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Repacking Bearings

Replacing Bearings

Trailer Compatability

Towing Trailers

 

 

Trailer Wheel Bearings

 Foreword

While a lot of us methodically do maintenance on our boats we tend to put minimal effort into our boat trailers. Top of the list of things we don't maintain well enough are trailer wheel bearings. How many times have you seen a trailer broken down on the side of the road? In this section I will cover wheel bearing inspection, packing and replacement. I strongly recommend wheel bearing inspection every year, then at that point decide on a straight repack or full replacement. NOTE ( bearing buddies are not a substitute for a bearing repack ). By planning a day in the middle of the off season to do wheel bearing maintenance you should never have bearing failure trouble.

Inspection

First we need to safely jack up and support our trailer. Before jacking slightly loosen all of our trailer wheel nuts as it's a lot easier with the wheel still on the ground. Always take extreme care when jacking and supporting trailer especially if the boat is still on the trailer. One good way to make sure the trailer doesn't go anywhere is to have it attached to the tow vehicle, then the vehicle brakes will prevent movement. If attaching to a vehicle is not an option , while on a flat surface securely chock wheel (s) on one side then jack up wheels on opposite side, remove and set onto a good jack stands. Make sure the trailer is securely in place on the jack stands. If you don't have enough jack stands to do both sides just do one at a time but I reckon you should invest in some more as they are cheap enough and makes life a little easier. Now that we have the wheels off the ground we need to remove the cap on the front of the hub. Use your initiative to pry these off ( whatever it takes ) . Some methods that have worked for me are:

                        1) Grip the whole cap with large channel lock pliers and twist cap off.

                        2) Tapping around and around with a small hammer using glancing blows.

                        3) A large flat blade screw driver by placing the blade between the hub housing and the shoulder on the housing cap, then twisting the blade. Move it one inch and repeat and so on till cap is off. Whatever it takes.

With the caps off check and see if the hub looks reasonably full of clean grease. Pull the hub in and out. Anything less than about 1/8'' is OK. If there is upwards of 1/4'' of movement I would replace the bearings just in case there is a chance of damage ,hey it's cheap insurance. If you have 1/8'' or less movement and when you spin the hub and there is no noticable rumbling or noise from the bearings a simple repack should be enough. If you find one bearing bad just replace them all. If you have brakes on your trailer and you spin the hub , try no to confuse the noise of the brake pads or shoes rubbing. If you have ANY doubts about the bearings or don't know when the were last replaced, just replace them as a precaution and a good starting point. If you go to buy new bearings try to get the ones that come as a complete kit with a seal and new cotter pin inside. If you are not real confident about measuring take one complete hub to the store with you. The three most common sizes are 1'' straight shaft, 1 1/16'' straight shaft and tapered ( 3/8'' inside to 1 1/16'' outside )

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Repacking Bearings

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Remove the wheel hub from the axle buy removing whatever holds the axles nut in place, thenremove the nut ususally followed by a thick washer, then pull the hub off. If you have trailer brakes you make have to remove the brake drum or if you have disk brakes you may have to remove the brake caliper and carefully tie it to the side. When  doing this be carefull not to strain the brake line also once the caliper is off, I like to place some sort of spacer to hold the pads about the same distance apart as the disc. This will make it a lot easier when assembling.

When disassembling the hub keep each hub seperate and keep pieces in order as they come off ( The SAME bearing MUST go back into the same race as it came out off )

When repacking always buy a set of new seals and cotter pins. With the hub off the bearing at the front of the hub will just be sitting there. Remember again keep things in order. Next flip the hub over and lever out the old seal. Be careful not to damage the bearing in behind it. Usually a large flat blade screwdriver will do it or even a pair of pliers. You will be throwing the seals away when the job is done so don't worry about damage to them. Now we get ourselves a large enough container for a whole hub to fit in. Put an inch or so of kerosine, paint thinner or similar cleaning solution into it. Then with a cheap paint or bristle brush give each bearing a good clean ( In order ) then the hub itself until it is spotless. Once all hubs have been cleaned have a close look at all the races. If any look suspect replace all of them. When the bearings are clean and full of grease do not put them back into the race and rotate them with out grease. This would result in baby damage which could grow to be monster damage at a later date. That later date probably being late Sunday evening on a busy freeway.( Murphy's Law applies a lot with wheel bearings )

