Wheel bearings are used in both the front wheels and the back wheels. Each individual wheel has their own wheel bearing and it is possible for just one of those bearings to wear out while the others are still in good condition.
That is why you won’t necessarily have to replace all of your wheel bearings if only one is worn out. Many (dishonest) mechanics will tell you that all need to be replaced or both on the same axle. This is usually not necessary.
There are certain symptoms you can look for which indicate bad wheel bearings or a mechanic will be able to tell you if you have any wheel bearings that need to be replaced when taking your car in for regular maintenance.
Top 5 Bad Wheel Bearing Symptoms
To determine the condition of your wheel bearings, there are 5 common signs you can look out for.
#1 – Uneven Tire Wear
When wheel bearings wear out, they tend to wear out unevenly from the rest of them. This will cause the corresponding tire to have abnormal tire wear compared to the others.
In a normal situation where your tires wear out, they would all be evenly worn out from simply driving on them. So if they are unevenly worn out, it could very well be to a bad wheel bearing.
#2 – Grinding Noise
A common symptom of bad wheel bearings is when your tires have a loud grinding noise coming from them. This is caused when the wheel bearings lose their lubricity and build up a lot of heat inside of them instead.
It will almost be like hearing two pieces of metal grinding together. Usually, you’ll only hear the sound coming from one wheel rather than all of them because of how the wheels wear out unevenly. The noise is most noticeable while shifting or turning.
#3 – Steering Wheel Vibrates
If the problem gets really bad then your steering wheel will start to vibrate. You’ll notice this vibration when you drive at slower speeds but the problem will get worse as you step on the gas pedal and accelerate the vehicle.
A lot of people think this symptom has to do with unbalanced tires on their vehicle. While the symptoms of both are similar, vibrations from an unevenly balanced tires occur at high speeds. But in any case, you should take your vehicle to a mechanic and have them officially diagnose the problem.
#4 – Vehicle Pulls to One Side
When a wheel bearing is worn and becomes corroded or pitted, the smooth lining which bearings require is no longer there and the rough surface causes vibration to that tire. This vibration may cause your vehicle to slightly pull to the side of the worn bearing.
You may also experience your car pulling to the side when applying your brakes. While this is a typical symptom of bad brake rotors or calipers, the actual cause may be the wheel bearings themselves because of the excessive amount of runout which they cause.
#5 – Excess Wobble or Play in Wheels
This one is a bit trickier to diagnose since you need to have your car on a hydraulic lift or both wheels of an axle up on jack stands. When lifted, grab one of the wheels and try rocking it back and forth and notice how much “play” or movement the wheel has. Now repeat this on the wheel at the other end of the axle.
If the wheel wobbles or moves back and forth when you rock it, you likely have bad wheel bearings. Good wheel bearings mean the wheel has almost no wobble or excess play.
Average Cost to Replace Front, Rear, and Hub Wheel Bearings
Front Wheel Bearings
Front wheel bearings are built into the steering knuckle arm assembly and connected to drive axle components of your vehicle. These bearings are made to last for many years without needing to be replaced. The cost to replace both front wheel bearings is going to be between $260 and $480.
The parts alone for the front wheel bearings are about $120 to $200. However, the labor costs will be a bit more extensive at around $140 to $280. The exact cost will depend on the prices of your local repair shop and the make and model of your vehicle. For large trucks, sports cars, and luxury cars, expect to pay more.
Now if you are just replacing the wheel bearing in one of your front wheels, these costs will pretty much be split in half. For the total cost, on average, expect to pay around $130 to $220. The parts will cost between $60 and $100, and the labor will cost between $70 and $140.
Rear Wheel Bearings
As for the rear wheel bearings, they will be a tad cheaper to replace but this will of course depend on the car make and model. The cost of a complete rear wheel bearing replacement will be somewhere in area of $240 to $460.
Parts will on average be between $100 and $180. The labor costs will be around $140 to $280.
If you are just going to replace one of the rear wheel bearings then it will be about $120 to $240 for the complete job. $50 to $90 for the parts and $70 to $140 for the labor.
Again, these are all only estimates but they are a good indicator of what you can expect to pay. The good news is that wheel bearings take a lot of time to wear out so you won’t have to replace them very often.
Rear Hub Bearings
Some vehicles use a rear hub bearing assembly where the wheel bearings are prepacked in the hub and installed as a complete unit. Instead of simply replacing the wheel bearings, the entire hub assembly must be replaced.
This of course makes the hub assembly more expensive than just the hub bearings. Expect to pay on average between $400 to $800 to replace hub assemblies on both sides of the axle. The cost of parts can vary quite a bit depending on how advanced the assembly is but the labor is usually slightly less than a typical rear bearing replacement.
Common Types of Wheel Bearings
Friction is created when a wheel is turned. There is more resistance when the wheel has a heavy bearing. That is why “wheel bearing” refers to the component which is responsible for reducing the friction that exists between parts while the wheel is spinning.
When the wheel’s moving parts have less resistance between them, it reduces the wear and erosion that forms. As a result, the wheel’s lifespan is prolonged.
There are different types of wheel bearings that a manufacturer can use. Here are some common types along with their main purpose.
Out of all the wheel bearings out there, ball bearings are the most common and most versatile wheel bearings that can be used. They are able to absorb thrust loads and radial loads.
Cornering pressure is the thrust load and the weight amount placed on the wheel is the radial load. You will find ball bearings in wheels of all sizes, from roller skate wheels to automobile wheels.
Precision Ball Bearings
The design of precision ball bearings makes them suitable for high performance usage. Precision ball bearings have the ability to minimize friction which in turn reduces the amount of heat created.
The speed of their rotation is generally higher than regular bearings. For all these reasons, the landing wheels of an airplane and various racing cars have precision ball bearings in them. These bearings are designed specifically for extensive thrust and radial loads.
Roller bearings are a type of wheel bearings that are used commonly. The only thing is that roller bearings are not as versatile as ball bearings. Roller bearings are good at handling weight but they’re not the greatest for cornering.
If you’re using wheels which must corner at medium to high levels of speed, then roller bearings won’t be suitable for them. But if you’re using vehicles like grocery carts or hand trucks, then roller bearings will be fine for them.
Tapered Roller Bearings
The regular wheels of cars and trucks will usually have tapered roller bearings in them. They have a cone shape which cuts down the friction while cornering as the thrust load is high.
As you turn the car, there are various degrees to the angle of the wheels. With tapered roller bearings, they prevent grinding in the parts that are shifting.