Sunday, February 21, 2016

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Front Wheel Bearing-Adjustment, Maintenance and Repair
Lubrication Maintenance of Ball Joints
1955, 1956, 1957 Chevrolet Chevy
  - Alan Arnell

Description:  Best practices for adjustment, maintenance and repair of vintage Chevy Tri Fives’ front wheel bearings and ball joints.

Note:  Correct and timely maintenance of the front suspension Chevy parts must include the lubrication of each to the four ball joints every 1000 miles.  The front wheel bearings must be greased every 10,000 miles to achieve proper wear rates for a 1955, 1956, 1957 Chevrolet Chevy, BelAir, 210 and 150 models.

The wheel bearing must also be properly maintained as a safety precaution.  Bad adjustment to the front wheel bearing will cause lack of steering stability, a tendency to wander or shimmy and causing undo tire wear.  The bearing may destroy itself and the wheel may fall off.  The same is true with the ball joints.

Tools needed:  Tire lug nut wrench, jack, chocks, jack stands, adjustable pliers, diagonal wire cutters, screwdriver, ball peen hammer, grease, grease gun, cleaning rags.


Front Wheel Bearings - Maintenance
  1. With weight still on the tires just loosen front wheel lug nuts.
  2. Disconnect the negative side of the battery
  3. Jack up the the car and insert jack stands, check for stability
  4. Remove wheel and tire.  For safe storage, have a container available to put all parts that are removed.   A magnetic metal dish works the best.
  5. Using a screwdriver and a hammer, place the screwdriver tip under the lip flange of the dust cap or sometimes called the grease cap and gently tap and or pry the cap to remove the dust cap. Tap around the cap during removal in a star pattern.  To do this turn the wheel hub by hand rather than stand on your head.
  6. Remove the cotter pin from the end of the spindle by cutting the bent side off with a diagonal wire cutters. With the point of the wire cutter’s blade in the eye loop of the cotter pin,  pry out the cotter pin.  Discard the cotter pin and use a new one.  Never use a nail for a cotter pin.
  7. Using an adjustable pliers or proper size SAE socket and socket wrench unscrew the spindle nut,
  8. Remove the spindle washer.
  9. Pull off the brake drum or brake disc.
  10. Note; To remove the the brake drum it may be necessary to back off the brake adjustment wheel inside the drum.  This may be because of scared drums or badly worn brake shoe linings that hold the drum on preventing easy removal.
    1. On the face of the drum there is an oblong opening that a brake spoon or screw driver must be used to back off the brake adjustment screw.  In later model you have to fight an anti-back-off catch.  The Tri fives do not have those catches.  Be sure to turn the adjustment screw the correct way.  Even though the screw may be completely disengaged the drum may not come off.  Using heat or pry bars, you have to be creative to get this type of offending drum removed!  (I had friends who could not get a rear drum off.  I came to the garage and released the parking brake and the drum fell off!)
    2. If no service has been performed on a brake drum or wheel bearings there may not be an opening to gain access to the adjustment screw.  If there is not a pre made opening you have to find the stamped area made for the opening.  Using a center punch and hammer, pound out the stamped part of the opening.  There a rubber cover plug on the market to use to close up the hole after repair.  I can never keep up with them and leave the hole open if forced to.
  11. Using your fingers remove the outer-bearing from inside the hub.  The inner bearings will remain the hub and may be removed by prying out the inner bearing seal.  Place a rag over the seal and prying device when removing the seal to keep the inner bearing seal from hitting you in the face during removal.  Do not reuse the old seal.
  12. Wash all parts thoroughly in cleaning solvent, then add wheel bearing grease. Or, do not remove the old grease to just add more new grease.  If you do clean the bearings they have to be perfectly clean.

Inspection of bearings:

  1. Note: The Tri Five Classic Chevy had roller bearings are unlike cars of the 70’s and 80’s that had tapered roller bearings.  If you have to replace the front wheel bearings, I would suggest that you upgrade to a roller bearing conversion kit instead of stock replacement  for Tri Fives. The newer bearing are more reliable and require less maintenance.  The kit also allows the retention of factory drum brakes and 14" wheels to keep car original with a bearing upgrade. I bought a kit set from CPP (Classic Performance Products) ,  #5564RBH-K and Speedway Motors #916-31972. Good quality and bolt on installation. Also, I would upgrade due to the exorbitant price of original Tri Five Chevy wheel bearing parts.  Even buying new hubs to go along with the new tapered roller bearing for both sides is less expensive that one wheel set of roller Chevy bearings.  The only reason not to upgrade is if you have to remain stock for whatever reason.5115180331_large.jpg

  1. Check all bearings for cracked bearings separators or worn or pitted balls.  The separators are really plastic holders of the ball bearings.  The separators are prone to cracking and allowing the ball bearings to fall apart. The newer style have metal so called separators.
  2. Check brake drum for “out of round” or scored condition.
  3. Check bearing outer race for looseness in the hub.  Again, the races may be removed with a brass drift punch but it it comes back to it is better to just get new tapered roller bearing hubs.  
  4. To put grease on and in the bearings, place a glob of grease in you palm and roll the grease into the bearings.  When assembled, do not place additional grease past the outside of the grease washer or in the dust cap.  There is a debate if you need to coat the spindle with grease.  For me I would rather have it and not need it than not have it and need it!


Front Wheel Bearing Assembly and Adjustment:

  1. Assemble the bearings and hubs on the spindle to the point you screw on the spindle nut then stop and finish the next steps.
  2. Bolt on the tire/wheel.
  3. While rotating the wheel tighten the spindle nut to 33 ft. lbs.  Check to see if 33 ft. lbs. is enough by placing your hands at the 10 and 2 position on the tire.  Shake the tire back and forth-sideways checking for play.  There should not be any sideward play in the wheel.  If you don’t have a torque wrench and or a socket big enough to torque the spindle nut, just turn the nut while spinning the wheel until you feel the slightest resistance to turning the wheel and back off. From that jerry rigged torque setting loosen and tighten until there is no sideward play in the wheel.
  4. Turn the spindle nut back so the cassel slot in the nut lines up with the cotter pin hole it the spindle. Back off the nut 1/6 of a turn until the next slot lines up with the hole in the spindle.  
  5. Insert a new cotter pin.
  6. Note:  Front wheel bearings should never be set on the loose side as such an adjustment does not bring the balls and races into proper contact.  Final adjustment should have the nut backed off 1/12 to 1/6 of a turn, that is a ½ to 1 flat cassel of the nut.
  7. Spin the wheel to make sure that it rolls freely.  
  8. Properly lock the cotter pin by spreading the end and bending it around the nut.  Install the dust cap. Using a punch or screw driver tap the dust cap on by only hitting the outer lip flange.  Never hit the cap on the top of the dome or it will dent and not fit correctly, as well as look like some FNG did the repair.

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