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Author Topic:   Trailer: Wheel Bearing Maintenance
PeteB88 posted 07-25-2006 02:39 PM ET (US)   Profile for PeteB88   Send Email to PeteB88  
I decided to plow into this wheel bearing question and contacted the local wheel bearing pros at Detroit Ballbearing (former name actually now Applied Industrial Technologies - but old pro crew still there). They are the "go to" resource around here for hard core commercial interests. They flourished up until GM strangled off all the local suppliers, tool and die shops, drop forges, etc.

My intent was to make my Karavan trailer as road worthy as possible w/ new bearings, races, seals and to determine best preventive measures for long term reliability and hassle free towing.

For the record and this thread, this is for the 13 Sport and Yamaha 40 I consider my Swiss-Army-knife boat.

I searched around extensively for a galvanized tilt trailer as light weight as possible to launch and retrieve anywhere. This one is used (Karavan doesn't make tilt trailers anymore as I understand it) and came w/ 8 inch tires but is adaptable to 12 inch wheels/tires. I decided to keep the 8 inchers to test for a couple of trips before going to bigger tires.

The hubs are Tie Down Engineering brand - the spindles have center grease fittings and two ports; one for outside bearing and one for inside bearings. I attached the grease gun and displaced all the old grease while testing function - they seem to work great.

The Detroit Ballbearing guys told me the following:
1) most failures of boat trailer bearings are the result of launching boats immediately after road trip to lake or river. They were insistant this is a big deal going into great detail about what happens when hot/warm bearings are immersed into cool water. They implied that rain water is more like a spray than a dunk.

They strongly recommend waiting at least 20 minutes allowing bearings and hubs to cool before backing trailer into the water.
2) They strongly recommended to use sythetic grease indicated for wheel bearings like Mobile ONE or a Dow product. They advised sythetic grease is more heat resistant and coats bearing and race surfaces much better.
3) Use the highest quality bearings available - they advised that many discount auto parts and marine sellers sell name brand "price point" bearings that are not of the same quality as commercial duty components. However, they did say that due to high tech manufacturing techniques all bearings are better (higher tolerances) than in the past. They said avoid bearing sets made in China.
4) They said repack bearings biannually or every year and with high quality materials they should function properly for a long time.

My Timken bearing sets and seals (different brand - I saved the box) were spendy, more than Autozone, but that's the way it goes.

Mobile ONE grease is red so I am curious what it will look like when I tear the bearings down this fall or next spring.

Remaining Questions - time will tell or you guys will for sure!!

1) I am not exactly sure how well the Tie Down hubs actually work. The double grease ports make sense but I have no idea how effective they are or how they compare to Bearing Buddies.

2) I plan to repack every year for sure regardless of recommendations.

I hope this helps someone else. I am interested in responsed to all this.


Whaler_bob posted 07-25-2006 02:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for Whaler_bob  Send Email to Whaler_bob     
They strongly recommend waiting at least 20 minutes allowing bearings and hubs to cool before backing trailer into the water.

And I'd like a nice cool ice tea waiting for me once I pull into the local ramp too.... ;-))
Sounds good, but impractical in the real world. I could imagine the line at the ramp if there was a 20 min cool-down period for each boater.

The use of synthetic grease is probably the best thing you could do to prolong bearing life.

Bigger tires/rims revolve less times per mile than small tires/rims and therefore generate less heat and the increased metal mass of the larger rim is a better heatsink.
Bigger is better!

home Aside posted 07-25-2006 03:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for home Aside  Send Email to home Aside     
I'm curious, Comparative to Synthetic Grease, what about marine grade grease? Is there such a thing as a Marine Grade Synthetic Grease ?

That's what I always used on my Montauk Trailer and never had a failure. I always carry a grease gun in my trailering equipment wherever I go.


PeteB88 posted 07-25-2006 03:15 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
I agree that the 20 minute wait would drive me nuts.

