5 Steps to Increase Bearing Lifespan and Enhance Its Performance
Your vehicle’s wheel bearings are under constant load, and despite being low maintenance parts, your automotive bearings won’t last forever. However, with thorough maintenance, your wheel bearings can keep working well for as long as possible.
Understanding the purpose of wheel bearings
Wheel bearings are an essential part of your vehicle’s ability to drive as efficiently as possible.
The typical wheel bearing consists of a set of steel balls held inside a circular metal ring called a race. Arguably the most important part of the wheel assembly, wheel bearings connect your wheels to the axle, supporting and distributing the weight of the vehicle among all four wheels.
As a part of your vehicle’s wheel assembly, wheel bearings are responsible for absorbing all of the heat and friction generated during acceleration, cornering, braking, and other typical driving conditions. This enables your vehicle’s wheel to operate smoothly with minimum friction.
Diagnosing wheel bearing failure
The average wheel bearing will have a lifespan of 136,000 to 160,000 km (85,000 to 100,000 miles). Certain factors such as the quality of the wheel bearings, installation, and car modifications can affect its actual lifespan.
Poor road quality and other operational conditions can also contribute to a bearing’s eventual wear and tear. As with most automotive parts, knowing the warning signs of a failing wheel bearing will help you prevent encountering bigger problems.
Typical symptoms of a bad wheel bearing are:
- Audible noise (grinding, grating, humming, rumbling, growling, etc.) when the vehicle is in motion or during cornering
- Excessive play in the steering wheel
- Steering wheel vibration during turning or acceleration
- Uneven tire wear
- ABS malfunction (on certain vehicles)
When these symptoms become apparent, it is best to have an automotive professional take a look at your vehicle. Continued operation with faulty wheel bearings can result in severe consequences for your vehicle’s drive axle and steering assembly which sometimes lead to worse situations such as car breakdown or worse, accidents.
Extending the service life of your wheel bearings
Avoiding early wheel bearing failure can be accomplished by employing maintenance best practices. These best practices can prolong bearing life and improve bearing reliability. Below are essential tips for extending the service life of your vehicle’s wheel bearings.
1. Follow the proper installation
A faulty installation can cause your vehicle’s wheel bearings to prematurely fail. For improved bearing performance, installation must occur in clean surroundings with clean tools to make sure that no harmful particles will sneak through during the process. New bearings should be kept in its wrapping until ready to install.
Any foreign contaminants that get past the bearing seals can quickly wear away the steel balls or metal race. Never reuse old seals or old bearing parts as this could prematurely damage the wheel bearing.
The right mounting process should also be followed to avoid a faulty installation. For example, bearings with cylindrical bores are typically mounted with a press-fit method. Likewise, bearings with tapered bores are mounted with tapered sleeves.
2. Use the correct lubrication
To ensure reliable bearing operation, proper lubrication must be used. Improper lubrication can result in early bearing failure so it is necessary to choose the correct lubrication when installing or replacing bearings.
Avoiding lubricant failure starts by referring to the bearing manufacturer’s guidelines or by reading the Material Safety Data Sheet for a more accurate information about the grease properties, operating temperature range and the like. The bearing manufacturer will inform you of the type of lubricant to use depending on your application.The manufacturer will also tell you when the bearings will require inspecting, cleaning, and repacking. If there’s a cloud of doubt, always make sure to reach out to your trusted technical experts to have a more accurate and factual answer.
Following this regimented lubricant schedule will allow your bearings to reach their maximum service life.
3. Invest in the right bearings
If a wheel bearing operates at a higher speed over its permitted limit, wear can quickly occur, which will result in imminent failure. The right bearing selection is done by determining the loads and speeds of the vehicle as well as operating conditions.
Different car models require different bearings. Check your car manual to determine the right type of bearing you will need. Quality matters here. Never compromise on quality to save on costs. Only trust premium bearing manufacturers when choosing wheel bearings. It’s good to consider the cost but, never put it first before quality as quality is paramount in achieving that seamless travel experience.
Buying low-quality aftermarket parts to save money can cause premature failure, which can mean costly repairs.
Other factors to consider when buying wheel bearings include the bearing material (as this determines its strength), corrosion resistance, and level of thermal conductivity.
4. Avoid preheating or overheating
Hot mounting, a process in which a bearing is preheated before installation, is preferred over cold mounting. This is because damage can occur during cold mounting as the process requires the use of a hammer and pipe for installation.
Regardless, if not done properly, hot mounting can also prematurely damage wheel bearings. Certain heating methods such as conventional hot oil baths or the use of open flames can raise the probability that premature bearing failure will occur.
Hot oil baths, in particular, can increase the risk of contamination. Exposure to open flame can be potentially dangerous to the worker and can permanently deform the bearing steel, affecting performance and productivity.
To avoid prematurely ruining your bearings before installation, heat the bearings using induction heaters. Compared to hot mounting methods, induction heaters maintain greater control, efficiency, and safety. Some models are even equipped with the latest technology inside to ensure you get what you aim to achieve.
5. Pay close attention to your car owner’s manual
While certain vehicle alterations like wider rims, lowered suspension, and low profile tires look stylish, they can affect the longevity of your wheel bearings. When alterations are done outside of the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications, the wheel bearings can become overworked, severely limiting their service life.
To maximize the longevity of your wheel bearings, avoid wheel assembly enhancements or modifications that fall outside the manufacturer’s approved OEM standards. Stick to the manufacturer’s preferred accessories to ensure your wheel bearings experience maximum performance and durability.
While serious, wheel bearing failure can be avoided by observing for the first symptoms of bad wheel bearings. Don’t overlook this often-ignored wheel component. Knowing the signs and symptoms to look for will ensure that you avoid several potentially dangerous situations.
Improving bearing life and preventing premature failure require following maintenance best practices and bearing manufacturers’ recommendations.
At MCB, we only work with trusted economical and premium quality automotive aftermarket products. We offer complete aftermarket solutions for your wheel bearing needs. Whether you prefer SKF, NTN, SNR, or other bearing manufacturers, we carry the best bearing brands across the UAE.
Our decades of technical expertise and competitive pricing make us the right choice for all of your wheel bearing needs. Reach out to MCB today to discuss your options.