Packing the Bearings

Here I will explain to the best of my ability how to pack grease into a bearing. It is not easily explained with words or pictures so if you do not fully understand the procedure and the result please seek out someone to show you the first time. ( Here goes ) If you are right handed scoop a good dollop of marine grade wheel bearing grease ( about the size of a ping pong ball into the center of your left palm. Hold the bearing between your thumb and forefinger with the narrow part of the taper facing outwards. Now press the bottom fat edge of the bearing into the leading edge of our blob of grease. We push down into the grease and pull back an inch. This method once you have the hang of it forces grease in at the fat end of the bearing. Eventually it will work it's way up to the skinny end of the bearing. Once you see the grease being forced out the skinny end rotate the bearing 1/2'' or so and repeat and so on untill the entire bearing is packed.

 

I will add some photo's of this process in here soon.

 

Once all bearings are packed we can also pack our hubs full of grease so as there would be virtually no room for air once back on the axle. Once you have put lots of grease in the hub , smear some grease on the rear bearing race. Put the newly packed bearing in it's original place followed by the seal which will hold that bearing in place. Sometimes using a flat piece of wood on top of the seal and tapping carefully with a hammer will get the seal started, once started tap the seal untill flush with the housing. If on the axle where the seal would contact has been badly worn you can tap the seal another 1/8'' further in. This will allow the seal to run on a fresh surface. Fill the remaining gap between the seal and the bearing with grease. Now clean the axles with solvent, dry them and smear fresh grease on them. Slide the hub back on, place the outer bearing on then washer and wheel nut. Tighten the nut as tight as you can with your fingers and see if the retaining washer or cotter pin line up with a hole. If not tighten with a wrench only to get to the next hole. Put cotter pin or retaining device in place. Fill you cleaned hub dust cap full of clean grease and carefully tap into place. If you have bearing buddies on your trailer on your trailer only pump enough grease in so your spring loaded diapham moves out about 1/8'' . Complete same process for rest of your hubs. Your now ready for your boating season. I still recommend your repack your bearings every year so you should never have problems. A word of caution with bearing buddies. When you pump grease into them and the spring loaded diaphram moves out slightly thats enough. If when you check them again next time the diapham is still in the same position, they don't need any more grease. A lot of poeple will get out the trusty old grease gun and give them a couple good pumps every time they are at the boat ramp. Once the hub is full and you keep putting grease in you will blow out the back seal . The back seal of course is located where you can't easily see it. So now dust, sand, water and bugs can get into the hub and destroy your bearings. So just be aware.

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Replacing Bearings

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OK so you have decided to replace the bearings. First thing you need to do is take one or all of your hubs off so you can take it to the marine store to see if they have the correct wheel bearing kits.

First we need to safely jack up and support our trailer. Before jacking slightly loosen all of our trailer wheel nuts as it's a lot easier with the wheel still on the ground. Always take extreme care when jacking and supporting trailer especially if the boat is still on the trailer. One good way to make sure the trailer doesn't go anywhere is to have it attached to the tow vehicle, then the vehicle brakes will prevent movement. If attaching to a vehicle is not an option , while on a flat surface securely chock wheel (s) on one side then jack up wheels on opposite side, remove and set onto a good jack stands. Make sure the trailer is securely in place on the jack stands. If you don't have enough jack stands to do both sides just do one at a time but I reckon you should invest in some more as they are cheap enough and makes life a little easier. Now that we have the wheels off the ground we need to remove the cap on the front of the hub. Use your initiative to pry these off ( whatever it takes ) . Some methods that have worked for me are:

                        1) Grip the whole cap with large channel lock pliers and twist cap off.

                        2) Tapping around and around with a small hammer using glancing blows.

