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Wheel bearings live a tough life. Most of a vehicle’s weight rides on the wheel bearings at the 4 corners of your vehicle. Once these bearings begin to deteriorate, a humming noise becomes noticeable. It’s easiest to hear at speed when you turn the wheel slightly from side to side. When a rear wheel bearing goes out, the humming or grinding noise is usually constant. 

Back in the old days, wheel bearings were composed of 2 cone bearings on each front side. When removing the brake rotors (or drums), these more old-fashioned bearings could be serviced by packing the bearings with grease. While some vehicles still retain this style of bearing, it is rare. 

Today, aside from rear-wheel drive vehicles that use a solid axle (like trucks), most vehicles use a hub bearing. These consist of a bearing and flange surface that is bolted directly to the steering knuckle or rear transaxle. The bearing then has a hub face, with the wheel studs and tire-mounting surface. Often, an axle (often one with a CV joint) also passes through this bearing via a splined surface and has a large hub nut (called a spindle nut) that secures it at the bearing. This design makes up most bearings on vehicles today. There are some vehicles that still use a pressed-in hub bearing, where you re-use the original wheel hub, but this is becoming rare.

Below is a general guide to the cost of replacing a failing wheel bearing.

Front-Wheel Bearings – Traditional Cone or Roller

1

Two Wheel Drive (2WD)

Traditional cone or roller bearings in older 2WD vehicles are often serviced when removing the rotors during a brake job. These bearings can easily be replaced, are less expensive to buy, and generally cost around $6-20.00 per unit, and $80-100.00 to service, along with the cost of replacing the rotor usually, as the bearing race is pressed in. All in, labor and rotor, most vehicles will run around $150.00 to replace and go up depending on rotor cost. In many cases, it’s cheaper to replace the rotor than it is to remove and press in a new bearing race.

2

Four Wheel Drive (4WD)

These vehicles up until very recently still used hub systems that house roller bearings or cone style. While these bearings themselves are often as cheap as 2WD vehicles, the process of removing them and disassembling the hub is often a little more time-intensive. Expect to pay for 1-1.5 hours of labor per side, which is usually $80-160.00, plus the bearings to replace. Keep in mind if the race is damaged in the hub, it will need to be pressed out, and a new race pressed in, leading to more time.

Front Wheel Bearings – Hub Style

1

Complete Unit

The vast majority of vehicles today use a complete-unit hub bearing. Here, the cost of the bearing is usually the bulk of the expense, as most hub bearings run between $80.00 to $300.00. Many of these have ABS sensors built into them. These bearings are unbolted from the steering knuckle, and a new bearing bolted on. Expect to pay for 1-2 hours of labor to replace per side, usually between $80-200.00.

2

Pressed-On Unit

Popular in German and Japanese vehicles, these units are the sealed roller bearing that you see on the back of the complete unit. In these cases, the entire steering knuckle must often be removed from the vehicle, and the bearing pressed out, and the new one pressed in. While the cost of the bearing drastically diminishes (usually these run between $25.00-50.00) the labor involved to replace the bearing goes up, usually to the tune of 2-4 hours to replace ($160-400.00).

Rear-Wheel Bearings

1

Typical Units

Rear wheel bearings today are usually no different than fronts in terms of a complete hub bearing or pressed-on units. In the vast majority of cases here, a complete unit is used and unbolted / bolted to the rear transaxle (2WD vehicles) or independent rear axle.

2

Solid Rear Drive Axle

In the case of most vans and trucks today, along with older RWD cars, the rear wheel bearings are housed inside the solid axle, and are usually pressed into the axle tube, or pressed onto the drive axle itself. In either case, the cost of the bearing is usually between $25.00-50.00, whereas the labor to remove and press in a new bearing runs between 1-4 hours.

Once again, these are all just approximations. However, they are a great indication of what you can anticipate paying. Fortunately, wheel bearings last a long time, so you won’t need to change them very frequently.

Can You Drive a Car with a Bad Wheel Bearing?

With the wheel bearing replacement cost in mind, you may be wondering if you can drive with a bad wheel bearing. A bad wheel bearing needs to be changed as soon as possible. There is no lubrication on a bad wheel bearing. Consequently, as you drive with a bad wheel bearing, you run the risk of the wheel bearing completely failing and breaking apart, which can cause massive stability problems when driving, even a crash. If you’re in the middle of nowhere and you need to drive a short way to get help to prevent this scenario, you should drive at a slower speed so that your wheel remains intact for a couple more hours.

Can You Replace Wheel Bearings Yourself?

You can lower your wheel bearing replacement cost by changing them yourself. You should be able to do this in your own garage. However, it will require some specialized tools. Make sure to reference your vehicle’s service manual or seek out online information and determine the kind of wheel bearing your car or truck is geared up with prior to starting the repair work. Keep in mind that AutoZone rents all the specialized tools you will need to replace your wheel bearing and does so for free! Learn more about Loan-A-Tool here.

How Long Does it Take to Replace Wheel Bearings?

While you can lower your wheel bearing replacement cost by doing it yourself, be prepared to invest a bit of time into the repair. Experience is among the key elements impacting completion time and the estimates above are based on professional book times, not “I’m doing this for the first time” times. First-timers should expect the job to take around 4-6 hours.

Can You Check Wheel Bearings?

When doing any regular vehicle maintenance or if you suspect a wheel bearing issue, they can be inspected. Do the following to check your bearings for wear without taking the wheels off.

How to Inspect Wheel Bearings

1

Raise the vehicle

Jack the vehicle up and support on jack stands.

2

Try to Rock the Tires

Without getting under the car, grab each wheel at the top and bottom with both hands. You bottom hand should reach under the tire to the backside. Your top hand should grab the front top portion of the tire. Now, try to rock the tire back and forth by pulling outward with the bottom hand, and inward with the top hand, then reversing the motion.

There should be very little motion in the tire. If you have any movement at all, either a wheel bearing, or ball joint is at fault.

3

Check the Lower Ball Joint

Next, if movement is present, inspect the lower ball joint (and upper if applicable) and see if the movement is coming from a worn ball joint. If ball joints are tight, then the wheel bearing is suspect.

4

Put it in Neutral

Put the gearshift in neutral if you have an AWD or FWD vehicle (if you are inspecting the front wheel bearing).

5

Spin the Tire by Hand

Spin the wheel/tire by hand and listen carefully. You should hear a soft rubbing sound which is just the brake pads gliding over the rotor. A grinding sound centered in the very middle of the wheel is a dead giveaway for a failing wheel bearing. It’s important to note that when wheel bearings first start to go, it will normally be difficult to hear and tell. Usually only a road test under the weight of the vehicle will reveal that the bearing is going out.

6

Shift to Park or Gear and Lower

Shift back into park (for an automated transmission) or gear (for a manual transmission) prior to lowering the vehicle to the ground.

Is a Noisy Wheel Bearing Dangerous?

A humming or rumbling noise while driving is usually the prime indication of a worn wheel bearing. This sound will get louder if you take the wheel and lightly turn one direction of the other at speed or go on a slight curve in the road at speed. Driving on a damaged wheel bearing can be dangerous, considering that the wheel bearing is not sufficiently lubed and friction is extremely high at this point. This friction generates heat, which will eventually disintegrate the bearing more, when can lead to complete failure, wheel off, or loss of control of the vehicle.  This can occur anytime you are driving.

Give us a call today or stop by your local AutoZone if you have any questions about wheel bearing replacement, where we have all the parts, tools, and advice to get the job done right! If the job is too big for you, look through our list of Preferred Shops in your area that can help you complete the job!

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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