Rear Axle Bearing and Seal Repair Guide

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 rear 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 just to name a few or at least see what you are paying for when you have taken your vehicle into the repair shop. Most vehicles use the basically same differentials that are non independent suspension.

For independent rear suspension vehicles such as Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Kia instructions are about half way down this article.

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 bearing for wear or pits in the rollers which means it needs to be replaced, reference the video above. When replacing the assembly 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. To see how to replace the bearing reference the video above.

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.

Rear Axle Bearing Replacement on Independent Suspension Vehicles

Easy to follow step by step guide on how to replace or remove an automotive rear axle bearing for IRS vehicles (independent rear suspension), though appearances may vary, the process is similar in most cases.

Difficulty Level - 7 of 10

Tools and Supplies Needed

  • Mechanics tool set
  • Hydraulic jack
  • Jack stand
  • Hydraulic press
  • Protective eye wear
  • Protective gloves
  • Replacement parts
  • Bucket
Begin with the vehicle lifted enough to access the rear bearing while using jack stands for safety, wear protective eyewear and gloves.

Step 1

When an axle bearing fails, it may cause the wheel to have play from top to bottom, grasp the tire firmly and jog the wheel back and forth to confirm the failure.

Step 2

Remove the wheel lugs and the tire, (Note: If a regular lug wrench is used, loosen the lug nuts one turn before lifting the vehicle).

Step 3

While using a wrench to keep the caliper slide bolt from turning, use an additional wrench to loosen and remove the caliper mounting bolts.

Step 4

Grasp the brake caliper and remove it from the brake pads, gently place it off to the side, (Note: Do not allow the caliper to hang by the brake hose).

Step 5

Once the rear caliper has been removed, gently remove the brake pads from the caliper mount.

Step 6

Next, using a wrench or socket remove the brake caliper mount bolts to remove the bracket from the spindle.

Step 7

An impact screwdriver is necessary to remove hard to loosen screws and small bolts such as brake rotor mounting screws.

Step 8

Place the impact screwdriver over the screw while striking it with a hammer to loosen and remove.

Step 9

The rotor will be seized to the bearing hub in most cases, use a hammer to strike the rotor between the wheel studs, the rotor will pop loose, (Note: Do not contact the wheel studs with the hammer or damage will occur).

Step 10

Firmly grasp the brake rotor and remove it from the bearing hub.

Step 11

Using a pair of pliers or dikes to remove the bearing hub nut cotter pin.

Step 12

Using a large socket remove the axle nut from the bearing hub, (Note: If air tools are not used, this step must be done while the rotor is still on with the emergency brake fully engaged to keep the hub from spinning).

Step 13

Rear axle nut removed

Step 14

Use a small screwdriver or pick top remove the axle nut washer.

Step 15

Locate and remove the ABS sensor mounting bolt and remove, (Note: The ABS sensor wiring harness can be disconnected as an alternative to this step).

Step 16

Grasp the sensor and remove it, you might notice fine metal particles over the magnetic end of the sensor this is from the bearing failure and must be cleaned off before reinstalling the sensor.

Step 17

Locate, loosen and remove the brake line mounting bolt.

Step 18

Next, attach a bucket under the parking brake shoes, use water to clean the shoes for disassembly.

Step 19

A brake spring removal tool is needed to help remove the brake shoe return springs.

Step 20

Insert the tool over the brake spring and twist to release, release both forward and rear facing shoe springs.

Step 21

The emergency brake shoes are held to the backing plate by a small spring and retainer assembly, one on each shoe.

Step 22

While holding the rear of the spring pin, use needle noise pliers or a brake spring retainer removal tool and push inward while twisting the retainer to release, perform this for both shoes.

Step 23

Once all mounting spring have been removed, grasp the emergency brake shoe and remove them from the baking plate.

Step 24

While grasping the parking brake cable spring, move it upward on the cable to create room to remove the brake shoe actuator arm from the cable.

Step 25

Once the shoe actuator cable has been removed, locate and remove (release) the cable housing retainer clip, (Note: This step can vary by way of a multi fingered retainer which is released from the outside of the backing plate).

Step 26

Grasp the emergency brake cable firmly and pull it outward from the backing plate, (Note: Pliers can be used to help in the removal).

Step 27

While using a wrench to back up the rear swing arm nut, use a socket to remove the through bolt.

Step 28

Remove the forward swing arm bolts from the bearing housing knuckle.

Step 29

Locate and remove the trailing arm mounting bolt from the lower spindle mount.

Step 30

Using a sharp object such as a scribe, mark the location of the strut mounting bolts so they can be reassembled in the same location.

Step 31

Mark the strut to spindle alignment which also helps preserve the rear camber adjustment if any (alignment).

