint, the hub, and even the transmission of the car.
A Final Word
Regardless whether you’re driving a certified pre-owned vehicle or a relatively new one, you can extend its lifespan by having every component checked regularly. One of the small yet crucial parts you have to keep an eye on is the wheel bearing. Use this article as a guide to learn when to have your car’s wheel bearings checked and share it with others for safer roads.
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.