Friction is the bane of every moving mechanical component of a car. Various mechanisms are devised to counter friction including lubrication, and use of friction reducing components like wheel bearings.
A bearing is placed at the spindle of a car wheel hub to reduce the metal-to-metal surface contact friction and let the wheel rotate freely. It is component of the car suspension. Even though the bearings are lubricated, they eventually wear out over time. The wearing out may be accelerated by dirt and other contaminants entering into its assembly.
Even though the bearings have seals, water still gets into the assembly and may cause rust, as well as contaminate the lubricating oil causing problems. The wheels also handle the weight of the vehicle along with tire friction.
Although, bearings are normally built to last for more than 150,000 miles, friction does take its toll eventually and wears them out. Problems with bearings mostly occur due to wear and tear or seal leakage.
Diagnosing any car problem requires an eye for details and an ear for abnormal noises. In order to diagnose the main problem, you must know the symptoms that indicate bad bearings. Here are some main symptoms.
Friction always produces noise and heat while slowly wearing down a moving part. The symptom of a worn out bearing is the grinding or rumbling noise that can be heard in the vicinity of a moving wheel. The volume and intensity of this noise is generally directly proportional to the speed of the vehicle, and does not change much while decelerating.
During turns, the noise may get louder or even disappear. This is a signal, to get the bearings replaced as soon as possible. If such an issue is ignored, the bearings may fail suddenly and the wheel might get dislodged, causing an accident. Although it can happen only in very extreme cases, it is important that you pay attention to it.
Another important symptom is wheel play. As the bearings wear out, they lose shape and let the wheel hub and the spindle to go loose. This misalignment of the hub causes the wheel to go loose. To check the play, just raise your vehicle on jacks, and pull or push the tires. Excessive play indicates that the bearings have worn out and need replacement.
Wheel Rotation Resistance
Due to the wearing, the normally smooth rolling of the wheels is hindered, and the wheels show resistance to rotation at high acceleration or during turns. As a result of this, tires wear out faster.
Abnormally Worn Out Tires
The excessive play caused by bearing issues results in excessive tire wear at high speeds as the wheel alignment gets disturbed. As a result, ignoring these problems can cost you a lot more due to the worn out tires needing replacement. It is recommended that you go for a repack of bearings every two years.
As you can see, these issues need to be taken seriously or else they may aggravate into major problems in car suspension. Make wheel bearing check a part of your car maintenance schedule and see to it that they are replaced periodically to prevent any issues.