A wheel bearing is a set of steel balls, held together by a metal ring, which helps the wheels of your car spin fast with little friction. These occur in any vehicle that has wheels. On a car, the wheel bearing rides on a metal axle shaft, and it fits inside a hollow metal case at the center of the wheel, called the hub.
Most wheel bearings are made of hardened steel. This means that they can last quite a while. However, heat and water tend to wear them down over time, as heat caused by a lack of lubrication will damage it, and water getting into the sealed bearing will also damage it. Now, your wheel bearings are not supposed to make noise while you drive. But then, you have to drive the vehicle to hear the noise, which means this can be tricky to diagnose. However, you can identify what the wheel bearing sounds like when it has problems. Here are some tips:
- When the seal of the wheel bearing is broken, the noise is faint at first. Then it becomes louder over time. You might mistake the sound as the one made when your car hits a rumble strip. However, it is not quite as loud as that.
- While driving down the road at about 40mph, shift the weight of the car from side to side slowly. Do this gently, and note where the noise comes from. Also, note whether the noise gets louder or softer. If it reduces when you turn left, the managed bearing may be on the right, and vice versa.
- Tires that are worn out in patches may make such a rhythmic noise as damaged wheel bearings. Therefore, you might want check your tires when you hear such noises.
Wheel bearings do not fail immediately, despite all that is said above. Thus, you can use them for a long while before they need to be replaced. Again, you do not even need to replace the bearings on both sides of the vehicle at the same time. You could simply replace just the one that fails. However, you might not be able to do this on your own, as there are a lot of parts to remove before you get to the bearings.