There is a multitude of reasons why your car seems to keep eating wheel bearings.
And yes, your driving can be one of them. But, there are more common and concerning causes.
These causes differ depending upon whether your issue lies on the front or rear axle.
What Is the Purpose of Wheel Bearings?
The wheel bearings are the connection between the moving parts of the car with the static parts of the car. Specifically the axles and the wheels. The wheels need to rotate, but the axle must remain stationary. The wheel bearing allows the wheel to turn on the fixed axle.
What Causes Wheel Bearings to Go Bad Repeatedly?
Possibly the most elementary of parts on a car, but definitely one of the most important. Important for both the function of the car and the safety of driving it.
To figure out what causes a car to keep eating wheel bearings, you need to begin with which axle is the drive axle.
What causes a wheel bearing to keep going bad?
Why your car keeps going through bearings can be about as much about how you drive the car as it can be about something technically in error on the car.
All of the possible causes of wheel bearing failure can essentially be whittled down to four basic categories or causes, which are:
Wheel bearing and tire connection
The is a direct connection between the tire and the wheel bearing. The tire won’t turn without the wheel bearing. Likewise, all the stress and pressure on a tire will be transferred to the wheel bearing.
Your driving could be a root cause of wheel bearing problems. People will drive in ways they shouldn’t because it’s easier. With that said, sometimes driving in certain conditions and situations is not preventable.
Driving through mud and deep water is bad as it will eventually erode your wheel bearings.
If you can prevent this, you should. In places where flooding is a regular occurrence, it may be impossible to prevent the impact this has on the wheel bearings. Driving in such conditions exposes all of the wheel bearings to contaminants and excessive moisture.
Wheel bearings don’t work well wet, because the lubrication is petroleum-based. You should attempt to stay out of water whenever possible.
Another driving factor is bad roads. Avoid hitting any pothole, especially at high speeds, regardless of the size of the pothole.
The impact causes damage to the entire wheel and axle. Joints are typically the most vulnerable places, and in this case, that is the wheel bearings.
A car is a connection of systems, and a bad part anywhere in the system finds the most vulnerable element and will develop into problems or failure.
As with wheel bearings, low-quality parts are more likely to get damaged or succumb to failure due to stress, wear, and friction than a part made of the highest quality.
A damaged gear in the transmission can have a domino effect on the wheel bearing, especially during acceleration.
A crucial element of regular maintenance is the ability to identify damage as well as other symptoms of a potential problem starting to develop.
Transient current flow
A mechanic would call this the Silent Killer of wheel bearings. A vehicle is a network of electronic components and wiring. Like all electronics, a vehicle also needs to be properly grounded.
Failure to properly ground a vehicle results in a transient current. An electric current that should leave the vehicle, but doesn’t.
Thus, it needs to go somewhere, and the wheel bearing is a very common spot to target. Needless to say, it will destroy the wheel bearing and seals.
On the drive axle, there is a drive axle nut. If the drive axle nut is either too loose or too tight, it completely alters the torque and the results can be catastrophic.
How to Tell Which Wheel Bearing Is Bad
An irregular sound is the most obvious sign that a wheel bearing is bad, you will know which it is by simply identifying from which wheel the sound is coming.
Specifically, you will most likely hear:
- Squealing noises
The tires are also another indicator of whether their bearing is bad.
If the tire is wearing unevenly, that could be a wheel bearing issue. If the tire is wobbly or rigid, that is a wheel bearing issue. If it feels that one tire is not braking as the others, that can also be the wheel bearings.
How Long Do Wheel Bearings Last?
In theory, the average lifespan of a wheel bearing could outlast the car itself. Wheel bearings are one of the very few parts on a car that have no regular maintenance schedule. They simply need to be lubricated when replacing the brakes.
As such, wheel bearings are one of those parts for which a life or expected point of failure is very difficult to determine in a general sense. There are so many factors involved with this.
Issues such as the quality of the wheel bearings and the typical operation of the vehicle all play a significant role in how much durability you will get out of the wheel bearings.
Considering all of that, however, typically wheel bearings should last between 85,000 and 100,000 miles.
How to Prevent Premature Wheel Bearing Failure
One of the biggest reasons for the premature failure of the wheel bearings is that the bearings are of low quality. There is nothing you can do to improve the quality of a low-quality product.
However, there are some steps you can take to improve the likelihood of getting the most life out of the wheel bearings in general:
- Every time you are replacing the brakes, you should also replace the seals and re-lubricate the bearings. Make sure to use the correct grease.
- Always handle the parts with care, as they are made for precision.
- Dirt is very bad, and you should ensure the bearings stay clean.
- Use the correct tools for the job to reduce the possibility of damage to any part.
- Be sure to mount everything correctly. Improper installation of any part will result in damage.
- Inspect everything to be sure the entire area is without rust, corrosion, damage, excessive wear, etc.
Wheel Bearing FAQs
How long will a wheel bearing last after it starts making noise?
There is no standard or even typical amount of time that it takes for wheel bearings to go from being bad to total failure. However, due to the safety issues that this faulty part creates, the most you should drive is to get the car either to a safe location or the closest garage, whichever is the shortest distance.
Do wheel bearings need to be replaced in pairs?
No, if the wheel bearings on a single wheel go bad, there is no need for replacing all of the bearings on the other tires of the car. You do not even need to change the bearings on the other tire on the same axle. Replacing the bad bearings is all that is needed.
Can a bad wheel bearing cause transmission problems?
It can. A bad wheel bearing can make the car dangerous to drive and create numerous safety issues. A bad wheel bearing places incredible stress and friction on the hub, drive axle, CV joint, and transmission. Stress and friction can always result in damage and problems.
Can a new wheel bearing be bad?
Absolutely. Any part that is mass-produced in the millions will result in a faulty part making its way off the assembly line and into circulation. If that mass-produced wheel bearing is also made of low-quality products, that only serves to increase the odds.
How many wheel bearings does a car have?
Wheel bearings are one of those parts that, regardless of the make, model, or even year of the car, all cars have the same number of wheel bearings. Every car has exactly four wheel bearings. One at the end of each axle and for each wheel.