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Swivel Seal Swizzle!

Quick & Easy Way to replace leaking Swivel Seals


Leaky Swivel Seas are a common Land Rover affliction, and a right royal pain in the back side to replace.

If you look in the Haynes or the Land Rover Workshop Manual, the procedure involves stripping off the brake calliper (or drum), removing the hub, then stripping off the stub axle, removing the CV (or Universal) joint; THEN with the innards of the swivel removed, removing the swivel pins and their accompanying load shims, until you just have the swivel housing on the end of the axle...

THEN you have to remove the Swivel Housing from the axle!!!! to get the new seal over the back, and you can start putting it all back together!

All told, removing that ball is a bit of a ball-ache!

So, usually, its prudent to do a complete overhaul, and fit a nice new swivel housing, and set up the swivel pins and preloads, make sure that the CV joint is good, make sure the hub bearings are good, renew the hub seal, pack the whole lot out with new grease etc etc etc. Not cheap, easy or particularly undemanding of time.

Now, Jaqui, trying to fettler her up for an MOT had been accused of having knackered hub-seals; I had noted all the oil around the swivel seal when I bought her... and hummed and harred and used it as a bargaining point, wondering whether I could get a second hand axle more cheaply than a pair of swivels, or if she'd limp along 'as is' for a while.... I mean, balls aren't THAT bad.... but seems stupid doing all that work and not changing them.

Any way; crunch time; and I stripped the hubs to do the seals.... and there was not a jot of grease around the stub axle; so they weren't shot. It was oil from the swivels that were the bug-bear.

Any way, pennies being tight; I was pondering what to do, and second hand axles had proved allusive. New swivels were 100 I didn't have, and the conclusion was to bite the bullet and replace the seal on the old ball, and see how long it lasted. Galling to go to that much effort, but somewhere practicalities demand compromises.

Looking at it though, I was pondering whether I could avoid stripping the swivel completely, and taking the pins and stuff out, and idly asked on one of the forum's if any-one knew whether it was possible to take the swivel casing off the axle with the swivel housing still attached.

The answer is an unequivocal 'YES'

But my starting point was a VERY useful thread on LR4x4.com by Les Henson, which I have mercilessly plagiarised, and reproduced here! Top tip Les; Very Much appreciated, and thank you for the brilliant illustrations; I could not have done better myself :-)

Les's Post

If you can't undo the bolts that hold the chrome ball to the axle case in order to replace the swivel seal, then there's a way round it that's less hassle and works just fine as long as you exercise care. This involves cutting through the new seal, opening it up just enough to get it round the ball, then closing it again. Method is as follows:-

Remove the inner spring - don't stretch it or tension on the lip of the seal will be lost, resulting in a leak.

Curtecy of Les Henson

Using a Stanley knife or similar - cut through the seal lip as far as the blade will go.

Curtecy of Les Henson

Then cut through the rest of the seal with a fine blade hacksaw.

Curtecy of Les Henson

The seal can now be opened sideways, and very carefully fed over the chrome ball.

Curtecy of Les Henson

Curtecy of Les Henson

Re-align the two ends of the seal and replace the tensioning spring.

Curtecy of Les Henson

When refitting the retainers, make sure the split is at the top and put a small blob of rtv sealant on it to be sure that there will be no leak.

Comment on Les's Method

A couple of comments on the thread Les provided his top tip; criticising the job as a bodge. Yes, it is; but its a useful bodge, with good reason, and well considered risks. The swivel seal is a 'wiper seal' not a rotary seal, I would not advocate anything like this on a hub or shaft seal. But, here, the seal is not holding pressure, and the seal is moving backwards and forwards about a pivot. Oil is at the bottom, and the cut in the seal located at the top, where there is least movement between the two parts the seal is sealing.

From an engineering point of view, it seems a reasonable 'job' without too many problems associated with it. In addition, from other comments, also seems that the notion is a documented Army 'Field Repair' procedure, and in some instances on other applications, manufacturers actually offer similar 'split seals' to be fitted in this manner and do a similar job'.

