The wheel bearing is a very important part of the wheel of a vehicle. The main job of a wheel bearing is to reduce friction while the wheel rotates. A series of small balls situated inside the bearing helps to reduce friction. A bearing also helps to make your ride smoother and more comfortable.
Just like any mechanical part, wheel bearings can also fail over time. You identify a failing wheel bearing by observing the sound it makes. If you find your bearing making a squeaking noise or grinding noise, then you can be sure that you are dealing with a failing bearing. The small balls inside the wheel bearing can wear out and produce noises.
In this article, we will discuss in detail how long a wheel bearing will last after it starts to make noise. We will also discuss the ways of identifying bad wheel bearings. But first, let us take a look at some basics of wheel bearings.
Types Of Wheel Bearings
There are basically four types of wheel bearings. They are:
- Ball Bearings
- Roller Bearings
- Tapered Roller Bearings
- Precision Ball Bearings
Ball bearings are most commonly used on small transports. Cycles, skateboards, Roller-skates, cars, etc. use this type of bearings. But most modern automobiles use tapered roller bearings on the wheels because of their superior capability of withstanding pressure while cornering and because of their higher durability. Tapered bearings also produce very little friction.
Roller bearings are used in places where radial loads need to be supported. And precision bearings are used in environments where very high performance is needed. They are most commonly used in airplane wheels and racing cars.
Why do Wheel Bearings Make Noise?
Wheel bearings are very durable in nature. But wheel bearings can make noise for many reasons. The most prominent reasons for a wheel bearing to make noise are:
Lack Of Lubrication
As mentioned before, wheel bearings contain many small rotating balls or rollers that help to reduce the friction of the rotating wheels. The balls and rollers need frequent lubrication in order to function properly. A dried roller can rub against the inner and outer ring of the bearing producing a wheel bearing squeak.
A defective installation of the bearing can play a crucial role in producing excessive wheel bearing noise. The rollers inside of a bearing need smooth inner and outer rings for functioning properly. Any damage to the rings during the installation process can cause the bearing to produce more friction and consequently produce more noise.
Bad Road Conditions
Bad road conditions can have a significant impact on the lifespan of a wheel bearing. Deep Potholes and big bumps can very easily damage the internal components of the bearings. Dust and mud entering the bearing can contaminate the bearing lubricants and damage the bearings as well.
Poor Quality Bearing
If you have a very cheap quality bearing installed in your vehicle, then it may very as well be the reason why your bearing is making noise. A bearing needs to be made out of very high-grade materials because it needs to withstand a huge amount of force when your wheels spin. A cheap bearing can fail under such pressure and produce unwanted noise.
Bad Car Modifications
Modifying your car with bigger rims and fitting wider tires can exert excessive pressure on the bearings. Adding stiffer suspension can also aid the problem. Moreover, adding too much weight to the car can also add more pressure on the bearings.
The excessive pressure exerted on the bearing can damage the internal rollers and inner rings. This as a result can produce excessive noise while driving.
How To Detect A Failing Bearing?
You will definitely hear some strange and unwanted noises while driving with a bad wheel bearing. You will also notice free play (loose steering) while steering your vehicle if you have a bad bearing.
The best way to identify a faulty bearing is by driving a car in a swaying motion at 40 mph or at about 64 kmph. While driving the vehicle in a swaying motion, try to transfer the mass of the vehicle from the left to the right. By doing so, you will exert force on all the bearings of the vehicle and force the faulty bearing to produce a distinctive noise.
If any bearing makes noise while the car is swayed in the right direction, then there are definitely problems with the bearings situated on the right side of the car. And similarly, if any noise is heard when the vehicle is swayed in the left direction, then the bearings on the left side of the vehicle are faulty.
Furthermore, you can pinpoint the exact location of the faulty bearing by properly observing the noise source. So, it is recommended to carry out this test in a quiet place where no external noise would interfere with the test.
How Long Will A Bad Wheel Bearing Last?
No one can exactly estimate how long a noisy or a bad wheel bearing will last. It can last for 2 miles or 2000 miles. The longevity of a noisy wheel bearing depends on many factors. If the wheel bearing is making noise due to lack of lubrication, then it can last for a substantially long period of time before giving up.
On the other hand, if the bearing sustains any structural damage due to bad driving or accidents and starts to make noise, then it can give up within a very short amount of time. So, using a vehicle that has a noisy bearing is not recommended.
How Long Will A Worn Wheel Bearing Last?
Just like the previous topic, no one can exactly say how long will a worn-out wheel bearing last. But a worn-out wheel bearing can be more serious than a noisy wheel bearing. You can identify a worn-out bearing by following the methods discussed previously in this article.
Additionally, you are most likely to feel a lot more vibrations if you have a worn-out bearing.
A worn-out bearing is most likely to fail much faster than a noisy bearing because a worn-out bearing can constantly produce a huge amount of friction as it spins.
The additional friction produced by the worn-out bearing can further damage the internal components of the bearing ultimately causing it to fail.
How Long And How Far Can You Drive On A Bad Wheel Bearing?
How far and how long can you drive on a bad wheel bearing entirely depends on the road conditions and your driving style. If you live in an area where road conditions are bad, a faulty wheel bearing will not last for very long. Bumps and potholes on the road can accelerate the damage and shorten the lifespan of the wheel bearing.
Having a bad driving style that is, taking very aggressive turns, doing rapid accelerations, and performing heavy braking can also shorten the lifespan of a wheel bearing. Because doing so applies excess force on the wheels which in turn damages the bearings. Experts suggest not driving more than 1000 miles on a bad wheel bearing.
If you discover a bad wheel bearing while on a road trip and or while being in a very remote area, then definitely refrain from speeding. Also, if you are driving on a bad wheel bearing, then try not to exert more pressure on the wheels. Exerting pressure on the wheels will only shorten their lifespan and will increase your chances of being in an accident.
Are Vehicles Having Wheel Bearing Noise Safe To Drive?
Hypothetically, driving a vehicle that recently started making wheel-bearing noise can be safe. A wheel bearing is highly unlikely to fail immediately after showing noisy wheel bearing symptoms. But a noisy wheel bearing can develop many catastrophic issues with time. It can deteriorate over time and can cause a major mechanical malfunction.
Driving a vehicle with bad wheel bearings is definitely not safe. A vehicle having a faulty or damaged wheel bearing not only raises safety concerns for the occupants of the vehicle, but it also puts all the other people on the road at risk.
There have been many incidents where the wheel of vehicles locked up because of a faulty wheel bearing. It can cause fatal and serious accidents. So, to avoid such incidents, do not drive a vehicle that has a bad or noisy wheel bearing.
There are no exact guarantees about the longevity of a noisy wheel bearing. But you can very easily increase the longevity of a noisy wheel bearing by driving your vehicle properly and treating the vehicle gently. As mentioned earlier, being harsh on the vehicle can accelerate the deterioration process of the noisy bearing. So, try to drive the vehicle being as gently as possible.
In order to increase the lifespan of the noisy wheel bearing, refrain from speeding and try not to perform harsh braking and acceleration. Again, try to repair or replace the noisy bearing as soon as you can because driving a vehicle with a noisy wheel bearing can be very risky.