The most common bearings in the automotive industry

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The most common bearings in the automotive industry

Car buyers often judge the quality of a vehicle by how a bearings movement feels. Smooth movement with just the right amount of resistance signifies h

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Car buyers often judge the quality of a vehicle by how a bearings movement feels. Smooth movement with just the right amount of resistance signifies high quality, while a mechanism with excessive play feels loose and inferior. Automakers looking to build a “quality” reputation should focus their attention on this key component of any motion system: the bearing.
Rolling vs. sliding
In any vehicle, you’ll find a variety of bearings. These are either plain bearings or rolling bearings. Sliding bearings reduce friction through lubrication and special materials. These are found in the crankshaft and camshaft areas. Elsewhere, automakers use bearings with balls or rollers that rotate to minimize friction and provide a good “feel.”
Two types of movement
Most bearings are mounted in circular “races” that allow only circular motion. These are then mounted on a shaft and installed in housing. Strict control over manufacturing ensures that the balls or rollers have exactly the same diameter and surface finish, resulting in smooth, low-friction rotation.
Bearings are also used in linear systems, perhaps most commonly in seat rails. These are expected to provide smooth motion while withstanding high loads. Balls and rollers may be loosely mounted in stamped or roll-formed rails or incorporated into brackets.
Common automotive bearing applications
Rolling bearings are used throughout the modern vehicle. They are found in the cabin, under the hood, and at the corners of the vehicle. You’ll even find bearing components – the balls themselves – used in the fuel system. Here’s a closer look.
Unlocking mechanism of the trunk
Trunk lids are heavy and usually have a release mechanism and counterweight to make them easy to open. Precisely machined bearings in the release mechanism allow smooth and quiet opening movement and provide a good “feel” when closing.
Steering column
A good steering feel gives a sense of the quality of the vehicle, and the bearings play a major role in this. The steering column, which extends from the cabin to the engine compartment, needs support, and that comes from the bearings. These ensure smooth rotation, but only if they are precisely manufactured and sized for the application.
Sliding doors
Minivans may have fallen out of fashion, but sliding doors are used in a wide variety of vehicles, from family cars to a variety of light trucks and vans. Because they are subjected to a variety of loads and weather conditions, bearing assemblies must ensure precise opening and closing over thousands of actuations.
Seat rails
In this linear motion application, bearings provide smooth, low-friction movement of both manually operated and power seats. Variations in stamped or roll-formed components are a particular challenge for automotive manufacturers. This is solved by matching the ball or roller diameter to the individual parts used.
Check valves for gas tanks
While check valves are not a bearing application in the strictest sense, they rely on precision machined stainless steel balls for safe and reliable operation. In normal operation, the ball is kept out of the fuel flow, but should the vehicle rollover, it covers an opening to shut off the fuel and prevent a fatal spill.
Indispensable in automotive applications
Vehicles rely on bearings for smooth, low-friction motion, but bearings are more than precision mechanical devices. A well-chosen bearing makes the driver or car owner feel like they are in a quality vehicle by giving the right “feel.” If you skimp on bearings, you risk making the vehicle feel cheap.
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