Keep The Wheels Turning

Don’t Ignore Your Trailer Bearings

FSF Staff June 11, 2013

As an avid boater one must be adept and proficient in a variety of facets to overcome the numerous obstacles that come along the way. Call it an ongoing adventure or a learning experience, but the road to angling glory is a bumpy one that’s chock full of disabling bumps and unexpected potholes.

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Photo: General Motors

Meticulously maintaining tackle, gear, accessories and a vessel for that matter is a full time job for a dedicated crew, but you probably take such great pride in doing it all by yourself. However, at the end of the day when the priorities are properly cared for you can’t forget about your trailer. As easy as it is to overlook, it’s actually the first step to any successful trailer boater’s day on the water.

With extreme disregard you will notice a wobbly wheel due to loss of bearing tolerances—now you’re in trouble.

Trailers vary greatly depending on their payload and construction, but one common factor amongst all trailers is the importance of bearing maintenance. Considering the severe consequences, it’s surprising more boaters don’t take a closer look at their trailer bearings after a long day on the water. While you are in your happy place with feet kicked up on the coffee table enjoying a platter of fresh fish fingers, your trailer is left to drip dry after a corrosive saltwater dunk.

When determining the amount of maintenance needed you must first evaluate how often your trailer is used, where it is used and the components of the trailer, including the method used to grease the bearings and hubs. When designing our SuperFly skiff we knew a safe and reliable trailer was a must to keep us rolling along. Turning to the professionals at MagicTilt Trailers in Sarasota, we opted for a custom cradle specific to the SuperFly and learned a lot along the way in regards to the importance of trailer bearing maintenance.

How you care for your bearings and hub assembly will vary depending on the type of system you have in place. Trailers outfitted with a posi-lube spindle have grease fittings on the axle that enable fresh grease to be pumped in with a grease gun. While this system is common and relatively simple to care for, there’s no protection from water intrusion and the grease should be flushed on a seasonal basis. Another common bearing protector is a simple dust cap that is packed with grease, but this system doesn’t prevent water intrusion and bearings must be re-packed and re-greased regularly.

The third system, and recommended approach since the majority of the boating public is too busy doing everything other than preventative maintenance, is a Bearing Buddy cap. This glorified dust cap has a large cavity that is filled with grease. An internal spring puts positive pressure on the inner hub assembly and forces fresh grease into the bearing. The cap also features a visual reference that indicates when it is time to add grease. After a short ride on the highway your bearings and hub assembly become increasingly hot. The pressure of the Bearing Buddy prevents water intrusion when the hot hub is backed into cold seawater. Without the pressure, the instant cooling would create suction and invite corrosion.

No matter what method and type of system your trailer features, all bearings should be inspected on no less than a semi-annual basis. Visual inspection of your wheels, bearings and hub will alert you of grease in places it shouldn’t be. With extreme disregard you will notice a wobbly wheel due to the loss of bearing tolerances—now you’re in trouble.

When it comes to preventative maintenance everyone is different and nowadays more boaters are attempting DIY service in an effort to save money, but trailer bearing replacement and repacking is a dirty job, although not highly complicated. The bottom line is simple. Preventative maintenance makes much more sense than replacement after a complete breakdown.

For most applications, all one has to do is remove the small metal or rubber cap from the center of the wheel with a flat head screwdriver. Inside you should find a grease fitting. Pump grease into the fitting until the indicator shows that it is full. On some hubs this is a blue line, on other hubs the grease will begin filling the cavity around the grease fitting. Simply replace the cap and you are done.

While a little love will keep you rolling smoothly down the highway, eventually you may have an issue. Calling for roadside assistance might get the wheels turning, but not all bearings are the same and depending on your trailer’s manufacturer help might not even have the right parts. For this reason it is critical you carry spares. Tony Dippolito of MagicTilt Trailers tells us that even as a trailer expert he’s been stranded on the side of the road due to an unexpected failure.

“Without carrying your own spare parts you really don’t know if outside assistance will be of any good when it arrives. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on the side of the road and it is highly recommended you carry a replacement wheel hub with greased bearing inside. A hammer, grease gun, extra bearing cap, and 4-way jack will make roadside fixes a lot easier,” added Dippolito.

While something as simple as a bearing could leave you stranded on the side of the highway, it’s also important you don’t neglect the trailer’s wheels and tires, bunks and rollers, frame, tongue, winch and of course, your lights. Spending the necessary time to carefully inspect and maintain these items will save you a boatload of grief down the road. That’s a fact!

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