Wheel hub assembly replacement is easy—at least, that’s what YouTube leads you to believe. But the job doesn’t always go smoothly in the real world, and I can personally attest to that.
Recently, I encountered a pair of exceptionally stubborn wheel hubs on my old Astro Van. The hub retaining bolts were fused in place from years of salt, corrosion and heat. And they were not about to let go without a fight.
Most repair shops would address this issue by heating the bolts with an oxyacetylene torch. But I’m not a repair shop and I don’t have a fancy-pants oxyacetylene torch. I had to resort to MacGyver-style trickery—namely, a far less powerful hand-held propane torch, along with penetrating oil and a breaker bar.
Several rounds of heating the bolt area with a torch, then cooling it with penetrating oil, helped break up 21 years of corrosion. Using a breaker bar, I was then able to loosen the bolts on the first wheel hub assembly.
The second hub assembly, however, proved more difficult. Its bolts retained their death grip on the steering knuckle, no matter what I tried. In the end, I opted to leave that hub on the vehicle since the old one wasn’t bad anyway. The unused replacement hub remains in my garage to this day.
Note: I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but torches are dangerous. And penetrating oil is flammable. So, if you decide to try this trick at home, follow the safety precautions on both products and proceed at your own risk.
Wheel hub replacement cost
Professional auto repair isn’t cheap. Most shops charge somewhere between $500 and $800 to replace a wheel hub assembly. The cost is well worth it, though, if you don’t have the tools, space, know-how or desire to do the job yourself.
Are you handy with a wrench? Then you can save some money by replacing the hub on your own. Expect to pay between $50 and $200 for the shiny new (or remanufactured) part.
What tools do you need to install a wheel hub assembly?
The tools needed to replace a wheel hub vary, depending on what type of car you have. But, in general, you will need:
- Safety glasses
- Wheel chocks
- Jack and jack stands
- Ratchet, various size sockets and various size wrenches
- Breaker bar
- Torque wrench
- C-clamp or disc brake spreader
- Hub puller (optional)
- An air compressor and 1/2 impact wrench (optional)
- Air hammer and socket adapter (optional)
Should you do the job yourself?
Your wheel hub assembly is what keeps your tire and wheel attached to your car. As such, you want to be 100% sure the replacement is done right. If you’re at all uncertain as to whether you’re up to the task, leave the job to a professional.
But if you know how to turn a wrench—and know how to do it safely—wheel hub assembly replacement usually isn’t too difficult. Unless, of course, the assembly is rusted and seized, like the one on my van. That’s when you’ll rue the day you took on the job yourself.
Wheel hub assembly replacement
On some vehicles, the hub and bearing are two separate parts. In this article, however, we’ll focus on integrated wheel hub assemblies, which house both components together in a single unit. Our description outlines a typical replacement procedure on a front-wheel drive vehicle equipped with disc brakes.
Keep in mind: all vehicles are different. Be sure to follow the repair information for your specific application. Repair manuals, such as those from Chilton, are useful, but an ALLDATA subscription is even better. ALLDATA has single-vehicle subscriptions for DIYers that provide detailed factory repair information.
Note: The following is for educational purposes only. Consult the factory information for repair instructions and recommended safety precautions.
- Put on your safety glasses.
- Disconnect the negative battery cable.
- Remove the center cap or hub cap from the wheel.
- Remove the cotter pin and lock cap from the axle nut (if so equipped).
- Use a breaker bar to loosen the axle nut. Do not remove the nut completely at this time.
- Use a breaker bar to loosen the wheel lug nuts. Do not remove the nuts completely at this time.
- Safely raise and support the vehicle using a jack and jack stands. Set the parking brake and chock the wheels that remain on the ground.
- Remove the lug nuts by hand. Then remove the wheel and tire assembly.
- Remove the brake caliper.
- Use a long zip tie or bungee cord to hang the brake caliper from the upper control arm or another suspension component. This is done so the brake line doesn’t get over-extended.
- Remove the brake pads.
- Remove the brake caliper mounting bracket.
- Remove the brake rotor. If the rotor proves stubborn, hit it from behind with a rubber mallet.
- Remove the axle nut the rest of the way by hand.
- If the hub has an integrated wheel speed sensor, disconnect the sensor connector and unbolt any wiring harness retaining brackets.
- Use a punch and mallet to tap on the dimpled center of the axle shaft tip, freeing the shaft splines from the hub splines.
- Use a breaker bar and socket to remove the wheel hub retaining bolts. Hint: Before breaking the bolts loose, it’s a good idea to hit them with penetrating oil and allow the penetrant to sink in.
- Many replacement hub assemblies come with a brand-new ABS sensor (if the vehicle is so equipped). But if your hub doesn’t include a new sensor, you’ll need to remove the old sensor from the hub.
- Next, remove the hub from the knuckle. The hub rarely comes right off—be prepared to hit it with a mallet, pry on it with a pry bar or use a hammer and chisel (for really difficult hubs, you may have to use all three methods). You can also use a super-fancy hub puller. Such tools are often available for rent at auto parts stores.
- Slide the new hub assembly over the tip of the CV axle and toward the knuckle.
- Reinstall the ABS sensor (if equipped).
- Reinstall the hub assembly mounting bolts. Use a torque wrench to tighten the bolts down to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Plug the ABS sensor connector back in and reinstall any wiring harness brackets.
- Reinstall the hub nut, but do not tighten it down yet.
- Reinstall the brake rotor.
- Reinstall the brake caliper mounting bracket. Use a torque wrench to tighten the bracket fasteners to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Reinstall the brake pads.
- Use a C-clamp or disc brake spreader to push the brake caliper piston(s) back slightly in its bore. Make sure brake fluid, which eats automotive paint, doesn’t get pushed out of the master cylinder during this step.
- Cut the zip tie loose or remove the bungee and reinstall the brake caliper. Use a torque wrench to tighten the caliper fasteners to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Reinstall the wheel/tire assembly on the lug nuts.
- Tighten the lug nuts until they’re snug using a ratchet and socket.
- Safely remove the jack stands and lower the vehicle.
- Use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Use a torque wrench to tighten the hub nut to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Insert the cotter pin and reinstall the lock cap on the axle nut (if so equipped).
- Reinstall the center cap or hub cap.
- Reconnect the negative battery cable.
Hub assembly replacement tips
First and foremost, don’t jump to conclusions. Perform a thorough diagnosis to ensure the wheel hub assembly is faulty, or have a professional carry out the diagnostics for you. Because there are a lot of other problems that can mimic a faulty wheel hub assembly, you want a solid assessment before jumping in.
If the wheel hub assembly does indeed need to be replaced, there are a few tips to make the job easier. First, it’s a good idea to spray the hub bolts with penetrating oil the night before you start the repair. The longer the penetrant soaks in, the better it will work.
Also, it helps to have an air compressor and heavy-duty air impact wrench for this job. An air hammer with a socket adapter can also be useful for freeing stubborn hub bolts.
But the best advice is to expect a challenge – especially if you live in the Midwest or somewhere else that sees a lot of road salt in the winter. Although hub assembly replacement is straightforward in theory, years of accumulated rust and corrosion can make the job a trying experience.