A wheel bearing is a miraculous device. It's a relatively small component that has to put up with great pressure and stress as it forms the interface between your vehicle's suspension and its moving wheel. Don't underestimate the importance of maintaining these bearings and ensuring they do not suddenly fail. Why is this crucial, and what should you be looking out for?
Understanding the Bearing
A wheel bearing is about the size and shape of a small doughnut. It's a self-contained device that contains a number of bearings that are tightly packed in a waterproof, grease-filled inner ring. As the wheel turns, these bearings will rotate within the inner race, so the assembly can turn despite the fact that the supporting hub is stationary. These bearings will effectively support the vehicle's entire weight as the car is in motion.
Carefully Engineered Parts
As you can imagine, engineers are very careful to design these bearings to last as long as possible, but if one begins to fail, you will need to replace it as a unit. It's not possible to repair the bearing, per se, and if you replace one, you should typically also replace the same unit on the other side of the vehicle.
Effects of Degradation
Sometimes, the protective surface can degrade, allowing water, salt or grit to enter the casing and contaminate the grease. When this happens, the bearings will not have as much protection and will wear down, eventually leading to premature failure. A faulty bearing can also damage the car's constant velocity joint between the wheel and the transmission.
Telltale Warning Signs
If the bearing starts to fail, you will immediately notice some telltale warning signs. For example, you may hear a clicking noise that increases in intensity as you accelerate or is more pronounced when turning a corner. You may hear a squealing or growling noise from that corner or a low-pitched humming when you are travelling at constant speed on the motorway. As the anti-lock warning system is in that general location, you may also get a failure light on the dashboard. In some situations, you may also encounter a problem when you put your foot on the brake pedal.
Taking Early Action
You should act as soon as possible whenever you get some of these early warning signs. Take the vehicle to a mechanic, and they will replace the bearings and readjust everything accordingly.
Contact an auto repair shop to learn more.