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How to check a vehicle’s wheel bear­ings

You can check your car’s wheel bear­ings to see if they need to be repacked. Wheel bear­ings usu­ally come in pairs of inner and out­er bear­ings. They allow your wheels to turn freely over thou­sands of miles by cush­ion­ing the con­tact between the wheel and the spindle it sits on with fric­tion­less bear­ings and lots of nice, gooey grease. This grease tends to pick up dust, dirt, and little particles of met­al, even though the bear­ings are pro­tec­ted to some extent by the hub and the brake drum or disc.

Usu­ally, only the non-drive wheels (that is, the front wheels on rear-wheel drive vehicles and the rear wheels on front-wheel drive vehicles) have repack­able wheel bear­ings. Vehicles with front-wheel drive have sealed front bear­ings, but some have pack­able rear ones. The bear­ings on four-wheel drive vehicles are quite com­plic­ated and should be repacked pro­fes­sion­ally.

Before you check your bear­ings, con­sult your owner’s manu­al or deal­er­ship to find out wheth­er the bear­ings on your vehicle are sealed. If they are, you can’t repack them.

  • If you have drum brakes: It’s import­ant to check the bear­ings when you check your brakes to make sure that the grease hasn’t become fouled. If it has, the particles act abras­ively to wear away the very con­nec­tion the bear­ings are designed to pro­tect, and the res­ult is a noisy, grind­ing ride. In extreme cases, you could even lose the wheel! If the bear­ings look cruddy, either repack them your­self or get a pro­fes­sion­al to do it.

  • If you have disc brakes: You have to remove the cal­iper to get at the bear­ings. Although this task isn’t ter­ribly dif­fi­cult, cer­tain aspects of the job can cre­ate prob­lems for a begin­ner. Because your brake sys­tem can kill you if it isn’t assembled prop­erly, you might want to do the job under super­vi­sion at an auto class.

If you just want to check your wheel bear­ings for wear without remov­ing the wheels, do the fol­low­ing:

  1. Jack up your vehicle.

    Sup­port it on jack stands.

  2. Without get­ting under the vehicle, grasp each wheel at the top and bot­tom and attempt to rock it.

    There should be min­im­al move­ment. Excess­ive play may indic­ate that the wheel bear­ing is worn and needs adjust­ment or replace­ment.

  3. Put the gear­shift in Neut­ral if you have an auto­mat­ic trans­mis­sion, or take your manu­al trans­mis­sion out of gear.

  4. Rotate the wheel.

    Listen for any unusu­al noise and feel for any rough­ness as it rotates, which may indic­ate that the bear­ing is dam­aged and needs to be replaced.

Shift back into Park (for an auto­mat­ic trans­mis­sion) or gear (for a manu­al trans­mis­sion) before lower­ing the vehicle to the ground.


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