Why Do Wheel Bearings to Go Bad? (5 Common Causes)

(Updated on December 16, 2020)

All vehicles with wheels are bound to have wheel bearings. Not only will you find them on the wheels of cars, but also on the wheels of bicycles, wheelbarrows, and even airplanes.

Wheel bearings are basically a group of balls which are attached to a metal ring. These components are located inside of the wheel hub. In case you don’t know, the wheel hub is the hollow metal area in the middle of the wheel. Each wheel is bolted onto a wheel hub.

As the wheels spin while you are driving the vehicle, the wheel bearings will help keep the wheels spinning. This reduces the friction and creates a much smoother driving experience.

Top 5 Reasons You Have Noisy or Bad Wheel Bearings

Like any other moving component in a vehicle, wheel bearings get a little bit worn whenever you drive your vehicle. Since your wheels are rotating with a lot of weight on top of them, it puts a lot of stress on the wheel bearings. It may eventually get to the point where your wheel bearings become too worn out.

Symptoms of bad wheel bearings can vary but you will often notice some unusual noises coming from them. This is a sign that they are damaged and need to be replaced right away. If you fail to do this promptly, it could have more severe consequences while driving.

Of course, wheel bearings don’t always go bad on their own. They can have a little help from various incidents that could arise. These are things that could prematurely damage your wheel bearings before old age strikes them.

Here are five of the most common causes of damaged and noisy wheel bearings.

1) Flooded Streets

corrosion - water damage

Wheel bearings have a tough time dealing with water. If you are driving on a flooded street, the seals won’t be able to prevent water from entering into your bearings. The reason this causes damage to the bearings is due to the lubricant.

All wheel bearings have already been lubricated by the manufacturer. This is usually a petroleum-based lubricant which doesn’t mix well with water. If your wheel bearings are exposed to water like this, then you will need to replace the bearings. They won’t be able to get repaired.

2) Uneven Roads

car acceleration

There is a lot of pressure put on your wheel bearings as you drive. The more often that you drive over uneven roads and terrain, the more worn and damaged your wheel bearings are going to become.

Eventually, the steel balls of the bearings will develop small damaged areas and other imperfections which will limit their ability to reduce friction for the wheels. Once that happens, replacing your wheel bearings is necessary.

3) Tires Not Balanced

tire rotation

Part of any good car maintenance routine is to get your tires balanced. Otherwise, certain wheel bearings will endure more pressure and stress than other wheel bearings of the car. This will cause them to wear out faster and become noisy and damaged. You need to keep your wheels balanced to avoid this from happening.

4) Car Accident

car accident to wheel area

If you have been involved in a car accident which has damaged your wheels or even slightly dented them, then your wheel bearings may have been impacted too.

This could easily cause them to be damaged to the point where they’re malfunctioning and creating all those strange noises that you don’t want to hear. Fortunately, any good repair shop will suspect damaged wheel bearings when damaged wheels are a results of an accident.

5) Poor Installation

wheel bearing installation

If you just recently had new wheel bearings installed and you’re already noticing strange noises and other problems, then it must mean that your wheel bearings were not installed properly. Either the mechanic was negligent, or they did not install the wheel bearings to the manufacturer’s specifications.

In any event, the best thing you should do is go back to the shop and demand they install the bearings correctly. If you wait too long, they may argue that it’s because of your own doing.

22 thoughts on “Why Do Wheel Bearings to Go Bad? (5 Common Causes)”

  1. I wanted to ask you. Will wide rims on a car also be a factor since maybe more pressure is being applied?? Thank you

    Reply
    • It could definitely be a factor, especially if you have pretty grippy tires. You would be putting more load on the factory bearings than they were designed for, which could cause them to fail.

      Reply
  2. Would a brake grinding cause wheel bearing to go bad. It sounds like it’s the same wheel the brake was grinding on back passenger

    Reply
    • Probably not. It would likely just ruin your rotors and pads, maybe the caliper depending on what’s wrong.

      Theoretically if something was seized and got really hot it could affect wheel bearing life.

