Bearings reside in the assemblies of just about every machine with rotating parts. Found in engines, transmissions, axles, and wheels, they are responsible for removing friction between moving surfaces.
Without bearings, any rotating parts would be destroyed within a hundred miles. As cheap components, bearings serve as sacrificial members of the drivetrain, contributing to the long service life of the more expensive parts. But while they may be cheap, your bearings still deserve some TLC every now and then.
The Role of Repacking
Just like the oil in a car, the grease used to lubricate wheel bearings needs to be replaced over time. Basically, this involves removing the brakes and wheel hub, extracting the bearing, greasing the bearing, and putting the assembly back together.
For the DIY mechanic, repacking the front wheel bearing is a relatively easy thing to do. It’s not as easy, perhaps, swapping brake pads or changing the oil, but it’s still doable even for a novice.
Bearing Repacking Steps
Here’s the lowdown on the actual procedure to repack your wheel bearings. Keep in mind that these are general steps. For vehicle-specific specifications and instructions, you should consult your vehicle’s repair manual.
1. Loosen the wheel lug nuts.
2. Jack the car up safely and put safety stands under the chassis rails, cross members, or jacking points.
3. Remove the wheels.
4. Loosen the brake caliper mounting bolts, brake calipers, and caliper mounting brackets. In some cases, the caliper mounting brackets don’t actually have to be removed.
5. Remove the hub dust cap using a flat-bladed screwdriver.
6. Remove the cotter pin and castle nut holding the bearing and hub assembly in place. Some manufacturers use a nut with a cap for the cotter pin to hold the spindle nut in place.
7. Pull out the hub assembly to gain access to the wheel bearings. There will be inner and outer bearings, and a seal on the inside of the hub to prevents the grease from spilling out.
8. Inspect the bearing assemblies and check if the grease has metal particles or the rollers are pitted or chipped. If so, you should probably replace the bearings.
9. If the bearings are still usable, clean them thoroughly with a cleaning solvent. Brake cleaner, gasoline, or an organic degreaser will all work.
10. After cleaning, dry the bearings thoroughly to ensure that the replacement grease does not get contaminated. Wipe down the seal with a clean cloth, and check to make sure there aren’t any tears.
11. If the bearings have been repacked previously, it’s good practice to replace the seals at this point.
12. Now you can repack the bearings. Start by placing some grease on the palm of your hand.
13. While holding the bearing in one hand, grease it by using a scraping motion against the grease on your other hand. Make sure the grease goes between the races so it will get onto the rollers.
14. Also, pack the cavity in the hub with a moderate amount of grease.
1. Begin reassembling the hub by placing the bearings onto the hub.
2. Reinstall the seal, or install a new one as needed.
3. Gently place the hub assembly onto the spindle.
4. Install the spindle nut while turning the hub/brake rotor in the opposite direction. This helps seat the bearings.
5. Tighten the spindle nut fully, then back off a quarter turn. Tighten the nut using your fingers, looking for the closest location when you can install the cotter pin.
6. Install the dust cap, if applicable.
7. Replace the brake caliper, install the wheels, remove the safety stands, and lower the car onto the ground.
Bearing Service Notes
• Factory recommendations for repacking the bearings generally run in the 30,000-mile range. However, some owners have doubled this distance without experiencing problems. A lot depends on the environmental conditions in which the vehicle is driven. Basically, the grease (especially factory grease) should be fine if no contaminants make it past the seals.
• Some manuals recommend repacking the bearings, or at least inspecting them, whenever the brakes are serviced.
• There’s a bearing packing tool that is considerably cleaner to use than packing by hand, but there is some wasted grease, which might not be cost effective for the DIY mechanic.
You Can Repack Your Own Wheel Bearings
For the first timer, this procedure may seem daunting. But if done right, this is a pretty straightforward job. It can be done in a couple of hours by a novice DIY mechanic. And the benefit is clear – you’ll save a lot of money by doing it yourself.
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