DIY Toyota Front Wheel Drive (FWD) Wheel Bearing Replacement
The most common causes of wheel bearing failure are 1) out-of-balance wheels, which a wheel balance job will fix, and 2) out-of-round tires, which a wheel balance job will not fix; the tire must be replaced. If the wheel vibrates constantly, as it will if these problems are present, the front wheel bearing will wear out. Worn out wheel bearings make a low-pitched humming or grinding noise that gets progressively louder as the car's speed increases. It is most noticeable when cruising on the highway.
These instructions for replacing front-wheel-drive wheel bearings will work for the Toyota Corolla, Camry, and Solara; the Lexus ES300; and, with minor variations, for the Nissan Maxima and Sentra and the VW Jetta. If you have the tools discussed below, this article provides a simple method to remove the inner bearing race, thus avoiding removing the steering knuckle and having the bearing(s) pressed out at a machine shop.
Cost Considerations in DIY Wheel Bearing Replacement
New wheel bearings are relatively inexpensive (under $50). Although many parts suppliers provide a kit consisting of a new wheel hub with the bearing, there is no need to replace the wheel hub, since it doesn't usually wear out. Many buy the kit to avoid having to obtain the tools needed to remove the inner wheel bearing race.
Typical repair quotes for a FWD wheel bearing replacement range from $350 - $450 a wheel...enough financial motivation to find a way to do it yourself. Once you have gone through the learning curve of doing one side, the other side will go faster and easier.
Special Tools Needed to Replace FWD Wheel Bearings
Three special tools are needed to perform this job at home:
1. A FWD wheel hub puller with a slide hammer (see (A) below). These tools can be rented at most auto parts stores.
2. A portable FWD wheel bearing removal-and-installation tool (see (B) below). This tool is not typically available for rent. But without this tool, attempting to hammer out an old bearing and hammer in a new one is a complete waste of time, and will damage the new bearings and pop out the inner bearing race.
3. A high-speed rotary tool with a small metal-cutting disc (like a dremel tool).
In addition, a high-torque air or electric impact driver will make it a lot easier to squeeze out the old bearings and put in the new ones.
Loosen the Axle Shaft Nut
With the car in park and the parking brake on, remove the wheel cover to expose the axle shaft nut. If an impact driver is not available, straighten and remove the cotter pin and remove the axle shaft nut cover (see E, F, G below). Fit a 30mm socket (for a Corolla) to a breaker bar, and torque the nut loose until finger tight.
Remove the Brake Wheel Caliper Assembly
The wheel caliper assembly (which holds the brake pads) is attached to the steering knuckle with two 17mm bolts (C). The brake hose may be secured to the strut assembly and should be unbolted. Wiggle and pull on the caliper assembly until it is clear of the brake rotors. Support the caliper in any way that keeps it from dangling or pulling on the brake hose.
Remove the Brake Rotor and Axle Shaft Nut
Remove the brake rotor (D); if it is rusted on, a few taps with a brass hammer should free it. Unless you did this in the first step, remove the axle shaft cotter pin (E), axle shaft nut cover (F) and the axle shaft nut (G).
Photos D-GClick thumbnail to view full-size
Bolt On the Hub Puller Tool and Pull Out the Wheel Hub
Attach the hub puller tool to the wheel hub using the existing wheel lugs. The lugs must be on tight (H, I, J). Then screw the slide hammer tool onto the hub puller (K). A few sharp tugs with the slide hammer will pull off the wheel hub, including the inner wheel bearing race (L). On Corollas, the wheel bearing outer seal will come out along with the hub as well.
Photos H-LClick thumbnail to view full-size
Detach the Lower Ball Joint from the Lower Control Arm
Remove the two nuts and one bolt (M) that attach the ball joint to the lower control arm. Push down on the control arm and pull the ball joint up and away from the arm. At this point, the CV axle shaft can be pulled out and away from the center of the wheel bearing. Afterwards, remove the hub-to-CV joint dust shield (N), using a screwdriver as a pry punch.
Photos M-NClick thumbnail to view full-size
Remove the Outer and Inner Wheel Ball Bearings
Now all that holds the ball bearings in place is grease and a plastic bearing retainer. Pull out the outer and inner bearings with the retainer (O). If an inner bearing seal prevents the inner bearing from coming out, the bearing seal can be pushed out with some gentle taps with a screwdriver from inside the bearing housing. Then the inner bearings can be removed. Wipe off any excess grease.
Remove Snap Ring Bearing Retainer
The snap ring is a black ring recessed in a groove on the inside of the inner portion of the steering knuckle hole. The steering knuckle must be turned outward as much as possible to gain access to the ring. While holding the knuckle outward, use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to squeeze and then remove the snap ring (P).
Remove the Outer Wheel Bearing Race From the Steering Knuckle
From the wheel bearing remover tool kit, select a disc (Q) that is smaller than the diameter of the outer wheel bearing race. Place the flat side of the disc against the outside of the race. Select a bearing cup that is larger than the wheel bearing. This cup can can be mounted against the back of the steering knuckle, and will receive the old wheel bearing when the bearing gets "squeezed" out of the hub. The kit will also contain a cup lid (a large circular step-down disc plate) that will fit snug onto the bearing cup. Fit the cup lid over the bearing cup, with the open end of the cup over the steering knuckle.
