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As you navigate that sharp corner near your home or casually drive down the highway, have you ever thought of what keeps your wheels rolling? Probably not. They may not be the flashiest parts of your car, but wheel hub bearings keep your wheels rotating as they should, keeping you safe on the road.

In this article, we will discuss wheel hub bearings, how they work, differences from wheel hubs, signs of failure, and much more.

Let’s Dive right in. 

What is a Wheel Hub Bearing?

A wheel hub bearing is a crucial component of your vehicle’s wheel assembly. It is located within the wheel hub assembly, where it supports your vehicle’s weight and allows the wheels to rotate with minimal friction. 

A wheel hub bearing consists of several components that work together to support your vehicle’s weight and allow smooth wheel rotation. 

Here are the main components:

  • Outer ring: This is the outermost part of the bearing assembly. It usually has a circular shape and serves as the outer raceway for the bearings.

  • Inner ring: This is the innermost part of the bearing assembly. It also has a circular shape and serves as the inner raceway for the rolling elements.

  • Bearings: These components roll between the inner and outer rings, reducing friction and enabling smooth rotation of the wheel. Common types of bearings include ball bearings and roller bearings.

  • Wheel Hub: The wheel bearing is often integrated into the hub assembly, which includes the wheel hub, wheel studs, and mounting bolts. The hub assembly connects the wheel to the axle. It has a center hole for the wheel bearing assembly and a flange on the outer diameter to which the wheel mounts.

  • Seals: The seals keep lubricant in the bearing and prevent contamination from dirt, water, and debris. It’s typically made of rubber or a similar elastomer material.

  • ABS Sensor (optional): In some vehicles, the wheel hub assembly houses an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) sensor. The sensor reads the wheel’s speed and sends this information to the ABS module, which helps to prevent wheel lockup during braking.

The wheel hub assembly is typically sold as a single combined unit in newer vehicles. However, in older models, the wheel bearings are separate components that can be separated from the hub and individually serviced.

How a Wheel Hub Bearing Works

Dragging a heavy box on the floor instead of rolling it on a cart can be cumbersome. The friction between the box and the ground makes it difficult to move. Similarly, without bearings, wheels would rub against the axle, creating friction and making it difficult to drive your car. Here is how wheel hub bearings work:

Rotational movement

The bearings reduce friction, allowing the wheels to spin freely. As the vehicle moves, the wheel hub bearing facilitates the wheel’s rotation. The inner and outer rings of the bearing assembly provide smooth raceways for the rolling elements to move around.

Vehicle weight support

Thee bearings also bear the weight of the car and the forces encountered during driving, turning, and braking. The bearing rings and rolling elements are made of robust steel to withstand these loads.

Load distribution

The bearings evenly distribute the load across the bearing assembly. This helps prevent excessive wear on any particular area and ensures that the wheel rotates smoothly without causing damage to the bearing components.


Types of Bearings

There are two main types of wheel hub bearings used in various vehicles:

  • Ball bearings: These are better suited for applications where speed is a priority. They have lower rolling resistance but can handle less weight compared to roller bearings.

  • Roller bearings: These are more common for wheel hubs as they can handle the heavier loads placed on the wheels.

The Difference Between Wheel Bearings and Wheel Hubs

While often used interchangeably, there is a slight distinction between wheel bearings and wheel hubs:

Wheel bearing

This refers specifically to the precision bearings within the assembly that enable smooth wheel rotation. In older vehicles made before 1997, the wheel bearings were separate components from the hub.

Wheel Hub Assembly

This is a pre-assembled unit that integrates the wheel hub itself, bearings, hub housing, seals, and sometimes a sensor. Modern vehicles almost exclusively use wheel hub assemblies for better efficiency and ease of replacement.

This is a pre-assembled unit that integrates the wheel hub itself, bearings, hub housing, seals, and sometimes a sensor. Modern vehicles almost exclusively use wheel hub assemblies for better efficiency and ease of replacement.

Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Hub Bearing

Identifying the signs of a failing wheel hub bearing is crucial for maintaining your vehicle’s safety and performance. A failing wheel hub bearing can manifest in several ways:

Strange Noises

One of the most noticeable signs of a bad wheel hub bearing is unusual noises coming from the affected wheel. These noises can include grinding, rumbling, humming, or growling sounds, especially when the vehicle is in motion. The noise may change in intensity or pitch when turning or changing speeds.

