The Possibility of Damaged Bearings When Vehicle Wheels Are Submerged

Wheel bearings can be damaged when a vehicle is driven through high water or when rainwater floods an area where vehicles are parked. Automobile wheels should never be submerged in water. If this happens, the owner can bring the car or pickup truck to an auto repair shop to inspect the wheel interior components. At a minimum, cleaning will probably be necessary. It's also possible the bearings will require replacement.

1. Purpose

These components minimize friction when wheels turn. They also support the vehicle's weight. Normally, the parts last for at least 100,000 miles. Many automobile owners drive two or three times that number of miles without experiencing wheel-bearing problems.

2. Considerations

Simply becoming wet doesn't harm these components. That's why it's no problem to drive an automobile through an automatic car wash or shallow rain puddles. Splashed water from another vehicle driving by also is not a problem. Neither is washing off dirt with a garden hose. However, driving through areas with a backed-up storm sewer or other flooded place is inadvisable. Issues also occur when someone submerges the rear wheels while backing a trailer with a boat into a lake or river. Water gets into the hubs if it covers these parts. 

3. Avoiding High Water 

In some instances, avoiding a flood is impossible. Flash floods can happen suddenly and swiftly cover parking lots, city streets, and driveways where vehicles are parked. Yet drivers nearly always can avoid traveling through high water. Aside from possibly damaging wheel components, these individuals also risk driving over a potentially destructive object hidden by the water. 

4. Saltwater

Saltwater is a particular problem because it's corrosive. Seawater along the coasts can cause serious damage to wheel bearings. The same is true when flooding occurs in regions where road salt is distributed in winter for deicing. Any remaining salt can ruin components if hubs become covered in water. 

5. Resolving the Issue

When water becomes trapped inside the hubs, it contaminates the grease. Vehicles without sealed wheel-bearing assemblies can have the components taken apart by an automotive technician. The technician cleans the bearings and fills them with new lubricant.

Sealed assemblies, unfortunately, cannot be dismantled. If noise develops while the wheels turn, the assemblies must be replaced. Drivers should listen for grinding and squealing noises that are not connected with the brake system. If noises are heard, the vehicle should be brought to an auto repair center for service.