How To Tighten Wheel Bearings – Explained

Wheel bearings are essential components that allow the drive wheels to spin freely with little to no friction. A wheel bearing is a set of steel or tapered balls covered with a metal case known as a race. It is housed inside the wheel hub. When the wheel bearings are loose, the vehicle will start making a humming or rumbling noise.

In addition, the affected wheels will also start wobbling. So, tightening the wheel bearing is essential and a DIY job that you can do at home with common hand tools to fix the wobbling and strange noise. This article will explain how to tighten wheel bearings to make your task easier. 

Tightening or adjusting a wheel bearing preload can look like an advanced maintenance task. If you don’t do it properly, it can damage the entire wheel bearing, or the wheel can pull off. But if you understand the inner workings of the axle components, you can adjust the wheel bearing with confidence.

How To Tighten Wheel Bearings Step By Step

How to tighten wheel bearing on a trailer or how to tighten tapered wheel bearing is a task to accomplish on your own. Here is a simplified guide that’ll walk you through the adjusting procedures.

How To Tighten Wheel Bearings

Getting Prepared

To start with, arrange the required tools for the job.

Materials Needed

Lose the Wheel Nuts

Park the vehicle on a solid and leveled pavement. Block off the wheels from moving. For example, block off the rear wheels if you’re working on the front wheels.

Take your ratchet and sizeable wrench for the wheel nuts. Break free the lug nuts, but don’t take them off yet.

Raise the car and remove the wheel nuts

Raise the car with your jack and support it with jack stands. This will support the vehicle and prevent it from slipping off the jack. Ensure to place the jack stands in the appropriate place on your car. You can visit your owner’s booklet to know the right spot to place your jack and stands.

Now, remove the tire you want to tighten the wheel bearing off and keep it aside. You can either tighten the wheel bearing one at a time or work on two front wheels and two rear wheels simultaneously.

Remove the brake pads

You may choose to remove the brake caliper and hanger. But for the sake of this guide, remove only the brake pad. This will enable the tire to roll freely when you rotate it.

Put back the tire and tighten three nuts. Hold the tire on the upper and lower sidewall and wiggle it. The tire will wobble if the wheel bearing is loose and requires adjustment.

What’s next? Remove the tire and proceed to the next step.

Remove the dust cover

Take a screwdriver and a light hammer to remove the dust cover. Insert the screwdriver into the bearing housing from the dust cover edge. Tap it with the hammer and ply it off.

Clean excessive grease, if any. Then, straighten the cotter pin and pull it off with a plier. If it proves stubborn to come off, tap it with your wrench while wiggling the other edge with a plier.

Remove the pin retainer once the cotter pin is out of the way. The retainer looks like unthreaded nuts with grooves around it.

Adjust the wheel bearing

Put back the tire again and tighten three lug nuts. Next, take a sizeable wrench socket and a ratchet to tighten the adjustment nut. Rotate the tire while you tighten the adjustment nut to reduce the play/clearance or lose it to do the opposite.

Tighten the nut until there’s no play on the bearing. When you feel the nut has pushed back the bearing, and it’s okay, wiggle the tire again to reconfirm the condition.

Take your time and ensure everything is okay. A common symptom of an over-tightened wheel bearing is stiff tires. If it’s challenging to turn the tire freely, the bearing is over-tightened. Loosen it a bit and ensure there’s no excess play.

Remove the tire and reinstall the removed components 

Once the wheel bearing adjustment is pretty good, take off the tire. Next, reinstall the pin retainer and ensure it fits properly so you can pass the cotter pin. On some occasions, you may have to loosen or tighten the adjustment before the retainer fits properly.

After that, reinstall the cotter pin. You can reuse the old one or get a new cotter pin. After passing the pin, bend the two tips to prevent the pin from falling off.

Reinstall the cotter pin and tap it with a small hammer. Ensure it sits properly. Lastly, fix the brake pads and cross-check your work.

Fix the tire and lower the wheels

Fix the tire and tighten the lug nuts. Lift the vehicle, remove the jack stands and lower the jack. Once the wheel rests on the ground, re-tighten the lug nuts to the manufacturer’s specification.

Watch this video for a visual presentation.

FAQs:

Q: Can you tighten a loose wheel bearing?

Yes. You can tighten a loose wheel bearing by tightening the adjustment nut if the bearing is loose or by loosening it if the bearing is too tight. Before doing this, lift the vehicle and play it by wiggling it up and down to confirm the wheel bearing needs adjustment.

Q: How do you tighten a wheel bearing without a torque wrench?

Every car owner should know how to tighten a wheel bearing because it is a common vehicle maintenance tip. But what happens when there’s no torque wrench around? If you have other tools nearby and there is no torque wrench to tighten or loosen it, try snuggling the nut with bare hands.

Wheel bearing tightening doesn’t require much force. However, if you can’t tight it with your hand, place your flat screwdriver on the adjustment nut’s edge and tap it with a hammer or any big spanner.

Ensure you don’t over-tighten it, as it can be difficult to loosen. Keep turning the wheel as you are tightening it to avoid over-tightening.

Q: What can a loose wheel bearing do?

A loose wheel bearing can cause several issues in a vehicle, starting from an unresponsive wheel. First, a loose wheel bearing will make a growling or rumbling noise and cause the wheels to wobble as you drive. This situation will lead to accelerated and uneven tire wear on the outside. 

If you continue driving with a loose wheel bearing for an extended period, it may break and pull off from the wheel. Of course, you know what this means. You may end up in a collision, endangering your life, the passengers’, and that of other road users.

Q: How much does it cost to tighten a wheel bearing?

The cost of tightening a wheel bearing varies from vehicle to vehicle. Factors like the car make and model, location, and service centers play a big role in maintenance fees.

However, the average wheel bearing adjustment cost is $50 to $75. While some service centers charge $100 or even more, others may tighten the bearing for only $30. 

Q: How long will a wheel bearing last once it starts making noise?

It is almost impossible for a wheel bearing to fail with noise making. Therefore, you can travel a long distance with a bad wheel bearing. However, regardless of the speed, you’re traveling, do not exceed 1,000 miles.

Driving more than 1,000 miles with a noisy wheel bearing is dangerous as it will compromise your vehicle safety. Therefore, I recommend not driving above 45mph.

how to seat wheel bearings

Final Words

You can tighten your wheel bearing without seeking professional help. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for how to seat wheel bearing, this guide is not for you.

There may be different ways to adjust wheel bearings. Therefore, this ‘how to tighten wheel bearing’ guide is my way of doing it. It is very simple, though.

I’d recommend you stick to it and watch the above video for visual clarification.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a seasoned automotive technician for the past 9 years, and a technical writer. He loves writing about auto professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, and buyer’s guide. After spending six years in the automotive workshop, he decided to impact his knowledge to people aside his domain, and he has achieved this by centering his Automotive writing skills on REPAIRS.

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