Yesterday we were down at the local pick-a-part scavenging some parts for the JNC Wagon. Nothing major, just some trim and a turn signal lens. It’s supposed to be at the JCCS this Sunday, so it has to look good! As we left, one of the Cressida’s front wheels made a god-awful screech, like 10,000 forks simultaneously dragged across a chalkboard, followed by a loud pop.
The parking lot of a junkyard is the best place in the world to have a breakdown, but stupidly, we continued driving in an effort to diagnose it. Grinding noises ensued. Then pinging. Suddenly, after a loud snap, we lost braking and steering. Gah!
We limped the wagon back to the junkyard and took off the wheel. That’s when we saw that the grease cap had popped off and contained bits of jagged metal behind it. The wheel bearing had disintegrated, and there was nothing holding the hub onto the strut except the caliper! As a result, the wheel was wobbling like a badly thrown football, and the brake pedal sank to the floor because the caliper had no firm rotor to grab onto.
At this point the junkyard was minutes from closing, but we grabbed our tools and pleaded with the ex-con at the gate to let us back in. We made a beeline for the Cressidas and tore like a rabid wolf into the first one with the wheels already gone. Five minutes and $2.00 later, we had a used bearing, just before the gates shut.
For those who are curious about the process of replacing a wheel bearing, here’s what happened next. It was getting dark, but we hoped for a quick repair there in the parking lot. The two bolts holding the brake caliper bracket onto the strut had been torqued down tight. The only way to break them free was standing on the wrench, and after a few unsuccessful attempts we remembered we could turn the wheel to get a better angle. Duh! We hung the caliper on the strut to get it out of the way (and because dangling it from the brake hose would probably be a bad idea).
Normally you’d have to wedge a very thin flathead screwdriver under the grease cap and gently tap. We didn’t have one with us, but fortunately the cap had already popped off. Then it was just a matter of sliding out the cotter pin and removing that star-shaped cover to reveal a 30mm nut.
Vise-grips are the best tool ever made. We didn’t have our 30mm socket, but used vise-grips to unscrew this big ass nut. They also came in handy in removing the donor Cressida’s grease cap with a solid whack.
After that, the hub slid right off. This was all that was left of the bearing. Toyota’s engineers were smart enough to make the spindle out of a much harder material than the bearing, so that even one as chewed up as this will have little to no effect on the more expensive strut assembly.
Unfortunately, the bearing’s remains wouldn’t come off of the spindle. Usually a solid tug on the hub is enough to push it off, but this bearing was so shredded that the hub went right over it. We needed a bearing puller. Damn, so close yet so far. Defeated, we called AAA. It was already pitch black, anyway. At least we got up to 100 miles of free towing. As you can tell from the fresh grease and sunlight, we took these photos during reassembly today.
We were damn lucky that the bearing didn’t blow on the highway. A loss of steering and brakes at speed (and among traffic) would have been disastrous. In fact, we shouldn’t have even let it get to this point. It had been making noises for a while but we, um, thought it was the driveshaft’s U-joints complaining about being out of whack, because they started exactly when we lowered the car and installed a new rear axle. We’ve heard bad wheel bearings sound a lot worse, and we didn’t have time to properly diagnose it either while we crammed to get Issue 2 of JNC out. But hey, it ended up breaking at the best possible location.
Now, the Cressida is as quiet as ever and we can still make it to the JCCS!