Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Camping trailer wheel maintenance: removal, brake check, bearing repack and install

    The wheels are about the only moving parts on a larger trailer. That's why it's important to periodically check the wheel bearings and brakes on campers and other trailers to keep them moving safely down the road. This post will cover checking the brakes and bearings, repacking the bearings and putting it all back together.

                                                       The Job at a glance
  • Tools: Lug wrench or socket, floor or scissors jack (blocks may be needed to elevate), pliers, large crescent wrench,  jack stands or wood supports if desired, grease gun, bearing packer  
  • Parts and materials: set of new bearings and seals, if needed, grease, cotter pin, rags, brake parts cleaner
  • Cost of Materials:  $13 per wheel for bearing and grease cup set, if needed. $5 bearing grease. $10 for double cone type bearing packer
  • Time: 45 min. per wheel 
  • Shop cost: ??

1) Break the lug nuts on the wheel being worked on.

2) Jack up the trailer near the wheel being removed. This can be done with the trailer attached to the tow vehicle or free standing. If free standing, it may be somewhat easier to have the receiver jack in the front lowered all the way. I used a scissors jack on top of several paving blocks to get it high enough.

3) Check the electric brakes. With the wheel off the ground, give it a spin as a helper depresses the tow vehicle brakes. It should stop in a gradual and complete fashion. If not, check the set-up of the brake controller and adjust as necessary. In step 10 we will inspect the brake shoes for wear.

4) Check the bearings by giving the tire and wheel a pull outward. If there is any free play, the bearings may need replacement or at least adjustment.

5) Remove the grease cap by tapping a large screwdriver with a hammer at the mating joint. Use a sideways prying motion with the screwdriver to release the cap.

6) Remove the cotter pin with a needle nose or other pliers.

Pulling the cotter pin

7) Remove the castle nut. It should turn off by hand in most cases or use a large crescent wrench. Put it in a clean place.

8) Pull the drum out a bit and remove the large washer and outer bearing. Remove excess grease and place in a clean place.

9) Remove the brake drum. This is good time to use some brake parts cleaner to clean brake dust. Do this outside and use a dust mask

10) Inspect the brake shoes for wear. Replace if close to the wear limit.

11) Place the drum on a work bench and remove the inner grease seal. I decided to reuse the bearings and seal so I carefully tapped out the seal. I use a large washer cut in half and slip it under the seal  and tap it out with a suitable socket, extension bar and hammer. This is my method if I want to avoid finding a new seal.

12) Remove the inner bearing and clean all old grease from the drum.

Bearing repack

1)  I recommend using a packer. I found an inexpensive and effective one at NAPA for $6.50. This is suitable for occasional use. There are two plastic cones and a threaded hollow rod with a grease nipple on one end. Slip the bearing in there and tighten it. It take a fair amount of grease to fill the cavities and press out the old grease.

2) When clean grease oozes out, the bearing is packed. Disassemble and clean the packer. Place the freshly packed bearing in a clean place.

3) Repeat with the other bearing.


1) Put a layer of fresh grease around the entire inner surface of the drum. 

2) Place the freshly re-packed inner bearing back in its race. 

3) Using a large washer or other large flat piece of metal, tap the grease seal back in position on inside of the drum. 

A large washer works great to tap in the grease seal

4) Turn the drum over and fill the drum cavity with a generous dollop of clean grease.

5) Go back to the trailer and lay down a layer of fresh grease on the axle spindle. 

6) Place the drum on the spindle and seat it back in position. 

7) Place the newly packed outer bearing in its race.

8) Place the large outer washer in place

9) Turn the castle nut in finger tight.

10) Using a large crescent wrench, turn the castle nut just until it seats the bearings. Back off the nut and turn the drum a bit and seat the nut again. Repeat one more time. Back the nut off just far enough to align the cotter hole with one of the castle nut openings. 

A crescent wrench will get the job done on the castle nut

11) Install and splay the cotter pin.

12) Re-install the grease cover. Tap in gently and evenly with a hammer.

13) Re-mount the wheel and torque to around 90 ft lbs. 

14) Repeat on the other wheels.



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