Cleaning Bearings Is an Intermediate Job for Most DIYers. Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Clean Bearings at Home.
- DIY Difficulty Level: Intermediate
- Time Required: Approximately two to three hours per bearing
- Tools & Materials:
What Are Bearings?
Wheel bearings play an essential role in the functioning of your vehicle. These allow the tires and wheels to spin freely on a vehicle while limiting friction. The wheel bearings are located in the wheel hub. Each wheel of your vehicle has a set of wheel bearings.
Is It Safe to Drive with Bad Bearings?
Wheel bearings can become damaged over time from general wear and tear, and debris that may get into your wheel hub. If a wheel bearing fails, it can be highly dangerous. Poorly functioning wheel bearings can cause a potential loss of steering control. At worst, broken bearings can cause the wheel and tire of your car to fall off.
For these reasons, it’s important to perform regular maintenance and assessment of your bearings. Looking out for signs of wear can help you know when it’s time to replace them before they break. By cleaning, lubricating, and repacking your bearings regularly, you can extend their longevity.
If you have experience working on cars and have access to the right tools, you can clean your wheel bearings at home. At a mechanic, it costs an average of $300 to $500 per bearing to have them replaced. If you have the time, skill, and materials available to clean your bearings, you can save money and do it yourself. Those with little experience or who lack the tools at home may prefer to take their car to a professional.
When to Clean and Repack Bearings
Many modern cars have sealed wheel hubs, which means the bearings inside can not be serviced. In situations like this, the entire hub must be replaced. The instructions below will not apply.
In general, expect to repack and clean your bearings every 30,000 miles or every other year. How often you need to service your bearings may depend on the manufacturer’s recommendation, so refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual for more details. Manufacturers have designed modern wheel bearings to last a long time, but the bearings on older vehicles may require more regular servicing.
What Are Common Symptoms Indicating You Need to Clean Your Bearings?
- Irregular noises like whirring, humming, rumbling, grinding, or clicking
- Uneven tire wear
- Loose steering
- Vibrations and roughness in your ride
- Traction control or ABS malfunction
Keep in Mind
Remember to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for maintaining your vehicle. Different makes and models may use different types of bearings, so it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding your vehicle’s specific maintenance needs.
How to Clean Bearings
Step 1: Raise your vehicle on jack stands
The first step to cleaning your bearings is to raise your car and support it with jack stands so you can remove the wheel from the hub of the vehicle. When raising your vehicle, consider using wheel chocks on the other wheels. Lift your car using a jack, then lower it onto jack stands so that it is safely supported.
Step 2: Separate the wheel from the hub
Use a wrench and socket or star wrench to remove the lug nuts from the first wheel. Consider storing your lug nuts in a container to ensure you don’t lose them while cleaning your bearings. After removing the lug nuts, remove the wheel from the hub and place it to the side while you continue your work.
Step 3: Remove brake calipers
Before you can remove the center hub, you need to remove your vehicle’s brake calipers. To complete this step, refer to your vehicle’s service manual. Each vehicle is unique and the processes for removing the calipers may differ depending on your make and model. Follow the service instructions documented in the manual.
Step 4: Take off the outer wheel bearing cover
Once you’ve removed the brake calipers, you can access the wheel bearing cover. Before you remove the cover, check the seal. Inspect it for signs of damage. If the seal is broken, it could indicate damage to your wheel bearing. You should replace the bearing in this case. Make sure to replace both wheel bearings on the same axle. After inspecting the seal, you can remove the cap using a pair of pliers. Grasp the cap on either side with the pliers and gently rock it until the seal breaks and you can remove the cap.
Step 5: Remove wheel bearing
With the outer wheel hub cover off, remove the cotter pin, hub nut, and inner seal. You can remove the pin by bending it straight with a pair of needle-nose pliers and pulling it upward. Then use a socket and ratchet to remove the center hub nut. Make sure to place it somewhere secure so you can put it back on later. Finally, remove the inner seal using a flathead screwdriver. Once you’ve removed the seal, you can remove the wheel bearings.
Step 6: Clean the bearings
Use an old rag or disposable paper towels to clean the grease from your bearings. During this step, consider wearing gloves to protect your hands from chemicals and to keep oils from your hands from getting onto your bearings. Oils from your hands can corrode the bearings.
After removing the grease from your bearings, use a brake cleaner to clean the inside of your bearings. Make sure you clean both the inner and outer wheel bearings. You can also use this method to clean the inner wheel hub and the wheel spindle.
Step 7: Pack everything with grease
Replace the grease by applying new bearing grease to the parts. Make sure you use a grease designed specifically for bearings. You can use a brush or your gloved fingers to pack the grease into every crevice of the bearing.
Step 8: Reassemble the bearing and wheel
Once your bearings are clean and lubricated, reassemble them within the hub. Reinstall the hub, brake calipers, wheel, and tire. Repeat this process for each wheel.
Still Need Help?
Want an expert mechanic on speed dial who can walk you through DIY repairs and answer any questions? Contact the FIXD Mechanic Hotline to speak to our Master Mechanics Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Disclaimer: The guidelines in this article are general and not meant to replace instructions for your specific vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual, repair guide, or a professional before attempting repairs.
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