Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearing


The wheel bearing is a part that connects the wheels to the axle. The wheel bearing allows the wheel to spin with minimum friction. It is a crucial part of the wheel assembly. So the question is: Is it safe to drive with a bad wheel bearing?

If your wheel bearing just started to make a humming, whining, grinding, or growling sound, it is safe for you to drive your vehicle to the repair shop. If your wheel bearing has been making those noises for a long period of time, it is not safe to drive your vehicle any longer because the wheel bearing could get loose or get completely separated from the knuckle at any time.

Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearing

Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearing

A wheel bearing is one of those parts that you would probably need to replace at least once while owning a car. The wheel bearing is a part of the wheel assembly that connects your wheel to the axle. It is an important part and if it’s bad, you will have to replace it.

It is safe to drive with a bad wheel bearing only if you just started to hear a humming, whining, grinding, or growling sound coming from the front or rear wheels. This indicates that the wheel bearing has begun failing and you would need to replace it as soon as possible. It is the first warning sign that the wheel bearing will give you.

If you have been hearing humming, whining, grinding, or growling noises for a longer period of time, it is not safe to drive your vehicle any longer. If you ignore the first warning sign, the next warning sign could get you in trouble.

After making noises for a longer period of time, it is no longer safe to drive with a bad wheel bearing. The wheel bearing could start getting loose and your wheel would become wobbly. At this point, the wheel could get separate from the knuckle and you could lose a wheel while driving.

You could end up on the side of the road or worse.

How Do I Know If I Have a Bad Wheel Bearing?

Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Wheel Bearing

There are a couple of warning signals and symptoms that could indicate you have a bad wheel bearing. The wheel bearing will not fail immediately. It will show signs of failure that you must know.

1. Wheel Bearing Making Noises

The first warning that your wheel bearing will give you is noise. If you hear a humming, whining, grinding, or growling sound coming from the front or rear wheels, it is a sign that your wheel bearings are failing.

The sound develops slowly so a lot of people get used to it and don’t notice. Often a medium to loud roaring, humming, grinding, or growling type of noise is heard while driving. A bad wheel bearing will sometimes turn on ABS, traction control, and check engine lamps. The ABS tone wheel is built into the bearing and the system can’t read the wheels speed correctly and will turn on dash lamps.

When the wheel bearing starts to go bad it makes noise which is described as a grinding or growling type of noise which is most audible at 20-50 mph. If you don’t notice that sound and you keep driving your vehicle, the bearing will start to get loose and your wheel will start to wobble. If your wheel bearing is completely broken, the wheel won’t turn anymore.

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2. The Wheel Starts To Wobble

If your wheel bearing has been making noises for a long period of time and you didn’t notice or chose to ignore it, the wheel bearing would get damaged to a point where the wheel will start to wobble. Here is how you can see if your wheel bearing is damaged to a point where the wheel wobbles:

Shakedown and Spin Test

You suspect that your wheel bearing is failing, but which wheel bearing is bad? The location of noisy bearings can be very misleading and you don’t want to replace the wrong bearing. Split the sides in front and rear. First identify if the sound is coming from the front or the rear.

The shakedown and spin test will pinpoint any bad wheel bearings. On occasion there are wheel bearings that are hard to diagnose, and you would have difficulties. Some mechanics even use a stethoscope to hear not so loud noises to diagnose bad wheel bearings.

Wheels need to be off the ground for the test. Always lift and support your vehicle safely. Use a jack stands for safety. Always support your vehicle on a level cement surface.

  1. Lift your vehicle off the ground
  2. Try to shake your wheel from left to right and then from top to bottom. If your wheel is loose, you need to investigate further to see what component is loose.
  3. Spin the wheel as fast as you can and you should hear this noise.
  4. Compare the sound with the other side of the car and you should notice a big difference.
  5. If you have a lift, you can try driving it at 40 mph and have someone outside the car to go from side to side and listen.

The worst thing for a bad wheel bearing that’s making noise is to drive it long distances at high speeds. That’s where you can really get into trouble. Once the airflow over the vehicle comes greater, it’s harder to hear the noise. Just because you can drive faster and the wheel bearing doesn’t sound as loud, that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to drive.

3. Wheel Won’t Spin at All

This is the last and the most dangerous stage of a failed wheel bearing. You don’t want to get to this point, but you will if you ignore the first two warning signs.

At this point, your wheel bearing is do damaged that it could get separated from the knuckle at any point. You could lose a wheel while driving and I don’t want to tell you the consequences of that.

Always pay attention and if you hear any noise coming from the wheels, take your vehicle to the repair shop and fix the wheel bearings immediately.

Rough Estimate of Wheel Bearing Lifespan

It is close to impossible to predict the exact lifespan of wheel bearing because there are many factors that need to be considered. However, with all the information on the internet and my experience, I came up with a rough estimate of the wheel bearing lifespan. Here is a table with a rough estimate of wheel bearing lifespan:

 Wheel Bearing ManufacturerRough Estimate of Wheel Bearing LifespanPrice on Amazon.com
3
Cheap Wheel Bearing

6 – 12 Months
Check Price
123MOOG/SKF
12 – 36 Months
Check Price
the-timken-company-vector-logoTIMKEN36+ MonthsCheck Price
Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Wheel BearingOEM
36+ Months
Check Price

You should always use high-quality parts which are usually the most expensive ones on the market. The factory wheel bearings are always going to be the best choice, but aftermarket brands like Timken or Moog would do too.

The cheapest wheel bearings that you can find would roughly last six to twelve months. If you want to do it twice, go ahead and use those. I would highly recommend not going for the cheapest parts. If you are keeping the vehicle, you should definitely go for the high-quality parts.

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