New Front Bearings for the Ford Explorer

My vehicle comes to a rather abrupt stop, the front brakes lock up while pulling onto Paniolo drive, the main road serving the village. I am stuck across the northbound lanes.

Ford Explorer Front Bearing Repair
The front bearing of the Explorer removed and the mounting cleaned up. Ready for re-installation!
Well? This is awkward.

Shut down, restart, nothing unlocks the brakes. I am still stuck in the middle of the road. Another driver gives me a quizzical look and drives around me.

With no other idea I put the vehicle in 4WD low and drag the locked front tires backwards into the side street where I can safely work on the issue, I left skid marks in the road.

In retrospect the failure was not a complete surprise… I knew the front bearings were going, making noise, but the vehicle was still driveable. Over the last week I had checked on prices and asked about with the guys about borrowed tools to do the job. I was thinking I had a few weeks before the issue was truly an issue.

Nope.

The anti-lock wheel speed sensor embedded right next to that failing bearing dies and the system locks up. Right or left? No idea. The heat or vibration from the failing bearing killed the sensor, killed it in such a way the system locks up.

I am not happy about that, the system should fail gracefully, not lock up the brakes and halt the vehicle in an potentially unsafe location. I was fortunate it was a neighborhood street, not the highway I would have been on a few minutes later.

It took a few minutes to figure out how to free the brakes. Pulling a fuse was the first idea, no luck, there does not appear to be a single fuse dedicated to the ABS system. The second idea works, pull the connectors leading to the front wheel ABS sensors. I had just watched the video showing how to replace the bearings, I knew right where the connectors were.

Brakes released I limp home and park the vehicle, taking the Honda to work for the week.

Obsession at Kaʻohe
The 20″ Obsession telescope being set up at Kaʻohe, on the side of Mauna Kea
How to get the repairs done? Quoting the job with the local shops I had been given estimates of $1200 and up. What? I know this is Hawaii, but get real. The front bearings are just not that hard of job and the parts are simply not that expensive.

Checking on the parts I find that the bearing assemblies are about $115 to $157, the higher price being the better Timken parts. It is Timken who made the original bearings for Ford, they lasted 130k miles under very demanding conditions. This vehicle has been up and down Mauna Kea about a thousand times.

YouTube wins again! In the first list of search results is a video that details every part of the job, right down to socket sizes and specified torques for the bolts. It takes the mechanic in the video 23 minutes to do the job. The video does edit a few minutes out for brevity, even so it looks like a skilled mechanic can do the job in well under an hour.

At $100/hour plus parts, the job should cost $250/wheel to do. Allowing a fair profit for the shop the job should cost $600-$750. Yet I was quoted $1200, sorry guys you are not getting the work, I can do this in my driveway.

An hour on the internet has the parts on order. I get the better Timken parts for $157 each at RockAuto.com. While I am at it I order brake pads, I am pretty sure they need replacing too, may as well do it while I have the calipers off.

It takes me an hour to get the first one apart and to clean everything for re-installation. There is a bit of banging on bolts, but no real difficulty. It goes just like the video shows, every detail correct, right down to the socket sizes.

Parked on the Mountianside
The vehicle parked on the side of Mauna Kea with a snow covered Mauna Loa in the background
The bearing? It is trashed. You can feel the grating rumble as you turn it, the housing is slightly discolored from the heat created by the friction. No doubt as to the troublesome component here.

To my surprise the brakes look quite good, plenty of pad left. I will leave the new pads on the shelf for a while. The brake disks likewise look pretty good. Upper and lower ball joints, drive shaft seals, struts, all look good.

The new bearing goes in with little trouble. As usual in this sort of job, assembly is far easier. It is in disassembly that you have to deal with rusty bolts and just figuring out what you are doing.

While the first side took about two hours total, the second side takes half of that as I learn how to get the job done. The passenger side bearing looks pretty good, it was probably good for a while, it gets replaced anyway.

Total cost for the job? An hour of shopping online, three hours of banging and straining, sweating in the Waikoloa Sun. Total parts cost about $450, including a new torque wrench added to my kit. I saved $750, closer to $800 after taxes, and learned to do it myself. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with a job like this.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

3 thoughts on “New Front Bearings for the Ford Explorer”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *