Easy Peasy Guide On How To Check Wheel Bearings

Wheel Bearings

Worn wheel bearings are anything but a laughing matter. While the clunking sounds could well be the reason for all the honking in busy traffic prolonged use of your vehicle in this condition could be fatal.

Wheel bearings serve the same purpose as bearings attached to any mechanical component/device – reduce friction and facilitate smooth rotation around an axis.

This is exactly why you need to know when and how to check wheel bearings on your vehicle. Some of the pointers you need to have an eye out for include grinding sounds when in motion; clunking or knocking noise around the wheel; wobbly or vibrating wheels; uneven brake pad wear and the most dangerous abnormal pull when braking.

When a bearing wears out the motion of the wheel is bound to become uneven; the wobbling contributes to uneven tire wear with a negative effect on the performance of brake pads. Any professional auto technician will tell you, driving with worn bearings is very unsafe.

Essential Tools/Equipment

1. Reliable Jack

Reliable Jack

This will be used to either raise the front or rear wheel 6 inches off the ground.

2. Jack Stands

Jack stands

Once the front or rear is raised place the stand on the opposite wheel so both wheels (front or rear) are raised and the vehicle is secured.

3. Ownership Manual

Ownership Manual

Single Wheel driven (2WD – front or rear) could have packed wheel bearings. In case they are sealed, wheel bearings can’t be replaced singly – you need to replace the pack

The ownership manual will help you identify the category of bearing for your vehicle.

Note: This does not affect your ability to perform manual checking – it only affects how the wheel bearings are replaced.

Safe And Easy Guide On How To Check Wheel Bearings

Step 1 – Raise The Car To 6 Inches Off The Ground

Raise the car

Before jacking up the vehicle you need to be sure the surface is even and firm. It is advisable to secure yourself and the vehicle even more by placing the transmission on Park. This way you never have to worry about your vehicle slowly rolling off into a wall or the street!

Test the jack with your palm before use to ensure it is not leaking and will not begin to drop midway through the checking exercise.

Step 2 – Place The Jack Stand Support On The Opposite Wheel

Place the jack stand support on the opposite wheel.

In practice, you need either both front or rear tires off the ground to make an accurate assessment. The jack support will crank up the opposite side allowing you to check both wheels – one at a time of course.

You will be surprised to find that, Jacks stand are among those very useful but rarely purchased items. Probably because they suggest you do not need a mechanic. – I do not know why.

Either way, they are very useful for a wide range of DIY auto checks and are well worth the investment – prices are relatively reasonable (approx $50) and the average model can support 2 tons upwards.

Step 3 – Rock The Wheel

The image is a bit misleading given this is an industrial grade auto jack but it illustrates what needs to be done well enough. You need to grasp the top and bottom of the wheel and rock it.

Rock the Wheel

If it has significant play the problem is probably worn wheel bearings. Repeat the same procedure on the opposite facing wheel.

If either of the wheels does not play excessively, proceed to the next DIY test and shift the transmission to Park or Neutral. At this stage all you want to do I spin the wheel – it may require some strength so have someone help you if need be.

What you want to look for is how long the wheel stays spinning and any wobble or irregular stops/hitches to a smooth spin. Check the opposite facing wheel once done. Any odd sounds or roughness suggests the need to have bearings replaced. It is worth noting that roughness could be the result of dirt clogged on the grease surrounding the bearings.

This image illustrates the look of a new packed wheel bearing. Notice the even chrome coloring – any discoloration to the cap that makes contact with the wheel hub would mean the bearings need to be replaced.

look of a new packed wheel bearing

If the bearings are in good condition even after months of use the caps coloring will still be even despite scratches owing to friction while in use.

Discoloration is a sign of excessive friction that corrodes the cap leaving a space between the cap and the wheel hub – the cause of the play or grinding/clunking sound while in motion.

Step 4 – Shift The Transmission Back Into Park Or First Gear And Lower The Vehicle

Lower the car

This is just a safety precaution to allow you bring the vehicle down safely while lowering your jack. While it is a precautionary step – it is still very IMPORTANT. Forget this while doing this check on a highway at your own peril.


wheel bearings

In temperate countries, changing winter or summer tires is an appropriate time to undertake this simple procedure to verify the condition of wheel bearings.

This simple 10-minute how to check wheel bearings procedure can be a huge time saver if done on time and could well identify the cause of uneven tire wear, brake lining/pad wear and putting that annoying clunking sound to rest.

The procedure only requires a jack and jack supports and strong arm to rate and rock the wheel – there is not that much to it. If there is play or unevenness while in motion – it is time to visit the motor shop and have the bearings changed.

It is not difficult even for newbie’s and is just one of those many simple tests you want to get used to doing on your own, as you get accustomed to your vehicle.

It may be time you made a commitment to spend less time and money at the auto shop from now onwards and gain in-depth understanding of your vehicle.

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