My Dodge Ram 2500 drove quietly and comfortably on my recent excursion out to the Radwood 2 car show in Anaheim, California. The same couldn’t be said for the return venture back to Kansas. Somewhere near Flagstaff, Arizona, a low -pitched growling began emanating from within the steel beast - the 3,400 mile trip had uncovered another fault in the truck’s armor.
It was a sound that began so softly that my mind didn’t register something was amiss. I turned up the radio and deflected it as road noise. Then, the vibrations started. It wasn’t a wobbly-kind of vibration, but more of a high-frequency buzzing that makes your hands go numb. By Amarillo, Texas, with the stereo near full-blast, I knew something was up with the truck.
The day after getting home from the trip, I placed the truck up on jack stands and gave each corner of the truck a thorough look-over. There weren’t any foreign objects caught in the driveline nor were there wheel well liners dragging against tire treads. I gave the rear tires a spin and everything appeared normal. The passenger’s side front wheel also rotated silently and smoothly.
However, upon spinning the driver’s side front wheel, I noticed something a bit off. There was a faint grinding noise, as if sand had become lodged between the brake pads and rotor. The wheel also didn’t spin as freely as the passenger’s side did. Suddenly, it struck me: I was peering deep into the classic symptoms of a failing wheel bearing. Great!
Now, I’ve replaced a few wheel bearings in the past, but it’s always been on old, lightweight British convertibles. Never had I attempted such a job on a heavy-weight such as this three-quarter-ton Ram. Big trucks like this tend to have large fasteners that are secured very tightly. Due to this, a DIY home mechanic like me can quickly find themselves in over their head in a jiffy.
After conducting a fair amount of research on the repair procedure, I found that the only real hurdle would be to crack loose the large spindle nut securing the wheel hub to the axle spindle. I also found that I wouldn’t actually be replacing just the wheel bearing, but instead, I would be changing out the whole wheel hub assembly.
With that knowledge, I felt relatively confident I could conquer this repair. Here we go!
(If you like videos, you’re in luck because I made one of the repair! If you work in an office where bandwidth-leaching videos are frowned upon, just read on like usual.)
With the front of the truck securely placed on jack stands, I removed the offending driver’s side wheel. With that out of the way, I was immediately met with the villain of the repair procedure: The spindle nut.
This fastener is literally all that secures the hub assembly to the truck. If this nut were to somehow come loose, the wheel would say “Sayonara!” as you ground to a halt, control arm against the pavement. I guess it is good that this nut is torqued down to an incredible 280 ft/lb. My issue now was trying to loosen it.
As a home mechanic, you often have to be creative in order to accomplish monumental tasks, such as breaking loose a big stubborn nut. In this case, I found every pipe in the vicinity of the garage and slid them together to make one hell of a “breaker” bar. This lengthy homemade tool allowed me to get just enough leverage to loosen the nut. Great success!
The brake components were the next item on the list to remove. The brake caliper was a bit of a challenge to separate as the pistons were still applying a slight amount of pressure against the pads. A little prying saw the caliper pull away. I then hung the heavy caliper off to the side with some bungee cords.
Up next was to remove the brake pads and the caliper mounting bracket. Loosening the bracket bolts required the use of breaker bar as they were very tight. Following that, the brake rotor easily slid off the wheel studs. I was now staring at the old wheel hub, which was in a quite petrified-looking state.
Using a rubber mallet, I was able to knock the old hub assembly off of the axle spindle. With the old hub assembly removed, I took a moment to inspect the condition of the wheel bearing residing within. Its condition looked well-used, and an attempt to spin the bearing by hand was futile. This piece was definitely past its use-by date.
I spent some time cleaning up the axle spindle preparing it to accept the new hub and wheel bearing.
Only a couple of parts were needed for reassembly: A new front wheel hub and a spindle nut.
The new hub and wheel bearing assembly slipped snuggly over the cleaned-up axle spindle. The new spindle nut then spun on atop the axle spindle’s threads. The new spindle nut has a “nyloc” construction, which means there is nylon section near the end of the nut’s internal threads. The axle spindle’s threads then embed themselves into this nylon surface which ensures that the nut stays locked in place until it is forcibly removed. Due to this, these nuts are single-use only and must be replaced whenever they are loosened.
From this point forward, it was simply the reverse order of disassembly. I re-installed the brake components while applying anti-seize compound to the new mating surface between the hub and the brake rotor.
The final step in the hub reassembly was to torque the spindle nut to the monstrous 280 ft/lb the factory service manual specified. This required the use of my 1" drive torque wrench.
And just like that, the wheel bearing was replaced!
Wheel Bearing & Hub Assembly: $202.74
Spindle Nut: $17.57
Labor Hours: 1
Total Cost: $220.31
It may seem strange that I only changed out the driver’s side wheel hub and the not the passenger’s side. Well, the honest truth is, I didn’t feel like spending the money to do the other side. The passenger’s side wheel rotates like new with no noises or perceivable play in the assembly. It’s not a difficult or lengthy job, so at worst, I’ll just need to cough up another $200 further down the road.
After performing this repair, I have to say, it made a huge impact on the truck. It drives quietly and smoothly again. As with any vehicle with the age and mileage as this Ram, it’s only a matter of time before next worn-out part comes knocking on the door. But for now, my confidence in this old heavy-hauler has been renewed.