How Does a Pilot Bearing Puller Work And What’s a Flawed Bearing?

Pilot Bearing Puller

Whether you drive a car or a truck, you expect your vehicle to perform optimally every time you climb behind the wheel. If your vehicle has a manual transmission, you must ensure its pilot bearing is in excellent shape. After all, a damaged pilot bearing can destroy your vehicle’s transmission.

In this article, we take an in-depth look at pilot bearings and pullers. Continue reading for information about identifying a faulty pilot bearing and using a pilot bearing puller.

What Is a Pilot Bearing?

A pilot bearing is a simple component of many cars and trucks with a manual transmission. That is, virtually all rear-wheel-drive manual-transmission vehicles and some front-wheel-drive manual-transmission ones have a pilot bearing. Also called a pilot bushing, this part provides support to the input shaft that connects to the transmission. While also centering the input shaft, the bearing helps the flywheel maintain steady RPMs as you change gears, reduce speed or stop completely.

To understand pilot bearings, you must know how vehicles with manual transmissions work. You work through gears as you drive to reach and maintain speeds. You also rely on your vehicle’s manual transmission when you need to back up. Every time you disengage the clutch, the input shaft on the transmission and the crankshaft on the engine move at different speeds. The pilot bearing accounts for this difference. Without it, the input shaft and crankshaft would only meet up when the vehicle is completely stopped.

Pilot bearings sit in the middle of the vehicle’s flywheel or crankshaft flange. There are a few different types of pilot bearings. Your vehicle may have traditional ball bearings, sintered-bronze bushings or needle bearings. When properly installed, these bearings and bushings are typically packed in grease. Regardless of which bearings or bushings are standard on your car or truck, you can collectively refer to them as pilot bearings or pilot bushings. If you drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission, however, your car or truck likely does not have pilot bearings. Still, it has other essential bearings that probably require routine inspection, maintenance and replacement.

What Are the Warning Signs of a Failing Pilot Bearing?

As you may suspect, you don’t want to continue to operate your vehicle if it has a faulty pilot bearing. Fortunately, with most vehicles, there are certain warning signs that accompany a failing pilot bearing. Here are a few of the most common symptoms:

  • The vehicle’s reverse gear and first gear are difficult to engage. When your vehicle is stopped, you should be able to easily shift into reverse or first gear. If you have trouble shifting in this situation, you could have damaged or worn pilot bearings.
  • The vehicle fails to stay in gear when it is in motion. Manual cars and trucks should remain in gear until you switch to a different gear or shift the vehicle into neutral. If your vehicle pops out of gear, a bad pilot bearing could be to blame.
  • Gears fail to release when you ask them to release. In modern vehicles, RPMs stay consistent when the vehicle isn’t in gear. This keeps the car or truck from stalling. When gears don’t release naturally with a shifting motion, faulty pilot bearings are often involved.
  • The engine or transmission vibrates unnaturally. Pilot bearings keep transmissions, clutch discs, input shafts and other essential components in sync. When something doesn’t pair accurately, vibrations are frequently a biproduct.
  • The vehicle sounds noisier than it should. Grinding, scraping and loud noises can come from a variety of places inside and outside your vehicle. Still, if you hear an unnatural noise coming from your vehicle’s engine or transmission, inspecting your vehicle’s pilot bearings is a good idea. Pay special attention to noises that occur when you are shifting gears.
  • The vehicle’s transmission fails altogether. Few things can be more catastrophic to the health of a car or truck than a ruined transmission. After all, if the transmission does not work, the vehicle cannot move. If your manual car or truck has a dead transmission, an ignored pilot bearing may be the cause, unfortunately.

Generally, if you wait until your transmission fails to identify bad pilot bearings, you have ignored a significant number of warning signs. You likely don’t have to get to that point, however. If you notice any of the other warning signs of a damaged pilot bearing, you can avoid disaster by scheduling a pilot bearing inspection, repair or replacement. If you are mechanically inclined, you can likely replace worn bearings without professional assistance. Remember, you should always replace pilot bearings every time you service or replace your vehicle’s clutch.

What Is a Pilot Bearing Puller?

To function properly, pilot bearings must seat inside the crank opening. As you may suspect, removing a faulty pilot bearing from a crankshaft or flywheel without the right tools can be virtually impossible. Fortunately, with a pilot bearing puller, the job is usually quick and easy.

Pilot bearing pullers come in a couple different styles: slide hammers and U-shaped pullers. You may purchase one of these independently or opt to buy a kit that includes both types of removal tools. There are also fancier pullers on the market, but these mostly work off of either a U-shaped or slide-hammer design. The purpose of any pilot bearing puller is to remove an old, damaged or ineffective pilot bearing without damaging the vehicle’s transmission, engine or other components.

How Does a Pilot Bearing Puller Work?

Many pilot bearing pullers are universal tools. As such, you can use them to work on any car or truck with a manual transmission. Some, however, are compatible with only certain types of vehicles. If you aren’t sure whether your removal tool is compatible with the pilot bearings on your vehicle, you should ask a professional mechanic to assist you with removing the pilot bearings on your car or truck. To give you an accurate description of how pilot bearing pullers work, we assume you are using a universal removal tool that is compatible with your vehicle.

When you open your universal kit, you will likely notice a few components. Most kits have a few mandrels inside them. These mandrels fit different sizes of pilot bearings or bushings. When you are ready to work on your vehicle, you must determine which size of mandrel is appropriate for your car or truck. Your kit may also have a U-shaped puller and a slide hammer.

How To Use a Slide Hammer

If your vehicle has a pilot bearing that requires a slide hammer for removal, you must be certain you are working with a mandrel of the appropriate size. Using an ill-fitting mandrel may strip the edges of the bushing or bearing, making it more difficult to remove. After selecting the proper mandrel, you insert it into the pilot bearing. You must be careful to tighten the mandrel until it has a firm grasp on the bearing. There should be no wiggle room. You may need a couple wrenches to tighten the mandrel into place.

After putting the mandrel in place, you thread the slide hammer onto the mandrel. You don’t need to worry about using a wrench to tighten the slide hammer. Instead, simply ensure the hammer’s threads are snug. Then, hold the slide hammer securely while you move its mechanism along its shaft. This motion disengages the pilot bearing, popping it free from its housing. When the pilot bearing comes loose, simply disconnect it from the mandrel.

How To Use a U-Shaped Puller

To use a U-shaped puller, you follow a similar procedure. First, locate the correct mandrel and screw it into place. Once the mandrel is attached to the pilot bearing, fit the U-shaped puller over the top of it. Again, you likely do not need to use a wrench to attach the U-shaped puller to the mandrel. You do, however, need a wrench to activate the U-shaped puller.

Hold the top of the puller with one wrench while turning the nut at its base with another. As the nut moves down on the puller’s threads, the pilot bearing slowly releases from the crankshaft or flywheel. Once the pilot bearing pops free from the assembly, you can simply twist it off of the U-shaped puller.

How Do You Install a New Pilot Bearing?

As mentioned above, you should replace your vehicle’s pilot bearings every time you maintain, repair or replace the clutch. When you are ready to install a new pilot bearing, you must inspect the assembly to be certain it is free from dust or debris. If you skip this step, your pilot bearing may fail to seat properly. It may also wear out prematurely.

Next, find a socket that matches the size of the pilot bearing. Place the bearing inside the crank opening and butt the end of the socket up to it. Slowly and firmly tap the socket with a hammer. You must take your time with this step to be sure the pilot bearing goes into the opening squarely. When the pilot bearing seats into the opening, you are finished with the job.

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