I don't think that its a substitute for reconditioning the swivel; but as a 'quick fix' seems pretty reasonable; just remember if you do do this, you MUST be careful in making the split in the seal, and once done, don't forget it's there, and will need an eye keeping on it!

As I did it

Right; well, looking at Les's method, the only thing it saves is taking the swivel housing off the axle tube; the swivel itself still needs to be striped down. I was hoping to get away with rather less disturbance.

Couple of reasons for that; first of all, if you are going to the lengths of stripping it all down, NOT getting the swivel housing off or replacing it seems like an awful lot of effort NOT to do the whole job; second, the less that gets disturbed from swivel pins to lock stops, the less chance there is of upsetting something else and HAVING to go back and do the whole thing in its entirety.

Objective here was STRICTLY to effect a short term 'Quick Fix' to get me by until I can afford to get new swivels and do the job properly. Therefore it was worth risking less than a tenner for two seals that I could cut up, flex in and risk not sealing for very long or not sealing at all, JUST to see if it would work, and 'keep it going'. AND; with THAT mandate; the swivel housing was most definitely NOT going to come off, unless it ABSOLUTELY had to!

Any way; with that little imperative in place I found a couple of problems to using Les's method as described; the first was that with the swivel housing still on the swivel, there was no way that you can warp the split seal in around it. Les opens it up and winds it past the swivel like a key-ring; but with the swivel housing still in place, it would need bending nearly 90 degrees on itself and the metal ring inside the seal just wont take that degree of flex without kinking.

Next, was the matter of the seal spring; in Les's method the new spring from the new seal is stretched over the swivel before being re-attached to the seal. With the swivel housing in situ, no way could you stretch the seal spring that far and keep any kind of tension on it to be useful afterwards, even if you managed not to break it.

This left a dilemma, and the possibility that it was just NOT possible; but I carried on undeterred, hoping to 'find a way'.... and hoping that the old seal spring was intact and could be popped off the old seal and replaced on the new....... no; that Murphey chap again! Any way; ultimate conclusion was that the old spring couldn't be used, it was broken on both seals. This meant splitting and re-joining the spring off the new seal. Not EASY but not impossible either.

Other problem, that of getting the seal around the axle, necessitated making TWO cuts through it, rather than just one, but at a bit less than 90 degrees to each other around the seal's circumference, they could be located in the seal housing at the 10 & 2 o'clock positions near the top, still where they saw least work to hold back oil and least movement as the seal sweeps.

So, lets see, in pictures how I Did it.

Step 1 - Cleaning

The starting point is nearly ALWAYS to get the area you are working on clean.

In this case, even more important as if the seal wasn't leaking to begin with, be no reason to do the job. Since it IS leaking, guaranteed that the area where it is leaking is covered under a huge layer of 'gloop'

Lots of ways to get things like this clean, and plenty of proprietary solutions to help you do it.

I've always found cheap supermarket 'own brand' washing powder and washing up liquid to be two of the cheapest and most effective though, aided where necessary with a little diesel.

For this particular job though, I decided the best way to do it would be to 'steam clean'. Lacking a large industrial steam cleaner, the kind they use to clean lorries or engine bays and the like, that are like a pressure washer, but squirting steam not water, I improvised, and used a wallpaper stripper with the stripping head taken off the end of the hose!

For small greasy areas like this, it's remarkably effective, but you do still have to scrub to lift the grime as the steam doesn't have enough pressure behind it on its own; but that is useful when working round hoses, cables and wires and the like, as you cant damage stuff so easily.

Once the area has been degreased and you can see all of the bolts and things, it's a lot nicer to work on, and easier.

But, you can see the reason for the seal going in the first place.

all that 'pitting' on the chrome ball is what probably wore or tore the seal wiper lip allowing oil past.

This is the REAL reason that the job OUGHT to be done 'properly' and the whole swivel renewed, and if it is particularly bad, and the chrome massively pitted or flaked, then it is unavoidable.

This is 'Bad' but not TOO bad, if you know what I mean. Putting a new seal against it, is ultimately futile, you know that it really doesn't stand THAT much of a chance against the pitting and it WILL get chewed up pretty soon.

