Heavy-duty trucks endure thousands of miles hauling maximum payload capacity, which puts a lot of stress on components like the axle bearings and seals. With proper maintenance, these parts can last over 200,000 miles, but eventually, they wear out and need replacement.
Axle bearings allow the wheels to spin freely on the axle shafts. They contain rollers or balls that reduce friction between the inner and outer raceways. Seals keep the lubricant in and contaminants out of the bearings. Symptoms of worn bearings or seals include noise, looseness, leaking, and overheating around the wheels.
Bearings and seals are replaced as a set. Quality parts specifically engineered for heavy-duty trucks should be used. Aftermarket options meeting OEM specifications are acceptable. The job can be done in the shop or on the road if necessary. Proper tools, preparation and procedures are key for a smooth bearing replacement.
Step-by-Step Replacement Procedure
Follow these key steps to safely replace worn axle bearings and seals in a heavy-duty truck.
1. Jack Up and Support the Axle: Use a hydraulic jack to raise the wheel needing bearing work up from the ground. Place the jack stands under the axle near the spring mount to support it. Remove the wheel.
2. Remove the Brakes and Hub: To access the hub flange, you must disassemble the brake drum, shoes, slack adjuster, and other hardware. Next, remove the hub nuts/bolts and separate the hub from the axle.
3. Press Out the Bearings: Use a bearing puller tool to press the inner and outer bearings of the axle shaft with the hub off. Catch them as they come out. Press slowly to avoid damaging the spindle.
4. Remove the Outer Seal: Pry out the outer seal from the axle housing using a seal removal tool or screwdriver. Take care not to damage the seal housing surface.
5. Clean the Hub and Spindle: Thoroughly clean the hub cavity and axle spindle mounting surface. Check for wear or damage. Minor imperfections can be smoothed with emery cloth.
6. Pack New Bearings with Grease: Pack the new inner and outer bearings fully with fresh high-temp wheel bearing grease. Work the grease thoroughly into all the rollers/balls in the bearings.
7. Install New Outer Seal: Press the new outer seal into the axle housing using an appropriate seal installer tool. Ensure it sits flush with the housing edge.
8. Mount Bearings on Spindle: Slide the packed outer bearing onto the axle spindle. Install the new inner bearing and secure the washer.
9. Reinstall Hub and Adjust Bearings: Remount the hub. Tighten the hub nut to specification while rotating the hub to seat the bearings. Back off the nut, then tighten again with proper preload.
10. Reassemble Brakes and Wheel: Remount the brakes, slack adjuster, and hardware. Install the wheel and lower the truck. Spin the wheel to ensure proper bearing adjustment.
Proper tools, cleanliness and patience during axle bearing replacement help ensure a leak-free, long-lasting repair. Always refer to OEM service procedures for the exact process on a specific truck make and model. With practice, this important preventive maintenance task can be performed efficiently to maximize axle and wheel-end service life.
Warning Signs of Worn Bearings/Seals
Be alert for any of these signs that the axle bearings or seals need replacement.
- Grinding, rumbling, or growling noises from the wheel area while driving, especially at high speeds
- Wheel wobble or looseness detected when rocking the tire from top to bottom
- Greasy residue on the brake components or inside the wheel from leaking seals
- Overheating hubs detected by touching after driving for extended high-speed miles
- Axle oil leaking past the seal and onto the wheel or brake components
- Increased rolling resistance, reduced fuel economy, sluggish acceleration
- Visible damage or cracks in the bearing seal surface or end cap
- Excessive bearing endplay or detectable axial looseness
Promptly investigating these warning signs helps prevent catastrophic bearing failure, which can lead to a breakdown. Planning ahead to replace bearings and seals during scheduled maintenance provides maximum reliability.
Bearing and Seal Maintenance Tips
- Routinely check hub oil levels to see if the axle is oil-bath lubricated
- Look for leaks and have seals replaced immediately if oil is found on the wheels
- Listen for noise changes when spinning wheels during pre-trip inspections
- Confirm proper wheel bearing adjustment after replacements. Do not over or under-tighten.
- Adhere to recommended lubricant change intervals to prevent contamination
- Ensure absolutely no grease or oil touches the seal contact surface during repairs
- Replace bearings and seals on both sides at once if one side fails, to prevent imminent failure of the other side
- Never exceed maximum wheel or axle load ratings to extend bearing life
Proper Tools for Heavy-Duty Axle Bearing Service
Having the right tools makes axle bearing and seal replacement much easier. Here are some must-have tools.
- Floor jack and two large jack stands - Provides safe axle support during wheel service
- Bearing puller set - Allows pressing off the old bearing races without damage
- Seal removal tool - Removes seals cleanly without harming seal bores
- Bearing packer - Pushes grease thoroughly into all voids in the bearings
- Bearing installer - Safely presses in new bearing races squarely
- Seal installer - Ensures correct seal depth with no distortion
- Dial indicator or inch-pound torque wrench - Adjusts new bearings to specification
- Assorted drivers - To remove hub components, retaining hardware and more
- Brake spoon or shoe spreader - For easy brake drum and shoe removal
- Emery cloth and solvent tank - Cleans parts and surfaces prior to reassembly
- Wheel chocks - Keeps the truck immobilized during roadside axle repairs
- Helper headset - Allows communication between techs on opposite wheel ends
- Alignment shims - Gets axle geometry back in spec after component replacement
- Spare parts like studs, gaskets, cotter pins - For unforeseen needs during the bearing job
Investing in commercial-grade tools designed for heavy-duty trucks reduces frustration and saves knuckles during axle work. Keeping tools organized in a dedicated mobile kit or shop cart saves time searching for the next item needed in a bearing replacement process. A full complement of tools on hand instills confidence in successfully tackling big jobs like axle bearing service.
Proper parts, procedures and preventive maintenance keep axle bearings in optimum shape for long hauls under heavy loads. Investing in timely bearing and seal repairs reduces breakdowns and keeps heavy-duty trucks productively on the road.
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