Some wheel bearing jobs are easy. These are typically unitized hub units. All that is required is removing the caliper, rotor, axle nut and the four bolts holding on the unit. Some wheel bearing jobs can take as many as three hours and require removal of the knuckle from the vehicle.
Collected below are some of the most difficult vehicles as reported by technicians, labor guides and bearing manufacturers.
2004-2012 Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon
Labor: 2.1 hours (Coil Spring) 3.1 hours (Torsion Bar)
Bearing Type: Unitize hub
Back in the day, compact pickup trucks were some of the easiest vehicles to service. Engines and chassis were simple, but in 2004 GM
broke the mold with the Canyon and Colorado. Both the 2WD and 4WD models use a captured rotor in the front that requires a great deal of disassembly to just remove the rotor and even more to remove the wheel bearing hub unit.
If the vehicle has 4WD and torsion bars, you are in for a long repair because you have to deal with the driveshaft and you might have to pop the upper ball joint to get at everything.
2000-2011 Ford Focus
Labor: 1.8 hours
Bearing Type: Press-fit bearing
The Ford Focus makes the list because the knuckle has to be removed from the vehicle. Removing the knuckle can be a chore. The strut and knuckle must be removed together. The strut is secured to the knuckle with a tapered hole and a bolt clamps down on the tube. Corrosion can make this job difficult.
The knuckle is different than on most cars, it can be unwieldly to handle on the press if you do not have the right setup or accessories. Also, the knuckle’s bore can become distorted. This could cause the new bearing to fail. Also, the C-clip can be difficult to insert.
Later models have the ABS encode ring embedded in the inside seal of the bearing. If the bearing is installed backwards, the ABS will not work.
2002-2010 Ford Explorer Rear
Labor: 2.0 hours
Bearing Type: Press fit cartridge bearing
The independent rear suspension on the Explorer added more stability and service opportunities. The rear wheel bearings on the Explorer are pressed in and the knuckle. The wheel flange has to be pressed out from the front and the bearing has to be pressed out from the rear of the knuckle. This is a Generation 1 wheel bearings that has the magnetic encoder ring built into the seal. Caution should be taken to make sure that the seal with the magnetic encoder ring is installed in the correct direction.
Do not tighten the bolt that holds the lower control arm to the knuckle until the vehicle is on the ground. Tightening this bolt while the rear suspension is extended could destroy the bushing. While the knuckle is off, check the condition of the ball joint on the upper control arm, it is common for it to fail around 100,000 miles.
1993-2003 Subaru Legacy and Impreza
Labor: Front: 3.8 hours +.7 hours for ABS
Rear 2.0 hours
The Subaru Legacy and Impreza can be one of the worst wheel bearing jobs, front or rear, out there. These models use a pressed-in bearing and there is a lot of work to remove the knuckle from the vehicle and the flange from the hub.
On these models, you have to deal with seals. Also, to remove the inner race from the stub axle is difficult. The tone ring for the ABS is attached to the back side of the flange with five bolts. The tone ring has to be removed to get at the inner race.
One of the problems that occurs on the rear wheel bearing on the 1993-2003 Subaru Legacy and Impreza is that the housing becomes out of round. This distortion in the housing can be caused by road impacts and sometimes abuse from a press. This distortion causes the outer race of the bearing to change shape. This problem is often overlooked until a technician has changed the bearing a couple of times.
1999-2004 Ford F250 + F350
Labor: 1.1 Hours
Correct thrust washer position is very important during the installation process for the 1999-2004 Ford F250 and F350. Improper installation can cause damage to the hub.
The image on the right shows the three critical washers. Two are metallic and one is non-metallic. Be sure these are in good condition prior to installation. Replacement is required if wear is noticed.
The non-metallic thrust washer must be installed between the two metal thrust washers. Failure to do so will cause severe wear to the non-metallic washer. This will allow the axle shaft to travel further in and out during torque thrust, causing damage to the wheel hub and bearing, the axle shaft end seal and the axle shaft.
Editor Note: Special thanks to readers and bearing manufacturers SKF and Timken for contributing to this article in finding these tough jobs.
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Andrew Markel is an ASE Certified Technician and former service writer, and he brings this practical knowledge to the Brake & Front End team as editor.