Pat, I asked that question - as regards marine grade grease this is what they told me (assuming you are referring to the blue stuff): "marine grade" grease products are NOT indicated for wheel bearings (unless labeling says so) and really indicated for lubing various parts of outboard motors where grease fittings are found, steering, lift components etc.

They insisted that regardless of brand or formulation the labeling must confirm the product is designed to be used to lubricate wheel bearings among other things.

Don't shoot the messenger!!

pglein posted 07-25-2006 03:26 PM ET (US)     Profile for pglein  Send Email to pglein     
How about a "how to" on repacking the bearings?
Peter posted 07-25-2006 04:16 PM ET (US)     Profile for Peter  Send Email to Peter     
DO NOT USE marine grease for trailer bearings. USE trailer bearing grease. I have learned this lesson the hard way. Marine grease will cook in the bearing housing.
PeteB88 posted 07-25-2006 05:37 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
Peter - that's what the bearing dudes said, right!
HAPPYJIM posted 07-26-2006 08:22 AM ET (US)     Profile for HAPPYJIM  Send Email to HAPPYJIM     
High quality bearings, from a bearing store, are priced about the same as the bubble pack bearings sold at Walmart.
Hot hubs are an indication of too much friction and failure is imminent.
Dunking a hot hub will suck water into the bearing area and water is not a good lubricant for bearings.
Keeping the hub full of grease will not allow water to get in.
If you see grease slinging outward from the hub, you may have a seal leak which will allow water to enter.

Get into the habit of placing the back of your hand on the hubs every time that you stop and walk around the boat. You will get to know which hubs are getting warm and can keep an eye on it. Once that habit is practiced every time without thinking about it, you will find yourself looking at the tires also for cuts, abrasions and bubbles and uneven wear. The whole process takes less than 5 seconds for each wheel but will save hours on the side of a busy highway repairing a breakdown.
keltonkrew posted 07-26-2006 08:27 AM ET (US)     Profile for keltonkrew  Send Email to keltonkrew     
I agree with HAPPYJIM. At every rest stop that we stopped at (or fuel stop), I would walk around my trailer, feel the hubs, look at the tires. It takes longer to fill up the truck than to do this check. Also check your hitch, safety chains and electrical connections.

This only takes a couple of minutes but will save hours upon hours of aggrivation if you have a break down on the side of the road in 100 deg weather.

I did this with my Travel Trailer as well on our many long journeys.

I have the tie-down hubs on my boat, but I have the oil bath hubs so I can see the fluid. I have had them on this trailer for over 2 years and haven't had a problem.

My PWC trailer I have the regular hubs on so I typically pack them once a year as I don't put many miles on that trailer.

PeteB88 posted 07-26-2006 12:19 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
Thanks for the comments - what got me going on all this was before I started using the Karavan, I used my grease gun to grease up the hubs via Tie Down Engineering grease fitting with the intention of replacing/repacking bearings prior to a long trip. Next I did several short trips - less than 10 miles one way and two longer trips via country roads maybe 50 mph tops. However, we decided to go ~ 50 miles via interstate and after 15 or so miles I pulled off, checked hubs and I could not keep my hand on either side longer than 5-10 seconds max.

We took slow country roads home and I tore into the hubs the next day - This assumes I should have been able to grab on to the hubs longer than 10 seconds. I have no idea how hot they get under normal use and loads.

I find this topic very interesting and welcome all the advice you guys want to share.


st posted 07-26-2006 01:50 PM ET (US)     Profile for st  Send Email to st     
Good topic Pete,
I agree, this basic little maintenace item is very important to get it done right. I thought I did! Early this year I redid my bearings; I put in the new grease by hand, without really packing them in...this is not correct; the hubs got very hot to touch on the road.

Looking back, I am pretty sure that this wouldn't happened had I properly packed the grease in; -by pumping the grease through the nipples on the Bearing Buddy until the piston started to expand-or the grease started to ooze out from the "relieve pin hole".

