Quick car question

My fiance needs to get her car (2002 Ford Contour, I think) fixed. For a few months, there’s been a somewhat loud moaning/grinding noise, especially when she turns the wheel to the right. She got a tune-up last Fall, and the mechanic said that the problem is with the right bearing. He said it isn’t dangerous, so she decided to get it taken care of later. Now I’m going to force her to get it fixed. Since she hates calling places and asking questions she’s not to familiar with, I told her I’d call around and find a place. I don’t know much about cars, and I figured I’d rather look like a car dope here than on the phone, so hopefully someone can give me a little help.

  1. First, what kind of shop should I try calling? Would any garage work on this, or would I need something more specialized? Would a place like Midas be able to help, or will she need to take it to a dealership?
  2. What should I ask them on the phone? I know I haven’t given much information here, but I don’t even know if the right bearing is something that would need to be replaced, or adjusted, or greased, or talked to in a warm and inviting manner.
  3. Is a problem with a bearing potentially dangerous, or just loud?

Thanks for helping out a car dope!

Novice mechanic here.

The bearing is a fairly serious issue when it starts grinding. Soon you will have LOTS of play in the wheel and steering. This will affect the steering, braking, and overall performance of the car to the extent that you wont be able to drive it.
You’ll end up tearing up the axle if the bearings wear to the point that they freeze up and/or cause enough heat to build up. You may also consider the problem of heat verses rubber parts verses fire.
Have it fixed pronto. I would reckon that just about any garage can handle a wheel bearing replacement, but not all places can do an axle/cv-joint job, if you know what I mean.

If it is a wheel bearing problem, it is potentially dangerous. The bearing could seize or come apart, and in either case the affected wheel would not operate properly, which could adversely affect handling and steering.

Any competent general repair shop can handle it. My advice for finding a good shop is in my post (#3) in this thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=162956

My suggestion is to make an appointment, briefly describing the symptom (e.g., a grinding noise while turning) when doing so. There’s no point asking about details related to a wheel bearing replacement, especially since it’s not a certainty that’s what you need. If you’ve chosen an honorable and competent shop, they’ll be able to effect an accurate diagnosis, fix it properly, and treat you right.

If we’re talking about a vehicle that’s only three years old, the first place I’d go for help would be the nearest Ford dealer. Check to see if the car is still under warranty (sounds like a drivetrain issue to me) and to see if there has been a recall related to the problem.

Replacing a front wheel-bearing (hub) assembly ain’t that tough if you have some mechanical know-how and the right tools. I put one on my girlfriend’s '99 GMC Jimmy (this is another way to spell “junk”) in a couple hours. Shop estimates for the job were $900 to $1100, but the parts cost me well under $200. That was a year-and-a-half ago, and although we’ve replaced almost every other mechanical part on the car since then, that hub assembly I put on is still OK.

That’s what I was told by a shop the day before the wheel caved in.

Yeah, we decided to wait also; the wheel was GLOWING WHITE HOT when it fell off.

I think that car has a 5 year/ 60k mile warranty on mechanical and powertrain items. Wheel bearings aren’t considered consumable anymore.