Thursday, August 23, 2018

Cleaning and Repacking Your Trailer's Wheel Bearings

Cleaning and Repacking Your Travel Trailer (or boat trailer)'s Wheel Bearings is a pretty simple process.  Most trailer manufactures recommend replacing the grease in the bearings every 12 months or 12,000 miles (give or take depending on manufacturer). 

Changing the grease (called re-packing) extends the life of your wheel bearings and prevents major damage from heat buildup as you tow a lot of weight down the road.

To be honest, my trailer has 10,000 miles on it or so but I haven't changed the grease in the nearly 3 years we've owned it so I figured I better get to it before we take a nearly 1,000 mile trip this summer.

First and foremost is safety.  Let's cover this topic real quick.  You'll have a LOT of weight jacked up during this process and even the smallest of pop up trailers falling on you could cause serious injury or worse... or at the very least damage your rig.  It's recommended you should always be sure to chock the opposite side tires before jacking up the rig.

While it's highly unlikely that your jack would fail, it might accidentally gets bumped and give way, so I recommend using jack stands or some other brace to support the axle or trailer frame before it comes crashing to the ground.

Second, let's cover the items you'll need for this project:

  • Bottle or Floor Jack - I used two and recommend it if you have more than one available
  • Jack Stands and Tire Chocks
  • Rubber Gloves and clean rags or Shop TowelsYou'll go through quite a few pairs doing this
  • Brake Cleaner -  Not necessary but very helpful in cleaning the old grease off
  • Rubber Mallet
  • Flat head screw driver or thin straight edge blade
  • Grease - You can use any wheel bearing grease you'd like as long as it meets the speed and temperature requirements of your rig's tires.  I used Mag 1 brand "720 Red High Temp Disc Break Wheel Bearing Multi Purpose Grease" available at auto stores and Amazon
  • Cotter Pins - I don't recommend re-using the old ones
  • Grease Seals - This is important because the old ones are difficult to remove and will likely bend or get severely damaged during removal.  There will be more on the saga of the grease seals later.  I ordered mine off E-Trailer.Com and they came 3 days later.  
  • Piece of 2x4 lumber - This makes putting the new grease seal in very easy.
  • Pliers - You'll probably want either needle nose or linesmen pliers to remove and insert the cotter pin.  You'll also need tongue-and-groove pliers to loosen or tighten the castle nut.
Let's get started!  If you are even attempting this project, I'll assume you know the basics of jacking up your rig and removing the tire (don't forget to loosen the lugs before jacking it up!)  

Now that the tire is off, it should look something like this:



Next, insert a flat head screw driver or small blade in between the dust cap and the brake hub and pry it off.  Be careful to keep the dust cap clean so be ready to catch it when you pry it off.  Mine had a ton of dirty used grease inside it.  Clean it out and then set it aside.

Pry Off the Dust Cap



My Dirty Dust Cap


Next, clean off the castle nut so you can see it what you've got to work with.  Then, remove the cotter pin and unscrew the castle nut.  On some of my tires the washer was stuck to the castle nut so be careful it doesn't drop when you take off the nut and you don't know it's gone missing.  On most of my tires it was stuck to the bearings.  Either way, be careful you don't drop it and it gets dirty or lost.


 Clean Off The Castle Nut


 Remove the Cotter Pin


 Unscrew the Castle Nut


Cleaned Castle Nut


Next comes time to pull off the brake hub.  I covered up the front bearings with a rag so they didn't fall off into the dirt and get junk in them.  The rag thing is up to you, just keep the bearings clean and be aware they may fall when you pull the hub off.  Once the hub is off, place it on a nice clean surface. 


 Pulling off the hub. 


The front bearings once the hub was off


The brakes... exposed!


Ready?  Here comes the hardest part of this whole process!  Removing the grease cap from inside the hub is a little tricky.  I've read online or watched youtube videos of people prying, cutting, slicing, hammering... none of that seemed too appealing to me.  I found the best thing to do was insert the claw end of my every day all purpose hammer, hold down the hub, and pry off the grease cap.  It popped off after just a bit of force but it came out in one piece. 

So, I promised more to the "Grease Seal Saga" above and here it is.  I was dumb enough to look into new grease seals until I took off my first tire.  I had read they were readily available at auto parts stores and I figured I'd pull one off and take it to the store to get a matching part. 

