wheel bearings and boat trailers

wheel bearings and boat trailers

How many times have you been scooting down the highway and seen the remnants of someone’s fishing trip sitting on the side of the road. Trailer, boat motor etc sitting there high and dry totally abandoned with one wheel missing.

I have seen some incredible situations where a bit of trailer maintenance could have saved the day. On one such occasion I pulled into a service station on Parramatta Rd at Five Dock in Sydney. To see a four metre “tinny” on a trailer with one wheel missing jacked up on top of a Plano tackle box, talk about Aussie ingenuity.

The best trailer breakdown I have ever seen left me laughing till this day. I was sitting in the traffic on Richmond Rd Blacktown when all of a sudden I heard this noise coming up from behind me that sounded like a cross between finger nails being dragged down a blackboard and a cat being strangled.

Suddenly it came into view. I couldn’t believe my eyes, here was a dude who for some reason must have had the inside info on a hot eel bite at Eastern Creek. And just had to get there pronto or maybe he had just downed a fist full of valium and was none the wiser.

There coming past me at fifty kph was a Subaru towing a small tinny sitting atop of a lop sided trailer with only one and a half wheels on the trailer!

This guy must have had a blow out and simply just kept going to the point that the tyre had literally disintegrated and the trailer kept rolling on the rim alone. My other guess was the heat built up in the rim to a point where the wheel bearings bearing ceased to do its job and simply seised.

Did this dude stop, no way, he just kept on motoring along like Mr Magoo on a Sunday drive, obliviously to the chaos surrounding him. By the time I seen him the rim was worn flat on one side and had ground itself just short of the axle and as a result was tearing up the tar as it dragged itself along the roadway.

There is one small piece of trailer hardware that can and does make a difference to a day on the water and a day spent on the side of the road covered in grease and sweat: trailer wheel bearings!

To most people wheel bearings are the last thing on their mind. When they set out for a day on the water however with a little pre maintenance your mind can be rest assured that they won’t let you down along the way.

Trailer wheel bearings basically consist of three key items: 1, the bearing race, this is the part that rolls around and that the axle goes through. 2, the cup, this is the piece that the bearing rolls around in. 3, the all Important seal, this keeps the water out and the grease in place to lubricate and cool the rollers inside the bearing race.


[From top down],  wheal bearings seal, inner wheel bearings race, inner bearing race cup (the bit the bearing rolls inside of), the outer wheel bearings cup, outer bearing race.)

As a rule of thumb its good practice to do a visual inspection every time you get home from a trip. Look for signs of grease leaking out of the hub wheel bearings seal area. When hot, the grease becomes thin and if a seal is worn it may make its way out of the hub signifying a worn seal. Normally the grease “splatter or flick off” can be seen around the inside of the wheel rim when inspected.[Above] Signs of grease flick off and seepage from a faulty seal, a good sign that this bearing is going to go pear shaped soon.

wheel bearings

The other inspection you can easily perform is to jack the trailer up and spin the wheel taking note of the sound of the bearing as it spins on the axle. If it rolls freely with no excessive side movement or “grumbling” sounds coming from it then it is generally good to go for another trip. But this quick inspection does not in any way substitute for a full bearing service.

As a rule of thumb if I know my tailer has good quality seals and bearings then I will pull them down and repack them at least twice a season or prior to any long road trips where I will be sitting on highway speeds for any extended periods.

On extended trips the bearings become hot and this heat can build to a point where the temperature is such that poorly lubricated bearings can fail with catastrophic consequences such as wheels coming off axles.

Next time we will look at the steps in replacing a set of trailer wheel bearings, until then hang tight and do the simple things first, as I like to say: “don’t work harder, just work smarter”.


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