                        3) A large flat blade screw driver by placing the blade between the hub housing and the shoulder on the housing cap, then twisting the blade. Move it one inch and repeat and so on till cap is off. Whatever it takes. Once the cap is off you can remove the wheel nut retaining cotter pin or special washer with bend tabs. Remove the nut and you should be able to pull the hub off. If you have trailer brakes you will want to take off the drum as it will make things easier to work on. If you have disc brakes you will probably have to remove the caliper and carefully tie it aside. I also like to put a small spacer of some sort to hold the brake pads about the same distance apart as the thickness of the brake disc. This will help with the assembly.

Once you have been to the marine store and have your correct wheel bearing kits and a large tub of marine grade wheel bearing grease you can procede to tear all the hubs apart. Put the hub face down on a flat firm surface and remove the rear seal. You wont be reusing them so don't worry about damage. Usually a large flat blade screw driver is enough to lever them out. With the seal and both bearings out we need to wash the hubs thoughly. Get a sturdy container large enough for you to fit the whole hub in and put a couple of inches of kerosine or other suitable cleaning solvent. With a cheap paint or bristle brush procede to clean the hubs till spotless. Now we need to get the old races out. Ideally we should try and use a brass drift or punch about 3/8''-1/2'' in diameter to knock out the races. Having the soft drift is good practice but if you only have a steel one it is OK on old races where damage is not an issue. To get the old races out we need to come in through the center of the hub to the back edge of the bearing race. The back edge lip is sometimes quite small so hold the punch steadily on it and tap firmly with your hammer. It may take a bit to get it moving but once started move the drift 1'' and tap again , keep doing this untill the bearing race is out. With all of the old races out give the hubs another good wash and dry.

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Bearing Replacement

Alright with all our new parts lets put these babies together. Smear a light film of grease in the hub where the new races will seat. Remember the fat edge of the race goes in first. Make sure the hub is sitting on a flat firm surface. Getting the new race started can sometimes be difficult. A method I've found helps is to use an old race the same size resting on top of the new race. Then put a flat piece of wood on top of that to help control angle. Then start taping with a hammer. They can be a little tricky to start but once started you should have no trouble. Once your race is in about 1/8''-1/4'' you can start using your brass drift. Use the same method as removal where you tap, move a 1/2'' and tap again and so on. You should be able to tell when the race is all the way in buy the sound. It will take on a solid feel and a ringing sound that was different than when it was going in. Once both races are in you can pack your bearings.

 

Packing the Bearings

Here I will explain to the best of my ability how to pack grease into a bearing. It is not easily explained with words or pictures so if you do not fully understand the procedure and the result please seek out someone to show you the first time. ( Here goes ) If you are right handed scoop a good dollop of marine grade wheel bearing grease ( about the size of a ping pong ball into the center of your left palm. Hold the bearing between your thumb and forefinger with the narrow part of the taper facing outwards. Now press the bottom fat edge of the bearing into the leading edge of our blob of grease. We push down into the grease and pull back an inch. This method once you have the hang of it forces grease in at the fat end of the bearing. Eventually it will work it's way up to the skinny end of the bearing. Once you see the grease being forced out the skinny end rotate the bearing 1/2'' or so and repeat and so on until the entire bearing is packed.

 

I will add some photo's of this process in here soon.

 

