Axle Seal and Bearing Replacement Guide and Video

Do you see gear oil leaking form the rear of your SUV or light duty truck? Do you wonder how difficult it is to change the axle seal and bearing? I am a 25 year master tech and I have created this article and video just for you to be able to do your own repairs on a Chevy, GMC, Cadillac, Ford and Lincoln SUV's and trucks or at least see what you are paying for when you have taken your vehicle into the repair shop. These vehicles use the basically same differentials in the 1500 and F-150 half ton series.

Using everyday mechanics tools you to can make these repairs by following my instructions while saving a considerable amount of money and having the satisfaction of doing the job right.

The job might seem difficult but once you know the information in the video below and added tips the video might have missed in the following article you will feel more confident the job can be done.

To retain the parts for this job visit Amazon, where you can get GM and Ford OEM factory parts for the same wholesale price the repairs shops pay for them.

You will need

  • Replacement axle seal and differential gasket
  • Gear oil
  • Gasket sealer
  • Socket set
  • Screw drivers set
  • Wrench set
  • Protective gloves and eyewear
  • Lug wrench
  • Large pry bar
  • Fluid catch basin
  • Shop towels
  • Hydraulic jack
  • Jack stands
  • Oil catch basin

Now sit back and relax and watch my son and I do the job, once the video has finished continue on reading through the article, let's get started.

When doing this repair remember safety first, never get under the vehicle unless jack stands are in place, I want you to use safety as a normal practice anytime repairs need to be done as you learn automotive repair. Learn more

Before work begins, park the car on level ground while blocking the front tires.

Step 1

Identify the side of the differential you see the leak on and will be performing the repair. While the vehicle is still on the ground, break the lugs loose by pushing downward on the lug wrench this will help you use the leverage of your body weight and save you from hurting your back, instead of pull upward.

Once loose, place the jack in the center of the differential pumpkin and raise the vehicle off the ground, install jack stands on either side of the axle tubes. Continue removing the lugs and then remove the tire, then slide the tire under the vehicle for an added measure of safety.

Retainer clips are used to hold the brake rotor on during manufacturing, use a pair of side cutters, pick or small flat blade screw driver to remove them and discard, this can take some doing but hang in there.

Step 2

Next, locate the inner brake caliper mounting bolts (15mm) to loosen and remove both upper and lower units. At this point it's a good idea to put all removed bolts and clips into a plastic container so they don't get lost. 

Step 3

Grasp the caliper and with a rocking motion back and fourth slip the caliper upward to remove and set it securely out of the way. Don't allow the caliper to hang by the brake hose because it can become weak and fail.

Step 4

Then, carefully remove the brake pads making sure to set them in a clean dry place as not to get them dirty or greasy which will affect their performance. If these pads are worn now would be a good time to replace them on both sides. Learn more 

Again, Amazon is the best place to find OEM replacements.

Step 5

Now it's time to remove the brake caliper mounting bolts, these bolts can be fairly tight because the factory might use thread lock during assembly so get a good grip on the wrench or ratchet while applying pressure. Also be sure the tool is squarely on the head of the bolt to avoid stripping. The bolt size is usually 18mm.

Step 6

Now that the caliper mount has been removed the brake rotor might be stuck on the axle flange due to rust and the pressure of the lug nuts. Use a hammer to "shock" the rotor loose by striking it between the wheel studs. The rotor will then come off which is heavy so get a good grip on it before you remove it.

Step 7

If the emergency brake shoes are worn or contaminated with gear oil this would be a good time to replace them with new units. After the brake rotor has been removed, locate the small bolt that holds the emergency brake shoe in place using an 8mm 1/4 drive socket and ratchet to turn the bolt counterclockwise for removal.

Step 8

Once the retainer has been removed, lift the brake shoe from the axle assembly. This will take some doing, start by lifting one end of the shoe over the axle flange and then following it around in a circular motion which will enable you to remove it. If the shoe is okay you can leave it in place while replacing the seal.

Step 9

Now its time to get under the vehicle and remove the rear differential cover, begin by loosening the bottom three bolts, this will hold the cover in place while removing the remainder of the bolts. Have a fluid catch basin ready to collect the gear oil which should start to flow out from the cover.

Step 10

If gear oil doesn't start to leak you must help break the seal by using a flat blade (standard) screwdriver and allow the gear oil to drain out. Once most of the gear oil has drained into the catch basin, remove the remaining three bolts to remove the cover, use a large screw driver to continue releasing the seal.

Step 11

Continue to remove the cover and place it off to the side, this cover will need to be cleaned which will be done in later steps. Once the cover is removed it will exposing the inner workings of the differential.

Step 12

After inspecting the inner workings, rotate the driveshaft until the carrier pivot shaft bolt is exposed, this can take a few turns of the driveshaft before seeing it. Stop turning when the bolt is near the top of housing. Also, keep your fingers clear while rotating the gear set to avoid injury, these gears can be sharp.

Step 13

Once the carrier bolt has been located, use a small ratchet or wrench (8mm) to loosen and remove the bolt. This bolt can be snug so make sure your tool is squarely on the head of the bolt to avoid rounding which will make the job much more difficult.

Step 14

Once the pivot bolt has been removed, reach your hand down around to the bottom of the carrier and use your finger to pop the pin upward while grabbing it with your other hand. You might need to maneuver the driveshaft to gain enough clearance to allow the pinion pivot to slide completely out.

