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Should I buy this shop press?

I have to do the wheel bearings in my '97 Escort and they are pressed in and out of the knuckle.

Last month it was control arms on a Neon with both bushings and ball joints that have to be pressed (although it’s true those can be done with the big C-clamp tools which I also don’t own). In that case I happened to just buy new control arms with bushings and bearings to make it a simple R&R. So I spent some extra $$ on parts there to avoid the aggravation.

In the past I have taken press work to a shop and paid them to do it. The problems there: 1) I’m pretty rural (i.e. not very close to any shops), and often a weekend warrior. So the logistics of having one vehicle disabled with another on hand to drive to and from the shop at a time when a shop is open are frequently pretty bad. I sometimes delay repairs (some that I shouldn’t) to get the timing right. 2) It costs money - understandably so, but if I had a lot of money I wouldn’t be fixing a '97 escort. (ok - that might not be true).

Anyway…I was working on the logistics for the wheel bearings but came across a 12 ton Central Machinery press (Harbor Freight) on craigslist. I haven’t seen it, but the woman selling it reports that it is new in the box. It was purchased for some car work and the car was sold instead. She’s asking $75. It lists for $129.

I can neither afford to buy nor justify the cost of a professional quality press. We know this one is “cheap.” But this one is tempting me - If it works well enough for occasional basic auto work (1/2 dozen times per year or less), it would save me time, money, and aggravation. If I can expect it to NOT work well enough - it will lose me time, create cost, and cause aggravation. Then, of course, I’d be wishing I had just taken the dumb knuckles to the shop and left the lady her own scrap metal.

The reviews on the Harbor Freight site are quite mixed and somewhat polarized. Lots of 5 stars that give me confidence. But I don’t know any of those people, and many post after first use. I do know enough about people here including those with plenty of shop & tool experience. So if you have any thoughts on the whole thing I’d be happy to hear them. Thanks.

Note: I would still have to learn to use it.

It’ll work for most jobs.

If it comes with the press plates then it could be a good deal.

But also remember, you not only need a hydraulic press, but also the adapters, plates, receivers to press out components.

But ya gotta start somewhere!


Go directly to the Harbor Freight website. They currently have a 20 ton press on sale for $149.99, and it’s worth the extra money. And it comes with plates.

Thanks Tester. I do keep remembering and forgetting that I also need accessories for whatever the job is. I know a lot of people use sockets, though I don’t know the wisdom of that on wheel bearings. Some of the loaner tool sets for pressing have some useful things in them that could be used. My mostly un-thought-out plan is to limp by and figure it out and get stuff as I go along.

Mountainbike, I didn’t see a sale price on the 20T - but I do have a few added difficulties. One is that I don’t have an HF store anywhere around and shipping on those things is an extra $50 or so. And…I really need to get this done this weekend. It’s mostly the mere $75, and the fact that I could have it here tomorrow that’s tempting me. I will tell you this though - if I decide to get the thing there will come a time - might be month or a year - when I will say to myself “why didn’t I just listen to mountainbike?!”

I’m sure the 12 ton will do fine. I just always like to have the extra oomph. Pressed in bearings can be tough to press out.

Sincere best.

Get it, it’s a bargain. The price is right and if you don’t like it you can peddle it for what you paid and get the larger press later but the first time you use it you might save it’s cost and more. The rating should be adequate; I recall using a similar press quite a few years ago at my employer to press a rear wheel bearing on a half axle for a rear driver. Loctite can help as a lube to slide the parts together and then secure them if you don’t want to use grease. You can make up fixturing from scrap metal. Thick strap steel bent in a “U” or “V” shape might be easier to find than thick plates that need notches.

How often do you really need a press? In my twenty years of car ownership I have had one wheel bearing changed out on our 2005 Subaru Legacy. I drive cars to about 200k miles.

Count me in. It’s your money and I’m not adverse to spending it. ;=)

Seriously, one more job and it just about pays for itself. W all have a gazillion tools we buy, they sit for five years and then out of nowhere, we use them three times in a week it seems. Go for it ! I bought a swagging tool I needed to rig just one boat and I could have hired it out for less. But, I have had a half a dozen friends I have save money for whom I have loaned it to. Then, I borrow their little used tools for my special needs. It can be part of a group effort . It works that way.

A golf buddy has a special tool for quick removal of grips and another for changing shafts. We borrow him and his equipment more then he uses it himself. So buy it for EVERYONE.
I ’ ll be by next week to borrow it !

