Automotive bearings: where are they located and how to recognize their malfunction?
Bearings are components that are widely used in automobiles, without which individual components and entire systems could not function. Designers use them, for example, in the gearbox, wheel hubs, axle drive, in the engine. Where else are bearings used and how to recognize their malfunction, which can lead to serious consequences?
There are several types of bearings, including rolling bearings (for example, ball or roller bearings). They have one or two rows of rolling bodies. In turn, rolling bearings are divided into radial and thrust. Tapered bearings, found in several versions, are no less common. Needle or radial roller bearings are less commonly used. The bearings used in the engine are designed for the entire life of the car. As a rule, regardless of the type of bearings, signs of their malfunction appear at an early stage. That is why it is very important to learn how to quickly identify it..
One of the typical mounting locations for bearings is non-separable wheel hub assemblies consisting of a bearing, hub and ABS sensor. Ball bearings are used here, in which the manufacturer provides preload. Another installation site is the engine: its crankshaft rests on bearings. Plain bearings are also used in the gas distribution mechanism. An exception may be, for example, BMW valve mechanisms equipped with roller followers that use needle and sometimes ball bearings. These bearings cannot be replaced as separate spare parts (the situation is similar to the hub unit). Bearings are also mounted in connecting rods. Their type depends on the type of engine: in traditional four-stroke engines, plain bearings are usually installed.
“A large number of bearings can also be found in the gearbox and in the drive axles of the car. The “humming” bearing in the gearbox is a common occurrence in long-running trucks. This noise increases with increasing speed and can be heard not in each gear, but only in a certain mode. A clutch release bearing, which is a combination of radial and thrust bearings, is also common. In the past, the engine and gearbox were disconnected using a cable and the so-called “clutch fork”. The cable was replaced by a hydraulic system with a release bearing. In newer cars, a central release bearing, i.e. a hydraulic slave cylinder integrated in a thrust bearing, is increasingly being used. A sign of its malfunction will be noisy work, and in some cases difficulties with gear shifting. Incorrect diagnostics will aggravate this problem and can lead to premature wear of other components, ”explains Tomasz Ohman from SKF.
Bearings (formerly rolling, now sliding) also find application in the construction of the drive axle – in assemblies providing torque transmission. The bearings of the pinion gear and differential are tapered, less common are needle ones. An equally important area is the suspension (for example, shock absorber struts) and the steering system, in which there are more than a dozen different bearings. It is impossible not to mention the ball bearings of the generator. Bearing failure (on the pulley side) may result from excessive loads that affect the generator, improperly installed V-belt or mechanical damage.
“The easiest way to diagnose a bearing malfunction, to which we have relatively easy access – wheels, suspensions, and a generator. Much more problems with bearings inside the engine or transmission units. The driving style and technical condition of the car in a broad sense are decisive factors that can cause premature bearing wear regardless of type. If the bearing is subject to replacement due to natural wear or damage, two main signs come to light – its play or noisy work. Correct diagnosis is extremely important first of all in order to exclude the failure of other connected nodes, which is naturally reflected in the time and labor costs, ”summarizes Tomasz Ohman.
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