How Often Should You Grease Wheel Bearings on a Trailer?

Greasing the wheel bearings on your trailer is an essential maintenance task that should not be overlooked. Failing to regularly grease the wheel bearings can lead to a seized bearing, which could cause a wheel to lock up while driving and create an extremely hazardous situation. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of how often you should grease the wheel bearings on your trailer to keep it in safe operating condition.

Overview of Wheel Bearings

Wheel bearings are a critical component on any trailer. They allow the wheels to spin freely around the axle shafts. Inside the wheel hub is a pair of inner and outer bearings separated by a bearing spacer. These bearings are packed with grease, which provides lubrication to minimize friction as the bearings rotate.

The main purposes of wheel bearings are:

  • Allow wheels to spin with minimal friction
  • Support the weight of the trailer
  • Absorb shock and vibration from the road

Wheel bearings are designed to last for thousands of miles. However, the grease inside will gradually break down over time and need to be replaced. Driving with old, worn out grease can lead to overheating, which damages the bearings and can cause them to seize up.

Signs that wheel bearings need servicing include:

  • Excessive play when rocking the wheel
  • Grease leaking from the seals
  • Abnormal noises when rotating the wheel
  • Overheating hubs after driving

To prevent seizing and extend the life of your bearings, they need to be routinely repacked with fresh grease.

The general rule of thumb is to repack trailer wheel bearings every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first.

However, several factors can influence the ideal greasing interval for your trailer:

1. Type of Trailer

  • Small utility trailers: Repack every 6 months or 6,000 miles
  • Travel trailers: Repack every 12 months or 10,000 miles
  • Large fifth wheel campers: Repack every 12 months or 12,000 miles
  • Boat trailers: Repack at least once per boating season

Larger and heavier trailers put more stress on the bearings, necessitating more frequent greasing.

2. Frequency of Use

  • If you use your trailer every weekend or take frequent long trips, grease the wheel bearings more often than someone who only uses their trailer occasionally. The more miles accumulated, the quicker the grease breaks down.

3. Road Conditions

  • Driving on rough gravel roads accelerates wear on bearings compared to smooth asphalt. Grease wheel bearings more frequently if subject to harsh road conditions.

4. Climate and Weather

  • Exposure to water when launching a boat can contaminate grease over time. Trailers in wet climates need more frequent greasing.
  • Driving in extremely hot weather will break down grease faster. Grease more often if operating in high temperatures.

In summary, grease interval recommendations:

  • Small utility trailer used weekly: Every 6 months or 5,000 miles
  • Travel trailer used most weekends: Every 6-12 months or 7,500 miles
  • Fifth wheel camper used occasionally: Every 12 months or 10,000 miles
  • Boat trailer used 10 times per season: At beginning and end of season

Consult your owner’s manual since manufacturers provide greasing recommendations based on the specific trailer.

How to Repack Wheel Bearings

Repacking wheel bearings is a straightforward process you can do yourself:

Supplies Needed:

  • Wheel bearing grease
  • Grease gun
  • Rubber mallet
  • Wheel bearing packer tool
  • Rags for cleaning

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Remove the hub cap and set aside.
  2. Remove cotter pin and spindle nut that holds the wheel hub in place.
  3. Pull the hub off the spindle. If stuck, use a rubber mallet to tap the backside of the hub.
  4. Carefully remove the outer bearing and set aside.
  5. Remove the grease seal around the inner bearing. Pry it out with a flathead screwdriver.
  6. Extract the inner bearing using a bearing puller tool.
  7. Thoroughly clean the bearings, hub cavity, and spindle with rags and degreaser.
  8. Inspect bearings for any pitting, discoloration, or damage. Replace if necessary.
  9. Pack inner and outer bearings with fresh grease using a bearing packer tool. Work grease thoroughly into the rollers.
  10. Install inner bearing into the hub and replace the grease seal.
  11. Install outer bearing and bearing spacer.
  12. Reinstall hub onto spindle and hand tighten the spindle nut.
  13. Torque the spindle nut to manufacturer specs.
  14. Reinstall cotter pin and bend ends to secure nut.
  15. Replace hub cap.
  16. Spin the wheel and make sure it turns smoothly without wobbling.

And that’s it! Properly repacking the wheel bearings will keep the grease fresh and ensure thousands more miles of reliable service.

Using Bearing Buddy Caps

An alternative to manually repacking the bearings is to use Bearing Buddy caps. These caps screw onto the hub and provide an easy way to grease the wheel bearings without needing to disassemble the entire hub.

Benefits of Bearing Buddies:

  • Allow greasing while the hub remains intact
  • Simple DIY installation
  • Convenient zerk fitting for grease gun
  • See at a glance when grease is low

Bearing Buddies are ideal for boat trailers that are frequently submerged. The waterproof cap prevents water contamination of the grease.

To use Bearing Buddies:

  1. Remove existing hub cap and clean surface.
  2. Apply thread locker to Buddies and screw onto hub.
  3. Attach grease gun to zerk fitting and pump grease until new grease purges from cap.
  4. Add grease again after each wheel bearing service interval.

The clear cap lets you visually inspect the grease level at any time. Top off the grease if you notice it getting low. Properly filled Bearing Buddies will provide enhanced protection for your wheel bearings.

