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How to Service Manual Hubs and Wheel Bearings

a picture of a hub

Contributed by: Mark Wallace

(Editor's Note: This comes actually kind of third-hand to me via Joe Sego. It started off as a question from one of our readers, unfortunately I don't remember whom, and Mark's answer to it, which is deemed quite worthy of inclusion on the site. Good Job, Mark!)

Q. I think one of my next projects is disassembling the front hubs. grease bearings etc. the less then great manual i have mentions a special tool needed to get to a large nut or??

Pretty straight forward job you are looking at there, and yes there is a special tool. What it is is a wacking huge socket that's round and has four prongs sticking out of it. They are about $20 at NAPA or Auto Zone or Pep Boys or any one of those stores. (It's the same tool used on both Chevy and Ford 4x4 front axles). Basically without the locking hubs you are not looking at too bad a job. It goes something like this.

1. Pop the shiny metal hub cap off with a hammer and a screwdriver. Inside you will find a split ring holding on a round drive plate that has splines on both the inside and the outside.

2. Remove the split ring with either the appropriate tool or a few little screwdrivers. At this point the drive-plate may just flop out, or it may be stuck. Not a big deal.

3. If the drive-plate is stuck it's got a a grove on a raised surface that you can get a screw driver or two under...usually it'll just slide off with a little pressure. There is a spring behind it which just pulls out.

4. If you haven't done so already now is good time to remove the Wheel and the brake caliper. I'd suggest a socket rather than just an allen wrench to avoid busted knuckles as well as saving some time.

5. Now get they great big socket that you just bought and pull off the first wheel nut. Under the first wheel nut there is a washer that should, in theory at least, come off fairly easily with your fingers. This is rarely the case. If you have some special hooks use them, if not you are going to have to make some. This is easily done with a small bolt with a grove ground into it. You could probably also make one with a nail and using the vise grips to pound on it. I actually had to get a little chipping hammer behind one of these hooks to get the washer loose.

6. Having gotten the washer loose there is one more wheel nut that comes off just like the first. At which point the whole hub assembly comes off, brake rotor and all and if you are not careful you'll drop the bearings in the dirt.

7. Clean and inspect everything. If the bearings look okay re-pack them and put them back together, if not replace the bearings and races with some new Timken bearings and races. Cheapo replacements probably won't hold up as well. The bearings should just fall out, but you have to really whack the races out hard with a hammer and a screwdriver. Putting new ones in isn't that hard, but it requires a bearing/seal driver compounded with the old races to get everything back together.

8. Put everything back together in reverse order and put a lot of grease in there...since it's not a locking-unlocking hub, it'll be pretty difficult to over grease it.

Mark Wallace
Boston MA

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