BUT, we aren't looking for a permanent fix here; just a quick fix to keep the car in service while we save up for new swivels to do the job properly, in maybe nine-months or a years time.

So, to give the new seal as good a chance as we can, need to nib back that pitting with some diesel wetted wet & dry sand paper; medium-ish grade, to get rid of the high spots and roughness. Bit of luck, the pits will hold a bit of oil and not give the seal too much of a rough time.

Step 2 - Drain the Swivel & Remove Seal Retaining Ring

There are six bolts around the swivel housing, holding the seal retaining ring and the seal in place.

There is one 'bolt' with an extended head, poking out the front of the swivel housing, towards the bottom; this is the swivel drain plug. Its location is shown highlighted in a red circle in the pic; it is actually removed in this shot. When removed, it needs something like a washing up bowl beneath it to catch the grease and oil as it comes out......... very slowly........ if at all! Depending on how much remains inside to begin with!

I left mine over night, and still got a bit of a torrent fall from behind the seal when I removed it.

Picture highlights the three seal plate retaining screws on the front side of the swivel in yellow circles. Note that the upper most is tucked behind the lock stop adjustment bolt.

This one can be awkward to get to without removing the lock-stop bolt; but idea here is minimum disturbance, so I left it in place and used a plain open ended spanner and patience to unwind that seal retention plate screw.

Working around the flange, loosening opposite bolts alternately, so that the tension is released evenly, needs the swivel waggling a few times, but working steadily with an 11mm spanner to get into the available clearance, rather than trying to use a socket, it's easy enough.

Just takes a bit of patience and perseverance, and reminding yourself how much effort you are saving by NOT taking the whole swivel to pieces!

Once all six bolts are removed and put safely for re-use, the retaining ring should just drop off and hang around the swivel housing.

But, because we need to be able to get in and remove the seal, convenient to lift it up and hang it off the swivel mounting flange, out of the way.

Area behind the seal retaining flange is bound to be a bit mucky with old jointing compound and / or rust, so worth, while the old seal is still in place to stop crud dropping into the swivel or the seal housing, to give it a bit of a scrape off with something scraper-ish..... NOT the end of a screwdriver that will leave gouges in the metal, but an old wide blade chisel or the like.

There is a groove around the seal though, that you do need to clean out with something a bit more pointed to let you get at and remove the seal. I have an old blunted screwdriver for that sort of thing.

Doesn't need to be cleaned up to perfection, this isn't restoration standards we are working to here, but all loose and flaky stuff that will make seating the retaining ring properly needs to be got off, as well as anything likely to flake off and get in the workings.

3 Removing the Old Seal

With the retaining ring out of the way, getting the old seal out is possible.... not too easy, it's a big seal and it will have probably been in there a long time and not really want to leave its comfy old home!

Its a question of getting something relatively pointy in there and prising it out, working evenly around the rim. Again, I used my old small blunted screwdriver, which I don't mind bending as my mini-pry-bar!

Remember that there is a steel ring inside the rubber, so you can stab it quite hard to get some purchase on it, but little and even is the key, working around the rim. No real 'trick' to getting these things out; just perseverance and patience, really. Eventually, they do ease out though.

4 Cutting Old Seal Free

Removing it then from the axle is a question of cutting through it with a hack-saw or heavy duty snips.

I used tin snips, because of the access; it was easier to get the nose of a pair of snips where I wanted to cut than to try and wield a hack-saw. But the metal ring embedded in the rubber of the seal is a bit tough, and it took a lot of pressure on the snips to get through it. Case of brute force and ignorance won!

IF you are hoping to re-use the seal spring from the old seal, remember to pop it from the seal lip before cutting though! In my case it was already broken though, so not an option.

Examination of the seal and seal spring after removal, is useful too. In my case the seal lip wasn't THAT bad, it was worn and the lip rounded, so it wouldn't have been as effective as it could, but it hadn't perished or been torn by the pitting in the swivel, which was comforting; fitting a new seal, then might stand a reasonable chance of lasting more than a few weeks.

