Packing the front wheel bearings
I have a 1961 Plymouth Valiant that I use for a daily driver. A college friend told me I should pack the front wheel bearings every year or two. Is that true, and if so, how do I do it, and what tools do I need? As I am a student, I cannot afford to pay people to work on my car more than absolutely necessary.
The wheel bearings on your Valiant need to be repacked every 10,000 miles, and if this is not done, eventually the bearings will grind themselves to bits and in extreme cases the wheel can actually come off. Repacking is not difficult to do and will only take a couple of hours of your time and a few hand tools. You will need only a jack and sturdy jack stands, a big crescent wrench, a can of wheel bearing grease, new inner grease seals, and a couple of correct new cotter pins.
Jack the car up in front until the front wheels are a few inches off the ground. Now place sturdy jack stands under the frame to support the car. Never work on your car with it just on a jack. I know of one fellow who was killed by a collapsing jack while installing shock absorbers, and another whose chest was crushed while working on his transmission.
Start by removing the hubcap and the wheel nut cover on the hub. Remove the cotter pin holding the nut keeper in place, and then remove the wheel nut. Now grab the brake drum and pull it off toward you, making sure to catch the wheel bearing if it falls out.
After that, inspect the spindle for bluing or cracks. If you see either, you will need to replace the spindle. The inner wheel bearing is on the inside of the wheel and there is a grease seal over it. Pop out the grease seal with a big screwdriver and remove the bearing.
Wash the bearings in kerosene, not lacquer thinner, and inspect the balls or rollers. If they are loose, discolored or pitted, all the front wheel bearings should be replaced along with the outer bearings and the races on both front wheels.
Spin the bearing lightly in your hand. It should spin freely without hitches or grinding. If it does not, or if the bearings are loose in their cages, replace them. And if that is the case you will need to drive out their races from behind using a punch.
If the bearings and their races are not pitted or discolored, pack them with wheel bearing grease available from your local auto supply store. You can use a bearing packer to force grease into the bearings, or you can do it the old-fashioned way which is to put a gob of grease on the heel of one hand and pull and drag the bearing through the grease with the other, making sure that the grease is forced well up into the bearing, and then slather it with more grease before putting it back in its race.
Tap in the new inner bearing seal evenly using a large socket or other tool. Now put the wheel back on the spindle and install the outer bearing. Push the outer bearing into place, and then put the hub washer back on. Twist on the castellated nut and just snug it up with your wrench. Put the nut keeper back on, and then back the wheel nut off approximately a quarter turn and install a new cotter key. Put the wheel nut cover back on, and then pop on the hubcap. You are good to go for another 10,000 miles.