Replacing a Front Wheel Bearing

Most people don't realize if or when wheel bearings need service -- we just drive, never really thinking about them. Car manufacturers generally recommend a wheel bearing clean, inspection and repack every 30,000 miles, and any bearing found to have scoring and pitting requires replacement. This inspection is usually done along with front brake service. 

If your wheel bearings become noisy, it's important to take your vehicle in for inspection or take the time to check them out yourself. 

These instructions apply to bearings in a non-drive wheel. In other words, if your car is front wheel drive, we're talking about the rear wheel bearings. If it's rear wheel drive, you'll be replacing the front wheel bearings.

What you'll need:

  1. Large adjustable wrench and Channelocks
  2. Bearing race driver tool or various size punches
  3. Socket and ratchet set or assorted wrenches
  4. Dead Blow Hammer
  5. Lots of rags
  6. New wheel bearings
  7. Wheel bearing grease
  8. New cotter pin
  9. New grease seals
  10. Wheel blocks
  11. Safety glasses
  12. A jack and a pair of jack stands
  13. Rubber gloves (Optional)

Make sure that your car is parked on a level grade, rather than on any sort of hill or inclined driveway. Jack the car up, placing jack stands under the frame to support the vehicle. Block the rear wheels to prevent rolling. Set the parking brake and if you have an automatic transmission, be sure that it is in Park.

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Remove the Old Wheel Bearings

Wheel bearings

 CC0 Public Domain//

In most cases, you will need to remove the disc brake calipers and caliper bridge to remove the rotor. Removing and replacing your disc brake pads is a fairly simple process, with proper guidance. However, if your car has drum brakes, ignore this step.

  1. First, remove the bearing cap. This is a press fit, so to remove it, grab it with Channelocks and work the cap back and forth until it pops off. Be careful not to crush it in the removal process.
  2. Once the cap is removed you will see a cotter pin. Remove the cotter pin and the retainer ring. If your vehicle has a castellated nut, you will not have a retaining ring.
  3. Using your Channelocks or adjustable wrench, remove the nut from the spindle.
  4. Next, remove the outer wheel bearing and washer and lay them aside.
  5. Slide the rotor or drum off the spindle. This may be difficult, but it will come off. Don't worry about compromising the grease seal; we're going to replace it anyway.
  6. Once the rotor or drum is off, use a suitable tool to remove the grease seal and take out the inner wheel bearing.
  7. Using some of the shop towels, wipe all of the old grease from inside the hub.
  8. Next, remove the bearing races from the hub: Take a punch with a flat narrow tip and place it on the back of the race. Most hubs have gaps in them which expose the back of the race to make removal easier. Tap the race out, alternating from side to side so that it comes out evenly and doesn't get cocked in the hub. Once it's out, flip the rotor or drum over and do the same for the other race.

Once both races are out, clean the inside of the hub and the spindle well with shop rags and carburetor cleaner.

From this point forward, cleanliness is extremely important -- no dirt, sand or metal chips can be allowed inside the hub.

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Place the New Wheel Bearings

Car wheel bearing diagram


Once your workspace is clean and free of dust and debris, installation of the new races and bearings begins:

  1. Take one of the new races and coat the outside with wheel bearing grease -- this will help it slide into the hub:
    1. If you have a race driver, select the proper size and tap the new race into the hub.
    2. Be sure to drive it in evenly, avoiding cocking it in the divot.
    3. If you don't have a race driver, use your hammer to tap the outside of the race to get it started making sure you tap evenly around the race.
    4. When the race is flush with the hub, use your flat narrow punch to drive it in the rest of the way.
    5. Make sure it is fully seated. The sound of the tapping will change when it's seated. You can also look from the other side to visually confirm.
  2. Do the same for the other race:
    1. If you don't have a bearing packer, you will need to pack them by hand.
    2. Put a glob of wheel bearing grease in the palm of your hand. 
    3. Slip the wheel bearing on your index finger like a ring with the wide end facing out.
    4. Tap the bearing into the glob of grease until you see it coming out the other side.
    5. Once you see it come out, turn the whole bearing, don't just rotate it on your finger, repeating the process until the whole bearing has grease coming out of every side.
    6. Repeat for all bearings. 
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Common wheel hub assembly for domestic vehicles
PCAO//WikiMedia Commons.
  1. Now that we have the races installed and bearings packed, we can put everything back together. Starting with the inner bearing put a bed of grease on the surface of the race and then push the inner wheel bearing into it. Take the new grease seal and tap it into place, don't bend or distort it. You can use a small block of wood to help.
  2. Put a coating of grease inside the hub between the two races and on the spindle -- too much is better than too little. If any moisture should happen to get inside, the grease will keep the metal from rusting.
  3. Slide the brake rotor or drum straight onto the spindle. It should slide on easily. If it doesn't, the bearing is cocked a little. Slide it off and make sure the bearing is sitting flat and try again.
  4. Once it's on, grease the outer race and slide the outer wheel bearing on. Slide the washer on. The washer will probably have a tab that will align with the spindle, make sure that you line them up when you put it in.
  5. Place the nut on the spindle and tighten it by hand until it won't go anymore. Spin the rotor or drum a few times back and forth and then tighten the nut more by hand. This insures that the bearings are seated. Do it a couple of times until you can't get it any tighter by hand.
  6. Now tighten the nut ¼ turn, no more than 16 foot-pounds. If you have a castellated nut, line it up with the hole going through the spindle. Install a NEW cotter pin. If you have a retaining ring, place it on the nut and install the pin. Never reuse the old cotter pin and make sure you use it.
  7. Put a small blob of grease on the inside of the dust cap and tap it into place, being careful not to crush it. Make sure it is fully seated.That's it, you're ready to roll nice and smooth!