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How To Correctly Torque Your Wheel Bearings

hub torque
Image Credit: AmericanMuscle

When installing new wheel bearings and hub assemblies, it’s very important to torque them the right way. Improperly torqued hub and bearing assemblies will cause the following issues:

  • Too loose – Wheel bearing play
    • This leads to excessive wear of the tires, bearings, and related parts.
  • Too tight – Wheel bearings overheat
    • This leads to excessive wear of the bearings and failure that could lead to other damaged parts such as the hub or spindle.
  • The wheel falling off
    • In extreme cases, the wheel can fall off. This is obviously dangerous.

If you’re installing wheel bearings or hub assembly on your truck, you want to ensure that it’s torqued correctly. There are a couple ways to do this:

1. Adjust And Torque Per The Service Manual

Manual torque specs

The service manual for your vehicle will have a detailed method of adjusting and correctly tightening your wheel bearings. You’ll need a torque wrench capable of the measuring the maximum torque specified. Sometimes this is 2oo lb. ft. of torque. Many torque wrenches only go to 150 lbs. Using the service manual procedure and a quality torque wrench is the best way to do this job.

2. Adjust And Torque With A Generic Method

It’s difficult to find service manuals for many older vehicles. If you can’t find the correct specs, this method is a fallback. You’ll need a torque wrench capable of measuring 200 ft. lbs. Below, you’ll find an overview of how to do this.

  1. Seat the bearing components by torquing the adjusting nut to 200 lb-ft (or the manufacturer’s specs).
    • Be sure to rotate the hub while slowly torquing the adjusting nut. This fully seats the rollers in the races.
  2. Loosen the adjusting nut by one full turn or until it’s loose. This allows some end play.
  3. Torque the adjusting nut to 50 lb-ft. Rotate the wheel hub assembly at the same time.
  4. Turn back the adjusting nut. Find out the appropriate amount. For example, if you have a 12-threads-per-inch front steer axle, turn it back by 1/6 of a turn.
    • This prevents the bearing from running hot and getting damaged.
  5. Install the remaining hardware.
    • If you have a single nut system, install a cotter pin.
    • If you have a double nut system, install a jam nut and then torque it to the right specification.

3. Adjust And Tighten The Bearings By Feel

Adjust bearings

Another method of adjusting bearings is to do it by feel. This is similar to the generic method, but you’ll be trying to feel the motion and tightness of the bearing.

  1. Seat the bearing components by torquing the adjusting nut to 200 lb-ft (or the manufacturer’s specs). If you don’t have a torque wrench that will read this high, use a 24″ breaker bar with a strong pull. It’s difficult to get to 200 lbs of torque with a shorter ratchet wrench or breaker bar.
    • Be sure to rotate the hub while slowly torquing the adjusting nut. This fully seats the rollers in the bearing races.
  2. Loosen the adjusting nut by one full turn or until it’s loose. This allows some end play. Rotate the hub while pushing and pulling on it to feel the end play.
  3. Tighten the adjusting nut with a 1/2″ ratchet. Rotate the wheel hub assembly at the same time. Tighten until just past the point where you can’t feel end play.
  4. Loosen the adjusting nut 1/6th of turn. The hub should spin more freely. If you feel end play, tighten the nut slightly.
  5. It’s ok to repeat this process several times. Take your time. You’re trying to get the nut just tight enough so the end play can’t be felt, and the hub spins freely but has slight resistance.
  6. Install the remaining hardware.
    • If you have a single nut system, install a cotter pin.
    • If you have a double nut system, install a jam nut and then torque it to the right specification.