Leak seemed to be mostly due to the lack of sealing 'grip' from the broken seal spring, that had obviously rusted through and given up any pretence at holding tension.

Steps 1, to 4, in Video

    Video in Edit Suite! - will be added when all the swearing has been bleeped out!

5 Preparing the New Seal

The first thing to do before cutting the seal to pieces is to remove the seal tension spring. It is located round the lip of the seal, at the back, and should simply roll out of its rebate when you rub your thumb over it.

Then, with the spring removed the lip of the seal can be cut, very carefully with a thin sharp blade, like a Stanley or craft knife.

My pic isn't that clear, and shows me cutting right round the edge of the seal with the Stanley knife. Le's pic with the knife going straight down from the inside of the seal is better, for the actual lip, but I worked around from that to cut the rubber of the seal backing to the support metal beneath, and mark where I wanted to make the major cut.

Having marked the cut with the craft knife, I then used a fine blade 'Junior' hacksaw to cut through the metal backing. I used a junior hacksaw, because the blade is thinner, and makes a smaller cut through the seal, which would mean that the two parts, when I came to fit them together again, should fit more closely, with less gap to have to fill.

The picture shows me working carefully on the face of the seal, holding the lip down well away from the blade to avoid damaging it as I cut.

I did NOT cut all the way through the seal across the face, to minimise the risk to the lip, but worked only as far as to 'groove' the metal backing, and give myself a guide slot. Having got that slot, I then worked from the outside towards the middle, cutting from the outside edge. This helped me to make sure that the cut through the outer band of the seal was square to the faces, and not skew. Important for being able to get the two segments to mate together again when I put them into the swivel housing.

The first cut made, you can see that the support ring inside the rubber is an L section, as well as the cross section of the lip and tension spring rebate. The ends of that metal support ring, after cutting need lightly dressing of burs and rough edges with a hand file.

So, having made the first cut, it's simply a case of repeating the operation to make the second cut, about 90 degrees round the seal from the first, to give you a horse shoe shaped seal, and a crescent section to fit in the gap.

How tight you try and make the horse-shoe, or small the crescent is up to you. You need about 2" of gap to get the seal round the swivel tube without stretching it, it will take a bit of flex, so you could make it a bit tight if you wanted, but having made two cuts so you don't have to flex it at all, it's not really that worth while. Similarly, making the gap any bigger, doesn't help you much.

Thing is it doesn't have to be THAT accurate, as long as the top of the horse shoe is wide enough to get round the tube and placed at roughly the 10 & 2 clock positions, it should be fine.

6 The 'Clever' Bit - Splitting the Sealing Spring

Or, if you prefer, the effof faffing fiddly stage, or the 'FFS' bit! Not only is it FFS fiddly to do, it's also FFS fiddly to foto, so sorry for the quality of the snaps, but as you can see, bits we are working with are pretty darn small, as you can gauge from my grimy finger-nails!

What thee pics are trying to illustrate, though, are that the seal spring is a very long, very thin, close coiled tension spring, looped back on itself, with the ends spliced together to make a circle. The bit I'm pointing at in the first pic, is the splice, and the bit I have arrowed in the second is the actual end of the coil.

If you look closely, and trace your way round the spring when you have it in your hand, I'm sure you will find it; it's actually easiest to feel for it, if you have a gentle touch, it'll be the only bit where it will 'snag' your finger. Now, this is where it gets fiddly, so I'm going to show the picture of the two ends apart, before describing how we get there!

In circle 'B' is the end we could see when the two ends were attached.

In circle 'A' is the other end, and if you look carefully, it is tapered.

Now, a spring is a coil, like a thread, and that tapered end 'screws' into the open end, just like a self tapper, the coils of the spring acting like a thread and bedding against each other.

How they attach them at the factory, I don't know; could be that the wire is actually wound back over itself, or it could be pressed in in a jig, but that isn't important for us.

What we have to do, is get a grip on that 'loose' end of the coil, and 'unwind' the outer coil a bit to loosen its grip on the end inside it.

Doesn't take much, you don't have to bend it up just get the tip of a pair of pin nose pliers or a small screwdriver and sort of push it round and out a bit, maybe just 1/4 of a turn, and with a little dexterity, gently pulling the two ends apart, they should just 'pop' apart.....

