Important tips for wheel bearing service

Important tips for wheel bearing service

Complaints like exhaust leaks to tire balance issues to vague statements like "it just doesn't sound right" may mean bad wheel bearings.

As technicians, noise complaints are among the toughest challenges you deal with. To accurately assess the issue, you likely ask customers detailed questions like – is the noise present when the car is stationary or moving? Does it change when cornering or under different loads? Is it a growl, squeak, groan or rattle? Wheel bearing noise is one of the toughest issues for customers to describe, often developing so gradually that they may not notice it until it’s pointed out during an unrelated road test. Complaints ranging from exhaust leaks to tire balance issues to vague statements like “it just doesn’t sound right” may be bad wheel bearings. In this video, let’s discuss some important steps to remember when servicing wheel bearings.

When dealing with a noise complaint, take the time to test-drive the car with the customer.

During the test drive, observe how the sound changes with the load around corners; an increase in noise usually indicates a failing bearing. If there’s no change, it might suggest another issue that just sounds like a wheel-bearing problem.

If doubt still exists after the test drive, put the vehicle on a lift and use a stethoscope to locate the issue.

Exercise caution with protective boots on ball joints and tie rod ends, as well as with the threads. Similarly, handle ABS sensors carefully. It may be best to leave them in place and disconnect them from the harness if stuck. Always maintain caution, and remember to envision reassembling the job as you dismantle it. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular vehicle, there’s no shame in taking pictures on your phone to make sure everything goes back in the right spot, even if you’re a pro.

When it comes to removal, always remove the wheel speed sensor first to avoid damaging it during CV axle removal. When replacing bearing hub assemblies in aluminum knuckles, consider heating the knuckle for easier removal. Alternatively, an air hammer can help break up corrosion in the bore. The key is to turn the hub unit in the bore to break up the corrosion.

For most front-wheel-drive vehicles, separating the ball joint or unbolting the control arm may be necessary to push out the drive axle. Removal of the sway bar link may also be required on some platforms.

As for installation, start by cleaning the knuckle and bore for the bearing. Consider coating the hub unit’s contact surfaces with the knuckle for easier future replacements. Installing bearings incorrectly can lead to issues with the wheel speed sensor due to interference with the dust shield.

Avoid using an impact wrench for installation, as it can damage threads and CV joints. Always use a torque wrench as recommended by OEMs and bearing manufacturers and use a new axle nut for each installation to prevent potential failures.

Many hub units for FWD applications include a new hub nut; use it and torque it to specifications with a torque wrench. After repairs, clear any ABS codes and perform a short test drive to ensure the problem is resolved and there are no ABS light illuminations or bearing noises.

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