Sometimes repairing a car can remind us of our own limitations.
Recently the front wheel bearings on my 2012 Hyundai Accent went bad. I have about 110 thousand miles on my car now, and call it a premonition, but I was pondering about whether it would be the suspension or the wheel bearings that would fail me first. What began as a slight squeak manifested into the hellish nails on a chalkboard sound that precedes a weekend in the garage.
There are two types of wheel bearings in most cars on the road today. The first type is a hub and bearing-type assembly that usually doesn't require anything more than standard hand tools to replace. The second, more complicated, and unfortunately utilized type in my Accent are pressed wheel bearings that are held in place by tension. It was this type of bearing that showed me even the simplest and cheapest, each bearing was a little over $6.00, repair can quickly escalate into a nightmare without the proper tools.
Corrosion is the enemy of any repair. Front end suspension, brakes and hubs are extremely susceptible to rust and corrosion because they exists in a state of constant wear, heat, water and corrosives like road salt. That means when a wheel bearing goes bad there is no escaping the fact that your once pristine front end components are now stuck together in a rusty, neglectful embrace. My car was no different.
Early success can lead to overconfidence. I was flying high after a quick and painless removal of the front wheels, brake caliper and rotors. After hanging the caliper out of the way I was staring at the next daunting task; removing the steering knuckle.
Actually I was wrong, that was not the wisest course of action. Here was a moment when being aware of a tool that could have saved me from the headache that was to come. What I needed was a tool that could pull the mechanically pressed hub from its home at the end of my CV, which happens to mean constant velocity, axle and the inner race, the metal ring bearings rotate in, of my faulty wheel bearing. I could have rented these tools from the local AutoZone near where I was repairing the vehicle. This tool is not vehicle specific either. This tool is a combination of two tools you can actually rent and return. The first is part number 27032 which is a flange that attaches to the studs of the hub, and part number 27033, a slide hammer, which provides the mechanical force needed to remove the hub. Altogether these tools cost $70 to rent, and I would have been reimbursed the full amount on successful return. My first lesson of hindsight.
Instead of taking this path I removed the lower steering arm, the lower ball joint, the two strut mounting bolts, and the 32 mm axle nut expecting the knuckle and the axle to separate as easily as they’d been mated together a little under five years ago in Busan, South Korea. I had forgotten about our old friend corrosion. The toxic force that makes a clean break impossible. Had I had the tool mentioned in the previous paragraph I would have been able to separate the hub from the axle with minimal risk of damaging the axle. Instead I had a three jaw puller at my disposal. Not the right tool for the job, and something that would prove to be my ultimate undoing.
Success once again blinded me to the possibility of failure and emboldened me to the point of failure on the opposite CV axle. This is called a false cause fallacy, non causa pro causa in latin. I assumed that the success of the three jaw puller was because it was the right tool for the job. What I didn’t realize was that my earlier success was based on luck that the broken bearing on the passenger side had lubricated and assisted in the axles extraction. The tool was not my cause for success, but the instrument which irreparably deformed my driver side axle.
This is where things got complicated. Hyundai offers a 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty and a 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. My car is only 5 years old, it was a 2012 model year built in 2011, but I have already exited the warranty period. Cars that are under warranty don't typically need aftermarket parts because it is assumed that a warranty would cover premature failure.
According to the Federal Highway Administration the average American drives 13,476 miles per year which should put my first model year accent at 67,380 or just barely out of the bumper to bumper warranty period. An aftermarket for CV axles for my car was non-existent I had to go through the dealer. I was able to track down an axle for a little more than $300 which was $100 below the asking price of the local dealership. A simple $12 fix had now become $312 in the blink of an eye.
Fast forward a week and my new CV Axle was in. Like many car repairs I was moments from once again having a roadworthy car. Unfortunately my errors culminated in my car become an immobile shrine to the limits of steel and aluminum in the face of greater mechanical advantage. In less than an hour I had the new CV axle installed, wheels bolted on, and I was ready for my test drive.
Those first moments of the test drive were nerve wracking, but after the first quarter mile I was feeling great. Wheel bearings seem to have a funny way of failing so slowly that you begin to forget how they sounded when they were new. I had for months believed that the whirring noise I had been hearing was because of my drilled and slotted rotors, but in reality it was the wheel bearings all along. It is amazing what our minds begin to accept as normal as long as it happens slowly enough.
Working on a budget is perhaps one of the most troubling aspect of the DIY experience. In an era of online tutorials it can be easy to underestimate the complexity of any given repair. Part of that complexity is the ability to absorb the costs associated with mistakes. After going through this experience I realize just how easy it can be to derail a repair, and the cost of not planning to have every tool that I needed at my disposal.
Despite all the trials and tribulations I endured during this repair I never doubted that this repair was worth it. Every time I repair my car I learn something new about myself. I've learned to be more patient and accept mistakes. I've also learned that no matter how much research I do beforehand sometimes the conditions my car has endured has ultimately made my plans irrelevant. Wrenching your own car can keep you up at night, but there is nothing sweeter than when it all goes together and you're back on the road.