George likes to do his own maintenance on his vans and trucks. Occasionally, he makes stuff out of wood.
A Wobbly Tire Means You Need a New Wheel Bearing
So you're driving down the road and notice in your side view mirror that your tire is wobbling like crazy. You hear a humming noise when taking turns. What this means is your wheel bearing is bent or off, which can happen after hundreds of thousands of miles. There are some minor things that folks do to reduce the issue, but the wobble will continue until you get a new wheel bearing.
People recommended that both wheel bearings on either the front or back be replaced at the same time, so if that matters, be prepared to shell out cash for two bearings instead of one. Some people don't care and that's fine too.
The good news is most wheel bearings can be bought fully assembled these days. I know working on vans in the past you would have to take the bearings to a mechanic, and they would use their 10-ton press to push the bearing together and it was a real pain. Instead, make sure you purchase a fully assembled bearing and that it has any ABS sensors attached. Make sure the replacement is in fact the part you need, which we won't cover in full detail, but note that 4 wheel drive will have one sensor on each wheel, and 2-wheel will not. Let's proceed.
Make sure you have a jack and jack stand underneath the carriage, so that if the vehicle moves as you push and pull, it will be safe and secure. Since we're doing this ourselves, recommend wheel stops on the fronts and back tires that are not being working on, and make sure you're operating in a warm area like a heated garage. Outdoors is okay if the temperatures warrant it.
What You Will Work Towards
I see folks disassembling every last part of a wheel to get to the bearing, which is unnecessary. So unless you wish to drop this thing off and get it re-aligned afterwards (which is still a good idea), it's best to only work towards the wheel hub assembly and nothing else. That means removing (a) the 2 bolts for the caliper and (b) the 4 bolts for the wheel assembly, nothing else.
You'll note we'll also remove the axle bolt. I just so happened to have a spring fall off when working on it, which is not typical, so I will replace that too. The spring holds the brake line to the vehicle.
What You'll Need
- Cheater bar (metal pipe of some sort)
- Breaker bar (yes, in addition to cheater bar)
- Rust removal spray (any kin-
- Brake cleaner (lots)
- A reference for the amount of tightening in foot-lb (shown for appx vehicle)
- Socket big enough to remove the axle bolt. For my 2008 vehicle, this meant 32 mm.
- C clamp
- Sledge hammer
- Sockets for the rear bolts (18 mm, both long and short)
- Torque wrench (to tighten back to spec)
- Short bungie cord
- Machine bolts, roughly half-inch with nut
- Needle-nose pliers
- Light stick
- Reciprocating saw (or anything that can cut metal bolts)
- Air tools if you have them, but not needed.
Remove the caliper bolts
Don't fully dis-assemble the caliper, instead just remove the 2 bolts holding it on from the back like so. If you suspect you'll have issues, spray them down with cleaner and rust removal first, let it sit for 10 minutes or so. The cheater bar is a bent piece of scrap metal pipe and end hammered down to fit most tool handles. In this case I bend it just slightly to move the bolt down using a shortened 18 mm socket, which came off easily this way. Work smarter, not harder.
Pull Off the Caliper
Use a short or set of short bungie cords to hang the caliper away from the wheel, out of the way so it doesn't pull from the brake fluid connection. Although I got a car wash prior to this project, you'll need to use brake cleaner on most of the parts as you go along.
Remove the Axle Bolt
With the caliper out of the way, place a C clamp in its place making sure the knuckle is supported from behind and the wheel hub is locked to not rotate. If it's not moving, spray it with rust remover and let it sit. Fortunately, I had sprayed this part beforehand and my breaker bar had no issues pulling it off. Each vehicle will have its own outcome, but keep in mind all other parts on this thing will be re-used, so attempt to keep everything in top shape.
Remove the Hub Assembly Bearing Bolts
In the same way that the caliper bolts were removed, work towards the back and begin to remove the bolts holding on the wheel bearing. This is a bit of a tight spot and I once again found myself using my smaller socket wrench with the cheater bar just to get the bolt to move a bit, then unwind it the rest of the way each time.
The wheel axle will be surrounded by a protective shroud, which might make it difficult pulling out the bolts. However, once all bolts are loose and released at the same time, it should be simple to wiggle them out one by one. In other words, don't fret the tight space until all 4 bolts are unscrewed.
