Front Wheel Bearings
By Ron Bramlett

(from our January 2001 Newsletter) 

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(continued from page 1)

     If left too loose, the wheel is loose on the spindle. Too loose is better than too tight, but it affects the way your Mustang drives. This is where many problems in braking and handling comes from.

    Loose front wheel bearings allow the brake drum or rotor to actually move on the spindle. To check this, you jack the car up and, with the tire off the ground, grab the top and the bottom of the tire and rock it from top to bottom. If it's loose, you'll feel the tire and wheel move.

    If this is happening, your wheel alignment will change every time you turn the car, when you brake, and, most notable of all, while driving straight down the road. Every time the road has a change in it, such as a high center or grooves, the loose tire and wheel will follow the road, causing the car to pull from side to side. Not exactly what we want from our classic Mustangs!

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When you purchase a new rotor, both loose races are usually already installed. But you need to make sure they're the right ones for your car.

    Another problem that a loose front wheel bearing will cause affects braking, if your car is equipped with disc brakes. Disc brake calipers squeeze the brake rotors to stop the car. When the brakes are not in use, the calipers are in what's called the relaxed state. This means that there's no pressure on the brake pads; they're just resting, a few thousands of an inch away from the rotor, waiting to be squeezed against it.

    This is where a loose rotor can cause a brake problem. When the wheel bearings are loose, they allow the rotor to wobble. It can't run true like it's supposed to. Since the brake pads run so close to it, as the rotor wobbles, it pushes the brake pads away from the rotor which pushes the calipers piston(s) back into the caliper.

    This means that the next time the brakes are applied, the calipers piston(s) have to be pushed further outward than the few thousands of an inch that they are designed to travel. You feel the result in your foot. The brake pedal has to be pushed further to the floor to engage the brakes. You'll find yourself pumping the brakes every time you use them to get the pedal up.

    This is frustrating because when you bleed the brakes, they feel fine. A hard, high pedal, every time. It's only after you drive the car that you have the problem.

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  So how do you tighten your front wheel bearings correctly to avoid these problems? The way I've always done it is to tighten the nut slowly as I spin the drum or rotor (with the tire and wheel off). At the point where the drum or rotor starts to slow down as I'm tightening the nut, I stop tightening. I then tighten the nut another 1/4 turn and put the nut cap and cotter pin in to lock the nut on the spindle and keep the adjustment. But I do not bend the cotter pin yet.


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This photo shows a correctly fitting front wheel bearing in the hub.


     I then put the tire and wheel on and check the play by rocking the tire and wheel top to bottom. If it is tight, I then spin the tire and wheel. It should make a couple of revolutions before stopping. I then recheck the tightness by rocking the tire and wheel top to bottom again. If everything checks out, then I bend the cotter pin and put on the dust cap. If there is any question about it being right, I start over. Sometimes it takes a couple of cycles to get it right. After I've driven the car about 200 miles, I jack the car back up and recheck the tightness by rocking the tire and wheel as above.

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This picture shows the wrong bearing in the wrong race. The roller bearings don't fit all the way down in the race and will not fit the spindle correctly.


     If new front wheel bearings have been installed, rechecking after a couple of hundred of miles is an important step. Sometimes, for various reasons, one or both of the loose races do not seat properly in the hub. Driving the car seats the races and if they were not seated properly, you will now have a loose front wheel bearing. Maybe even both will be loose! Remember, if this happens and you've had a front end alignment done after the new wheel bearings were installed, you'll need to have the front end alignment checked.
    There are other ways of tightening front wheel bearings. Going through my library, I found some manuals to give specifications such as ".00555 end play" or some number like this. Now, most of us do not have the tools necessary to make these measurements and I know for a fact that most shops do not use this method so I had to find something else in print to share with you.

     What I came up with is as follows. "Rotate wheel and drum while torquing the wheel bearing adjusting nut to 17 to 25 foot pounds of torque. Back off adjusting nut 1/2 turn and retighten to 10 to 15 inch pounds while rotating drum and wheel." (Source: 1967 Ford Car Service Specifications manual. PN #01856 - $11.95)

     I hope you'll get some use out of this information and enjoy the article. Is there some other area that you need help in? If so, drop me a line at Mustangs Plus c/o Ron Bramlett, 2353 N. Wilson Way Stockton, Ca. 95205  or e-mail me at and I'll try to help! In our next issue of the Mustangs Plus Newsletter, we're on to rear wheel bearings! Never gave them much thought? You will after reading the article!

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