“It’s such a good vibration! It’s such a sweeeeeet sensation!” sang Loletta Holloway with thrill. Not as enthused as she was about my steering wheel vibration that began around fifty miles an hour and went away above eighty, I decided an inspection was due. After all, it has started to get worse since my outing at Virginia International Raceway back in July. With the car at my friends garage and lifted onto jack stands securely I inspected the front end, starting with the wheels for play. What I found on my Acura Vigor was a severely worn front right wheel bearing. In a bit of a shock I logged into my account with my favorite online store for genuine OEM Honda parts where I place an order of two OEM 1996 Acura TL 2.5/ 1995 Honda Odyssey wheel bearings. In the mean time I began reading through my Vigor’s Factory Service Manual to study up on its wheel bearing replacement procedure.
Up until that moment of discovery I really thought the vibration was a combination of my car’s poor alignment and maybe an unbalanced or bent wheel that the tire shop never mentioned. Even the aftermarket axles I was using have been known to cause highway speed vibrations. Nothing made me think that one of the wheel bearings I replaced in late 2017 would have failed already. Even as bad as this one was, it wasn’t making any groaning or grinding noises while driving down the road or cornering hard. With the wheel lifted in the air, there were very obvious problems. Embarrassing to admit, I have been tracking and driving my car for the better half of 2019 like this, not realizing how much of a safety concern I had on my hands. Thankfully I caught this before things got worse and it didn’t completely fail while on the track or going down the road. That would have been pretty ugly.
With the new wheel bearings delivered, new hub assemblies were pressed into them and I was ready to fix a major annoyance and safety concern. Never having done this on my own before, I followed the the Factory Service Manual, which suggests removing the knuckle assembly completely from the car and locking it into a press, where you then press out the old bearing and hub. Not having access to a large press like I did back in 2017, I looked at alternatives to get the bearing out of the knuckle. I turn to my one of my favorite YouTube auto mechanics, Eric The Car Guy. In his video below he demonstrates a quick and dirty method on getting the bearing out of the knuckle.
What I learned is these early to late nineties Honda Accord, Acura Vigor, and Acura TL 2.5 use a slightly different approach when it comes to securing the wheel bearing into the knuckle versus other Hondas at the time. Today, no press is needed at all to remove and install a bearing. Instead of the bearing assembly being a total press fit piece, it is simply bolted into the knuckle with four fasteners. I discovered a quick method where you can just leave the knuckle attached to the car by the upper control arm and tie rod. First, remove the brakes and pop the lower ball joint loose to pivot the knuckle enough to get the axle out from the hub. Once out of the way to access the aforementioned fasteners, remove them and thread in longer pieces with the correct M10x1.25 threads, pick your favorite five-pound hammer, and knock it out from behind hitting the longer fasteners.
This effectively pushes the bearing out of the knuckle from behind while the car acts as your vice. In videos, the bearings took a bit of persuasion to be freed from the knuckle with this method due to corrosion built up over the years. Knowing mine had only been on the car a little over a year, I decided I might be lucky and not much corrosion would be in my way. I was correct and very lucky! With a few hard hits in a crisscross pattern, the old wheel bearing walked itself right out of the knuckle leaving behind an almost clean bore. A can of brake cleaner, a wire brush attachment and some shop rags later, I had a perfectly clean bore ready for a new bearing.
With a bit of axle grease, I lubed up the new bearings’ outside diameter mating surface to help prevent some rust and corrosion from forming in the future. With the new bearing and hub assembly in one hand, I carefully threaded in the stock fasteners with the other. From there, I used an impact and a soft squeeze of the trigger to gently run the fasteners down in an equal criss-cross pattern so that the new bearing would pull itself into the knuckle evenly. Once all four fasteners were ran down equally and the bearing surface was seated flush with the back of the knuckle, I grabbed a torque wrench and torqued them down to the factory specified 33 lb-ft. Pivoting the knuckle and axle back in place proved to be a one motion job, with the bottom of the knuckle needing to land on the lower ball joint stud while simultaneously sliding the axle splines into the hub assembly. After a few tries, things were starting to get back into their places and I could install the lower ball joint castle nut to its 45 lb-ft home with a new cotter pin.
Moving on, I threaded the axle nut just snug while I reinstalled the large, 2008 Nissan 350Z Track Edition 324mm x 30mm rotors that compliment the four piston Acura RL Advic calipers and EBC race pads. Things were going great until I noticed the rotor was a bit harder to spin, even with the transmission in neutral after I bolted the caliper on. I figured perhaps the new bearing was just a tad tighter and needed a break in period so I moved on by installing wheel and its lug nuts and gave it another spin. It felt worse. In fact so much that I wasn’t sure if I did everything correct.
Concerned, I started the car while both wheels were still in the air, put it in gear and eased the clutch out so that the wheels would spin at idle in gear. I walked around the car and noticed that only one wheel was spinning and the other wasn’t. Something wasn’t right. I have used this exact process before to see if these cars actually came with a limited slip differential. This was case was different and told me to reevaluate what I was doing. I shut the engine off, put it back in neutral and began taking everything back apart.
I inspected the spokes of the wheel to the caliper face clearance and aside from being harder to spin, nothing was touching or getting in the way. I pulled the wheel, caliper and rotor back off and then the hub spun freely again. I added just the rotor and caliper back into the equation, and realized that once the caliper is tightened down to the knuckle it was putting the rotor into a bind against the hub. The outer portion of the caliper was pushing the rotor backwards against the hub flange and once the wheel was bolted on and added clamping forces, it just made it worse. Visually inspecting the alignment of the caliper to the hub I could see that my new hub was slightly further forward than the center line between the the pads of the caliper.
