Back to all

When Metal Meets Metal (Wheel Bearings)

January 19, 2020

What part of your vehicle has little metal balls inside that are lubricated and allow you to cruise on down the road?  They are wheel bearings, and automotive designers might argue they are human beings' second greatest invention of all time (the first is, of course, the wheel!).

You have a wheel bearing at each wheel.  They allow your wheels to turn freely, minimizing friction that would ordinarily slow you down when metal meets metal.  When one of your wheel bearings starts to go bad, it lets you know. A wheel bearing does its work quietly when it's in good health but starts getting noisy when it isn't.  People describe the noise differently.  Sometimes it sounds like road noise, a pulsating, rhythmic, sound.  That pulse speeds up when your vehicle speeds up. 

Here's what's happening when you hear that sound.  As mentioned, the bearing has these little metal balls inside a ring.  They have a lubricant inside to reduce friction between the balls; modern wheel bearings are sealed and they're intended to do their job without any maintenance. 

Wheel bearings take a beating; you hit some rough potholes or go over some uneven railroad tracks. Sometimes water can get into a bearing and reduce the ability of the lubricant to do its job.  Time starts to take its toll, too. When the lubricant isn't reducing friction like it should, the bearing can heat up. One of those little balls can start shedding pieces of metal and soon those shards start grinding up the other balls.  Friction takes over and soon your wheel isn't turning smoothly. That's what's causing the sound.  If a wheel bearing is not fixed, it could eventually seize up completely, and you can be stranded.

It's a lot easier if you heed the early warning signals, that pulsating noise.  Now, sometimes a similar noise can be caused by a bad tire, but in either case, it's important to have it checked out. Our Tuffy Tire & Auto Service Frankfort technicians will be able to tell you fairly quickly what the problem is and offer a solution.

Wheel bearings generally don't fail often and usually last from 85,000-100,000 miles/140,000km to 160,000km. But consider them a long-term maintenance item that, once fixed, will keep you heading smoothly to the next destination.

Tuffy Tire & Auto Service Frankfort
20250 S. Lagrange Rd
Frankfort, Illinois 60423
815-469-7900

More articles from Tuffy Frankfort

Objects in the Mirror (Rearview Mirror Safety and Maintenance)

December 5, 2021

You may remember a song that went, "Objects in the rearview mirror may appear closer than they are." While that was a song about life's lessons, there are a few things we should all know about how important rearview mirrors are to safe driving. While new electronic devices are helping drivers be ... More

Tuffy Tire & Auto Service Frankfort Automotive Tips: Alternator

November 28, 2021

Your alternator makes electricity to start and run your engine and all of the vital electrical systems in your vehicle. Thats everything from the on-board computers to the turn signals. And of course there is the entertainment system, seat heaters, power windows and everything you plug into the p... More

Relax When the Wind Blows in Illinois: Winter Car Prep for Frankfort Drivers

November 21, 2021

When autumn comes around in Frankfort, leaves fall, nights get longer and there's a definite nip in the air. Time to unpack the boots and gloves and fold some extra blankets onto the beds. It's also time for Frankfort drivers to winterize their vehicles.Here is some expert auto advice for Frankfo... More