What Happens When a Wheel Bearing Goes Out?

Common symptoms when a wheel bearing goes out include a loose or vibrating steering wheel, or a whirring or grinding sound that increases as the vehicle picks up speed. A bad wheel bearing can also lead to pulling to one side while braking, trouble rolling in neutral gear, clicking or snapping from the wheels, an ABS dash light turns on, or uneven tire wear. In extreme cases the wheel can come off while driving, making it a safety risk for you and other drivers. This means failing wheel bearings should be replaced as soon as possible.

Sloppy or Vibrating Steering

When accelerating, a bad wheel bearing with a broken seal can wear down the parts inside the bearing, leading to a grinding noise or vibrations that amplify. Wheel bearings have seals to protect the inner working parts. They are designed to reduce friction and let the wheel spin smoothly. A bad wheel bearing will prevent this.

A worn down wheel bearing can also lead to “play” at the wheel, which can lead to looser steering. This usually happens from dirt or debris sneaking inside, causing it to work less smoothly.

Louder or Softer Noise When Turning or Accelerating

When turning, the outside wheel works harder, meaning the bad wheel bearing will amplify in sound when turning on the side with the good bearing and the bad wheel bearing will decrease in sound when turning on the side with the bad bearing. Any noticeable sound from the wheels while driving that amplifies or decreases when turning can indicate that the wheel bearing is bad.

Excessive Play in the Wheel

A bad wheel bearing can be tested by jacking up the vehicle at the suspected wheel. If the wheel makes a noise while turning or does not turn smoothly, the wheel bearing likely needs to be replaced. The wheel can also be turned side to side at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions or the 6 and 12 o’clock positions. The wheel will feel loose at either of these positions if the bearing is bad, and, since many vehicles come with the bearing and wheel as an assembly, both will likely have to be replaced.

When a wheel bearing goes bad, it’s not only noticeable in sound or steering, but it can also be dangerous. In some instances, the wheel can fall off while driving.

We recommend replacing your wheel bearing as soon as possible with quality replacements. We can also show you how to install it with our how-to videos specific to many years, makes, and models.

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