Using the long bolt from the installation/removal kit, run the bolt through the cup lid, wheel bearing, and disc (R), and tighten using the kit's two-inch nut.
Hold the installation/removal bolt head with a 27mm box wrench or socket wrench attached to a breaker bar. Begin squeezing the bearing out with a 30mm socket, attached to either a breaker bar or an impact driver (S, T, U). High torque will be required to squeeze the old bearing out; an impact driver makes it easier. The movement of the two-inch nut will be very slow. If it stops moving completely, then either the bearing cup is too small, or the disc pushing against the old bearing is too large.
Photos Q-UClick thumbnail to view full-size
Squeeze in the New Wheel Bearing
Freezing the new wheel bearing inside your refrigerator before installation will ease installation. Clean out any residual grease within the steering knuckle hole and coat with some penetrating oil. Pick out a disc from the hub installation tool kit of the same or smaller diameter as the new wheel bearing. This disc will pull against the new bearing and squeeze it in the steering knuckle hole. Identify a bearing cup which the new bearing can fit into, to help guide and keep true the movement of the new bearing into the knuckle. Position a disc of a larger diameter against the outside of the steering knuckle hole. Run the wheel bearing installation/removal bolt (same bolt used for bearing removal) through the disc, the new wheel bearing, the knuckle hole, and the disc butted up against the outside of the hole. Screw on and tighten the two-inch nut on the bolt and check the alignment (V).
Begin squeezing/pulling in the new bearing by applying torque to the two-inch nut. Use either a breaker bar or impact driver. Watch the inner disc plate to determine the progress of the bearing movement. Continue applying torque until the outer race of the bearing has reached the lip of the steering knuckle hole.
Re-Install the Wheel Bearing Snap Ring
Using a pair of pliers, squeeze the snap ring and position it inside the steering knuckle snap ring groove (W).
Re-install Wheel Bearing Dust Covers
Coat the inside and outside of the steering knuckle hole with additional wheel bearing grease where it meets the bearing.
From the wheel bearing installation toolbox, choose a disc plate of the same diameter as the outer dust cover to press the dust cover onto the outside of the steering knuckle hole. A few light taps against the disc plate will seat the dust cover in place.
Install the inner steering knuckle dust cover the same way. Not all cars have both inner and outer dust covers.
Remove the Old Inner Wheel Bearing Race From the Hub
Secure the hub on a bench or vise (photo (Y) shows a C-clamp). Using a high-speed rotary tool with an attached metal-cutting disc, cut a deep 45-degree groove into the inner race (Z). Then using a hammer and chisel, apply a few hard hits in the groove to split the bearing (AA). When the race cracks at the groove, it will slide out (BB).
Photos Y-BBClick thumbnail to view full-size
Press the Wheel Hub Into the Wheel Bearing Inner Race
The wheel hub must be pressed into the inner race of the new wheel bearing. It doesn't have to be pressed completely through, just far enough for the axle threads in the CV joint to protrude through the hub splines. Then in a later step, tightening the axle nut will force the hub completely through the two wheel bearing inner races, with the inside inner race being held in place by the CV joint.
From the bearing installation tool kit, select a disc plate that is smaller than the new wheel bearing. Place the disc plate against the inside of the bearing. Get another disc plate of any diameter that is larger than the hub hole wheel mounting lip. Run the installation bolt through the disc plate, inner bearing, wheel hub, and outer disc plate. Screw the installation nut onto the installation bolt, and tighten.
Ensure that the wheel hub is recessed square onto the inner race. Begin tightening the installation nut. While pressure is being applied to the outside inner race, the inner bolted disc plate will keep the inside inner race from being pushed out.
Reattach the CV Axle Shaft and the Lower Ball Joint
Push the CV axle through the wheel hub until the axle shaft thread can be seen through the hub. Screw on the axle shaft nut so it is finger tight.
Attach the lower ball joint to the control arm. After tightening the bolt and the two nuts, apply the final torque to the axle shaft nut. The torque will squeeze the wheel hub further into the inner bearing race.
Note: Becaise over- or under-torquing the axle shaft nut can cause premature bearing failure, you should look up the torque specifications for that nut. As a general rule, the bearings should be torqued over 150 lbs.
Position the axle shaft nut cover on to the nut so that a path to the cotter pin hole can be seen. Push in the cotter pin and bend the pin end.
Bolt on the Brake Caliper Assembly
Align the caliper bolt hole with the wheel hub brake caliper hole. Screw on and tighten the two caliper mounting bolts.
A Better Bearing Design
Nissan has a simple but brilliant FWD bearing design. It's a hub-plus-bearing bolt-on unit that is extremely simple to replace, compared to bearings that have to be pressed in. The hub with its bearing can be replaced without disconnecting the lower control arm to remove the axle shaft from the knuckle. The only drawback is that the hub-plus-bearing replacement unit is a little pricey.