Learning how to change your wheel bearings can be considered by some to be a bit more involved than your entry level maintenance on your truck or car. However, with these tips, you should be able to accomplish this task successfully and save yourself some money!
What Are Wheel Bearings & When Should You Change Them?
Wheel bearings are sets of steel balls that are housed in metal casings called races, which are located in the wheel’s hub.
The biggest tell on when it’s time to change your wheel bearings and a sign that they are starting to fail is when you hear a moaning noise coming from this area while driving.
Don’t stress too much if your car is giving you that tell-tale sign, because it shouldn’t be a costly repair. While changing your bearings is considered a more involved job, for most it can still be done at home to avoid a trip to the mechanic. But be warned, you will need a few specialty tools to get the job done right.
Materials You’ll Need to Change Your Wheel Bearings
- Safety glasses
- Bearing grease
- Diagonal cutters
- Socket set (⅜ socket set 10mm-19mm)
- Torque wrench
- Ratchet (½ inch with 19mm or 21mm socket)
- Grypmat to safely hold tools
- Wire clothes hanger
- Rubber mallet (optional)
- Wheel chocks (x2)
- Floor jack
- Two safety jack stands
How to Change Wheel Bearings on Your Vehicle
We’re going to share how to change your wheel bearings in a more general step-by-step process for the common wheel bearing types that are found in the majority of vehicles. However, before starting your replacement job, please consult your vehicle’s service manual to ensure you know what kind of bearings you’re working with on your specific vehicle.
With that, let’s get started …
Prepare Your Vehicle
After gathering the supplies needed, you will need to prepare your vehicle to safely change the wheel bearings. Start by parking your vehicle on a level surface before you begin.
1. Chock the Wheels
Then be sure to use a wheel chock to block the tire opposite of the wheel that you will be working on first. For example, if changing the driver’s side front bearings first, you will need to chock the passenger’s rear wheel.
2. Loosen Lug Nuts
To loosen your lug nuts, you will need a ½ inch ratchet with the correct size socket. Loosen the lug nuts, but do not remove them fully just yet.
3. Lift Your Vehicle
Use a floor jack and a pair of safety jack stands to lift your vehicle. This lets you safely remove the tires for your bearing replacements.
Be sure to refer to your owner's manual for information on where the proper lift points to jack up your vehicle are located.
4. Remove the Lug Nuts
With the vehicle lifted and secured, remove the lug nuts completely and then remove the tire and place aside.
Pro Tip: A Grypmat is a great option for keeping parts like these from getting away from you!
Remove the Old Wheel Bearings
Now that your vehicle is safely prepared for maintenance work, you can start getting to work!
1. Remove the brake caliper and bracket.
To do this, use your ratchet and ⅜ -socket set to unbolt the disc brake caliper and bracket from the spindle. Use a screwdriver to remove the caliper itself.
Pro Tip: When removing the caliper, be careful not to let it dangle freely because that can damage the flexible brake line. Instead, use the wire hanger to hook it on a secure part of the undercarriage or hang the brake caliper on the suspension.
2. Remove the outer wheel bearing.
If the wheel bearings are housed inside your disc brake rotor, which is common to see in trucks, you will need to pry off the central dust cap to expose the cotter pin and retaining nut.
To do this, use your pliers to remove the cotter pin and retaining nut and then slide the rotor forward to release the outer wheel bearing (smaller wheel bearing).
3. Remove the rotor and inner wheel bearing.
Replace the retaining nut on the spindle and grab the rotor with both hands. Proceed to pull the rotor off the spindle, allowing the larger inner bearing to get caught on the retaining nut. Then, release the bearing and grease seal from the rotor.
Install the New Wheel Bearings
Once you have all of the wheel bearing components removed, it is time for the fun part – the actual installation of your new wheel bearings.
1. Rub bearing grease into the casing.
Place the rotor face down on the floor with the back side facing upwards. Take the new larger bearing and rub the bearing grease into the casing.
Pro Tip: The easiest way to do this is to wear a glove and rub the grease into the bearing casing by hand.
2. Install the new bearing.
Place the new bearing into the back of the rotor and apply grease to the inside bearing cavity. Install a new bearing seal over the new larger bearing and slide the rotor back on to the spindle. (A rubber mallet can be used to tap the bearing seal into place, if needed).
Pack the new smaller bearing with grease and slide it on to the spindle inside the rotor. Now install the thrust washer and retaining nut onto the spindle.
3. Install a new cotter pin.
Tighten the retaining nut until it is snug and turn the rotor counterclockwise at the same time. Tighten the retaining nut a ¼ turn past snug and then install a new cotter pin.
4. Unbolt and replace the hub.
The rotor mounts on a hub that contains the pressed-in wheel bearing. Bearing assemblies on front or rear non-driven axles are mounted between a wheel hub and a simple spindle shaft. Some cars have permanently sealed front wheel bearings.
If your bearing is housed inside a hub that can be unbolted, simply use your ratchet to unbolt the hub from the spindle and install a new hub.
5. Remove the spindle, if needed.
If your bearing is pressed into the spindle, it is recommended that you remove the spindle from the vehicle and take both the spindle and the new wheel bearing to your local repair shop. They will have the specialty tools to press out the old bearing and press in the new one.
In most cases, this service can be done inexpensively. Once the new bearing is pressed in, the spindle can be installed back on to the vehicle.
Reassemble the Vehicle
You are almost there! Just a few last steps that are important to give your full attention to in order to wrap this maintenance up safely.
1. Put the brake rotor and caliper back on.
Now that the new bearing is installed, the brake rotor and caliper can be placed back onto the vehicle using a ratchet and the appropriate sockets that were used to remove them.
2. Install the tire.
Replace the wheel and tighten the lug nuts by hand. Support the vehicle with a floor jack and remove the safety jack stands. Slowly lower the vehicle until its tires just touch the ground (similar to how you would when changing a flat tire).
3. Tighten lug nuts and lower the vehicle.
Use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to manufacturer specifications. Lower the vehicle completely and remove the floor jack.
Congratulations, you have successfully changed your vehicle’s wheel bearing. It is important to perform a test drive after changing the wheel bearings to ensure that the repair is complete.
If you encountered any problems while changing your wheel bearings, or if you are not comfortable completing this maintenance on your own, be sure to call a professional mechanic.
And for more DIY maintenance tips, check out our automotive blog!