      Reply
  3. I had to have one side of my cars wheel bearings fixed, then literally one month later it happened again but the mechanic said it’s the other side now. Why would both go out so soon apart? The mechanic shop said that’s typical. Now being a single woman in having to pay nearly $300 again which in my opinion should have been fixed then!

    Reply
    • I’m not sure why they would fail in succession like that. Make sure you’re running the correct wheel size for the vehicle. If it’s an older vehicle, I could see them both wearing down at roughly the same rate.

      Reply
    • samething happened to me but I think they didn’t put it in right, I heard noise the day I got it back took it back and they said other side , I don’t think so I’m taking it somewhere else, plus I just had one put on 2 years ago same wheel I read were it must have been poor quality cause I have got 10,000 miles on it, and I’m a single woman.. I started working on my own lawn mower Ive been took advantage of all these years, I can’t afford that .. Makes me sick

      Reply
  4. Would going over manhole covers which causes the vehicles tire to develop a bulge (due to its depth) cause wheel bearing to be damaged?

    Reply
    • The bump itself can cause damage to the wheel bearings if it’s severe enough. I recommend replacing the tire as soon as possible to avoid bursting it since the bulging area been weakened, if you haven’t yet.

      Reply
  5. I commented above and I have a question the noise of mine sounds different than it was before as soon as I drove off I heard it the noise so I took it back they drove it and told me it was the other wheel, but the noise is coming from the same spot.. it does get worse and louder the faster I go but it feels like the same place as the other under my drivers seat. Its like a flutter sound.. what is your opinion and I wonder if you recommend using the brand that came on it, as I said I just had one put on 10/4/20 and mileage was 100734 and now I have 111100 now not very many miles would something else be cause it to go bad? Just got new tires..thanks

    Reply
    • I don’t know. Maybe they were both due for replacement and failed at roughly the same time. I would have the car inspected at a reputable shop to make sure you understand what the problem is, then go from there.

      Reply
  6. Sean – we noticed a sound coming from the right side (turned out to be wheel bearings). Is it possible the wheel bearings got damaged when they put the new tires on – or is it is just a coincidence? Your thoughts? Thank you!

    Reply
    • I think it’s pretty unlikely that swapping wheels would cause wheel bearing damage. Over tightening lug nuts will sometimes damage the studs, possibly warp the brake rotors. They’d have to really crank down on them with an impact wrench for that to happen though.

      It’s probably a good idea to get that noisy bearing replaced though.

      Reply
  7. Sorry – I didn’t explain myself very well above. We got four new tires recently. Within a couple of days I noticed a light humming sound coming from the right side. It increased until we took it in to our mechanic today. They say it is a bad wheel bearing on the right side. My question is – do you think the wheel bearing could have been damaged when they put the new tires on or is it just a coincidence? Thank you.

    Reply
  8. I just had my 2016 Subaru Outback in for my 60k tuneup and for a grinding noise in the back, which they told me was my wheel bearing. They also told me that both rear wheel bearings were bad and the reason I didn’t hear the other one was because the original one was making so much noise. I find it hard to believe they would both go out at the same time, and I also find it odd that I didn’t hear the sound from both sides. The original one was not that loud. Plus the fact the car has been fairly idle since the beginning of the
    pandemic in March. Thoughts?

    Reply
  9. Hi my bearings are constantly going on me I had one fitted by a mechanic with a press nearly 8 weeks ago and it’s gone again last time my car was doing this I had to get another gearbox as the diff had gone so was constantly doing wheel bearings and shafts so unless I’m really unlucky and have another gear box with the same issue ( I drive a high mileage 2000 plate golf GTi so gearbox was second hand )what else could cause repeated bearing failure?

    Reply
  10. I have a 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. I have replace the wheel bearings (both) every year but only drive about 5000 miles a year. The roads in town (small, rural Western Montana) have pot holes and there is a big dip and bump going into my driveway (slow approach!). I try not to make too many abrupt stops but deer tend to jump out in front of us on the highway. Am I going to have to accept that my front wheel bearings (and/or calipers) will be going bad yearly?

    Reply
    • They shouldn’t be going bad so quickly. Are the axle nuts torqued to spec? A loose axle nut allows play in the hub and can greatly increase wheel bearing wear. It’s also very dangerous.

      Reply

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