PeteB88 posted 07-26-2006 02:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
There are so many versions of wheel bearing advice and maintenance I just want to try to determine best.

Does anyone have any experience with Tie Down Engineering hubs? Mine are Super Lube spindles - w/ rubber caps - pdf instructions illustrate. Seems like a great design. It is certainly interesting and informative to read their instruction manual which indicates serious commitment to customer service.


Buckda posted 07-26-2006 02:38 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Not being able to keep your hand on the hubs is really subjective: Subject to the ambient temperature and sunlight - 100 degree temps and strong sunlight makes the car door so hot I can't keep my hand there!
Subject to your threshold/tolerance for heat/pain.


This is a great subject, as I belong to the camp mentioned above - I check my hubs, lights and safety chains at every fuel stop (Every 250 miles or so on the current vehicle) and every other stop (bio breaks, etc.)

I also make a point to spend about 10 minutes before dunking the trailer at the ramp (in a tiedown or prep lane - or in a vacant parking space) to prep the boat. This is when I do my safety check of the vessel, including inventory of PFD's, etc. and when I remove trailer tie-downs, disengage the trailer support brackets on the motors, erect canvas, etc. I also use this time to listen to the weather radio for the latest weather forecast.

PeteB88 posted 07-26-2006 03:20 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
Thanks Dave - it was late afternoon, maybe 6 pm, atmospheric temp mid 70s, medium humidity but hubs were extremely hot - I'm a Macedonian and have high tolerance to hot and have good mechanical skills but like to double check things until I feel I understand what's up.


pglein posted 07-26-2006 05:24 PM ET (US)     Profile for pglein  Send Email to pglein     
My hubs are are original with my trailer, which is about 5 years old. I squirt some grease in the fittings about once a year, but have never done anything more for them.

On my last long trip across the state, I checked them on every stop. They were never more than just slightly warm to the touch. Definitely not hot. I was more concerned about the tires. They weren't hot either, but definitely had some warmth to them, while the tires on my tow rig were room temperature.

My plan is to replace the tires with something that can handle the high speeds I tow at (I keep it to 70mph now, but hope to be able to cruise at 80-90). At 70mph, I'm getting passed left and right. I'm worried I'm going to cause an accident.

HAPPYJIM posted 07-26-2006 05:39 PM ET (US)     Profile for HAPPYJIM  Send Email to HAPPYJIM     
Many trailer tires will not hold up to sustained 70MPH speeds. Check the rating to be sure. Cheap trailer tires will cost you more in the long run.
Chuck Tribolet posted 07-26-2006 08:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
The hubs should never be more than a few (5-10F) degrees
warmer than ambiant. For a benchmark on ambiant, touch the
trailer frame.

Tie down makes a BUNCH of different hubs. I like the ones
with a grease fitting on the back, and put SS Bearing buddies
on them I install and torque the hub, pump grease in the
back until the hub is about full on the outside (this does
a fine job of packing the bearings), then install the BB
and pump grease in through it till the piston lifts about
1/8". BTW, Tie Down makes galvanized hubs now.

I carry a spare hub and bearing kit, and all the tools needed,
in a couple of Rubbermaid containers (poor man's tupperware).

It takes me about 45 minutes to set up dive gear and suit up,
so 20 minute wait is moot.


PeteB88 posted 07-26-2006 10:03 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
I saw the Tie Down hubs on the web w/ grease fitting on inside of hub - mine have single grease fittings center of spindle. So Chuck, you use Bearing Buddy brand? Is there much difference?

Thanks for reference re: ambient temp.


Chuck Tribolet posted 07-26-2006 11:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
Grease fittong on the end of the SPINDLE, or the center of
the hub cap?

I use Bearing Buddy because:

A. They invented them.
B. They come in SS, though the only place I can get SS
reliably is direct from the factory (no biggy, they have a
website, and the factory is in Puerto Rico, so three days
USPS Priority Mail fer cheap.

