How can you set a pinion bearing preload without a torque wrench?

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Where the hell did you leave your torque wrench anyway? In a pinch, you can MacGyver a tool to get that pinion nut where you want it to be. All it takes is a little bit of human ingenuity and some odds and ends already lying around your shop.

Zip Ties

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Grab a large zip tie and wrap it around the pinion nut with the tail pointing in the direction you plan to move the nut. Pull the zip tie tight around the pinion nut as far as it can go. Now, you can pull the tail to loosen or tighten the nut.

Make sure that you have enough of a tail to grasp when you tighten the zip tie around the nut. Consider wrapping the zip tie tail around something easier to hold if you cannot keep your grip on it. Remove the zip tie afterward.

Old Fashioned Duct Tape and Rope

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Duct tape serves as a makeshift wrench. But use the heavy-duty variety, not what’s used for arts and crafts. You will also need a nice, sturdy piece of rope; this will serve as your handle.

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Cut a large section of duct tape. Wrap the middle section around the pinion nut so it sits at the bottom of a “U” of duct tape. Bring an end of the rope in close until it just touches the pinion nut, and then wrap the two ends of duct tape around the rope. Congratulations, you have made a non-adjustable strap wrench.

Loosen or tighten the nut as you need. Removing the duct tape adhesive will be your next task. 

Nuts and Bolts

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You will need two nuts and a bolt for this makeshift wrench. Search for two nuts large enough to give you a good grip on the pinion nut.

Take one nut and spin it all the way down the threads until it stops at the shank or the head. Place the bolt across the top of the pinion nut and spin the next nut all the way down the bolt treads so that it is flush with the pinion nut. Small nuts won’t provide enough grip on the pinion nut, so you may need to find larger ones.

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Use a thin metal pipe as a cheat bar if you have a long enough bolt and are having issues rotating the bolt.

Notch It

Notching the pinion, the flange, and the nut saves time if you must disassemble and reassemble the preload. Cut a small notch into the surface where each piece touches another so you can reposition them exactly as they were. Line up the notches, and you will have exactly the same preload as you did before. Count the threads on the nut that stick out past the section you made your notch.

Noise Elimination Method

Preloads that are too loose will generate a whining noise that comes from the differential. This will be especially apparent when decelerating. Tighten the pinion nut about half a turn and test it again to see if it still makes a whining noise. Tightening once in this way should be enough, but repeat this if you hear the whining.

The tinkering and time pay off in the end. Don’t let people dissuade you by saying the pinion nut should only be adjusted once or twice. A loose nut is a loose nut. And a loose nut keeps your pinion from functioning the way it should.

Frequently Asked Question

How is pinion bearing preload checked and adjusted?

How the pinion bearing preload is checked and adjusted has to do with which spacer you use.

Collapsible Spacer

We adjust the preload by torquing the pinion nut. Torquing the pinion nut compresses the collapsible spacer. The more we torque, the more we compress the spacer and increase the bearings’ tightness. 

We use an inch-pound torque wrench to turn the pinion to measure the preload. Tighten the pinion nut in only small amounts when you use a collapsible spacer.

Solid Spacer

We use shims to control pinion bearing preload for solid spacers and pinion nuts. Check the service manual and torque the nut to the listed specific value.

Use holding tools to keep the pinion setup stationery as you set the pinion bearing preload. Then, use a torque wrench or breaker bar to adjust the pinion nut to your satisfaction. Tighten the pinion nut in small increments. Haste makes waste.


It can be a bit daunting setting a pinion-bearing preload when you first try it. However, practice and experience win out if you put in the time and effort to learn. Maybe, at first, you’ll look frantically for that torque wrench, but later, you’ll shrug and reach for some duct tape.

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