Tech Tip: Opting for Off-Brand or Value-Grade Components Can Be Risky Proposition – UnderhoodService

Tech Tip: Opting for Off-Brand or Value-Grade Components Can Be Risky Proposition

In light of the economic situation, it's a safe bet that consumers will try and save money on car maintenance. This will likely mean greater willingness to opt for off-brand and value-grade components including hub units. Why is this a bad idea?

SKF individual interviewed:
Neil Hogan, SKF Product Manager, Vehicle Service Market
ASE Certified Master Technician
30 years in the Automotive Business

In light of the economic situation, it’s a safe bet that consumers will try and save money on car maintenance. This will likely mean greater willingness to opt for off-brand and value-grade components including hub units. Why is this a bad idea?

A few reasons come to mind. First is safety. No matter how bad the economy gets, you just can’t put a price on your safety and the safety of your family. Can you imagine if a loved one was seriously injured because you wanted to save a few dollars?

The other has to do with time and money. While a value grade hub may seem like a bargain at first, there’s a good chance that in the long run, it will cost you more. This is because it won’t last as long and because, generally speaking, premium hub units last up to 100,000-plus miles while value grade hub units last up to about 25,000 to 35,000 miles. So if you have to replace the hub three times as often, you’re paying more, not saving more.

Additionally the increased friction of a poorly designed hub can reduce your gas mileage. With today’s gas prices, keeping your vehicle running smoothly is important.

Why is safety an issue with value grade hubs?

For a number of reasons. Premium components are manufactured to OE specs, using high quality materials throughout, from the steel to the seals and lubrication to the sensors. This robust construction creates a more reliable foundation for the entire wheel end system and, so, helps prevent early and unexpected wheel end failure. A hub that fails prematurely can put people at risks, whether it’s loss of vehicle control or breaking down unexpectedly.

Another risk factor has to do with braking and traction. Many of these poorly made hubs use inferior sensors and, often, poorly insulated sensors. Sensors are critical to the proper functioning of things like ABS and traction control systems. If the sensor fails, these systems can too, resulting in less control or even loss of control of the vehicle. And of course this can be very dangerous for the driver and passengers.

It seems safety is an important part of SKF premium hub assemblies, what other features are important for SKF?

SKF remains a global leader of hub technology with quality being the top focus. Each hub is required to pass the most stringent tests in the marketplace.

We are also always moving forward with new advances in designs to bring the customer the best product in the industry. SKF’s new X-Tracker hub is an example of this advancement. This unitized assembly brings patented designs to our hubs. Just a few of the new features of the X-Tracker hub are increased sealing capabilities to keep out water ingression, stronger flange design to provide increased durability, and superior retention design that helps increase the number of rolling elements for a smoother, safer ride.

It’s difficult for many people, even seasoned technicians, to tell the difference between value grade and premium grade hubs at first glance. Are there things they should look for?

Yes, it can be difficult to see the difference, because in many cases the inferior aspects have to do with things that can’t be seen with the naked eye. This includes the quality and heat treating of the steel. And, of course, the bearing and seal are hidden within the unit. Lubricants look the same but vary tremendously in their ability to protect the moving parts.

SKF recently assembled a team of engineers to compare the differences between some value grade hub units and SKF premium OE quality hub units. These experts examined the construction of various components, including the seals, the sensors, and the steel of the hub units, among other things. We outlined our findings in a very revealing brochure, which is available as a free download on our web site, I would recommend that anybody involved in selling or installing hub units have a good look at this piece because the problems we found in value grade hubs were truly shocking. When you see how these hubs are made, you’ll understand why they fail so quickly.

Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to spot a value grade hub, even without taking it apart.

Considering that value grade hubs can be costly and possibly even dangerous in the long run, it would seem important that this information gets out to the field. How are you communicating this to the industry?

In a number of ways, including trade advertising and, as I’ve already mentioned, our web site. In addition, SKF has a large involvement in industry organizations, such as the Be Car Care Aware campaign, the Right to Repair Act and AAIA. We also use our position as a technical sponsor to Richard Childress Racing to communicate the effects of proper vehicle maintenance at NASCAR races around the country.

In addition, through the SKF Pole Position E-Newsletter program, we are able to communicate directly with garages across the country, providing up-to-date information and installation tips that can save them time and money. One of the biggest causes of component failure, aside from poor quality parts, is incorrect installation, or lack of knowledge associated with a particular component, system, or sub-system. And when a customer has to come back, it can be costly — not just monetarily for the garage or jobber, but in terms of lost good will that can take years to regain.

Any last words of advice for technicians?

I would remind them that it’s important to look and listen for signs of wheel-end failure, during a test drive or when pulling the wheel or performing any brake job. One should look for signs of excessive wheel end play, leaking grease or be aware of a burning aroma. These characteristics can be signs of a wheel end failure, or the beginning of one. And if it’s determined that a replacement hub is needed, make sure the repair is done properly, and that you install a premium grade hub from a trusted OE supplier like SKF. A vehicle’s wheel ends are too critical to performance and safety to even consider cutting corners with a value grade hub.

For more information about SKF, visit

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