Step 32

Use a socket and wrench to loosen and remove the strut mounting bolts, (leave the top bolt in without the nut) the spindle can become loose so keep your hands on it.

Step 33

After all mounting bolts have been removed, grasp the bearing housing and spindle and work it outward and away from the drive axle, (Note: The drive axle can get stuck and may need help by pushing it outward through the hub).

Step 34

Install a hydraulic press collar over the bearing hub and tighten to secure it between hub and bearing plate.

Step 35

Set the collar and bearing assembly downward into the press.

Step 36

Use a steel drift or large socket just smaller than the wheel hub itself, this must be large enough to grab the hub without binding inside the uint.

Step 37

Position the bearing, hub and spindle assembly squarely under the plunger, this must be as square as possible to avoid damage and injury while operating the press.

Step 38

Once the press alignment is correct, begin pumping the press downward, the plunger will contact the drift or socket while pressure builds there will be a "pop" as the bearing starts to move outward from the spindle.

Step 39

After completely pressing the bearing hub, it will become loose and fall from the bottom of the press.

Step 40

After removing the spindle from the press the failed unit will be exposed.

Step 41

Turn the spindle over and locate the bearing retainer snap ring, using a pair of snap ring pliers remove the ring.

Step 42

Reinstall the press collar onto the spindle.

Step 43

Reinstall the spindle back into the press, using a larger socket or drift, force the failed bearing from the housing, again there should be an audible "pop" when the bearing starts to move.

Step 44

Once the press operation is complete the failed bearing will fall from the bottom of the press.

Step 45

Match the new bearing to the old unit, they should match identically.

Step 46

After wiping clean the spindle housing, insert the new bearing, (Note: Bearing is unidirectional and doesn't matter which side is inward).

Step 47

Reinsert the bearing and spindle assembly back into the press while using a large socket or drift, force the new bearing into place.

Step 48

After the bearing has been completely installed, reinstall the retainer snap ring.

Step 49

Use a punch and hammer to tap the snap ring into place.

Step 50

After wiping the wheel hub clean, insert the hub squarely into the bearing, (Note: Be sure part of the old bearing is not still on the hub).

Step 51

Align the wheel hub squarely under the press plunger and force it down into the the new part, the hub will stop moving when fully installed.

Step 52

Once complete the new bearing spindle assembly is ready to be reinstalled onto the vehicle.

Step 53

Lift the assembly into place, slide the upper strut bolt through the spindle bolt hole while feeding the axle through the wheel hub.

Step 54

Insert and tighten the lower trailing arm bolt.

Step 55

Align the rear swing arm bolt hole and install and tighten the bolt.

Step 56

Install and tighten the front swing arm bolt and nut.

Step 57

Install the parking brake cable into the baking plate housing, reinstall the retainer clip if equipped.

Step 58

Install the bottom strut mounting bolts and nuts, tightening both while keeping the scribed line in alignment with the strut to retain the camber adjustment.

Step 59

After cleaning the sensor free from metal particles, install it back into the spindle, install and tighten the mounting bolt.

Step 60

After all suspension bolts are tight, reinstall the axle-wheel hub washer.

Step 61

Then, install the axle nut by hand to avoid cross threading.

Step 62

Tighten the axle nut to manufacturers specifications (usually 140-180 torque pounds),

Step 63

Align the cotter pin holes for easy installation.

Step 64

Insert a new cotter pin, use dikes to bend and cut as needed.

Step 65

While using a pair of dikes, pull the spring back and hold it as you install the parking brake shoe lever.

Step 66

Mount the parking brake shoe by installing the thrust spring and retainer.

Step 67

Connect the lower return spring along with the self adjuster.

Step 68

Once the forward hose has been installed along with the actuator plate which is located between the shoes, install the forward most return spring.

Step 69

After installing the upper shoe retain plate, use a pair dikes to grab the spring lightly and pull it into position, repeat this operation for the rear spring as well, (Note: A brake spring tool can be also used).

Step 70

Double check all springs and actuator plates ensuing all guide slots are in place.

Step 71

Reinstall the rear brake rotor onto the wheel hub.

Step 72

Gently place the brake caliper mounting bracket over the rotor and insert the bolts, then tighten.

Step 73

Reinstall rear brake caliper over the brake pads and onto the caliper mounting bracket.

Step 74

Reinsert the caliper mounting bolts and tighten.

Step 75

After double checking all nuts and bolts for tightness reinstall the tire onto the wheel hub and studs.

Step 76

After threading the wheel lugs by hand, tighten them in a star pattern to manufactures recommended specifications, (usually 80-90 pounds). Be observant when first driving the vehicle after a major repair, look for abnormal noises or performance that could indicate a problem which will need further inspection.

If you need more information about this subject please visit our forum where hundreds of axle bearing and seal questions have been previously answered by our online mechanics.


Article first published