There's one more approach that hasn't been mentioned, but
it requires a special axle with a zerk on the back of the
spindle. I think Champion Trailer has those.

I don't like the oil bath because if you loose the cap, the
lube is gone NOW. With grease it takes a while.


PeteB88 posted 07-27-2006 03:55 AM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
Chuck - I sent you an email w/ pdf.
lonestarpa posted 07-27-2006 06:55 AM ET (US)     Profile for lonestarpa  Send Email to lonestarpa     
not a problem for us "old guys" that started boating in the 60's, in salt water before galvinized trailers you kept as much of the trailer out of the water as possible.... we kept the bearings 2 to 3 inches above water as a rule. We used our center rollers to make it possible. (check out a classic whalers owners manual. float on trailers are great for selling trailers and parts! joe
keltonkrew posted 07-27-2006 08:25 AM ET (US)     Profile for keltonkrew  Send Email to keltonkrew     
I don't like the oil bath because if you loose the cap, the
lube is gone NOW. With grease it takes a while.

Chuck, that is true....however to lose an oil bath hub is pretty difficult. I've lost several bearing buddy caps since they are basically a "press in" fitting in the hub.

The oil bath caps are a threaded connection with thread sealer. You have to take a big pair of channel lock pliers to unscrew these from the hub. By looking at mine, I would say it's almost impossible to lose the cap. (granted, everthing in reality is possible) but the chances of losing a oil bath cap vs bearing buddie is slim to none. To change the fluid, you don't even remove the cap. There is a threaded plug in the hub that you remove, turn the hub, let the oil drain out. turn the hub up and add more fluid. Talk about a timesave keeping your bearings lubricated.

These are proven hubs - the have been used on OTR trucks for many years...and you know how many miles these semi's put on in a year.

I wish I had them on my PWC trailer, but I can't see the need in replacing perfectly good hubs and seals (it's only 2 years old) with the oil bath and I don't put many miles on that trailer.

Ferdinando posted 07-27-2006 11:57 AM ET (US)     Profile for Ferdinando  Send Email to Ferdinando     
I agree with Kelton, I have the oil bath on my trailer for the past 3 years and their great. No mess or fuss. I just change the oil maybe once or twice a year and thats it, never had a problem and I will not go back to grease. Fred
PeteB88 posted 07-28-2006 08:30 AM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
This is great information and I appreciate it. I have been very interested in the oil bath hubs which make total sense to me.

In any case, I learned alot from this thread and have one more question: I have packed bearings palm - method for years. Howver, I have never owned a bearing packer device and bought one at an autoparts store that looks like two funnels and metal fitting. It seemed to work okay but I want to add to my tool inventory and wonder if any of you have recommendations for best bearing packer.

Have a great weekend boating!!!!!

One day closer to Christmas.

st posted 07-28-2006 11:29 AM ET (US)     Profile for st  Send Email to st     
What brand and place (website) to purchase on your Oil bath hub? Thanks!


Ferdinando posted 07-29-2006 01:49 AM ET (US)     Profile for Ferdinando  Send Email to Ferdinando     

Their called Turbo-Lubes and you can buy them at West Marine, Overtons and almost any other place that sells
trailer parts. I think they were about 40 bucks a pair.


thediscusthrower posted 07-30-2006 11:09 AM ET (US)     Profile for thediscusthrower  Send Email to thediscusthrower,2021,DIY_13718_2277898,00.html

Here is a do it yourself guide for repacking your boat trailer bearings.


