Today's modern cars, and those manufactured after 1997 are equipped with a single bearing and hub assembly that is attached to each wheel and tire on a vehicle. The wheel hub assembly includes wheel studs that attach the wheels of the vehicle to the car and is mounted to the steering and suspension system on the front end and the rear axle on the rear end. In theory, this single wheel hub assembly should last the lifespan of the vehicle, however, like any other mechanical device, it is subject to wear and tear and can break or wear out prematurely.
The wheel hub assembly is prone to damage caused by multiple driving situations such as:
- Hitting pot holes
- Striking cubs
- Being involved in vehicle collisions
Although this part takes a tremendous amount of abuse, it's commonly overlooked when repairs are done to other mechanical components such as tires and wheels, suspension parts, coils, shocks and struts and other front end and rear end housing parts. When the part is damaged or is beginning to show signs of premature wear, it will commonly show some warning signs or symptoms that can be easily recognized by most car owners.
Listed below are a few of the symptoms that car owners should be aware, that will alert them to a bad or failing wheel hub assembly.
1. Roaring sound coming from the tire / wheel area
Typically when a wheel hub assembly goes bad it's actually the wheel bearing inside the single assembly that is damaged. This part will make a roaring sound, similar to a metal-to-metal grinding sound when the bearing is wearing out. This sound is caused by lack of lubrication inside the bearing, a misaligned bearing or one that has cracked due to impact with another object. It's very difficult to determine by sound which wheel bearing is going bad as the sound can be very misleading. However, if one side wheel hub assembly is broken, both sides on the same axle need to be replaced at the same time.
If you notice any roaring or grinding sound coming from the front end of your vehicle, safely drive home and contact a local ASE certified mechanic as soon as possible.
2. Steering wheel vibrates or feels loose
Another indication of a damaged wheel hub assembly is when the steering wheel vibrates at lower speeds and progressively gets worse as the car accelerates. A damaged wheel hub assembly can also cause the steering wheel to feel loose when you're driving down the road, making turns or negotiating dips in the road. The reason for this is commonly due to a worn out wheel bearing inside the hub assembly. If you notice this symptom, it's recommended to contact a certified mechanic as soon as possible so they can road test your vehicle. This is often the best way to properly diagnose what is actually causing the vibration in the steering wheel, and can save you a lot of time and money on replacing the wheel hub assembly.
3. Tire / wheel combination has a lot of play when in the air
Most of the time this symptom will be noticed by a certified tire mechanic, brakes replacement service, or oil change center that is rotating your tires. When the vehicle is on a hydraulic lift or on jack stands, and the tire / wheel combo is tightly attached to the wheel hub assembly, but wiggles from left to right or up and down when pulled, this is an indication of a broken wheel hub assembly and should be replaced immediately. Once again, broken wheel hub assemblies should be replaced in pairs on the same axle.
4. Clicking sound from the wheels
Finally, if you hear a clicking sound that increases in speed as the vehicle accelerates, this could be a problem with the wheel hub assembly as well. In this case, the brake caliper will move up and down and hit the top of the wheels as the vehicle drives down the street. This is due to the wheel hub assembly bearing being broken.
If you notice any of the above warning signs, please contact a local ASE certified mechanic as quickly as possible so they can diagnose the precise problem and fix your vehicle as quickly as possible.