How to Replace Wheel Bearings

Knowing how to replace wheel bearings can be vital if your car rumbles or has loose wheels. Wheel bearing failure can be caused by contamination or leaking seals. Once your wheel bearings are compromised, don't wait to get them replaced.

How To Replace Wheel Bearings Safely

  • Book learnin'. A service manual will make your life easier when it comes time to replace wheel bearings. Attachment systems vary by manufacturer and a service manual will tell you the exact way to uninstall your brakes to get at the wheel hub.
  • Jack it up. Block the tires on the opposite set of wheels from the ones you're working on. Loosen the lug nuts on the wheels before lifting the car; it will make removing the wheels easier. Jack the car up and place it on the jack stands. Remove the wheels and place one under the engine as a back up incase the jack stands fail.
  • No brakes! Remove the brake calipers and hang them out of the way on the frame of the car. Use some coat hanger wire and be careful not to pinch the brake hoses.
  • Open wide. The section of the axle that the wheel bearings revolve around is called the spindle. To access the spindle nut, pry off the dust cover at the center of the wheel hub. Not all cars will have a dust cover. Once the cover is removed, pull out the cotter pin that is inserted through the spindle.
  • Lift and separate. Next, separate the brake rotor (the big shiny disk) from the wheel hub. You may be able to tap the rotor (from the back) with a hammer to loosen it or it may be attached with a setscrew or bolts.
  • Man up. Once the brake rotor has been removed, you'll need to loosen the spindle nut. This is typically a large nut-if you don't have a socket large enough, try to borrow or rent one. Without an impact wrench, you'll need a breaker bar and a four-foot long section of pipe to loosen the spindle nut.
  • A single unit. For a sealed wheel bearing (common in most modern cars), the entire hub unit will be replaced. Pull the old unit off the spindle and replace it with the new one.
  • Old school. For older vehicles, you'll need to remove the front and rear bearing covers (called races) from the hub. The races can be pried out with a flat screwdriver blade or punched out with a hammer and chisel. No matter how you get the races out, they'll have to be replaced.
  • Starting fresh. Once the races have been pulled, remove the bearings and clean the inside of the hub thoroughly. Tap the new rear race into the hub using a hammer and a small block of wood. Make sure the race is fully seated. Place a bead of bearing grease on the new inner bearings and slide them in place. Next, tap the grease seal into place and finally, insert the outer bearing. Tap the outer race in place to seal the bearings.
  • Finishing up. Return the hub to the spindle, tighten the spindle nut to the proper torque (check your service manual for details) and replace the brake rotor. Replace the brake caliper and the wheel.
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