Whaler_bob posted 07-30-2006 11:41 AM ET (US)     Profile for Whaler_bob  Send Email to Whaler_bob     
Your inboard side axle seal landing surface has to be in really great shape to use the oil bath/Turbo-Lubes.
If the axle seal landing area has any pitting or rust... out the oil comes! New trailers... no problem, old trailers with some axle rust ????
keltonkrew posted 07-30-2006 09:32 PM ET (US)     Profile for keltonkrew  Send Email to keltonkrew     
Mine are by Tie-Down Engineering. I had a new axle put on my trailer. The spindle has to be perfect (if equiping a used axle) for these hubs to work. A new axle really doesn't cost that much if your's isn't that good. The time saved during maintenace and being able to see you bearings is worth it to me!
PeteB88 posted 08-02-2006 11:02 AM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
thanks again for the advice from you guys.


jimmy c posted 08-02-2006 01:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimmy c  Send Email to jimmy c     
Ditto on the surfaces of the axel where the seals contact..
This is the most overlooket item when repacking wheel bearings...the surface is most always rusted and in some cases I have found weld splatter from when the stub was welded in....all will present problems with a new seel.
Check this area very carefully...I use fine emery paper and polish the seal contact surface to get a good seal.
PeteB88 posted 08-02-2006 04:17 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
Thanks - I wish I knew that before I put them back together - next time. Fine emory on contact surfaces make total sense.
jimh posted 08-02-2006 07:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I use a RayTek MT-4 infrared thermometer gun to monitor the temperature of the tires, the brake drums, and the wheel bearings. On a recent trip in 95-degree sunshine the tires were running around 135°F. This heat soaks into the wheel and warms the bearings, too. Also, in some situations where there is a lot of stop-and-go traffic and the trailer brakes come on heavily, the brake drums will run quite warm, and that heat will tend to warm the wheels and the bearings. Finally, if the wheels have brakes and the brakes are dragging slightly, this will drive the temperature up, too.

For a long time I have been using Mercury Marine 2-4-C lubricant with Teflon for the wheel bearings, however I did just recently switch over to a so-called trailer bearing grease.

A local trailer rental and repair shop has consistently told me that the most common problem they see with boat trailers is blown rear seals from the owner having forced too much grease into the bearings via the Bearing Buddy grease fitting. If the wheel has a drum brake it is common that the brake linings become contaminated with grease. Such a lining will be prone to sticking.

PeteB88 posted 08-02-2006 11:47 PM ET (US)     Profile for PeteB88  Send Email to PeteB88     
How do you know when you've pumped enough grease into a hub? Assuming regular grease gun. I"ve been greasing equipment most of my life like tractors, mower decks, occasional bigger stuff but not trailer bearings with grease fittings.

Chuck Tribolet posted 08-03-2006 10:02 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
How much grease:


Lars Simonsen posted 06-22-2008 01:09 PM ET (US)     Profile for Lars Simonsen  Send Email to Lars Simonsen     
I just finished replacing all of the bearings on my 1998 2 axle load rite trailer. It was motivated by the need to replace the non-functioning drum brakes that were on the trailer with new Kodiak disk brakes. I've owned the boat and trailer since 2002 (I bought it used), and have only replaced one set of bearings (one wheel). I feel certain that the other three wheels had the original bearings (at least I've never replaced them, and the guy I bought the boat from barely used the boat and trailer at all). I also have the bearing buddies, and the spindles that allow the grease to go through to the back bearing and out the pinhole in the back (they may be tiedown brand, but I'm not sure).

In any case, I never intentionally let my hubs cool down before dunking the trailer. But my hubs generally don't get much warmer than the ambient temperature. I don't use marine grease in my hubs, either, just wheel bearing grease. I do regularly grease them (far more than twice a year), particularly before a long trip, or after a saltwater dunking. Now that I have disk brakes, I may pay more attention to temperature before I dunk the trailer, though.

The condition of the bearings I removed was virtually perfect, even after 10 years of use, and regular dunking without allowing them to "cool" (usually in brackish and occasionally salt water).

So, based on my experience, if you keep fresh wheel bearing grease in your hubs, they'll last a long, long time.

jackpine posted 06-27-2008 05:54 PM ET (US)     Profile for jackpine  Send Email to jackpine     
[Changed topic to a new topic. Please start a new thread if you wish to change the topic from a discussion of bearing maintenance.]

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