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U-joint, bearings, brake drums on Jeep

I’m getting some help with some upcoming repairs on my 1996 Jeep Cherokee. The deal is that I am buying parts, and the local community college automotive program is performing the labor. What is to be done:

*passenger’s side front axle u-joint and wheel bearings get replaced

*both rear wheel bearings and brake drums & shoes get replaced

I’m having a hard time figuring out which parts to buy, i.e., which bearings will fit the rear axle (it’s the Chrysler one, not the Dana one), if there’s anything else needed, anything that would be smart to have just in case, etc. I don’t want to bother the professor any more than I already have.

What parts are indispensable, and which ones would be a good idea to have on hand?


I love to hear this, because everybody wins. The students get to experience the challenges typical of a 20 year old vehicle and the vehicle owner saves huge sums of money. And, if they have a good program with good profs, I trust them more than many garages… and MUCH more than dealerships. They’ll be well supervised, they’ll have had the theory before touching the vehicle, and they’ll do everything correctly and “by the book”, being graded on the work.

Who’s doing the diagnosis?

I should comment to anyone considering using their community college program that the vehicle owner has to be willing to leave the vehicle. It is not like a shop, where the mechanic keeps working on the vehicle until it’s done. A typical college program lab schedule will consist of two lectures a week concurrent with two lab sessions of anywhere from three to five lab hours each. If the works starts on Tuesday and goes to the full lab allocation without being completed in the allotted lab time, it sits until the next lab session. If there are unexpected complications, and on a 20 year old car there often are, the vehicle sits until the next lab session. And, if holiday “breaks” are imminent, your vehicle could be there until after the holidays. I had that happen on an old truck of mine once, but I was well aware of the possibility and appreciative of the huge savings and the sense of comfort in knowing the work was being properly done.

In summary, you’ll save gobs of money if you’re patient and understanding of the process involved. And remember that the students’ first priority is the education, not getting the vehicle back to you as fast as possible.

In fairness I should disclose that I worked for 17 years at a college with an automotive program and had them do all the work for me that I was unable to do. I urge those that might be able to avail themselves of this option to check this option out. The department “chair” will tell you if a lab is pending that’s germane to your problem, and if they have room on the schedule to help you.


You won’t know what to buy until after everything is dismantled. On the rear “Axle Saver” bearings can be used if the axle shaft(s) are damaged if the instructor approves. The alternative is new axle shafts. And the rear drums may not need replacing. Of course I am jumping to the conclusion that axle grease if dripping from behind both rear wheels but no one has removed the drums yet. And if that is the case I strongly suggest replacing the wheel cylinders.

The front wheel bearings are in sealed hub assemblies but the u-joints in the axle are replaceable. If there is a great deal of clatter when pulling away from a stop take a close look at the front drive shaft and the front output on the transfer case.

If you wish to eliminate repeatedly checking on the progress and hauling parts it might be worthwhile to carry everything the instructor suggests with you hoping that only the necessary parts are replaced. But if the work is well done your savings on parts and labor will be enough to cover replacing everything you mentioned plus the rear wheel cylinders.


Thanks for the helpful replies, Rod_Knox and the_same_mountainbik.

Who made the diagnosis? Here’s the backstory. Last week my local shop replaced the u joint and bearings on the front driver’s side. They said bearings, but I didn’t get an itemized receipt, and reading this thread has me thinking they must have replaced the entire assembly. The technician who performed that work told me that the passenger’s side u joint was likely to start getting noisy soon, and I take his word for it. Hence the front passenger’s side u joint and the bearing assembly.

Regarding the rear wheels: the brake drums were in rough shape but made to work three years ago when they were last serviced. They’re well past due for replacing, and since they’re coming off anyway to get to the bearings, now’s the time. I want the rear bearings done because I’m superstitious and my gut says not to trust them much longer.

There’s a half inch of play in the rear axle that was not resolved when I had the rear differential serviced last year. Strange tire wear pattern too–excessive wear along the outer edge only. I was told that a half inch of play was within spec, but just barely.

In spite of all these issues, the Jeep is still a LOT of fun to drive and I want to keep it on the road for another 40-50k miles if possible.

For the drum brakes, I would just replace most of what’s in there while it’s apart, new wheel cylinders, new springs, new shoes. If the the actual drums are worn down, buy those too. The brake parts are very inexpensive. Check ordering them online, like from rock auto.

I would change parts on both sides for the front, unless the driver’s side has been done recently. Maybe someone can steer you to the right size bearings. I sometimes can’t figure out what size I need until I take it apart.

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If there is no play, no ballsy feel when turning the wheels and no indication of oil leaking into the drums I suggest leaving those bearings alone. Unless the rear axle is run low on oil or the axle is severely overloaded the bearings have a nearly infinite life span. But take new bearings and seals to the shop just in case.

And while it’s a shot in the dark having vo-tech students do the work I have seen some great work come out of several nearby community college automotive classes.