Don’t Get No Respect: Wheel Hub Assemblies and Wheel Bearings

Hub Bearing Assembly
To paraphrase comedian Rodney Dangerfield, it’s tough being a hub assembly or wheel bearing. Their more famous cousins—the brakes, the batteries, the struts and shocks—get lots of fuss and attention. Meanwhile, the non-glamorous bearings work hard, day after day, repeating the same dreary job over and over again, with little recognition.

But when those drudgery cousins finally get worn out, you’ll probably know it. They’ll squeak; they’ll grind; they’ll growl; they’ll whine and moan. Besides that, they may not hang on tightly to your tires any more, perhaps even letting go completely and/or causing a loss of steering control. That goes beyond annoyance and becomes a significant safety issue.

Why you should maintain hub assemblies and wheel bearings

Located between the brake drums/discs and the drive axle, the hub assembly is mounted to the holding bracket of the chassis on the axle side. On the drum/disc side, the wheel is connected to the hub assembly via bolts. The wheel bearing itself is inside the hub unit.

These low-maintenance parts must take on the load of the vehicle, whether it’s in motion or standing still. Their importance rises even more when you’re driving over potholes and other rough patches. And, even though they are low maintenance, wheel bearings certainly aren’t no maintenance.

Your goal is to minimize the amount of friction generated by the wheel bearing. This can be accomplished by the use of quality grease specifically intended for high temperatures. Be careful not to overdo how much grease you apply, though, as this can result in overheating because of friction that can’t appropriately be dissipated. With repeated overheating incidents, damage can occur.

And, even though proper application of grease will help these parts last longer, they will eventually need to be replaced. Typically, you should check and maintain your wheel bearings every 25,000 to 30,000 miles. An average sealed wheel bearing lasts 85,000 to 100,000 miles although some can last as long as 150,000 miles.

A note about gas mileage: If you surf around online auto forums, you’ll find conversations about whether or not bad hub assemblies and/or wheel bearings can have a negative effect on gas mileage. As on many car-related topics, there isn’t clear consensus, with some commenters noticing an improvement after hub assembly/wheel bearing repair.

Hub assembly

Hub assembly

Diagnosing a potential problem—use your senses

Diagnosing car troubles by sound alone is an inexact science, but you should not ignore new or unusual car noises. According to an often-quoted study from Braxton Research, 51% of wheel bearing problems are found because of noise (24% are found during a brake job and 19% during an alignment).

Having said that, although noises from bad hub assemblies and/or wheel bearings come from the area of your wheels, not all strange sounds from the area of your wheels is assembly- or bearing-related. They could indicate a problem with your brakes or CV joints. And if the noise comes and goes with the application of your brakes, the problem is more likely brake-related.

Still, be sure to check your hub assembly and wheel bearings if you hear:

  • Chirping, squealing or grinding sounds with different intensities at different speeds. These noises may get louder or softer upon turning.
  • Humming that exists when you drive and increases when you start to turn your steering wheel

 If you ever sense a vibration from your wheels or your wheels “wobble,” be sure to check your hub assembly and wheel bearings.

Confirming and fixing the issue 

Jack up the car into the air and spin the wheel by hand. Can you feel any roughness or excessive drag? If so, you may have a bad wheel bearing. Check your car manual to see the maximum amount of movement that can be considered acceptable.

If you’re unsure whether or not there is too much movement, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You should replace your hub assembly and wheel bearings. Here’s how to replace wheel bearings. Even if only one side is bad, it makes sense to replace them in pairs. The “good” side is likely to cause problems in a relatively short time.

Also, after driving the car, you can check the temperature of the hub assembly. Typically, a hub assembly that is worn out will be hotter than the other hub assemblies on the vehicle. This is due to excessive drag produced by the worn out bearings.

Don’t forget the wheel speed sensor

Vehicles with antilock brakes may have a speed sensor built into the hub assembly. The sensor ring may move about as it rotates if there is a worn wheel bearing, which may trigger the appearance of an ABS warning light. Use a scanning tool that accesses your ABS to diagnose.

