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Basic Front-End Maintenance

3370 Views 28 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  2JK
I apologize if this is "basic stuff" for some of you. I've been asked a few things lately after doing some work on my rig and after doing a search, didn't find exactly what I was looking for. Most folks know how to do this already but some still don't. Hopefully there are enough Newb's here now that this may benefit them, or someone else on the fence for doing a job like this. Overall it's not a hard job, just takes a little time. In the end, the benefits are definitely worth the time involved and it could save your butt on a trail if your current parts are questionable in their current form. Anyway, here's what I came up with on how to handle basic front end maintenance.

So my job started out with a simple brake upgrade. I also had a bad uni-bearing that needed replaced and with 74K on the rig now, decided that I may as well just replace everything up front and freshen things up a bit. I pulled my original Vanco 15" brake kit and upgraded to a modified version using 48mm calipers, Centric Premium rotors and the new Savvy "Black Magic" brake pads. While apart, I replaced uni-bearings. Since I had the bearing pulled, figured it was a good time to replace the axle joints so they were done. And, as I had it all apart, figured now was as good a time as any to replace the ball joints. With that, here we go:

Job task-replace calipers, rotors, pads, uni-bearings, ball joints and axle joints.

Tools required for job:

Floor jack
Jack stands (4 of them)
Torque wrenches able to read a minimum of 12 ft/lbs. and max of 175 ft/lbs. (I have a 3/8" from 5-80 and a 1/2" from 25-250)
3/8" wrench
13mm wrench/socket
14mm (9/16") wrench/socket
18mm wrench/socket
3/4" wrench/socket
7/8" wrench/socket
1 1/8" wrench/socket
36mm socket
flat head screwdriver (optional)
channel locks (optional)
ball joint removal tool with adapters
shop rags
drill with wire wheel (optional)
breaker bar
lug nut socket
favorite grease
red loctite
grinder (if installing Vanco kit)

Parts needed for THIS job:

Blaines (vanco) 48mm calipers for BBK
Centric Premium rotors
Blaines Savvy Black Magic brake pads
Slightly used (or new) factory uni-bearings (courtesy of TenaciousTJ -Thanks Ryan!!!)
Spicer 5-760X joints (2 of these)
Spicer ball joint kit labeled as "socket assy kit" 706944X (2 of these-comes with both upper and lowers in kit)
cotter pins-pairs for steering assembly at knuckle, and axle stubs at ends inside uni-bearing (ball joints come with their own but it was helpful to buy a larger one than supplied for lowers)

So here's the pile of new parts-what you see here is new 48mm calipers, new Centric Premium rotors, Savvy "Black Magic" brake pads, Spicer 5-760x axle joints, Spicer ball joints, and a new ball joint removal tool. You can "rent" the tool from any parts shop for around $100 or so then you get your money back when you return it. I opted to buy mine so I'd have it around all the time for various other jobs. It cost $104 if I remember right. Got it from a local parts shop and the brand is Performance Tech. May not be the "best" out there but seemed to work well. The axle joints run around $26 and the ball joints are about $40 or so give or take a few bucks and come as a pair with both uppers and lowers.

Here's what it looks like with tire removed. Note that I run Spydertrax spacers which will need to be removed prior to removing caliper:

Start by removing brake line using 9/16" or 14mm wrench (on install torque to 23 ft/lbs.)

Next, remove the two main caliper/knuckle mounting bolts using 18mm wrench (in this pic I have removed the two 13mm caliper mounting bolts and removed caliper from main mount to illustrate where the two 18mm bolts are. ((on install, torque caliper mounting bolts to 12 ft/lbs. and main caliper/knuckle mounting bolts to 75 ft/lbs.))

Here's what it should look like with caliper assembly removed. Note on passenger side I removed ONLY the two 18mm main caliper/knuckle mounting bolts and would highly recommend you do BOTH sides this way to save a little work-pic above was for illustration purposes only.

Next, with caliper assembly removed, use screwdriver or channel locks (or combination of both) to remove cotter pin and outter locking nut piece dealie bobber thing-a-ma-jig. Note the direction the inner spring washer is located:

Next remove main axle nut using 36mm socket (future install torque to 175 ft/lbs.) and use screwdriver to remove large thick flat washer:

More to come...

Best of Luck,

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Next remove 3 13mm 12pt uni-bearing retaining bolts. Note one with ratchet, one above, and third is on back side. This step will allow for removal of uni-bearing. (future torque these bolts to 75 ft/lbs.)

