Driving with a Bad Wheel BearingLast Updated August 4, 2023 | Meghan Drummond
If you have a bad wheel bearing, you’ll likely hear it before anything else. Depending on your car, this sound may vary, but people have described it as a whining, a grinding, or a grating. This noise likely gets louder as you accelerate. It also gets louder over time, so if you notice the sound at a squeak you likely have more time to get it replaced than someone who hears a dull roar.
Other signs of a bad wheel bearing include feeling a lack of responsiveness in steering and sometimes even a pulling. You may also notice a shaking steering wheel. In short, bad wheel bearings are intensely uncomfortable. If you’ve noticed these symptoms while driving, then there are a few easy at-home tests you can do to determine if a bad wheel bearing is the cause of your discomfort.
What Are Wheel Bearings?
A wheel bearing is comprised of several steel balls held in a ring. The wheel bearing is part of the hub assembly, which is what your wheel attaches to and what allows your wheel to turn on the end of its axle shaft. Overall, a working wheel bearing is important to the proper operation of your car.
Wheel bearings and hubs aren’t particularly glamorous parts; no one really focuses on hub dress up, and half the time these parts don’t even really get cleaned with the rest of the car. But every day, the wheel bearing and hub take on the entire load of your vehicle. It’s little wonder they give out eventually. Typically wheel bearings last as long as 100,000 miles, which is pretty remarkable. There have even been stories of wheel bearings lasting 150,000 miles or more. But of course, factors like road salt, moisture, and heat will all factor into the life, or lack thereof, of the wheel bearing.
Because of their long life span, wheel bearings will probably only need to be replaced once in the lifetime of a vehicle.
Checking Your Wheel Bearings
The process of checking your wheel bearings isn’t overly difficult as long as you know how to use a jack.
Before jacking up your car, put it in neutral gear while the engine is off and turn the wheels. You shouldn’t hear a noise, but if your wheel bearing is bad you may hear a rough grinding noise. If you don’t hear anything then it’s time to move on to the next test.
Use your jack to lift up your Mustang and then place your hands at the twelve and six positions of your tire (we recommend not putting your hand directly under the tire in the unfortunate event that it suddenly falls). Try to wiggle the tire from top to bottom.
If you notice excess play while moving the tire then it’s likely that you have a bad wheel bearing. Another test is to try to spin your tire. Right now, it shouldn’t be supporting any weight, so this should be easy. If it catches, makes a noise, or demonstrates other roughness then you may have either a damaged wheel bearing or potentially a brake problem. You can remove the brake and check again to make sure it’s the wheel bearing, but this is the stage at which you need to make an important choice.
Fixing Wheel Bearings
We’re a big fan of doing your auto work yourself when you can. It’s incredibly rewarding, and you really begin to form a relationship with your vehicle that transcends the typical and starts to fall into enthusiast territory. But fixing wheel bearings involves going through your brakes and eliminating a host of other potential issues. It’s not really the time to be trying out new things. You don’t want to be traveling down the highway at what we’re sure is exactly the speed limit and then discover that you didn’t correctly install every part of your wheel assembly. It’s dangerous to drive with wheels that may be in danger of failing, and we absolutely do not recommend it.
If you’re not already experienced enough with mechanics to have all the parts you need for this job, then it may be time to tap in a professional. You know yourself and your mechanical aptitude better than we do though. We would definitely recommend watching this CJ’s video first. It gives a good overview of what the process for installing a wheel bearing looks like.
The cost of replacing wheel bearings is minor compared to the cost of blowing out one tire because a wheel bearing failed, so do yourself a favor and take care of your wheel bearing problem soon. Replacing wheel bearings is also not the place to get cheap. Bad wheel bearings are prone to premature failure. You should only have to replace your wheel bearings once or twice in the lifetime of your car, so do it right. Your car deserves as much.
Time Frame for Wheel Bearings
Realistically, if you’ve already started noticing the symptoms enough to start wondering how long your wheel bearings will last, the answer is not long. There’s no accurate way to assess how many miles your wheel bearings have left, and in the meantime, they’re likely damaging other parts of your car that you’ll also need to replace when the time comes.
If your wheel bearing decides to make the transition from “just barely hanging on” to “no longer functioning” while you’re driving, then you’ll have to deal with a locked-up wheel, which can cause you to lose control of your car and may lead to an accident. You should get your wheel bearing fixed as soon as possible.
Local prices for replacing a wheel bearing will vary significantly. You can always purchase your Mustang wheel bearings online to save some money, but usually, the cost of labor is between $150 and $200 dollars if you elect not to complete the repair yourself. Though this obviously adds up quickly, the good news is that this is a rarely-needed piece of maintenance.
Once your wheel bearings are replaced, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your wheel isn’t going to lock up on the highway, and that is truly priceless.