Once all bearings are packed we can also pack our hubs full of grease so as there would be virtually no room for air once back on the axle. Once you have put lots of grease in the hub , smear some grease on the rear bearing race. Put the newly packed bearing in it's place followed by the seal which will hold that bearing in place. Sometimes using a flat piece of wood on top of the seal and tapping carefully with a hammer will get the seal started, once started tap the seal until flush with the housing. If on the axle where the seal would contact has been badly worn you can tap the seal another 1/8'' further in. This will allow the seal to run on a fresh surface. Fill the remaining gap between the seal and the bearing with grease. Now clean the axles with solvent, dry them and smear fresh grease on them. Slide the hub back on, place the outer bearing on then washer and wheel nut. Next we do what is call preloading the new bearing. We tighten the nut to approximately 40ft/lb which is 40lbs pressure at 1' from the axle center line. We then turn the hub 4-5 times, it will be tight to turn. We then back the nut off a couple of turns then without moving the hub tighten as much as you can with your fingers. If the hole for your cotter pin is in line call it good and put it in. If not use a wrench to tighten only enough to get to the next hole. Same principle applies for tab style locking washers. Fill you cleaned hub dust cap full of clean grease and carefully tap into place. If you have bearing buddies on your trailer on your trailer only pump enough grease in so your spring loaded diapham moves out about 1/8'' . Complete same process for rest of your hubs. Your now ready for your boating season. I still recommend your repack your bearings every year so you should never have problems. A word of caution with bearing buddies. When you pump grease into them and the spring loaded diaphram moves out slightly thats enough. If when you check them again next time the diaphram is still in the same position, they don't need any more grease. A lot of people will get out the trusty old grease gun and give them a couple good pumps every time they are at the boat ramp. Once the hub is full and you keep putting grease in you will blow out the back seal . The back seal of course is located where you can't easily see it. So now dust, sand, water and bugs can get into the hub and destroy your bearings. So just be aware. You can now put back on any brake drums or disc calipers, then wheels. Remember to tighten wheel nuts with trailer on the ground. It's always good practice to check your wheel nuts for tightness before and after every trip. Have a good season. I hope you were able to understand and learn through my descriptions, it's not easy to explain parts of this subject. If you have any questions email me at  crew@boatcando.com   Cheers Boatcando Guy.

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 Trailer compatability

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In order to have a trailer tow safely and smoothly we have to make sure the tow vehicle hitch is rated to tow the boat and trailer. Ideally know how much your vehicle is rated to tow then select a boat trailer within that capacity or consider a larger vehicle. Another thing to look at are the brakes ( if fitted ) on the trailer you intend to buy. Are they electric brakes or hydralic surge style brakes? If they are electric brakes you may have to wire your vehicle for them, if you have the vehicle already wired you will have to make sure it is compatable with the brakes on the trailer. I preferr the hydralic surge style brakes as they are pretty much ready to hook up and go , provided they are in good condition. I also find they handle being submerged in water better , especially in salt water. No matter what style you get I recommend fitting a fresh water brake flushing system for the trailer.

Also check condition of:

1) Wheels and tires.

2)Trailer frame.

3)Trailer lights.

4)The bunks and rollers.

5)The trailer tongue jack.

6)The winch for pulling up the boat.

If possible it's a great idea to jack up each wheel and check for wheel bearing noise and if there is any great amount of play in the bearings. I strongly recommend when you first take ownership of the trailer doing a bearing repack or put new bearings in all the way round. Hope this helps you pick a good trailer, cheers Boatcando Guy.

 

Towing Trailers

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An important part of towing is making sure the balance of the boats weight on the trailer is correct. The ideal is 5%-10% of the total trailer and boat weight fully loaded with fuel and gear at the tongue of the trailer ie: where the trailer would attach to the vehicle . So if fully loaded your boat trailer is 5000lbs then  the weight at the tongue should be between 250lbs-500lbs. If you have a heavier boat/trailer combo close to your vehicle's towing capacity I would be inclined to have the tongue weight closer to the 5% and vice-versa for lighter boat/trailer combo's. Most smaller trailer/boat combo's can be measured by putting the trailer tongue jack onto a bathroom scale with a piece of wood to help protect the top of the scale. For bigger boat/trailers you may have to get access to a heavier duty scale. If you cannot achieve the tongue weight percentage you are after by shifting where the boat sits on the trailer or by shifting weight inside the boat you may have to contract someone to move you axles mounting location. On a tandem axle trailer where the tongue weight is good but trailer continues to weave try the following:

1) Check all wheel bearings are correctly adjusted and in good condition. If you just purchased the trailer it's a good idea to at best replace the bearings, or at least have the bearings repacked.

2) Check that all tires are same type and size and in good condition, also ensure tire pressures are the same.

3) Sometimes it has been found that a 5-10lb pressure difference between the front and rear tandem axles has helped stabilise towing. First try the front axle being slightly lower pressure than the rear, if no different try rear being slightly lower pressure than front. If none of this works it might be time to track down a trailer professional, but I hope you managed to solve the problem yourself, cheers Boatcando Guy.

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