With three 13mm 12pt bolts removed, uni-bearing will slide right off axle stub shaft and will look something like this:

Next gently slide axle shaft out of housing-will look something like this:

Here are parts removed including axle retaining cotter pin, outter lock nut dealie bobber thing-a-ma-jig, spring washer, large thick washer, uni-bearing, brake debris shield, axle shaft and uni-bearing 13mm 12pt bolts (minus one that rolled out of picture)

Next pull cotter pin and remove tie rod joint nut using 3/4" wrench (currie steering shown above). Note to loosen castle nut just enough to cover upper thread portion then hit with sledge hammer to pop free from knuckle.

With steering free from knuckle, remove cotter pin and use 7/8" wrench to remove upper ball joint retaining nut, then remove cotter pin and use 1 1/8" wrench to remove lower ball joint retaining nut. Once done, use sledge hammer and hit flat spot on knuckle to remove knuckle from ball joints:

Next use ball joint removal tool to remove lower ball joint first, then thread ball joint removal tool through lower ball joint hole in knuckle to remove upper ball joint. Note that lower ball joint presses down and out while upper ball joint presses up and out of holes in knuckle. Use adapters necessary to remove both lower and upper ball joint.

Here's how it looks with knuckle and ball joints removed:

Here is ball joint press and old ball joints removed:

more to come...

Best of Luck,

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Now is a good time to remove old u-joints from axle shafts. Use ball joint removal tool (or shop press) to remove joints. Be sure to remove all C-clips from INSIDE of axle ears prior to pressing joints out. Press one cap towards inner side of axle ear to force far side out then remove cap outside of axle ear. Flip over in press and press back the other way to remove other cap. This will separate stub from main shaft. Next flip other side of axle pair into press and do the same to remove the caps and finally remove the entire u-joint from the axle shafts.

Now is a good time to clean all axle pieces and knuckles with drill and wire brush to remove debris and wipe clean with cloth.

Once clean, install new axle u-joints same way you removed them-only CAREFULLY removing u-joint caps opposite each other and setting on bench being careful not to disturb needle bearings inside cap. Fit u-joint into one end of axle shaft then fit one cap into ear of axle shaft and press into position, then fit other side's cap and press into place. Be careful not to press too far into axle ears and be certain to fit c-clips into retaining ring to secure u-joints in correct position.

Next, install new spicer 706944x ball joints (or favorite brand of Moog, XRF, etc., etc.) pressing upper ball joint first, then lower ball joint last:

With both upper and lower ball joints installed, next install knuckle and torque upper ball joint nut to 75 ft/lbs. using 7/8" socket and lower ball joint to 80 ft/lbs. using 1 1/8" socket.

Here is freshly assembled axle shaft with new spicer 5-760x joint, new (slightly used and cleaned) uni-bearing and brake debris shield. Gently slip axle shaft back into housing being careful not to damage inner axle seal:

Next fit brake debris shield to back side of uni-bearing in correct orientation and fit uni-bearing to axle shaft, securing with large thick flat washer, axle nut torqued to 175 ft/lbs. using 36mm socket, spring washer, axle nut lock dealie bobber thing-a-ma-jig and NEW cotter pin, and uni-bearing secured with 3 13mm 12pt bearing retainer bolts. Now is also a good time to re-install steering component to knuckle:


To ensure good fit of new rotor over factory uni-bearing while running Vanco brake kit, elevate Jeep on jack stands at all 4 corners, start engine and place in drive in LOW range 4 wheel drive with front locker engaged. With axles spinning, use grinder to grind off outter edge of uni-bearing while spinning. Use slow, even steady pressure to obtain nice even surface. You are only removing a SMALL amount of material here-literally thousands of an inch-just enough to allow new rotor to fit over uni-bearing:

Next, with uni-bearing properly ground down just enough to allow rotor to fit, install new Centric Premium rotors (or rotor of your choice) to uni-bearing, then install main caliper mounting frame assembly using two 18mm bolts and torque to 75 ft/lbs. being sure to use red loctite on the bolts:

more to come...

Best of Luck,

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Next, with calipers securely installed, be sure to check torque on two caliper mounting bolts and ensure they are 12 ft/lbs. using 9/16" or 14mm socket. If over-torqued, they will strip easily. Then, install brake line being SURE to use NEW copper crush washers on both sides of brake line/caliper fitting.

