The 7 Biggest Signs of Bad Wheel Bearing Hubs & How You Can Prevent It

Little things like wheel bearing hub assemblies can easily be overlooked when it comes to taking care of your car. But it’s important you know the signs that your hub bearing is about to fail, otherwise you can be dealing with a serious accident and expensive repairs. 

How Does a Wheel Hub Bearing Work?

These hub bearings are part of your car’s suspension system. They are located at the centre of the wheel, between the brake rotor and the wheel itself. Your wheel bearing allows the wheel to rotate freely around the axle. It also provides a mounting point for the wheel and helps to transfer the weight of the vehicle to the suspension. You won’t get very far without them.

Can You Drive With a Broken Hub Bearing?

Driving with a broken hub bearing can be dangerous, as it can lead to several problems. There are two key reasons why you should never drive with a damaged or broken hub bearing.

1. Reduced Control

A damaged or worn hub bearing can cause vibration in the steering wheel or the seat. This can make it difficult to control the vehicle and increase the risk of an accident. Similarly, if the bearings are damaged, you are more likely to experience play or looseness in the wheel. It can also make the wheel pull to one side, further increasing the difficulty of controlling your car. 

2. Increased Wear on Other Components

When your wheel bearing isn’t working, other components must try and take up the slack. However, they aren’t made to work this way. As a result, a worn or damaged hub bearing can place extra stress on other parts of the suspension and steering systems, leading to increased wear and potential failure of those components.

If you want to avoid these issues — and the flow-on problems they can cause, like accidents and increased repairs — it is important to get your damaged hub bearing replaced as soon as possible.

7 Signs Your Wheel Hub Bearing Is Going Bad

The symptoms you notice may vary depending on your car, the bearing, and the conditions you drive in. However, if you notice any of the below, it’s time to act. 

1. Strange Noises 

Wondering what does a bad wheel hub bearing sound like? Your bearing can make a growling, humming, or grinding noise while the vehicle is in motion. This noise may be more pronounced when you’re turning or applying the brakes.

2. Vibrations 

A worn hub bearing can cause a vibration in the steering wheel or seat, which can be felt while driving at high speeds or while braking. This will also become more obvious as it becomes harder to keep control of your car. You may also feel this vibration as more of a shaking, particularly when you’re driving at high speeds.

3. Loose Feeling in Wheel

As mentioned above, when a wheel bearing hub is damaged, it can cause play or looseness in the wheel. You’ll have trouble steering your car and feel that it is not as responsive as usual. You may even find that your steering wheel wanders and you have wrest control back as you drive.

4. Uneven Tyre Wear

One of those increased wear issues we alluded to earlier, worn hub bearings can also cause uneven tire wear, as the wheel will not rotate smoothly.

5. Warning Light Activation

In some cases, a malfunctioning hub bearing will trigger a warning light on the dashboard. This depends on your car’s features, though, so don’t rely on this as you’re only sign that something is wrong.

6. Unusual Smell

Worn hub bearings can produce an unusual smell, particularly when the vehicle is in motion. If something doesn’t smell right, it could be a bearing at fault.

7. Reduced Fuel Economy

A damaged hub bearing can put additional stress on the vehicle’s drivetrain, which can reduce fuel efficiency and increase wear on other components. If the numbers aren’t adding up when you go to fuel up your car, this could be the cause.

It’s important to note that these symptoms may also indicate issues with other parts of the suspension or steering system, so it’s best to have a professional diagnose the problem to be sure. Remember that even if one of the signs appears, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the hub bearing is damaged, but it could be pointing towards it, or other issues. Regardless, something certainly isn’t right with your car, and you need to get it fixed as soon as possible to avoid putting yourself and others at risk.

What Can You Do to Keep Your Wheel Bearing Hub Assemblies in Good Condition?

While these hub bearings will wear out over time, you can do a few things to make them last longer and avoid additional damage to them.

1. Regularly Check Your Tyre Pressure

Maintaining the correct tyre pressure can help distribute the weight of the vehicle evenly and reduce stress on the wheel bearing hubs. It’s also good general car maintenance, particularly in hot weather.

