Wheel bearings are essential to the safety and comfort of travelling by car. However, they are one of those vehicle parts we never really worry about. If we have a new car, well, wheel bearings are one of those things that we barely pay attention to. If, on the other hand, it is pre-owned or simply ageing, we tend to concentrate on the engine, suspension or bodywork. No one actually thinks about wheel bearings until they start causing the driver unbearable problems.

a set of wheel bearings displayed.

What is a wheel bearing?

To put it simply, it is a steel ring, called a race, that contains a set of small metal balls held together inside. Their job is to allow car wheels to spin without too much friction, which would decrease motor vehicle performance on the road. You can find wheel bearings at the centre of the inner part of the wheel. There is a metal hub that houses wheel bearing and connects to an axle shaft.

As with all consumable car parts, wheel bearings eventually give way to wear and tear. In such a case, they start letting the driver know that it is about time he serviced them or replaced them with new ones. If well looked after, wheel bearings can last up to 100.000 miles. In most cases, however, drivers have to replace them well before reaching that distance threshold. It depends on the quality of parts, as well as your driving and conditions on the road. As a rule of thumb, don't expect your wheel bearings to last 100.000 miles and have them inspected with your regular car service just in case.

How can you tell when to replace wheel bearings?

The first sign is often the grating or grinding noise that stays the same, regardless of the road speed. Motorists can also frequently feel vague steering and their driving wheel vibration at low speeds. At high velocities, they can often hear humming noises. Both signs indicate that the car's wheel bearings need immediate mechanical attention. At this stage, the best idea is to book a garage visit as soon as possible to have the problem fixed. Do not leave it for later, as the vehicle might not be safe on roads.

If your wheel bearing is faulty, it can make the brake rotor wobble. That can even completely destroy your brakes and tires when driving straight. Degradation is even faster when you take sharp turns as it puts more pressure on your wheels, so try to avoid sharp turns as much as you can. And again, fix the problem yourself or go to your trusted mechanic as soon as possible.

The price to pay

Wheel bearing replacement costs in the UK are usually up to £200. The price depends on the age, make and model of your car and the spare part manufacturer. Obviously, some spares are less expensive than others, and in more complex cases, you are probably looking for a higher labour price as well. It is also prudent to buy spare parts (not only wheel bearings) online rather than at a dealership. You will be pleasantly surprised with how inexpensive spares are on the internet compared to a regular motor store.

Remember to always choose the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) spare parts. They are precisely the same as originals, made by your car company, have the same quality, but go much easier on your budget.

Can I fix wheel bearings myself?

The short answer is yes. Probably. The best-case scenario is that the noisy part is simply lacking grease, and you can add some, then tighten the bearing, and the problem is solved. At least for some time, that is. All it takes is some home-grown mechanic skills, proper tools and a manual or a mobile device playing you some "how-to" video guides. Just make sure you read the comments to choose the most reliable ones.

Two mechanics checking the wheel bearings of a car

If your wheel bearings are already beyond repair, this is a completely different story. First of all, you would need a hydraulic jack, definitely not a small one you have in your vehicle for emergencies. Then, a set of new bearings, ideally long-lasting, premium quality ones. Lastly, some professional tools and expertise. You would have to remove several seized nuts, push bearings out, replace and tighten the new ones respecting the specified torque values for safety and durability.

So, unless you enjoy doing things yourself and have plenty of time on hand, it might be a better idea to have your wheel bearing replaced at a professional garage. You will have to pay for the labored hours, but you can be sure that the wheel bearings are placed professionally and safely on your car.

To sum it up

Remember, If you experience wheel bearing problems, it means they need a repair or replacement as soon as possible. If you can do it yourself, that's great but we recommend only taking care of it yourself if you really know how to do it.. If not, almost any local garage will be able to help you with that. The price you will have to pay for the parts and labour isn't really significant. But neglecting your wheel bearings is not a wise thing to do. It will probably cost you much more when you damage your brakes and/or damage your tyres. Not to mention the reduced safety on the road, which should always be your primary concern.