Read More from AxleAddict
Remove the ABS Sensor
A lot of folks will cut these off, but the fact of the matter is you'll need to reconnect another one, so you might as well reverse connect it, so that you'll know what to do later. Be warned that plastic connectors are Ford's downfall and can easily be broken. It's best to take your time with removing the clips and avoid using zip ties later on. In my experience the release clips are very fragile and breakable, so use your hands to loosen up the connection at the base. This is a good place to take your time.
Removing the Wheel Hub Assembly
From this point on, there are several techniques and methods in which to remove the wheel assembly. I started with a sledge hammer to get the center axle loose, by hammering the lug bolts. Once that was moving, I sprayed the wheel hub with lots and lots of rust removal. Beyond this point, there are resources and tips on how to do this, but the next part is very challenging.
Please know this is the point of no return. If your wheel hub is not budging after trying some of these techniques, it may be best to re-assemble it and take it to your local mechanic. However, if you did decide to remove it yourself, let's do our best to keep everything else in tip top shape.
Tried This, Didn't Work. Time to Go to the Store...
One method is to use an old nut with anything metal (in this case I found a hitch) and hammer it from behind. I tried this, did some rotating. I don't like to put too much force behind it, so track if any progress is being made, but be sure to stop before damaging any of the knuckle.
Find Some Machine Bolts
I went to a local hardware store and picked up some machine bolts. These are going to be threaded all the way and will probably break easy, so be sure to have several in supply. I chose half-inch bolts, which were the largest I could squeeze into the holes.
I proceeded to remove two of the six hub bolts by cutting them off and pulling the remains from below with a set of needle-nose pliers. There are some specialized tools that might have made the job much easier.
Ratchet Out the Wheel Bearing
It took me three tries to find a place where the bolt was lodged against the knuckle from behind. It wasn't very clear, so I had to put the car in neutral (with wheel stops in place) before rotating the holes around.
Typically, you would put in a bolt from each side, but once I made contact with the knuckle it seemed to come out just fine at that point. It might have been some of the activities I did earlier that loosened it up for me. For a vehicle with over 180,000 miles, it's certainly going to be a pain. This method seemed to work just fine for me. Fortunately, no expensive equipment was required, but I sure would have rather had better tools lying around.
Clean the Internal Parts
Spray down the axle and inside knuckle with rust removal and brake cleaner, give it some time to soak. Wipe it down well enough so that we can add grease later on.
Check the New Parts
Compare the new parts with the old and make sure everything lines up, including the connector for the ABS sensor. A few minutes will go a long way.
Add Grease to Everything
Proceed in greasing everything around the axle and within the wheel hub. Too little or too much will cause problems, so grease things up accordingly. Proceed in tightening back the bolts in place, lining up the wheel hub. I had to shine a light to make sure the hub was in alignment with the impressions made from the last one, before using my hand to screw the bolts in from behind.
I always tighten in a star formation; this brings all sides of a rounded part together uniformly. If you are not sure what that means, it's basically where you tighten each lug nut on a tire by going to the furthest one from the last one. Do the same from behind when connecting the wheel hub bolts, go vertically to the opposite side of the first bolt, then place the second and so on. Tighten according to the specs.
Replace Parts in Reverse Order
After tightening the bolts behind the wheel hub, be sure to reconnect the ABS sensor making sure it's following the same line as the previous. I also replaced the spring that held my brake line on, which was just hanging below when I first took off the wheel. It's a good time to inspect other things and make sure everything is in order.
I also filled in the holes from the backside that went through the shield when I was using the machine bolts with some waterproofing caulk. I used my needle-nose pliers to reshape those holes, but thought I'd add something extra in case water splashes around underneath... wouldn't want that to get into the wheel hub area later on. Very precautionary and frankly not much of an issue, to be honest.
First re-tighten the axle bolt on to spec. Place the rotor on and leave it there.
Re-attach the brake caliper with the two bolts. I did have to put a crowbar into the caliper to pry back the brake a bit, to get it back onto the rotor. Proceed by tightening the two bolts and we're finished.
Clean up the area and wiped down the rotor and brakes one last time.
At this point the project is done.
When I finished, the ABS sensor turned on within the vehicle. After test driving the vehicle for a couple miles the light turned off. This is good and is a clear indicator the work is complete with no issues. If you continue to have a code you can run the code at your local parts shop. They can remove or give you any error codes that may still be present.
Best wishes to you and I'll see you out on the road!