DIY Jeep Wheel Bearing Overhaul
Keeping the wheels turning on your Jeep’s rearend
Sometimes the most pivotal components of a mechanism are hidden behind the scenes—out of sight. Without the magic behind the curtains, the system is rendered useless. In this case, we are talking about wheel bearings. Hidden within the confines of axle assemblies, front and rear, a couple of caged roller bearings at each corner of the Jeep are responsible for carrying the load of the vehicle and keeping the tires turning freely. These bearings are the unsung heroes of our Jeeps, and they need some love every now and again.
There are three main types of wheel bearing systems. A full-float system has two opposed tapered roller bearings that ride on a spindle to carry the vehicle load, independent from the axleshaft. Full-float bearing configurations are seen on the front axles of Jeeps from 1941-1986. In 1987, Chrysler updated their front wheel bearings to a newer-style unit bearing that is all one piece and bolts to the steering knuckle. Once a unit bearing is worn out, the entire assembly is simply replaced. The third wheel bearing system that all Jeeps from past to present with a Dana 44, AMC 20, or Dana 35 share is a semi-float rear axle design. Unlike the full-float hubs, a semi-float axle only has one tapered bearing on the outer section of the axleshaft, near the tire. The differential carrier bearing inside the axle pumpkin acts as the second bearing to support the system, and the axleshaft itself carries the load between the two bearings.
Today we are in the shop rebuilding a 1973 Dana 44 rear axle that will make our broken-down Jeepster mobile again. It is not common for the rear wheel bearings themselves to go bad—as long as they have good lubrication. You are more likely to arrive at this job when you’re replacing or inspecting the rear brakes and notice that they’re caked with grease and muck from a bad axle seal, which can render your rear brakes useless. If you find yourself in this situation, here is a sneak peek at what is involved to get your Jeep back on the trail again.