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Prewar Workshop: Wheel bearings

Prewar Workshop 

This week's article is about a problem that everyone has probably encountered at some point. A broken wheel bearing.

Wheel bearings are parts that wear overtime and do this much quicker if....

maintenance is neglected on them. This article is written about a 1931 Talbot I was working on this week, but the principle of bearings is the same on just about any vehicle.

In this case, I looked at the front left and front right wheels of the car. The car as many of the era has Rudge Whitworth hubs with centernuts, and I noticed the wheels had a little vertical play when the car was lifted off the ground. This can either be play in the kingpin or in the wheel bearings. So always check where it’s coming from. With everything in place, the wheel should be rocked up and down and on the back of the brake mounting plate, you can see if the kingpin moves relative to the axle, or if the brake drum moves relative to the mounting plate. In the first case, it’s kingpin play. In the second case, it’s the wheel bearing.


In this car, I noticed another odd thing. The grease on the left bearings was perfectly yellow and looked good. On the right side, it was black and smelled a little burnt. This is a good indication of a broken bearing. When the rolls start to wear, they get addition friction and friction means heat.
Then the bearings are taken out, thoroughly cleaned with degreaser and then you can roll and feel it. The feel of a broken bearing is wobbly, tough and not very smooth. A new bearing is smooth, rolls easy and has no “tight” spots.

In this case, it was a cone shaped bearing. When you have this, always replace both the bearing and the cup, never just the bearing. With ball bearings, the inner and outer rings and balls are 1 part and will also be replaced as a set.

To order new bearings, always clean the old one and look for the bearing number. Bearings have been standard sizes for a long time and almost in every case you will find a bearing that is still available for purchase. In case of a cone bearing, also note the number on the cup as those can also vary in size. If for some reason the bearing doesn’t have a number, measure the outer ring, inner hole and thickness of the bearing and your bearing supplier can match it with a type.

If you have much problems finding the correct bearing, one option is to find the closest undersize and machine rings to fit, or find the closest oversize and machine the part to accept a larger size. Normally this shouldn’t be needed though.

I have included a few pictures of the wheel bearing from the Talbot in this article. There is still much more to tell so please ask me via This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or in the comments if you have questions or additions to this article. Next weeks article will be the refitting of the new bearing and how to properly tighten it.

Article by Jos van Genugten


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