Front wheel bearings

Gabe Magtutu

New member
I have an '86 Westy, 2-wheel drive. I need advice re: How to service the front wheel bearings. My shop manual doesn't cover that area. The shop manual does show an exploded view of the system; however, I could use some step-by-step information. Thanks
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Capt. Mike

Front wheel bearing service

(For '86 Vanagon) Refer to Bentley sections 40.10-40.11 and the brake caliper sections.

Remove the brake caliper. It is not necessary to disconnect the brake line but you may have to disconnect some brake link clips & brackets. You may have to spread the pads to clear the rotor lip -- see the Bentley brake section. Hang the caliper out of the way with a hook or baling wire.

Remove wheel and bearing cap. There is a special tool available from most tool dealers, but cap removal can often be started by tapping with a chisel or screwdriver between the flange of the hub and cap until there is enough clearance to begin prying around the edges. Do not damage the cap; its seal to the hub is essential to avoid contamination or grease leakage. Small dents at the end are not important

Remove axle nut and discard. Remove thrust washer & outer bearing; set aside for cleaning.

Remove hub. Some models have a socket-head retaining screw located between the wheel studs/bolt holes that hold the rotor to the hub. If so, it's easier but not essential to remove the rotor from the hub. Most, the hub & rotor are one piece.

On the bench, remove the inner bearing seal and discard. A seal remover is preferred so as not to damage the bearings or seal seat. Remove the inner bearing; set aside for cleaning.

Clean the bearings in a parts washer or with mineral spirits. Blow out voids and around rollers WITHOUT spinning the bearings at high speed. Repeat until perfectly clean. Examine cages for distortion & wear; rollers for any pitting, cracks, chips or bluing from excessive heat. Discard if any of the above are found.

If the bearings are to be replaced, remove the inner & outer races. This can usually be accomplished by using a drift punch on the exposed lip through the opposite site of the hub, tapping around the circumference. Bearings come in matched sets; NEVER mix races, bearings or attempt to install new bearings on existing races.

Completely clean and dry the hub, removing all old grease. The inside of the hub must be free of any grit or metal shavings.

Install new races; they are press fit. If you don't have access to a press & driver, or the experience, this is one job you may want to take by a shop. A damaged or distorted race will quickly eat up a new bearing.

Fill the indented section of the hub with 1-1½ oz. of correct wheel bearing grease, NLGI rated GC-LB. (There will be a small rectangular seal on the can or tube if rated; if it's missing, assume it's not suitable. This is for high temp, high pressure. The exotic synthetics and moly grease are not required in this application. Grease should not extend out into the clear opening. This is your bearing reserve but too much can cause it to expand and blow the seal or leak when hot.

Most find one of the inexpensive bearing-packing tools from most auto parts stores a worthwhile investment. They use the grease gun pressure to force grease around the rollers and into the cage voids. It can be done by hand, constantly massaging grease into the bearings, turning them frequently until you are sure the cage is completely full. As messy as this is, cleanliness is essential -- a single piece of grit can take out the bearing. Have clean hands to start; have clean shop rags to set them on (or a clean board or tray).

Install the inner bearing and new seal. Lubricate the seal with some wheel bearing grease, then use a proper sized driver and be sure the seal doesn't cock. The appropriate size socket (usually from a ¾" drive set) makes a satisfactory driver substitute. Some use a block of wood and mallet. Drive flush with the top of the inner hub. The seal does not position or retain the bearing -- it only seals the grease chamber.

Clean and inspect the stub axle on the steering knuckle. Check for wear, damage and alignment per Bentley 40.12.

Install the hub, outer bearing and thrust washer. Install the new axle nut to finger tight only.

Adjustment of front wheel bearing, 2WD: There are as many ways to adjust front wheel bearings as there are mechanics. Following are two I use -- one 'scientific' to eliminate the "mechanic's" touch.

1. Tighten axle nut while turning wheel to 17-25 FOOT-pounds torque. Loosen ½ turn. Retighten to 10-15 INCH-pounds torque. Here's your excuse to add that low range inch-pound torque wrench or torque screw-driver to your tool set! Be sure it goes low enough. You'll find most are ¼" drive so you'll also need your 1/4-3/8" and 3/8-1/2" socket adaptors
2. Tighten axle nut as above. Loosen ½ turn. Retighten until thrust washer can just barely be pried side-to-side with a screwdriver. There is slight play around the axle so the thrust washer can be pried but not moved by hand. This established the bearing as tight but no clamping pressure.

After the bearings are adjusted, peen the axle nut to lock. On some models, there may be a clamping nut, castellated nut & cotter pin or retaining cap. If a cotter pin is used, it may be necessary to back the nut off just enough to get the pin through; always use a new cotter pin.

Install bearing cap; use a rubber mallet but the best may be to find the right sized socket to act as a driver -- one that fits over the cap and catches on the flange. Probably from that 3/4" drive set again. Install caliper and torque; don't forget any brake line clips you may have removed. Pump brakes a couple of times to reseat pads.


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I am about to tear into the front wheel bearings and replace bearings, seals, rotors and pads on my 84', @145 K. West-jetta. In shopping for wheel bearings I see there are two different sets available based on a chassis number for the bearings but not for the rotors. How can I cross check this info? Are the Axle nuts available through a VW dealer or are can I go to a parts dealer like Checkers?
Can I use the same the excellent removal and replacement sequence that has been offered by the Capt. for an 84'?
Thanks, Steve

Capt. Mike

The Bentley describes the changes in front steering kunckle (40.13) which probably initiated the 2nd set of wheel bearings. Your dealer will be the definitive source (Guideline #8) as to which set you "should" have based on VIN number. Bearings have to match both the bearing housing in the rotor AND the steering knuckle. Change in one doesn't necessarily mean a change in the other -- the bearing is the unit that compensates.

Axle nuts are available from the dealer. It's not that aftermarket can't be used, but they MUST be OE specs & design -- this is a one-time use lock nut and must be replaced. See the topic on lock nuts & washers in the TOOLS forum. Picture a wheel coming off at speed and decide if saving a couple bucks for a non-spec aftermarket is worth it.

Yes, the above R&R sequence is correct. Cleanliness & proper adjustment of the bearings is essential.


Hi gang,

My 25 yr old 1989 Dodge PowerRam W100 4x4 truck may need the front wheel bearings re-packed and overall re-lube....What would it sound like if the service is needed??
Any recommendations, techniques recommended for proper procedure??....What about the front axle U-Joints near each front hub??..Any recommendations for proper maintenance of the U-joints??

I do NOT have a Chrysler Service manual for that year model. However, a HAYNES manual can be purchased. Is it HAYNES worth it??


By the way, I wanted to buy used 2017 Nissan Nv and i'm pleased that I searched VIN in car registry database before buying. I used Vinchain vehicle history check service and with their help I learned that vehicle mentioned previously is with undercarriage damage. Hope you'll save your bucks and in my opinion they are better than other vehicle vin check websites


Hey im looking to replace all u joints and wheel bearings on my 92, 12v. Its 4x4. Anyone know if theres any kits I can buy or have a list of part numbers?

What car auctions services do you know? I recently investigated auto auction. I found good used NISSAN ALTIMA 2012
. I'm pleased that i got vin report before buying. It had biohazard/chemical damage. Be protected and always run and check car history before buying.