How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Wheel Bearing

Assembling a wheel bearing
Image courtesy of John Goreham

If you own a car, crossover, or truck long enough, chances are you will at some point need to replace a wheel bearing or two. Unlike oil changes, tire rotations, and brake pad and rotor replacements, most owners don’t know off the top of their head what replacing a wheel bearing will cost them. Maybe we can help.

Assembly hub
Image courtesy of John Goreham

What Is a Wheel Bearing?

At each corner of your vehicle, a wheel bearing is spinning around furiously when your car rolls. The wheel bearing is the part that enables the rotation of the wheels. It is located in the center of the wheel assembly. It consists of a housing and internal roller or ball bearings that are in what are called races, or holders. There is a lubricant in there as well. That lubricant is “for life.” You don’t “lube” a modern wheel bearing. They are also not serviceable in the sense that you can remove, clean, lube, and re-install them. You replace them.

The term wheel bearing is not one that has a single meaning. Many shops will say, “You need a wheel bearing,” and what they mean is that you need a wheel bearing assembly that they source as a single part. It includes the housing and the internal bearing itself. Sometimes it is also part of the wheel hub assembly. This is not always a bad thing, by the way.

If your vehicle uses a bearing that can be replaced, the shop will remove the housing, take out the old bearing with a press or by other means, and then put in your new wheel bearing using a press. That takes time. Time is money. Pressing in a wheel bearing is not vaccine science, but it's also not usually a DIY job. If the bearing comes as part of an assembly, it may actually be easier to install and cost just about the same. So don’t panic if you hear “assembly” as part of the job description.

Jim Lucas of Advanced Automotive
Jim Lucas, Advanced Automotive, Image courtesy of John Goreham

Why Do Wheel Bearings Need Replacement?

Curb strikes, pot-hole strikes, and contamination. These are the biggies. Wheel bearings can live almost indefinitely spinning around and around with a normal load in a clean test lab.

You don’t drive actual roads in a test lab. Your world is full of water and salt and holes that slam your vehicle’s wheels almost constantly. Hit a curb or pothole at a weird angle and the wheel bearing may be stressed in a way it was not meant to be. One rule of thumb some mechanics use is that if you strike something hard enough to damage a rim, you also have damaged your wheel bearing and will need it replaced soon. It often takes some time to discover this. The internal parts are squished or dinged by the impact and they get worse by spinning around for a while, rubbing those internal imperfections into flat spots.

Invoice
Image courtesy of John Goreham

What Are the Symptoms of Needing a Wheel Bearing?

You can sometimes detect a worn wheel bearing when you drive. The cabin of the vehicle will become louder. You'll start to hear a sort of hum. Not unlike winter tire hum. “That right front wheel bearing is getting loud,” a mechanic might say if she test drives your car. Or, “That bearing is growling.” Crunchy, gnarly, howling, and loose may also be terms to describe a wheel bearing gone bad.

A mechanic will sometimes put your car on a lift and then spin a wheel to see how freely it turns. Based on how easily it turns, an experienced mechanic knows if the wheel bearing is shot. A comparison to the other wheel on the other side of the car is also a way to judge. Sometimes you can hear a wheel bearing growling when you spin a wheel on a lift. They are almost always right. However, they may suspect one, and find it is in fact two that need replacing after a test drive. Don’t blame the messenger.

What About Electric Cars - Do They Need Wheel Bearings?

A wheel bearing is a component that all vehicles use. There is no advantage to having an EV when it comes to wheel bearings. In fact, EVs are generally heavier than other vehicles in their segment. That is not a good thing for parts that are under the vehicle holding up the load and spinning.

Rusty wheel bearing
Image courtesy of John Goreham

Are Wheel Bearings Covered Under My Warranty?

If your vehicle is still under your bumper-to-bumper warranty, a wheel bearing is likely going to be covered by that new car warranty. Unless there is obvious curb-strike damage. Extended warranties and powertrain warranties don’t usually include wheel bearings. If you have a comprehensive full-whammy extended warranty, it’s worth a try.

What Factors Determine The Cost of a Wheel Bearing Replacement?

Like many repairs, your make and model will influence how much it costs to replace a wheel bearing. Also, expect to pay a bit more for a wheel bearing replacement at a dealership. Possibly much more.

One of the vehicles in our extended Car Talk family fleet is a 2007 Toyota Highlander. In 2013, the dealer replaced the left rear for $692.62. In 2016, we paid a local mechanic to replace the right rear one for $383.77. That is a 45% cost difference for the same job on the same vehicle.

Average Cost To Replace a Wheel Bearing

Using Car Talk’s exclusive algorithm, we scoured the world wide web for prices on wheel bearing replacements. The overall average of what we found was between $300 and $500. This is the cost for a mechanic to make it happen, not the cost of the part itself. For part pricing, it is better to search online using your exact year, make, and model. Or connect with your local auto parts store. They may have some good advice about the piece you need and if it is part of an assembly or not. Then you will know better what you are in for, if you're going to do the job yourself.

Most often, a wheel bearing is not replaced as a pair (both sides of the vehicle). Instead, just the one or ones determined to have gone bad are replaced. A wheel bearing replacement does not normally require any expensive sensor adjustments or alignment.

Hearing you need a wheel bearing replaced is not the end of the world. It’s a bit more expensive than needing brakes at one end of the vehicle, but a lot less expensive than some other pricey jobs. Our suggestion is to use a trusted local shop, and if you are told you will soon need a wheel bearing, to do the job sooner rather than put it off.

Our thanks to mechanic Jim Lucas at Advanced Automotive in Wilmington Mass., and mechanic Mark McMullin of G&M Services in Millis, Mass. for their background knowledge and help arranging the images in this story.

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