Speed wobble

Date:30 November 2012 Tags:,

Q Lately my 1995 Honda Accord has been acting weird around corners. When I take left curves at higher speeds, I feel vibrations from the right rear tyre. No such issue with right curves. I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with my suspension.

A The good news is you probably don’t have a suspension problem. The bad news is you probably need a new wheel bearing at the right rear corner. Wheel bearings are just like any other roller bearing you find in machines – two rings of hardened and finely machined steel separated by a rolling element such as small metal spheres or cylindrical rods, all kept happy with a thick coating of grease.

Older cars (think 20-plus years) used inner and outer wheel bearings that didn’t last as long, but were exceedingly easy to service. The majority of new cars come with sealed bearings that last longer and perform much better, but that are pressed into place with mechanical force, staying put by way of an interference fit (the bearing housing is slightly too big for the hole it fits in). That lopsided vibration you feel comes from those rolling elements inside the bearing starting to fail.

In a sweeping left turn, the right rear wheel (at the outside of the curve) is loaded up with force so the bearing is under higher stress, amplifying the vibration. When you turn to the right, the right rear wheel is on the inside of the turn and under much lower force, so the vibration more or less goes away. Pay close attention while driving on fl at, straight, smooth roads and you’ll notice a faint vibration. Watch the rear-view mirror to see if the image vibrates with a consistent frequency.

Now the question becomes one of replacement. Whenever something like a bearing fails, it’s a good idea to swap its sibling on the other side of the car too, because it’s only a matter of time before that one will fail as well. For the Accord, the bearings are most easily replaced by purchasing a new hub and bearing assembly with the bearing already pressed in. A full disassembly of the rear corners and a replacement of the knuckles will ensure another pile of kilometres before any trouble arises. If you have the time and the talent, you can pull off the repair with basic workshop tools.

Remember, it’s important to take the car in for an alignment afterward, since the whole suspension corner has been taken apart. New, smooth bearings will get rid of the vibration, but improper alignment will invite a host of other problems.

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