2. Maintain Proper Wheel Alignment

Proper wheel alignment can help prevent uneven wear on the tyres and reduce stress on the wheel bearing hubs.

3. Avoid Overloading Your Car 

Overloading your car with extra passengers or items can put extra stress on the wheel bearing hubs and increase the risk of damage. It’s better to do a few extra trips or organise for another car to be used than to deal with a broken wheel bearing hub.

4. Regularly Service Your Brakes

Worn brake pads or rotors can also place extra stress on the wheel bearing hubs, so it’s important to have your brakes serviced regularly.

5. Avoid Aggressive Driving 

Fast acceleration, hard braking and sharp turns can put extra stress on the wheel bearing hubs and increase the risk of damage. It also is poor driving practice and can put yourself and others at risk unnecessarily. Remember to be a courteous and safe driver — it will save you a lot of money and trouble in the long run!

6. Regularly Check & Maintain Your Car

This includes doing regular check-ups, such as rotating tyres, checking brake and suspension systems, replacing worn out parts, and doing scheduled maintenance. Staying up to date with all of this will help prevent wear and damage to the wheel bearing hubs, as well as other parts of your vehicle. Refer to your driver’s handbook or speak to your mechanic to learn what your car’s maintenance routine should look like.

Everything You Need to Know About Replacing Broken Wheel Bearing Hubs

So, you’ve spotted that your wheel bearings are looking more than a little worse for wear and a replacement is in order, what else do you need to know?

Can You Replace a Wheel Bearing Without Replacing the Hub?

In most cases, it’s not possible to replace a wheel bearing without replacing the hub. Wheel bearings are press-fitted into the hub and are typically not meant to be serviced separately. Attempting to remove the bearing from the hub without the proper tools and equipment can cause damage to both the bearing and the hub.

However, some newer vehicles might have a design that allows for an easier servicing of the bearing, separate from the hub. But even then, it’s not recommended to replace just the bearing, as it’s cheaper and more convenient to replace the entire hub assembly. This also helps ensure proper fit and function. Additionally, if the bearing is damaged, it can indicate issues or damage in other related components as well, like worn out or damaged seals, or contamination that can affect the proper functioning of the new bearing. Therefore, save yourself the hassle and replace the whole assembly rather than just the actual bearings themselves.

How Long Does It Take to Change a Wheel Bearing Hub?

The time it takes to change a wheel bearing hub can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the type of vehicle, the type of hub assembly, and the experience level of the person doing the work.

In general, changing a wheel bearing hub can be a time-consuming and complex process that typically involves the following steps:

  • Removing the wheel and brake rotor: This gives you access to the hub assembly.
  • Removing the hub assembly: The hub assembly is typically held in place with bolts or a retaining clip that need to be removed. In some cases, the steering knuckle may also need to be removed.
  • Replacing the hub assembly: Once the old hub assembly is removed, the new one can be installed. This typically involves pressing the new bearing into the hub and reassembling the hub assembly with new bolts or a retaining clip.
  • Reinstalling the brake rotor and wheel: Once the new hub assembly is installed, it’s time to put the brake rotor and wheel back in place.
  • Checking tyre alignment: It’s important to check the tyre alignment after the work is done to make sure that the wheels are properly aligned.

On average, changing a wheel bearing hub can take several hours for an experienced mechanic with the proper tools and equipment, depending on the complexity of the vehicle. For a novice or someone without the proper tools and equipment, it can take much longer. As a result, it’s best to leave this task to a professional mechanic with the experience and proper tools. This also will minimise the likelihood of the repair going wrong, and your car being damaged further.

Do You Need a New Wheel Bearing Hub?

When you notice that something isn’t right with your wheel bearing hub, it’s important to act quickly. This includes taking your car to a mechanic and sourcing a new assembly. 

Of course, many of us would admit that we have put car repairs off because of cost. Luckily, though, you can find quality and affordable aftermarket wheel bearing hubs for a range of popular car makes and models at Machter. So, don’t risk driving with a bad wheel bearing hub — grab a new one for less from Machter.