Eventually! After you have stabbed your palm with the little screwdriver a few times, dropped the spring, lost the end, and got rather very frustrated about it all!

And JUST to make you feel REALLY apprehensive, THAT was the easy bit! It's getting them back together that's the REALLY fun bit!

7 Reattaching Ends of seal spring around the swivel

OK, Now you're all worried, let's do a 'dry run', because it's actually not THAT difficult, it's just FFS fiddly! And it does need a BIT of thought.

Our seal spring is a spring, right? OK. So, if we start with the two loose ends and try screwing them together, we will 'wind-up' the spring, and it will try and unwind and so undo-itself as soon as we let go.

Take note. Read that again, because THIS is the bit where it will all come apart, or not go together if you don't wrap your head round it.

So, what we have to do is wind up the spring first, THEN put the two ends together, and let it unwind, screwing itself together. Get it? Clever hugh?

Right, well, that's what the pic shows, and holding the open end still, and winding the spring up a bit at the other end, it will coil up on itself

Put the tapered end into the open end, and it SHOULD screw itself together.

Thing is, you need to b careful how much you pre-wind it; too much and the spring will bee looped up on itself when the two ends are together, too little, and the two ends wont be very well screwed together. Might take a few trys to get it about right, so you may want to mess about a bit and see how you go, before crawling under the car and doing it 'in situ'.

One 'tip', if you struggle, you CAN use a pair of needle nosed pliers to JUST open up the open end of the open end a tad, to make it a bit easier to get the two ends to join.

Another is to snip, or better grind three or four coils off the open end of the spring, to make it a little shorter. This means that if you don't get as much 'over-lap' as they did at the factory, the spring wont be too sloppy and loose, it will still have some tension. If you do, it shouldn't matter that much, the degree of 'stretch' on it is quite a lot, and three coils over a few hundred is probably less than 1%, but better a bit tight than not gripping, to my mind.

OK, lets do it in situ. Wrap the spring around the swivel, wind it up, and join the ends.

And if all goes to plan, the tapered end should screw itself neatly into the open end, and hey-presto!

OK, so in the real world, you'll be lying on your back, working in deep shadow, with bright sunlight dimming your view, or rain soaking you to the bone, and the blood draining from your fingers.......

And after the fiftieth attempt you MIGHT just get the two ends to go together! But, with perseverance they will!

Give it a tug to make sure that it will take tension, and ONCE you have got it this far, that is ALL the tricky bits done.

So go make a cup of coffee, and wash your hands and remind yourself just how much work you have 'saved' for that faffing about.

Would you RATHER be messing about with CV joints, setting swivel pin shims and hub-bearing pre-loads?!

IMPORTANT WARNING Fit Seal Spring BEFORE putting the seal on!

The spring fits round the lip INSIDE the seal, easy having done all the cutting to rush ahead and go wallop it in the hole forgetting about the spring! And its a lot easier to get that spring together without the seal hanging around the axle.

8 Putting the Seal Back Together

Well, it's plain sailing from here, so give everything a wipe over, and if you haven't already, wash your hands, because it's time to get the glue out!

So the first thing is to put the 'horse-shoe' section of the seal around the swivel, making sure that the spring is on the hub side of the seal as you twist it on. Next, you need to put the 'crescent section' into the gap, which is where the glue is going to come in.

We need to 'seat' the seal spring in the lip of the seal before we fit it. If we left the two sections of the seal 'loose', it would all flop about, and we'd never get the seal spring to seat properly, so we have to glue it all together, and I did this in two shots.

The first shot is with Super-Glue. This ISN'T very strong, and doesn't 'fill' the cracks up too well, but it is fast, and ideal for sticking the crescent section into the gap in the horse-shoe, and holding the two bits together, so you don't have to try and hold two pieces and flex a spring around them AND hold it all together while the proper glue sets!

Only needs a dribble on either end of the crescent, but pay attention around the seal lip, you need to get the two edges lined up neatly. Just be careful you don't glue the seal to your fingers!

