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MG Midget and Sprite Technical - Front wheel bearing play

I recently got my 79 running again after several years of neglect, which is progress, but I still have work to do. I replaced front wheel bearings with a kit from Moss or one of their resellers, and have seen first hand the limitations of those kits. The forum here contains a couple of excellent articles on why I am seeing movement in the bearings.

I realise the best course of action would be to start again with correctly radiused face adjusted bearings, but to be honest I just want to drive the thing for a while. So my question is... what are the actual consequences of play in the bearings? The car steers pretty well, with only a little free play at the steering wheel. It doesn't self centre as well as it should, but I think another alignment might help.

Premature failure is of course a risk. Does this mean lots of bearing noise, or is there a risk of bearing seizure? I don't know if this is a good thing, but since I live in sunny Alabama I have no MOT to worry about...

Jim M.
Jim M

Jim, these are thrust type ball bearings and when properly set up the inner and outer bearings will tend to support each other in side loading. If the fit is loose then you risk causing one of the bearings to be forced out of the normal raceway by side loads which could accelerate wear a lot. I doubt if you'd have a catastrophic failure without any warning, but I'd do the job right just in case. After all it's not only your neck that would be at risk if you lost steering control on the road but others as well. Either get the correct face adjusted bearings or convert to the proper radiused tapered roller bearings.
B Young


I installed the "same" (Vic Brit-probably the same) bearing kit on my 1979 ~6 years and ~20k miles ago, I have encountered no issues to date, including no bearing noise (at least that I can hear with the top down).

As you say, "I just wanted to drive the thing for a while". And I have.

No doubt there is a future penalty in store for not getting it perfect but frankly I don't give a wit. At least in my case, the aftermarket parts have been good enough for years of pleasurable touring.

HTH, Richard "I hate my plastic garage" Reeves

Richard Reeves


Listen to Richard.

Richard I applaud your sensible attitude.

I've got more play in my steering than a symphony orchestra could muster, and I too have survived for years.

I drove my sprite for thousands of miles with worn front wheel bearings before replacing them, and didn't kill a single person. The wheel didn't fall off, and I suffered no injuries at all.

Yes of course you would prefer the best bearings, and of course the cheap ones aint the best, and you wouldn't fit them by choice if you knew.

However, that doesn't mean you can't use them now they are on the car.

Lucky you in Alabama then. What? No mandatory annual car test?

Richard the only penalty I can see you having to pay, is when you eventually have to put in another set. Not a difficult job at all.
Lawrence Slater

When there is excess play, the bearing races will take most, or maybe even all of the abuse, which is fine because those get replaced anyway.

The concern would be if a race moved around on the spindle, or in the hub, which would ruin the spindle or hub (new bearings wouldn't fit snugly and would then also move around and fail prematurely).

The distance between the two front wheel bearings is quite large (1.5"), way more than a lot of modern cars weighing far more, which helps to reduce the angular loads on them (longer moment arm), so my guess is that you can drive for quite a few miles with a somewhat loose set of bearings on one of these things...

Heck, this is probably why so many folks are getting by, with those bearings that don't fit quite right.

Norm Kerr

My concern is obviously catastrophic sudden failure, with steering accuracy a lesser concern. It actually does go pretty much where you point it, despite also having some play in the inner tie rod joints. Maybe the fact that I haven't taken it over 3500 in top gear is a factor :-)

So how difficult is replacement of inner tie rods?
Jim M

The bearings are crap but survive without sudden failiure.
The only problem is the MOT man who keeps on naging about them.

You can grind some of the spacer to get a better fit but be carefull if you take of to mutch you have to shim them back
Onno Könemann

if you do grind the spacer, just don't forget to replace it with a new one when you do eventually go to fit new (proper fitting) bearings
Norm Kerr

my question is... what are the actual consequences of play in the bearings? The car steers pretty well, with only a little free play at the steering wheel. It doesn't self centre as well as it should, but I think another alignment might help.


U didnt say HOW MUCH the tire sidewall about .015" vertically is about right. If a little more, with narow tires and regular driving your still o.k.

free play in the steering wheel is a result of a loose rack, pinch bolt at the rack or worn tie rod ends. Or......worn kingpins or lower a-arm bushings.

"self centre" is caused by lack of castor or worn suspension parts.
J. Blow

I am sure there is more than 15 thou when I grip the wheel top and bottom. Don't know how I would measure that though. I don't have a dial gauge. I had an alignment guy check it and he couldn't detect more than minimal play in the kingpins. He thought it was almost all in the bearings. I definitely have play in the inner tie rod ends but the rack is firmly mounted and outer tie rods are new. I have to decide whether to swap for another rack I have in the garage, rebuild the current one, or spring for a new one. Just a matter of time and money, as usual!
Jim M

This thread was discussed between 09/08/2011 and 11/08/2011

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