Meanwhile internal corrosion within the wheel assembly can send up a false alarm of worn parts. If your vehicle has a removable sensor, then simply remove and clean it. then add a zinc corrosion inhibitor to the hub before replacing. If the sensor is not removable, then the entire hub assembly will need to be replaced.

Hub and bearing assemblyWhat to look for when buying or replacing bearings

  • Beware of cheap bearings constructed of low quality steel with poor heat-treating. These tend to fail prematurely. Bearings should only need to be replaced once during typical car ownership.
  • Cheaper hub assemblies might include bearings that are smaller than OEM, which is another factor that could lead to early part failure. Still other cheaper parts contain double ball bearings rather than one stronger bearing. If possible, avoid these choices.
  • Note that manufacturers recommend a torque wrench rather than an impact wrench when installing. That’s because an impact wrench can damage axle nut threads and CV joints. Plus, the impact wrench can prevent proper torqueing of nuts and bolts.
  • Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to make sure you don’t void any warranties.

Pro Tip: Avoid being penny smart and pound foolish. Replace axle nuts rather than attempting to reuse them. Also, invest in quality seal drivers to ensure a quality seal and therefore protect new wheel bearings.

 

Have you replaced the wheel hub assemblies and wheel bearings on your vehicle lately? Share your tips and experience with others in the comments.

Comments

  1. Brad Fuller says:

    I have a 2010 Altima ,4 cyl. . At 32 to 38 mph I sence a what i call a wobble.At any other speed the car driver great.The car has 41,000 miles on it.The deale blamed it on tires and balence and front end allignment. Got new tires and had the rest don with no change.Any suggestions?
    Thanks
    Brad Fuller
    baf572@frontier.com

  2. Wheel bearings or cv joints, most likely.

  3. Sheila Wilson says:

    Yes I just replace brakes rotors tie rod then 2 weeks later they told me that I now need to replace my hub assembly within 3 weeks I paid out over $800 in parts and labor for my 2007 trailblazer I’m done putting money in it its for sale

  4. A CV joint will usually click when it’s bad and that’s because one of the boots is ripped. Wheel bearing usually hum or grind.

  5. Veronica Lowe says:

    I had my wheel bearings replaced February 13th and today I have a repair service tell me I need a front hub assembly. It seems like that is what should have been done back in February. Thoughts?

    • Never put off a repair if you can help it. My mother put 75k miles on a bad hub/bearing assembly and now the front end needs to be completely redone from wear that could have been prevented with a 1 hour job.

  6. On a 2006 Chevy Malibu 6 cylinder do I have to replace the entire wheel hub if just the bearings are bad

    • I believe, and don’t quote me on this, that the hub/bearing assembly are a single unit your model.

  7. kyle Halderman says:

    I have a 1997 Honda Accord, i bought it with a bad hub i can tell by the sound it gives of. if i were to replace my hub assembly should i get anything else done to my car?

    • I’d do an alignment and new CV joints if you can afford it. If you maintain a car properly it isn’t hard to get 400-500,000 miles out of a car like that.

  8. Thanks for the article! I’ve got a failed hub assembly; I’m thinking of fixing and installing it myself now!

  9. Livingstone Thuranira says:

    Hi, I have a Toyota corolla Axio 2008, second hand from Japan. It makes howling noise when driving. I have replaced the front bearings twice in a few months but they have failed. The new mechanic recommends I change the hub because it might have been damaged. What is your advice?

    • I checked the caliper the Pistons may be bad to make it appear as if it’s the wheel bearing and also you might want to take a look at your brakes

  10. My 1998 Bonneville most assuredly started getting better mileage after replacing the front hub bearings.

  11. Roger Johnson says:

    how common is hub failure on a 2014 Impala with over 80k miles on it?

  12. On the subject of expected wheel bearing lifespan, in my experience the 75,000 – 100,000 mile figure quoted is very low.