The glue should take in about a minute, and you can then seat the spring into the seal lip, as shown in the picture, highlighted in the red circle is one of the two joints.

With the seal attached and assembled and resembling a seal again, it COULD be pressed into the rebate, but that super-glued joint isn't very strong, and doesn't fill the cracks where we took material out cutting the ring up.

So the next job is to glue it more securely with Epoxy, my preference being regular 'Araldite' two pack.

Highlighted again in the red circle, I'm smearing in a gloop of the stuff over one of the cracks. Remember to do both joints!

I have the seal hanging from the swivel, with the joints both at the bottom, first because it's easier to get to, and secondly so that the araldite 'puddles' towards the bottom.

Second pic shows the joint fully 'glooped', note I have a little on the seal spring. This is actually the 'splice' where the two ends of the spring were re-attached. I wanted a bit of glue there to be sure to keep the two ends together.

You can now wait the directed four hours for the glue to set, and clean or trim off any excess...... or as I did, give it half an hour to go 'tacky', at which point it isn't going to 'flow' any more and trickle away from the joints and into the workings of your swivel, if you press the seal home.

This has the advantage that while the epoxy is still malleable, any 'flex' in th seal as you push it home, wont crack the hardened resin.

So, it's a matter of twisting the seal round, so that the two joints are at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions, and lightly tapping it into it's rebate.

A good precaution when fitting seals is normally to give the wiping lip a quick smear with grease, so that it's not roughed up by running direct on metal when it's first turned. But, having lft the epoxy 'soft' that's not a great idea here, so I did it the other way around, and gave the Swivel ball a light smear instead!

And that's pretty much it! All that's left to do now, is to clamp the seal in place by putting the retaining ring back on; back to those niggling little screws and a bit of patience, waggling the steering from side to side to do them up evenly, opposites to opposites. (where the grease on the ball is helpful) Again, having the epoxy inside the seal still a bit malleable should mean that it will take up any disturbance or flex as its seated, though.

The Swivel drain plug should be refitted, and it will need to be filled with EP90 or a 'One-Shot' sachet of graphite grease, but worth leaving that for a couple of hours to be sure that the epoxy has set first.

Steps 5, to 8, in Video

    Video in Edit Suite! - will be added when all the swearing has been bleeped out!


A job well done, and object achieved. I managed to replace the swivel seals on Jaqui's axles without taking ANYTHING off the swivel apart from the seal retaining ring and the seal itself!

In terms of time and effort? Well, yes, there were a few 'fiddly' bits, like the seal retaining ring screws, and the seal spring.

The seal retaining ring screws would be a hassle any way you do it, and it was really only the one obscured by the lock stop nut that made life a bit awkward, but not hugely.

The seal spring was the real bug-bear, and only because it is so faffing fiddly, both to undo, and then to re-fasten. I'm a banana fisted Neanderthal, though! Some-on a bit more dextrous or nimble fingered should find it easier. And it's not THAT difficult, and it is the ONLY really fiddly bit.

Overall, it's a darn sight less faffing than stripping the whole Swivel down, THAT'S for sure, and with a lot less risk of finding any other extraneous hassles in the process.

I did the job amongst a host of others, and was having to work out what to do as I went along, so it's awkward to gauge the actual time I took, but with a lot of explanation of what I was doing to camera, my lad shot just over an hour of video of it, so it CANT have taken all THAT long.

So, armed with my instructions, the materials, and a few basic tools, I'd estimate that a 'typical' home mechanic could probably do this for both swivel seals in a little more than an after-noon. Cost wise, 15, if you have to buy glue as well as Swivel Seals.

And, fingers still crossed, but 3000 mils on, and Jaqui's seals still seem to be holding up to everything we've done, which has seen a fair bit of off-roading, harsh sand and sea-water, mud, grime and a spot of deep wading!

All told, I reckon that this is definitely a good fix. It's quick, it's cheap, and it's pretty easy......... BUT, it ISN'T a substitute for a proper axle overhaul, though, it MAY stave off the time until one absolutely HAS to be undertaken for quite a while!


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