Maintenance is key to the survival of your four-wheel-drive vehicle, and that's true whether it spends most of its time on the highway or on the trail. Most of us take care of the big-ticket items when it comes to keeping our rig maintained, but it often is easy to skip the smaller details of proper maintenance. One of these smaller items that literally can bring your next trip grinding to a halt involves not taking proper care of your rig's wheel bearings.
What follows is how to keep those bearings rolling smoothly down the road. Our guinea pig for this story was a Dana 44 axle equipped with 3/4-ton outers. But the steps shown here will transfer to most American-made solid axles except late-model axles such as the Dana 50 found in the front of the Ford Super Dutys that use unit bearings. Owners of late-model IFS rigs also are stuck with non-serviceable and expensive unit bearings.
In addition to reading the following story, you should also get a maintenance manual for your 4x4 to make things easier. Armed with the proper tools and knowledge, you will find that taking care of your wheel bearings is easy. Now you have no excuse for not keeping those wheel bearings happy.
1. The best way to check on the wheel bearings is to jack up a tire, grab onto the top and bottom of the tire, and wiggle it. There should be no play at all. At the same time you can spin the tire. It should rotate freely and not emit any grinding noises.
11. With the bearings out you will want to check the bearing races, the surfaces that the rollers or balls run on. They should be smooth and free of surface irregularities. If new races are needed, a bearing race installer can be used to drive the new races in. However, we have always been able to use a brass punch to drive out the old races and carefully install the new ones.
12. An easy way to pack the bearings with grease is to put a dab of wheel bearing grease in your hand and scoop the grease with the bearing. Keep scooping until the fresh grease comes out of the top of the bearing, and then rotate the bearing working fresh grease into the whole bearing. Make sure to rub grease on the rollers of the bearing and put a bit of grease on the race too. Before packing the bearings though you should inspect them to make sure that they are in good shape and that the rollers operate smoothly.
13. With new bearings and races, or just fresh grease in the old bearings, it is time to put the hub and rotor assembly back onto the spindle. To adjust the wheel bearings, torque the wheel-bearing adjuster nut to 50 lb-ft of torque and then back off a quarter turn. If you don't have a torque wrench, torque the inner nut until the rotor stops turning and then back off a quarter turn. This should get you in the ballpark but you should check for play by pulling on the rotor. There should be no play and the rotor should rotate freely. Once the bearings are properly adjusted, the lock-ring and wheel bearing lock-nut can be put back on. Torque the outer lock-nut to 50 lb-ft, or until snug, if you don't have a torque wrench. Then reassemble the rest and enjoy.