Bearings are failing more frequently

This popular St. Bernard Parish port was annihilated by Hurricane Katrina, but the fishing there has never been better.

In the past, I have always recommended that trailer bearings should be cleaned and repacked with fresh grease every two years, but lately, I have seen a larger-than-normal amount of wheel-bearing problems. At first I wasn’t sure why, but then I realized it may be attributed to the after-effects of Katrina. In years past, a very large percentage of boaters would transport their rigs to their favorite launch site, where the boat would be lifted off the trailer with a hoist. Besides the obvious ease of launching your boat, these hoist operators were eliminating the need to back the boat trailer down into the water.

Now, in the aftermath of Katrina, many of our favorite hoist operators are no longer in business, so we are forced to use backdown boat ramps instead of hoists. When you trailer your boat, the wheel bearings generate heat, and when you back down into the cooler water at the boat ramp, those heated wheel hubs cool quickly.

This quick cooling process creates a vacuum inside the hub, and if your hub seals are not in good shape, water will be pulled into the hub. Once water gets in the hub, it begins the process of rusting your bearings, and eventually you find yourself stranded on the side of the road with a wheel bearing failure.

If it has been more than a year since you’ve had your wheel bearings cleaned and repacked, and if you have been using backdown boat ramps to launch your boat, then I would suggest you take the time to check your bearings as soon as possible.

As a preliminary check, you can jack up your trailer one side at a time. With the wheel off the ground, try grasping the tire at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions and try to rock the wheel back and forth.

If you feel any slack or play in the wheel, then those wheel bearings need immediate attention. If you do not feel any slack, then spin the tire and listen for any noise from the center hub area. If there is any grinding or growling sounds, then this wheel bearing is bad and needs to be replaced immediately.

Repeat this process for each wheel on your trailer. Sometimes one wheel may check out and the other can be just looking for a place to leave you stranded.

If you have any doubts or if you would just like the peace of mind of knowing that all of your bearings are in good shape, then go ahead and do a bearing job. If you have the proper jack stands, you can jack the entire trailer off the ground.

Remove the tire and wheel assemblies first. Once the tires are out of the way, you will need to remove the dust cover or bearing protectors from each hub. Behind the bearing protector, you will find a large nut with a cotter pin through the nut. Remove the cotter pin, and then unscrew the nut.

Once the nut has been removed, you can pull the hub off the axle shaft. Take the hubs to your work bench, where you can finish dismantling them.

The outer bearing, which is right behind the nut you just removed, will come out very easily. Just reach in and remove it with your fingers.

The rear bearing is held in by the rear hub seal. You will first need to remove the seal, then you can remove the rear bearing. The seal will have to be pried out with either a seal extractor or possibly a large screwdriver.

The seal lip is rubber, and as such is a wear-and-tear item. Hub seals should be replaced anytime the hub is removed from the axle.

Now that you have the bearings out, take several paper towels and clean all of the old grease out of the hub.

After cleaning the inside of the hub, inspect the two bearing races. If you see any signs of rust or pitting in the metal, then those bearing and races should be replaced. If there are no signs of damage to the bearing races, then clean all of the old grease from the bearings also. Once the bearings are clean, inspect them for damage to the needles.

Now you should be ready to reassemble your hubs. Regardless if you are installing new bearings or reusing the old, you will need to pack each of the bearings with fresh grease. The easiest way to do this is to use a bearing packer tool. These tools are very inexpensive, and can be purchased at most auto parts stores.

If you do not have a bearing packer, you can do it the old-fashioned way by placing a large quantity of wheel bearing grease in the palm of one hand and with your other keep rubbing the wheel bearing into the grease until you force grease into and around each of the bearing needles.

Once packed with grease, install the rear bearing first, and then install the new hub seal behind the bearing. Turn the hub over and add some grease to the inside of the hub in the vacant area between where the two bearings ride.

Now slide the hub onto the axle, and slip the outer bearing over the axle and into the hub. Screw the spindle nut onto the shaft until it is tight. This will seat the bearings.

Once you have seated the bearings, then loosen the spindle nut, and this time retighten it lightly. You want to remove any play in the bearings but do not want to overtighten the nut and cause a bearing to burn up.

Once the nut is properly tightened, then install a new cotter pin, and replace the bearing protector or dust cover on the hub. Now you are ready to put your tires and wheels back on and remove the jack stands from under the trailer.

While you are doing all this work, make it a point to check the air pressure in your trailer tires. Underinflated trailer tires can result in a blowout.

Try to remember your boat probably spends 80 percent or more of its life on the trailer. Take good care of that trailer — it is one of the most important components of your boating rig.

If you have any questions about your boat, motor or trailer, just drop me an e-mail at