Symptoms of Failing Wheel Bearings

It’s important to be vigilant and watch for any signs that your trailer wheel bearings are failing and need immediate servicing. Here are some common indicators that the bearings are worn and potentially about to seize up:

  • Excess Play: Grab the tire at the top and bottom and rock it back and forth. If you feel any looseness or clunking, the bearings could be worn out.
  • Grease Leakage: Look for fresh grease oozing out around the seals, indicating contaminated or damaged seals.
  • Noisy Operation: Listen for growling, grinding or squealing noises coming from the wheel hub when spinning.
  • Overheating: Carefully check if the hub feels abnormally hot after driving. Excessive heat buildup can warp bearings.
  • Vibration: Feel for any unusual vibration through the steering wheel or trailer floor while driving. Damaged bearings can create imbalance.

If you notice any of these warning signs, have your trailer serviced right away before a catastrophic bearing failure occurs. Worn bearings will only further deteriorate if not addressed quickly.

Consequences of Neglecting Wheel Bearings

It’s clearly critical to not overlook wheel bearing maintenance on your trailer. Here are some serious consequences that can occur if wheel bearings are not greased often enough:

  • Seized Bearing: Insufficient grease leads to overheating, which can weld the bearing races together and cause the entire wheel to freeze up while in motion.
  • Ruined Hub: An overheated bearing can damage the hub itself. Excess heat can warp the metal hub and bearing bores.
  • Wheel Detachment: If the bearing fully fails, the wheel can detach from the trailer, creating a major safety hazard.
  • Loss of Control: A locked up wheel at highway speeds can cause the trailer to abruptly pull to one side, potentially resulting in a rollover accident.
  • Costly Repairs: If the bearings burn up, you’ll be faced with towing fees, replacement parts, and labor expenses.

Routinely greasing the wheel bearings every 6-12 months prevents these problems and protects your investment in the trailer.

Wheel Bearing Types

There are a few different types of wheel bearings used on trailers:

  • Capped Bearings: These traditional bearings use a grease cap on a standard spindle. Need to be periodically repacked.
  • E-Z Lube or Super Lube: These spindles have a grease zerk fitting for easy greasing without hub removal.
  • Oil Bath: A sealed oil-filled hub that doesn’t need routine greasing. Requires periodic oil changes.
  • Nev-R-Lube: Permanently sealed and lubricated bearings. No greasing needed for life of assembly.
  • Roller Bearings: Cylindrical rollers instead of ball bearings for heavy loads. Used on large fifth wheel RVs.

Knowing your trailer’s bearing style will determine the maintenance procedures. Most small to mid-sized trailers use simple capped bearings that must be repacked regularly.

Greasing Wheel Bearings Step-by-Step

Here is a step-by-step guide to properly repacking the wheel bearings on a trailer with capped bearings:

Supplies Needed:

  • Wheel bearing grease – Use an NLGI #2 multi-purpose lithium grease.
  • Grease gun – A lever-action pistol grip grease gun is easiest to handle.
  • Rubber mallet – Used to tap the hub off the spindle.
  • Wheel bearing packer – Cone-shaped tool to thoroughly work grease into bearings.
  • Rags – For cleaning parts.
  • Degreaser – To clean old contaminated grease off components.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Chock trailer tires to prevent rolling and loosen lug nuts.
  2. Remove hub cap or dust cover from hub.
  3. Remove cotter pin and spindle nut from axle.
  4. Pull hub assembly off the spindle. Use mallet if stuck.
  5. Unseat outer bearing and set aside. Avoid dropping.
  6. Pry out inner oil seal with a flathead screwdriver.
  7. Remove inner bearing from the hub.
  8. Clean all parts thoroughly with degreaser and rags.
  9. Inspect bearings and races for damage. Replace if necessary.
  10. Pack inner bearing by forcing grease into the rollers with a bearing packer.
  11. Install inner bearing into the hub.
  12. Install new grease seal around inner bearing.
  13. Pack outer bearing using the bearing packer.
  14. Install outer bearing into the hub.
  15. Reinstall hub onto axle spindle.
  16. Replace spindle washer and hand tighten nut.
  17. Torque spindle nut to manufacturer specs.
  18. Install new cotter pin and bend ends to secure nut.
  19. Replace hub cap.
  20. Repeat process on all remaining wheel hubs.

Proper wheel bearing maintenance keeps your trailer safe and extends the service life. Follow these steps to repack the bearings at the recommended intervals.

Choosing the Right Wheel Bearing Grease

Selecting the appropriate type of grease is critical for maximizing wheel bearing life and performance. Here are important factors to consider when choosing wheel bearing grease:

  • NLGI Grade 2 – This mid-level consistency grease works best for trailer wheel bearings. NLGI #0 is too thin and NLGI #3 is overly thick.
  • Lithium-Complex – Lithium thickener holds up well under pressure and resists water contamination.
  • EP Additives – Look for “extreme pressure” additives like molybdenum disulfide to handle heavy loads.
  • Corrosion Inhibitors – Prevents rusting of bearings from moisture exposure.
  • Drop Point Over 500°F – The temperature where grease thins out should well exceed maximum hub temps.
  • Approved by Axle Maker – Confirm grease meets specifications from axle manufacturer.

It’s best to use a premium, heavy duty NLGI #2 grease designed specifically for trailer wheel bearings. This ensures optimal lubrication for smooth, quiet running hubs.

Citations: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

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