With brake line installed, entire assembly SHOULD be complete at this time. Here's how it should look (with my additional spydertrax spacers torqued to 100 ft/lbs using red loctite):

At this time, use your favorite brake bleeding procedure to properly bleed brakes, staring at passenger rear (furthest from master), then moving to driver rear, then passenger front and finally driver front to finish. You will use the 3/8" wrench on the bleeders for this task. When done with that, you are finished with the job. Install tires and remove from jack stands then final torque lug nuts to 100 ft/lbs. I like to do a basic alignment at this time also to ensure everything is in check. Ensure proper air pressure in all tires then follow proper brake break-in procedure according to manufacturer or Blaine's recommendations depending on application and parts selection. Be extra careful to avoid heavy traffic during this time until brakes are fully broke-in and break-in process is complete. Braking may not be what you expect until fully bedded, be cautious while following procedure.

Congratulations! You have just finished a much needed front-end maintenance job on your Jeep. Keep in mind there are many ways to skin a cat-this is just the method I chose on my rig most recently. While it's "basic common sense" for many, hopefully it will help someone who's never done it before. Like I said, it's not a difficult job, just time consuming. The benefits in the end are well worth it.

Best of Luck,

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To note, I don't need to do this immediately, but this write up is awesome.
Thanks a lot, newb like me can really learn a lot just from reading and looking at photos.

I'm sure others appreciate it too. Thanks for taking the time.
Great write up. Thanks
That is great.
Bookmarked! Thanks, Mike!
Thanks guys, hoped someone would benefit. Glad it helped.

I should note though that I wrote that from memory with a 103 degree fever and just noticed a couple of my wrench sizes are wrong. I will update it maybe tomorrow with the appropriate size-I think the steering knuckle joint is 18mm, not the 3/4" I stated above. Also the 3/8" wrench is needed to bleed the brakes when finished. Forgot to add that. I'll try and correct it tomorrow. Very sorry for the confusion. :oops:

Thanks again,

Best of Luck,

nice job!, as long as i have had my jeep i have never seen how the unit bearings etc. come on/off, looks simple enough once you see it done (i,m a visual type person). don't need to do this at this time but nice info to know,thanks! great write up:)
Thank you very much. I think I am going to replace my ball joints soon, and had an idea how it was done, and this confirms it. Now to get the tool, should probably buy it, as it can be used to replace u joints.
Awesome writeup. Thanks for taking the time to do this and for sharing with everyone.
Hey Mike... out of curiosity... what brand/kit is your ball joint press? Ever had any difficulty using it for the actual ball joints? Been thinking about getting one, but if you wish to get the actual press and accessories (cups etc) as listed to use in the FSM it is $317.04.
I JUST picked up that ball joint press a few days ago to do this very job. It's a Professional Tech brand if I remember right-have to go out and look to be certain. It was the only one I could find in town so I grabbed it. I debated about just renting one, but it cost me $104 so I figured for that, it would be very handy to have for other reasons.

On the ball joints, it worked great actually. I kinda feel that maybe there's one adapter that should be included with the kit to install-not exactly sure what it would look like really but seemed like maybe one of the install adapters should be slightly angled perhaps with a flat head to re-seat them back in. Regardless, it worked very well and was MUCH easier than I was expecting them to be-given they are the originals and over 5 years old with 74K on them.

Also used it to press out the u-joints and MAN, what a time saver that was! SO much easier using this tool than the vice I've always used in the past, stacking sockets, etc. Just clamped it in the vice, then set the shafts in and wow, very simple using this tool. Definitely glad I picked it up. I can see it coming in very handy for various things.

On the uni-bearings, yeah, swapping them is pretty simple but if you've never done it, can be a little intimidating. I've replaced others in the past, just not on MY Jeep. Think I forgot to add I put a little grease on the splines on the outter stub that goes through the uni-bearing just to make it easy to remove the next time around. ONLY on the splines, not on the actual threads though...

I'm glad to know this was helpful for some. Thank you very much for your feedback.

Best of Luck,

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great pics and explanation thanks a lot
OK, I edited and corrected the wrench errors-the steering knuckle joint IS 3/4"-I was wrong about the main caliper/knuckle wrench size-that is 18mm. Everything above has been edited for this correction. Also added in the part about using the 3/8" wrench while bleeding the brakes. Everything looks right now-at least I hope! :laugh:

Best of Luck,

And...whaddya think of the Vanco brakes?!
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