I’ve had pretty good luck w/Harbor Press stuff. It’s often not pro quality, true, but I’m not using the tools day in and day out. And it they malfunction, I’m not keeping my customer’s waiting. I’ll just hoof it to the bus stop for a couple days is the worst case. The reason I might hesitate to purchase one myself is not the price so much but the amount of space it takes. But if you have the space, what with the convenience it would provide to you – your time is worth something, right? – to me it seems like it would be a good investment, even if you have to buy some add’l adapters along the way.

BTW, you aren’t the only DIY’er with this problem. I think you can buy the thing (knuckle, etc) the wheel bearing is pressed into – as an aftermarket item – with a new bearing already installed. I know you can do this for the rear wheels on my Corolla. And the price I noted was pretty reasonable, and sometimes they are on sale at my local chain auto parts store in which case they are really reasonable. Be sure to compare the prices for doing it that way.

Still, if you have the space, to me it makes sense to purchase an inexpensive press like this.

I’ve been very happy with HF stuff. But, I too only use it at home anyway. True shop quality stuff is generally more robust, but also much more costly.

Toyota uses hub & bearing assemblies on the rear of their cars, but the fronts are pressed into the steering knuckle. I don’t know if you can buy this as an assembly. Even if you could, you’d still have to disassemble the knuckle from the tie rod, the ball joints, the hub, etc., and at that point pressing the bearing out is a nonissue. To replace the rears, all that needs be done is to remove the wheel, swing the caliper out of the way, remove the disc, unplug the speed sensor, and unbolt four bolts. The replacement assemblies even come with new wheel speed sensors already installed.

The price is fair enough but I will add this. I have a 20-ton press and it would not even attempt to budge the bearings out of some Taurus hubs. There are varying reasons why the bearings may not come out but in this case the press surrendered before the bearings moved.

I hauled the hubs to a friend at an auto machine shop and when his 100-ton press was groaning I headed for the door and waited outside. I told him that he was getting paid to lose his head; not me. :slight_smile:
After a shotgun like boom I peeked around the corner and he was still standing so all was good…

Finally, I will add that metal shattering under pressure goes off like dynamite and becomes artillery shell shrapnel. (Personally discovered that a few times…)
When pressing something that is known to be a bit difficult it would be a good idea to rig up a scattershield of some sort. This could be done with a heavy pad of some sort and a couple of bungee cords by enclosing the part to be pressed.

Outstanding suggestions.
I wear a full face shield, about $12 at Home Depot and well worth the price. I wear it for all sorts of things, like angle grinding, metal cutting with a wheel, and even often wood cutting. It’s really cheap insurance against really serious injury.

Oh, and a face shield can be worn comfortably with prescription glasses too.

The 12T press also comes with a pair of plates.

Yeah I’m thinking that might be a little light but otoh likely the jack will give out quickly on it and you can replace it with a heavier one. Just factor in a replacement Jack to see if it’s still a good deal.

A heavier jack will distort the frame of the press.

And could be very dangerous. When metal parts fail, they can break with a vengeance.
I assumed Bing meant a whole new press w/frame.

On the subject of shrapnel, that thought had crossed my mind. Check this guy out: The plates that come with it are apparently a little questionable - hence the plates for sale there. I’ve been thinking about a full face shield for all sorts of reasons, and now that one.

On the 20T HF press - I was under the impression that its frame was much better than the 12T. And if you read the reviews of the 12T on the website, the biggest complaints are that a) sometimes the ram doesn’t get welded square - obviously a mess; b) and that the frame is flimsy and can distort. So I’m thinking about that more than the rating. But - I really didn’t decide to buy a press. I just stumbled on that ad at a time when I also needed to do the bearings and right off of the Neon job.

As for the question about how often I’d use it, well - two needs in the last month, and I’m pretty sure a Caravan ball joint is not far behind. That’s enough for me, and then there’s the part about being useful to others. And dagosa may borrow it if he can find me…

I am siding with @‌ok4450 on this one. A 12 ton press is pretty wimpy, as far as presses go, and I suspect you’d be better off getting a slightly stronger one

Can’t you get a used . . . but bigger . . . press off of craigslist in your area?

@db4690, well - like I said (but you were probably posting at the time) - I never decided that I was going to buy a shop press. I just stumbled on that ad, and I could pretty much have that one for close to what it will cost to pay a shop to do this one bearing job. I don’t have the shop experience to know. But most commenting about such things that I’ve seen so far is that 12T is more than enough for most routine bearing / bushing / ball joint kinds of work. So if you guys are saying that 12T often won’t be enough then I’ll need to rethink that. I’m not so worried about being defeated once in a while though.

I might add this to the discussion. A friend who has a HF press broke one of the 2 plates when he put some serious pressure on it one time. That’s when he discovered that the HF plates are made of cast iron instead of plate steel.