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99 olds cutlass - wheel bearing?

Back again with another question.

CAR: 1999 Oldsmobile Cutlass, 137k miles, full tune-up late December.


Replaced 12 year old tires in November, guy who sold them was nice and accomodating, but definitely not a mechanic. Front right wheel frozen on, the guy smashed it off with a metal mallet to replace it.


About 1 month later, a whistling-sounding noise was coming from what I thought was front right of engine. Mechanic fixed a vacuum leak late December, I thought that was cause. Seemed to be noticeable more during acceleration, cold weather, or after reversing with wheel turned.


Mechanic just told me he believes front right wheel bearing needs replacement. He also noticed another clunking noise from same area, believes it can also be fixed with wheel bearing replacement. Quoted $200-$300 for part, $80 for labor. He’s a trustworthy and legitimate mechanic, particularly because he has no problem having me bring in the part from elsewhere and he’ll install.


I can find these parts as cheap as $40, why is he quoting $200-$300? Am I looking at parts with terrible quality? What is a safe bet brand to buy wheel bearings? Is it worth it to buy wheel bearings with a long lifespan if the car itself is getting pretty geriatric?


I appreciate all your responses and help in advance.

I have never seen a wheel bearing for $40,except of course the old style tapered roller bearings you have to pack which you can do for about $15. But your car has a sealed hub unit. Now alot of people are going to tell you aftermarket parts are just as good as oem and in some cases they are but from my experience hubs are not one of those parts neither are fuel pumps. Another thing to remember when he gives you a price on a part he is going to mark it up above his cost some, he has to make money to pay the bills to keep his shop doors open. In most cases his cost is cheaper than you can buy it. Also he may be quoting a price for an oem part.

Wheel bearings vary widely in quality, and it is probably financially prudent to buy the one your mechanic will sell you, unless you are a gambler. Personally, I wouldn’t trust a $40 hub assembly any farther than I can throw a '99 Cutlass, especially if it’s an application for a car with ABS, which makes a significant difference in the price of the part. The reason I say it may be financially prudent to buy from your mechanic is because if something goes wrong with the wheel bearing, like it starts making noise within a couple months (remember, quality varies widely with hub assemblies), you have your mechanic’s warranty to fall back on. Otherwise, you will be buying another wheel bearing and paying to have it installed all over again. One of the reasons other than what others already mentioned for mechanics to mark up parts is in case they have to “eat” the job a second time around if they get a defective part, which happens from time to time.

Quality wise, I have had the best luck with hub assemblies from CarQuest and NAPA and the worst luck with Advance Auto Parts I never really tried the other cheapo stores like O’Reilly or AutoZone since I got tired of replacing stuff for free. This is a type of part where you truly get what you pay for.

Why not ask your mechanic about the price difference

I doubt the hammer-wielding tire-changer is responsible for your failed wheel bearing. They are designed to withstand constant shocking and pounding in the course of driving.

A failing wheel bearing is quite easy to diagnose if you’re a competent mechanic. Labor charge sounds reasonable. A $250 bearing/hub assembly is probably a quality part like AC Delco or National. With a good warranty. That $40 bearing is probably an “offshore” brand. It too probably has a warranty, but that doesn’t make it a good part. That just means that the parts store will give you another one when that one fails.

Don’t bring your own parts to your mechanic. The fact that he has no problem with you doing that is an indicator that he has no idea how to run a business. Don’t take advantage of his shortcomings.