Why Your Wheel Hub Assembly & Bearings Get Stuck (& What to Do About It)

by Max Johnston - Gearhead

When you have issues removing your wheel bearing and hub assembly, 365HubsPro wants to help! We’ve put together a how-to guide on the different methods of getting these parts unstuck, but first—we’ll go over why they get stuck and the functions of these parts.

What Causes The Wheel Bearing & Hub To Become Stuck?

The most common cause for the wheel bearing in most cars or trucks to freeze up is rust. People who live in climates with cold and snowy winters are the most likely to run into this problem.

Salt used to melt ice on the roads as well as weather conditions can cause rust to build up much quicker, making it vital to check on the status of your bearings regularly and replace them when necessary. However, there are many different ways to resolve this issue. We’ll cover those in a moment—but first, let’s take a closer look at the parts you’ll need to know and where to find them.

Diagram of car and exploded diagram  of the parts of the bearing hub assemblyVia 365HubsPro.

Parts to Know When Replacing Your Vehicles Wheel Bearings & Hub Assembly

As you can see in the image above, the key parts of the bearing and hub assembly include the:

  • Drive shaft
  • Bearing
  • Hub
  • Seal
  • Rotor

Why Keeping Rust Off Your Wheel Bearings & Hub Assembly Matters

The wheel hub assembly sits on the outer side of the rotor. In addition to helping tires stay attached to a car, it is responsible for ensuring proper steering. The wheel bearings allow the wheels on a vehicle to turn with minimal friction. This allows the vehicle’s brakes, suspension, and steering to function without putting undue strain on the drivetrain and transmission.

When rust builds up on or around these components, the wheel bearings are unable to rotate smoothly. This can cause handling and braking issues, which can pose a danger to drivers, their passengers, and other motorists. In severe cases, rust can also make it difficult to separate the wheel hub assembly from the knuckle—so it’s important to replace these components before it ever gets to that stage.

Step-by-Step Guide for Getting a Wheel Bearing & Hub Assembly Unstuck

Now that we know more about the parts we are looking to replace, let’s go over the different ways of loosening a stuck wheel bearing in order from least to most invasive (depending on how rusted together the parts are).

Using a hammer to tap a wheel hub assembly until it can be removed

1. Use a Hammer to Tap the Back of the Wheel Hub Assembly

Sometimes, if the rusting is not too bad, some brute force is all it takes to loosen up the assembly. Make sure to use penetrating oil to lubricate the wheel hub before using any brute force.

Using a hammer, tap the back of the wheel hub assembly to loosen it and detach it. If it does not work the first time, respray the knuckle with the penetrative oil and let it sit for 20 minutes before trying with the hammer again.

Using a slide hammer to remove a wheel hubVia Ultimate Garage.

2. Use a Slide Hammer to Loosen the Wheel Hub

If a hammer doesn’t do the trick, a slide hammer just might. Using a slide hammer can be painful on the hands, but it can get the job done without having to take the knuckle off the vehicle. Secure the slide hammer with tight lug nuts and yank the hammer until the wheel hub loosens.

3. Remove a Lug Nut & Thread Through a Bolt to Create Pressure Against the Knuckle

Using a cut-off wheel, cut off one of the lug nuts and hammer the rest of it out. Thread a bolt through the hub to put pressure against the knuckle and place a nut between the bolt and the knuckle to protect it from any damage.

Next, use a wrench to hold the nut on the bolt in place and use an air hammer on the bolt. This should create enough force to loosen the hub assembly. If not, try using a sledge hammer to tap the wheel hub and loosen it.

4. Remove a Second Lug Nut & Repeat Step 3

If removing one lug nut fails, repeat step 3 and remove a second lug nut. Alternate tightening the two bolts to create extra pressure against the knuckle.

If this fails, soak the hub assembly with penetrative oil for at least 20 minutes and try again. You can also try using the sledge hammer at this stage to tap the hub assembly to loosen it.

5. Use the Pressure From the Bolts Inserted in Steps 3 & 4 by Applying More Pressure from the Back of the Hub

Keeping the two bolts from the previous steps tightened in place, thread another bolt into the back of the hub assembly and tighten it. If this still does not work, try alternating between tightening the bolts on the front of the wheel hub and the back.

6. Use an Air Chisel on the Ears of the Hub Assembly

Keeping the bolts in from steps 3 to 5, find the ears on the hub assembly then use an air chisel to create pressure on these points. If there is no give, use a sledge hammer again to tap the hub assembly to loosen it.

Using a torch to remove a wheel hubVia JB Automotive & Marine on YouTube.

7. Use Heat from a Torch

If the wheel hub is still stuck, you can heat up the part where the hub meets the knuckle and then repeat steps 3 to 5 tightening all the bolts once again. Using the sledge hammer again, tap the hub assembly as the heat may break up the rust buildup.

Using a pipe wrench and hammer to remove a wheel hub

8. Use a Pipe Wrench and Hammer

Take a pipe wrench and attach it to the lip of the wheel hub. Tighten the wrench in place and use a hammer on the handle of the pipe wrench to attempt getting the wheel hub loose enough to change out.

9. Remove the Knuckle From the Vehicle & Use a Press or Hammer to Push the Wheel Hub Out

If the wheel hub is still stuck after completing the steps above, a last resort is to remove the knuckle completely off the vehicle. Spray down the knuckle with penetrative oil. Once the knuckle is removed from the vehicle, use a hammer or a press from the backside to push out the wheel bearing.

Need Reliable Wheel Bearings and Hub Assembly Parts?

Severe rust buildup can make replacing your wheel bearing and hub assembly considerably more difficult—and can also make it harder to operate your vehicle responsibly. For best results, use the information above to check and switch out these vital parts before too much rust can form.

For a guaranteed fit on new wheel bearings and hub assemblies at a competitive price, use our handy tool to find parts for your vehicle. To learn more about any products we sell, contact us for more information.