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What Is a Wheel Bearing?

A spinning car wheel.

What is a wheel bearing? It’s a component in the wheel assembly that connects the wheel to the axle. It allows your wheels to turn smoothly with little resistance.

Understanding this part and how it works can help you identify when you might need to make a repair. Here’s what you need to know about how wheel bearings work and how to tell if one of yours needs replacing.

What Is a Wheel Bearing?Brake Rotor

Wheel bearings reduce friction and let your wheels spin freely. They’re held within small rings located within the wheel hub assembly. The two most common types are ball bearings and roller bearings.

Roller bearings are small cylinders that sit within a cylinder housing. They’re easy to access for repair but also easily contaminated by dirt and grime. Ball bearings, on the other hand, are little balls that are typically sealed. While this keeps them free of contamination from dirt and grit, it also means they usually can’t be serviced if something goes wrong and will need to be replaced.

When Good Wheel Bearings Go Bad

Typically, wheel bearings last for 75,000 to 100,000 miles, depending on your vehicle and where you drive. When they go bad, you’ll notice a variety of symptoms, including unusual noises such as a clicking, grinding or humming.

Uneven tire wear can also be a symptom of bad wheel bearings, but you might just need an alignment. Loose steering or a vibration in the steering wheel are other signs that something may be wrong. A more severe symptom is a wheel lock. In this case, the bearings become so damaged that they can stop moving. You may even get a warning light on your dashboard indicating that either your traction control or ABS system is malfunctioning.

Repair or Replace?

The best course of action is to replace bad wheel bearings. Unfortunately, this isn’t a matter of simply removing a single bearing and replacing it with a new one. Instead, the job usually requires a new wheel hub assembly. If you notice your wheel bearings are going bad, make the time to have them replaced instead of delaying action and risking additional damage to your car.

Check out all the wheel repair products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information about wheel bearings, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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