Basically, my brake rotor was being mounted too far forward as the caliper is mounted in a fixed location to the knuckle. Knowing the new variable was the hub I decided to turn to my part selection and question my decisions. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone I ordered new 2003 Acura TL hubs along with the new wheel bearings. I currently am using front wheel hubs from a 1995 Honda Odyssey, as it was part of the five lug conversion outlined by many ’90s Accord enthusiasts who have performed the same swap. While the swap is common and works on the Acura Vigor, it has a draw back; the center hub bore on the Odyssey, where the wheel sits and aligns onto the hub surface is an odd 70.1mm versus the typical Honda 64.7mm hub bore. My rear conversion remained 64.7mm since the rear hub assemblies are from a 1997 Acura TL 3.2 V6. I wanted to make the front match so wheel rotations and other wheels could easily be swapped to the front without modification. It’s a bit of a mess, I know.
On paper, the 2003 Acura TL hub looked like a perfect candidate for the Vigor. Same shaft O.D. as the Odyssey hub, ideal 64.7mm hub, five-lugs, 28 axle spline and readily available at part stores. What I didn’t take into account for was the overall height and design of the back of the hub itself vs the Odysseys. The hub was shorter and had a design that kept it from seating as deep into the wheel bearing as the Odyssey hub did. This resulted in just under two millimeters’ difference in height from bottom of the bearing to the top of the hub flange. This difference was just enough to upset the rotors alignment in relation to the fixed caliper. Had my car been using the original sliding caliper design, this change likely would have gone relatively unnoticed, save for some uneven pad wear as the sliding caliper would just ‘slide itself’ forward to center itself with the rotor. It’s a combination of the five-lug swap and the Acura RL big brake upgrade having slight incompatibility unless you stick to the original recipe, which I didn’t know was strict.
I was in a pinch. I had already pressed that new hub into that new expensive Honda bearing. You can’t just press out the hub from the bearing without ruining the bearing as the inner race almost always breaks and sticks to the hub. I called three local machine shops and none of them were willing to waste their time trying to finesse the hub from the bearing. I realized I had to settle with a wasted bearing and use the other that I bought to fix my mistake. Luckily that driver side was in perfect shape and didn’t need replacing, but I had planned to do it anyway as I like new parts to be symmetrically replaced where possible. Using a hub puller I was able to get the hub out of the old bearing. I grabbed an angle grinder and cut a groove in the inner race that was stuck to the shaft of the hub. With a groove cut most of the way through the race, I took a cold chisel and sent a crack clear through the race, allowing it to expand and slide right off the hub shaft without any fuss.
Now back to square one with one less new bearing, I again removed the remaining bearing from the knuckle and pressed in the old hub that was known to work with my brake setup into the remaining, other good bearing I bought. I battled with “what if this still doesn’t work” running through my head as I carefully reassembled the front passenger side suspension for the second time. The anxiety was building but as I got the caliper tightened back down over the rotor I was relived to feel very little to no resistance at all when spinning the assembly. With the wheel back on and tightened down with all five lugs I was once again was assured things were going to be alright. No noise, resistance or wobbly wheel bearing at last!
One thing leads to another. While under there I took a quick look around and found the front sway bar mount was barely doing it’s job. One of the fasteners had backed out from the threaded sub frame and the sway bar bushing was just chilling there. This little distraction ended up being a pretty big hassle. I couldn’t just zip the fastener back into it’s threads, the sway bar was shifting forward from the suspension being unloaded meant nothing was lining up as it should. I ended up leaving it as it was for the moment and lowering the car back onto its wheels, torquing the axle nut to its full 180 lb-ft specification. I then drove onto ramps so that the suspension would be under normal compression and help things align. From there I loosened the sway bar end links and the drivers side sway bar bushing to allow the bar to shift more freely by hand. With a pry bar in one hand and and an impact gun armed with a fourteen millimeter socket I was able to line the fastener back up into its threaded hole after what felt like an eternity. I tightened the remaining fasteners and rolled the car off the ramps. There is no telling how long it was like that. For all I know, it was like that all along and contributing to the car’s sloppy handling during turn in.
I closed up the garage and headed home. As I made my way down the road I couldn’t help to laugh at myself for not checking things sooner. As I approached speeds that once shook the car, I felt as if I was still sitting still. No vibration, just smooth, easy gliding down the road. Taking corners felt stiffer and more planted in the front end, presumably from that sway bar not being all the way attached to the sub frame! Ride quality changed for the better. It now rides a little firmer and hitting bumps and dips in the road are felt much more dramatically than they did before. I am really interested in seeing how this car handles around Virginia International Raceway now that I altered a pretty important handling feature.
One of the bigger things I took away from all this was my lack of safety and the importance of checking your car frequently. Even though I had attended several HPDE events with my car in the condition it was in, and it always passed tech, I technically shouldn’t have. For one, I am no longer using the shop I have been using to do my pre-event tech inspections. I will be going to a more enthusiast-focused shop who hopefully will be checking my car more thoroughly.
Secondly, I will be paying more attention to my car from now on, even if it means bugging someone to use their garage floor to lift and look at my car myself. No more “my rock driveway this” excuses from me to justify not doing it myself. Even though I’ll still go to a shop for pre-tech inspections, I can get a look at things myself before hand and be able to point out any areas of concern and have it looked at by professionals and hold myself accountable for my car’s condition.
If you liked reading about this fiasco and laughing (hopefully with me), just wait until I install my new polyurethane front and rear lower control arm bushings from Energy Suspensions, the new springs from Eibach, and coil over conversion kit from Ground Control. The goal is to replace the soft Accord lowering springs I have on the car now and replace every old and rotted rubber bushing in my suspension so I could get a decent alignment done. Maybe a larger brake master cylinder is on the horizon? Stick around to find out!