Vibration or loose steering wheel

A failing wheel hub bearing can cause vibrations or make your steering feel loose, particularly at higher speeds. This can lead to a shaky or unstable feeling while driving, which may worsen as the bearing deteriorates further.

Uneven Tire Wear

When a wheel hub bearing is worn or damaged, it can affect the wheel’s alignment, leading to uneven tire wear. Inspect your tires for signs of uneven tread wear, such as bald spots or excessive wear on one side of the tire.

Loose Wheel Play

If you notice any looseness or play in the affected wheel, it could indicate a problem with the wheel hub bearing.

ABS Warning Light

If your vehicle is equipped with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), a failing wheel hub bearing can trigger the ABS warning light on the dashboard. The ABS system relies on sensors located near the wheel hub bearings to detect wheel speed variations.

Risks of Driving With Faulty Wheel Hub Bearings

Ignoring a failing wheel hub bearing can lead to serious consequences, including:

Loss of Control

A worn bearing can seize up completely, causing the wheel to lock and making it difficult or even impossible to steer. This can lead to a complete loss of control, especially at high speeds, increasing the risk of accidents.

Wheel Separation

In the worst-case scenario, a severely damaged bearing could cause the wheel to detach from the car entirely. This is a nightmare that can result in a serious accident.

Increased Stopping Distances: A failing bearing can affect the braking system by causing the wheel to wobble or drag. This can extend your stopping distances and make it harder to brake safely.

Damage to Other Parts

A bad wheel bearing can put additional stress on suspension and steering components, such as the CV joints, tie rods, and control arms. Ignoring the problem can lead to more extensive damage and costly repairs.

How to Replace Wheel Hub Bearings

Replacing a wheel hub bearing is a job best left to a qualified mechanic. The process typically involves:

  • Find an ideal spot: Secure the vehicle on a level surface and loosen the lug nuts on the wheel.
  • Remove the wheel: Lift the vehicle using a jack, remove the wheel, and disconnect the brake disc and caliper.
  • Remove the hub assembly: Unbolt the hub assembly from the steering knuckle and axle.
  • Replace the old bearing: Press out the old bearing from the hub assembly and press in the new one.
  • Reassemble the unit: Reattach the hub assembly to the steering knuckle, reinstall the brake rotor and caliper, and mount the wheel. Ensure you tighten the lug nuts according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Test drive: After completing the repair, take your car for a test drive on a safe road and listen for any unusual noises or check for any signs of pulling.

When to Replace Bearings Vs. the Whole Wheel Hub

Should you replace the entire wheel hub assembly or just the bearings? Determining whether to replace just the wheel hub bearing or the entire wheel hub assembly depends on factors like your vehicle’s design, the condition of the components, and the cost-effectiveness of the repair. 

Here are some considerations:

Wheel Bearing Replacement

  • If only the wheel hub bearing is worn or damaged and the rest of the hub assembly is in good condition, replacing just the bearing may be sufficient.
  • If you notice signs like abnormal noises (grinding, rumbling, etc.), wheel vibration, uneven tire wear, and play in the wheel when lifted off the ground.
  • If the bearing is easily accessible and can be replaced separately from the hub assembly.
  • If the cost of the bearing is significantly lower than that of the entire hub assembly, replacing just the bearing may be a more cost-effective option.

Wheel Hub Assembly Replacement

  • If the wheel hub assembly shows signs of wear, damage, or corrosion beyond just the bearing, replacing the entire assembly may be more practical.
  • Replacing the entire hub assembly may also be more time-efficient, as it eliminates the need to disassemble and reassemble individual components.

Consult a Professional

Understanding the importance of wheel hub bearings and recognizing the signs of wear or damage is essential for vehicle safety and performance. Regular inspection and timely replacement can prevent costly repairs and ensure a smooth and enjoyable driving experience.

What’s more, you can always seek professional assistance if you’re unsure about anything. At VBL, we are always ready to assist. Get in touch with us today for a free consultation.