Are dust caps/wheel covers/hub caps really needed to protect the wheel bearing/axle assembly on a modern FWD car?
The wheel bearings on a FWD car are completely different from the traditional 2-piece, tapered, repackable bearings you had on your old RWD cars. FWD bearings are not exposed or protected in any way by what happens in the nut area.
there is no dust cap for the hub opening where the axle nut/cotter pin reside.
That is not a problem for the shaft or the bearing, but it IS a problem for the nut and the threads on the nose of the CV joint.
See the photo below. You see this a lot in the North-East. In such cases, it will be necessary to use a needle file to re-cut the threads once the nut is off, and it can be necessary to drill out the cotter pin. But once the nut and washer are off, you will find that the area behind the nut is pristine and rust-free; even the threads that the nut actually covered will be clean. You NEVER re-use the nut in these cases.