    For example, I have a ’95 Saturn that I bought in 2006 as a lightweight, flat towable car to pull behind my motorhome. After a few years being towed all over the US, I have since used it as a winter car and rainy day grocery getter. It still runs, drives, and looks too good to replace. I’ve always done all of my own work on it and keep detailed maintenance records, so it gets well maintained if not overly so. Two years ago I replaced the original equipment front wheel hubs and bearings at 180,000 driven miles plus about 25,000 towed miles, so those OEM bearings had about 205,000 miles on them. The rear original bearings are now starting to get a little noisy at 193,000 miles plus 25,000 miles towed, so those OEM bearings are at about 218,000 miles. I’ve had two other S-Series Saturns (both ’02s) with 175,000 miles and 128,000 miles on them, both with original equipment wheel bearings all the way around still doing fine. In fact, out of the approximately 40 cars I’ve owned over the years, the above mentioned ’95 Saturn was the only car on which I ever had to replace a wheel bearing, and those lasted well over the quoted estimate.

    The only exception in my experience was a 2007 Equinox that got a noisy front passenger bearing at about 105,000 miles, but from what I’ve read online about first generation Equinoxes, they tend to go through front wheel bearings fairly quickly. The driver’s side is still quiet at 112,000 miles.

    • I agree- my experience has been if they dont fail early—like in the first year or two of the cars life, they seem to last a long long time. I wish there were some kind of statistics about that.

      Great comment. Tanks

  13. HI great article. I have a 1995 buick park ave. Its got original half shafts and hubs and about 85K miles. Everytime I put the wheel in the air I check for hub failure (loose) and put it in neutral to carefully listen for any new or different noises- faint squeeks or rubbing noise (not brakes). I know its not scientific but GM shop manual has instructions to measure play when shaking the tire to determine if hub is good or bad.

    So far, they have been very tight. HOWEVER—-I was changing the original ball joints—the ones riveted in that have to be drilled and ground off to get them out and I nicked the boot and made a tiny slit about 1/2″ long. I immediately used contact cement and glued it tighly shut and used some silicone to seal the hole. I know its not permanent.

    Assuming the boot was perfect, how long do hubs and cv joints last before you should replace them as part of normal maintenance. I do not like waiting until the car is broken down on the side of the road, or I have to worry about my wife being stranded–I am a very strong believer in preventive maintenance —this means hoses, belts, filters on a regular (every few years or less) basis vs when they are leaking or failed. So having said that, I know the beginning of the end of the half shaft is coming due to my carelessness but I am debating doing it now or waiting. What is your thought? Also the fuel pump is original, these again have a way of (like a light bulb) failing at inopportune times—and its not something you can change without planning and lots of tools.

    Thanks!

  14. I have a 2008 Dodge Avenger and in was told at he body shop that the part will cost me 175.00 dollar for the part but the said that my rotars was bad and they would cost 107.00to turn now that was per part by the time they finished it would cost me 699.00 dollars so I checked part price online and got the part 50.00 and rotars was 50.00 to turn and will only be paid out about 250 for parts and labor.So I was being RIP off by the body shop I think.

    • My bearings were about $130.00 each on Silverado. O’Reilly wants $185.00 for my Dodge. There’s alot of shops that charge a markup for parts just because. Labor isn’t cheap either.

  15. Had a 1998 Silverado. Lost front drivers tire on highway. Am 53 years old never had that happen in my life, but seen plenty of highway parking of other vehicles with tires gone and front ends burried in the asphault. Replaced wheel bearing and cv joint. 2 weeks later lost other tire on a bridge with a big drop had teenagers in car. Went through it again on top of a costly tow. Replaced both bearing wheel assemblys, rotors, new brakes, inner/outer tie rod ends, cv joints, new shocks then sold it after putting in more than a grand. Guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Bought a 2009 Ram with only 88,000 miles. I’ll be damd if the wheel bearings ain’t bad in this. Had no indication when I bought it. I guess my point is. Most things like cv joints, wheel bearings, etc,,, if one goes bad the other is close to going bad too especially after the stress the new parts will put on other side if only one side is changed. It’s expensive but save yourself the trouble and replace in sets. You wouldn’t just replace one shock right ? This experience really has left me a bit traumatized and is very dangerous.

  16. I have a 2013 Ford Focus SE 1.5. Had my front left hub bearing replaced and now my Abs light is on as well as my speedometer is not working… What are the chances?!

  17. After doing a wheel hub assembly on a 2006 cheverolet impala is a alignment necessary?

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