What do a wheel bearing, car maintenance, and I have in common? An accident waiting to happen. Let me show you how a city slicker changes a wheel bearing.
For anyone that knows me, mechanically inclined is not how I would be described. Before joining the military, I did not know the difference between screwdrivers and how many different types of hammers there really were. I was a bookworm, and hands-on stuff was not my forte. I mean, I spent my life around books and computers. I could not only speak rough Klingon, but I could also write login scripts with my eyes closed. I mean, all that changed when I joined the military and in their infinite wisdom, saw all my computer experience and said, “This is so amazing, you’ve got such great computer and networking skills. Let’s put you in aircraft maintenance and see how those skills fair there.”
I wound up in a tech school of Egress Systems (ejection seats) with no clue what Philip’s head screwdriver was. I survived the nightmare there (barely) and made it to my base where I then spent six years perfecting my knowledge of ratchets, sockets, torque wrenches, and my favorite, the rubber mallet. (It’s great to threaten your junior airmen with).
For the past few months, my car’s left wheel bearing had been going bad, making a rough grinding noise that was deafening above fifty-five miles per hour. I could sense the tension in the axle and my gas mileage had become crap. I knew something had to be done, but I could not afford to take it to a garage. The last garage I took it to cost me three hundred and fifty dollars to replace them.
So, like the fool I am, I told myself, “I’ve seen it done, I can do this myself. I’ve got YouTube and my father in law if I hit a snag. Hell, I’ve even worked on F-15s!” Yeah, I did not hear the stupidity coming out of my brain.
It was a bright Sunday morning when I trudged outside with my brand new wheel bearing from Advanced Auto parts, my father in law’s tools, and optimistic hope that would have blinded the sun if it was not hidden behind the clouds. Taking my wheel jack out of the trunk, I began to manually heft my blue cirrus off the ground excited to rip that wheel off and switch out that wheel bearing. I would be done before breakfast. As I pulled the wheel off, that’s when I encountered the brake caliper.
So, it seems that in my excitement, I had completely forgotten that the wheel bearing was buried between the axle and the brake rotor. I stared at the dirty, taunting piece of equipment that I was not expecting, sure it was mocking me with its dirt and rust stained exterior.
Fumbling around with it, I made a choice (wisely) to pull out my phone, find some shade so I could see the screen (since the sun had come out to mock me) and spent fifteen minutes going through YouTube trying to find a caliper removal video that made sense. Once discovering that it was only two screws that held it in place, I grabbed my sockets, found the size and began to wrench that bugger off.
For the next five minutes, it was pretty smooth sailing. The clicking sound of the wrench set going, my son asking me “what is this?” for the millionth time, and the sun starting to make my back itch with sweat. Pulling off the caliper and the rotor was simple. There was a cotter pin holding on the nut, and that was going to be a cinch. Cotter pins are the lifeblood of egress techs, that and stringing together curses in colorful ways while trying to remove the parachute mortar from the frame.
‘I just need to remove this cotter pin gently, and I can re-use it.’ CRACK! ‘Okay, I’m going to need a new cotter pin. Where the hell do I buy cotter pins?’
I also realized that I did not have the socket big enough to remove the nut holding the wheel bearing in place. I had a 28mm, but it seemed to be a 32mm that was needed. Sending my little boy inside so I could swear audibly, I began to hammer at the nut trying different methods to get it to loosen. Pliers, plumbers wrench, me threatening to find a blow torch, I did everything. Finally, my father in law showed me mercy, and we hopped in his car and sped to Advanced Autoparts to use their rent a tool program. We were also able to successfully hunt down cotter pins at a local tractor repair store I did not know about.
By the time I got home with all my equipment, even a few extra tools I had thought I would need, it had taken me another hour to find a way to break the torque on the nut. It was supposed to be hand tight but was actually stupid tight to the point I had to stand on the long wrench handle and press my weight down to finally get the sucker to release.
Another thirty minutes fighting the 7/16th long bolts in the back (after discovering they were replaced by a different type of bolt and so the torque set I bought was a waste), I finally had the taunting wheel bearing in my hands.
In the end, it was late afternoon by the time I lowered the car back onto its re-attached wheel and had the pleasure to discover that the right-hand wheel bearing was also bad and needed to be replaced. My foray into home done car maintenance was enough to make me swear it off to never do it again.
And I was going to do it until the oil light came on and told me that I needed to get it changed. Staring at the car, sun gleaming brightly off of it, I had sighed and clicked on my phone. Oil changes were not hard were they? Actually, there are quite some different types of oils and filters and being overwhelmed, called it a day and went inside.
So, that’s it, my first in-depth car maintenance and it brought back all the reasons that I hated maintenance and tools including the busted knuckles and smashed fingers. Thank goodness there wasn’t safety wire. Would have probably bled out from all the cuts. For all of you who like doing your own car maintenance, with respect, you are frickin’ nuts.