Wheel bearings support the weight of the vehicle and allow the wheel/tire assembly to rotate when you’re traveling down the road. All four of your car’s wheels have wheel bearings.
Now you may be wondering—what if your wheel bearing fails? Is it safe to keep driving? What should you do?
Wheel Bearing Failure: What Can Happen When Driving with a Bad Wheel Bearing
Can your car still run with a faulty bearing? The technical answer might be yes, but doing so can be dangerous. In some instances, when left unattended to, a faulty wheel bearing can create hazardous conditions such as the following:
You may lose control of your vehicle.
Since a bad wheel bearing can cause the wheel/tire assembly to loosen, driving with a faulty bearing can be extremely dangerous—especially at high speeds. You could even end up losing control of your vehicle.
You will have problems with your vehicle brakes.
A bad wheel bearing can cause the brake rotor to wobble, which can reduce braking performance. And as any driver should know, anything that causes problems with your brake system is extremely risky.
In extreme cases, your wheels can come off.
As previously mentioned, a wheel bearing allows the wheel/tire assembly to rotate. The hub portion of the bearing assembly also serves as a mounting point for the wheel and tire.
Consequently, in extreme cases, a failed wheel bearing can cause the wheel and tire to fall off completely. This may also cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
How Long Can You Drive with a Bad Wheel Bearing?
Some may say that you can drive for up to a thousand miles with a failed wheel bearing—but the thing is, this is an arbitrary claim. There’s really no telling how long you can safely drive your vehicle in this state. It would depend on the severity of the damage to your wheel bearing, present road conditions, and other factors. So, it’s best not to push your luck.
If your wheel bearing goes out while you’re on the road, it’s not advisable to keep driving. However, if there’s absolutely no alternative, make sure to maintain a slow and steady pace—do not accelerate or turn suddenly.
In the event that this happens under weather conditions that make the road slippery, immediately maneuver your vehicle to the nearest safe spot off the road.
Wheel bearing failure is a potentially dangerous situation at any time, so have your vehicle towed to the nearest mechanic and have your faulty wheel bearings replaced right away. Vehicle safety should always come first.
Also, by replacing a bad bearing early on, you can also save yourself a lot of money by avoiding possible major repairs.
How to Tell If Your Wheel Bearing is Bad
By now, you may have an idea of how important wheel bearings are. Thankfully, there are signs that can indicate that your wheel bearings are going bad.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of wheel bearing failure:
Unusual Growling, Humming, or Rumbling Sounds
When you’re driving with the music cranked up, you may not notice the different sounds that your vehicle makes. But the moment you turn the radio off and notice a growling, humming, or rumbling noise coming from your wheel bearing, you’ll know there’s a problem.
Wheel bearing noise coincides with the rotation of the tires. The sound typically increases with vehicle speed as well. In some instances, the noise may also change when you turn the steering wheel in one direction or the other.
It’s this abnormal sound that’s the most obvious sign something is wrong with your wheel bearings. Of course, because other issues, such as cupped tires, can mimic a bad wheel bearing, you’ll want to diagnose the sound properly.
It’s worth noting that tire noise will usually change depending on the road surface. Wheel bearing noise, on the other hand, is consistent regardless of road surface and acceleration.
A worn-out wheel bearing may also make a high-pitched squealing sound while you’re driving. If you are able to observe these symptoms, have your vehicle checked right away. Even if your wheel bearings are not the culprit—there’s definitely something wrong with your vehicle.
Uneven Tire Wear
Loose wheel bearings can throw your car’s alignment off, leading to abnormal tire wear. There are, of course, many other problems that can create the same, undesirable results. So, you’ll want to diagnose the issue thoroughly before condemning one or more of the wheel bearings
Steering Wheel Vibrations
A faulty wheel hub and bearing assembly can also cause a vibration felt in the steering wheel. Often, the sensation will change with vehicle speed or while the vehicle is cornering.
Once again, there are other issues besides a bad wheel bearing that can cause steering wheel vibrations. A thorough diagnosis is needed to verify the cause of the concern.
Abnormal Side Pull
A faulty wheel bearing can cause your vehicle to pull to one side during braking. This symptom can also be related to faulty brake components.
Do your homework (or have a mechanic do it for you) to know for sure.
ABS Warning Light
Is your ABS light on, and you do not know what is causing it? A faulty wheel bearing can be a possibility. On some vehicles, the ABS sensor or encoder ring is integrated into the wheel hub and bearing assembly. As such, a failure of the wheel bearing can trigger the ABS light.