Step 15

After the pinion pin has been removed, again rotate the driveshaft until the "C" clip access port appears. Watch the unit as you slowly turn it, if the spider gears (small gears) start to move into the port turn the axle with the driveshaft to keep the gears in their position. 

Step 16

Next, at the axle flange (wheel side) push the axle inward toward the differential, the axle will move inward slightly. This is to allow enough clearance for the "C" clip to be removed which holds the axle in the differential.

Step 17

Using a small screwdriver or magnet work the metal "C" clip in a circular motion, this will enable you to remove the clip which will release the axle from the differential, this can take a little time so hang in there.

Step 18

Once the C clip has been removed from the carrier check the clip for wear and scoring and replace if needed, this will be a dealer part.

Step 19

Now that the C clip has been removed grasp the axle at the flange and pull outward, the axle should slide out completely from the differential housing, use a shop towel around the axle as it's being removed to wipe residual gear oil to keep the mess down to a minimum.

Step 20

After the axle has been removed inspect the bearing and seal surface to check for wear/scoring and replace if damaged, if this axle was worn you would see an obvious groove in this area. Do not reuse the axle at this point because the new seal will fail prematurely. These axles are available at the dealer for about $200.00 bucks.

Step 21

Now we are ready to replace the seal, use a large pry bar to leverage the seal out of the differential housing, you can also use a seal puller but I have found this method works pretty good.

Step 22

Once the seal has been removed, inspect the differential seal house flange for damage and if so, this may allow the new seal to leak in which case use silicone rubber to help fix the problem when installing the new seal. Also check the axle bearing for wear or pits in the rollers which means it needs to be replaced, reference the video above. When replacing an axle bearing a special puller is needed to extract the bearing from the housing, it can be reinstalled by using a hammer and a punch, or bearing driver.

Step 23

Using a shop towel, clean the seal mounting surface which will ensure proper installation. Use carburetor cleaner to make sure the surface is clean and dry before you begin reinstalling the seal.

Step 24

Once the surface has been cleaned, match the new seal to the old unit and apply sealer to the differential housing if needed.

Step 25

Next, set and hold the seal in place, then drive the seal into the differential housing using a flat bar to hammer against while installing the seal, continue this operation until completely installed and flush against the housing and seal lip, this seal can only be installed one way.

Step 26

After inspecting the axle for damage and you see that it's okay to reinstall, apply a small amount of gear oil to the bearing and seal surface. This will help lubricate the surfaces and give you a better chance for the new seal not to leak. Then carefully install the axle by holding it up not allowing the weight of the axle to ride against the seal lip which will damage it.

Step 27

While the axle is sliding inward you will need to push down on the bottom of the flange while pulling outward on the top, this will lift the end of the axle up and into the carrier. Also turn the axle slightly at the same time, this will allow the axle spline to engage into the carrier. Then continue to push the axle inward until it stops. 

Step 28

Check to see if the axle has been fully engaged into the carrier enough to put the clip into place, now reinsert the C clip retainer onto the axle through the access port, you can use a small pair of needle noise pliers if needed.

Step 29

After the C clip installation is complete, pull the axle outward to lock the C clip in place, then insert the pinion shaft, you might need to rotate the axle to align the spider gears for the shaft to be installed, also turn the axle to help, Take note of the shaft bolt hole so you can reinstall the bolt.

Example of bolt hole orientation.

Step 30

After the shaft has been installed, insert the retainer bolt and tighten, this bolt needs to be fairly snug.

Step 31

After the axle has been reinstalled use a scraper to remove the old gasket and clean the differential surface. Make sure this surface is clean from gear oil or it will contaminate the sealer and possibly cause a leak. Use a shop towel to wipe out the differential housing to help control additional oil.

Step 32

Next, clean the metal debris from the differential cover magnet and continue to clean the gasket surface with the scraper free from gear oil, use carburetor cleaner to ensure no oil is present.

Step 33

Then, install the new gasket using silicone rubber as a sealer, create bead inside of the bolt holes to help stop leaks. Do not use cheap home grade sealer you need to get the good stuff which costs a little more but is available from Amazon, Home Depot or Lowes hardware stores.

Step 34

Carefully install the differential cover as not to disturb the gasket location on the cover. Excessive movement will cause the sealant to be less effective.

Step 35

Install the cover bolts and tighten in a star pattern. Bolts don't need be super tight, just snug.

Step 36

Once the cover bolts are tight, remove the differential fill plug which is located near the driveshaft this will be a 3/8 drive socket extension or ratchet head. Then install the gear oil, if your vehicle has the clutch style posi-traction unit you will need to pour in an additive which helps lubricate the clutches. Usually there will be a tag near the fill plug that indicates what kind of oil is required.

Step 38

The fluid level is full when gear oil is dripping from the fill port, to double check the level gentle dip a finger inside the port. Never turn driveshaft or axles when checking gear oil to avoid injury from the gears. Reinstall and tighten the fill plug and you are all set. Double check your work by looking for leaks at the cover. Safety return the vehicle to ground level and take it for a test drive while listening for abnormal noises, also recheck the differential for fluid leakage.

Best Practices

  • Use high quality silicon rubber to ensure a proper seal.
  • Always refill the differential with factory recommended fluids.
  • Differentials that are limited slip require a special fluid.
  • Use jack stands when working under a vehicle.

Special Note

If the bolt breaks inside the carrier an air hammer can be used to force outward (break) the pivot rod through the carrier, the pivot pin will need to be replaced along with the bolt.

If you need additional information you have just read or seen please visit our forum where thousands of questions have already been answered. Learn more

 

Article first published