Let me tell you, on Long Island here in New York, stores like Autozone and Advanced AutoParts do NOT sell them.  I guess travel trailers just aren't popular here in the North East enough to warrant them being in stock.  They sell seals that would fit but are for a different axle type and after close inspection they only have ONE rubber seal when the ones off my trailer are DUAL sealed with a metal braided coil band. 

So, I took to the internet and purchased mine from etrailer.com and with some extra cost on my end for expedited shipping (D'oh!) they arrived two days later and fit perfectly.  At about $6 per seal they are certainly cheap enough. 

Some people try to save and reuse their old ones but the general consensus is this is not a good idea.  It's hard to get them out as it is and they surely will get damaged during removal and likely not hold the new grease well or at all.  Just buy new and save the jump over a dollar to save a dime.

I'd imagine you could find your particular seal and pre-order it after searching online or a helpful member of a message board like www.irv2.net or something similar to the Jayco Owner's Message Board who has previous experience. 

For the record, the seals on my 2016 Jayco Jay Flight 23RB were the RG06-050 found here. 

I don't make any money or get free stuff from etrailer, but... I'm willing!  :) 

New Seals from eTrailer


Note the double rubber seal and braided coil band on the new grease seal


Old seal vs new

Alright, enough about the grease seals.  Take everything apart and clean it up nicely.  I used brake cleaner and a metric ton of rags cleaning up the bearings and all parts involved. 

All the parts cleaned up.  The grease seal in the picture was NOT used again.


Let's get greasy!  Now comes the fun part!  I used the palm method.  That being said, I took a glob of the new grease in my left palm and used my right palm to feed the new grease into the bearing seals.  The old grease will get pushed out through the top and just occasionally wipe off with a clean rag.  

This is the grease I used.  Feel free to use any appropriate wheel bearing grease.


 Using the "Palm" method to inject grease into the bearings.

 A little messy but more grease is more better.

It's ok to get things a little messy as long as that grease gets up into the bearings.  I live by the motto that more grease is much better than less grease.

While the bearings are out, it's a good time to inspect the races and the hub itself.  If you find any scarring, rust, scratches, or any other signs of damage it's a good time to take your trailer in to a mechanic for a thorough inspection as to why.  I put a dab of grease on my index finger and lube up both sides (inside and out) of the hub and races to add extra lubrication for the bearings.

 Lubricate!

Next, insert your freshly greased up interior bearings back into the hub.  Take your new grease seal and evenly seat it in the hub but it's not going to go in on it's own so this is where a nice piece of 2x4 lumber and a rubber mallet some in.  Make sure the wood is evenly pressed on the seal and tap it down using the mallet until flush.  Look at the photos down below for a better idea of what I'm trying to describe.

Freshly greased reinserted interior bearings

 Make sure the new grease seal is seated evenly in the hub


Use the 2x4 (or any wood that fits) and gently knock in place with a rubber mallet

Make Sure the New Grease Seal is Flush


On to the last step!  Replace the hub back onto the axle and then slide in the exterior bearings, the washer, and the castle nut.  

In tightening the castle nut, be careful not to over tighten.  The way I discovered how "tight" was "too tight" was to hand tighten the castle nut until I couldn't move it any more and then give it a half turn with a wrench.  Then I'd spin the hub and see how freely it moved.  

Most likely you'd have to slightly back off the castle nut.  The key is to have the castle nut tight enough that it doesn't have any play (can't be loosened by hand) but the hub spins freely.  It's a delicate balance but some playing with it and you'll figure it out.

Reinsert the Exterior Bearings


 The hub and bearings on the axle


 Reinsert the Washer


 Tighten the Castle Nut then Insert a New Cotter Pin


Insert a new cotter pin and bend the ends down.  Replace the dust cap with a few taps of your rubber mallet and you're all set!  You did it!  

This took about 35 or 40 minutes on my first tire and about 25 on the remaining three once I had figured out what I was looking for and what I was doing.  Not bad for a day's project, I might say!  Since completing this, we towed the trailer about 900 miles back and forth from Long Island to Buffalo, New York and did not have a problem with our brakes or hub temperatures.  

Another project is in in the books.  Thanks for reading!


 The Dust Cap is Back On and We're All Done!  3 Tires to Go!