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Stirring an old fire... wheel bearing service

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In the July/August edition of the Escapees Magazine, Mark Nemeth, the Escapees Technical Advisor, wrote a short piece in his regular section, Mark, My Words, on lubricating wheel bearings on towables. This is an oft discussed topic on most of the forums and folks often have strong opinions at either end of a spectrum. In the article, Mark states that on axles with Zerk fittings, the fittings are there for greasing during assembly. He further states that, if the bearings are properly packed and the seals are good, there is no need to remove and repack the bearings annually or at 12,000 miles. I have read responses in forum threads where some stick religiously to the 12 month/12K miles routine while others go 30,000 miles or more and only remove and repack with brake replacement or service. 

We have the MOR/ryde independent suspension and disc brakes on our fifth wheel (two 7K MOR/ryde units replaced to 6K Lippert solid axles). I watched the night axle technician at MOR/ryde while he packed and put together bearing and hub assemblies and installed them on the spindles for installation the next day. He spent at least 20 minutes educating me on the three types/makes of bearings MOR/ryde uses and, specifically, the bearings being used on my unit. Having been raised by a father and grandfather that were mechanics and having done my own bearing maintenance on boat and other types of trailers for almost 50 years, I was impressed by the components used and the level of knowledge and care exhibited by all of the personnel at MOR/ryde. Of course, MOR/ryde front office personnel have to "toe the party line" when it comes to service recommendations and stick to their 12 month/12,000 mile inspection and repack service intervals.

So... what I would like is input from long-time owners of medium and larger towables (ours is a 36', 14,000 lb. fifth wheel) regarding what they consider safe and reasonable in terms of wheel bearing service intervals. I periodically check hub temperatures with an infrared thermometer after running for a couple of hours and keep a log with exact miles. Which side of this fence would you come down on and why?

Thanks!

Rob

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As a full timer, I average 10k miles a year and every July I will remove the tires and pack the bearings. The bearings always seem to be in good shape and I probably could go 2 years if needed. The main benefit is being able to inspect the bearing seals and brakes which most of the time I do find something that needs repair.

Greg

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My trailer bearings are completely serviced annually. I never did use the zerk fittings to add grease, this eliminates the ability to inspect bearings for any damage or corrosion. BTW, when a wheel bearing sits unused for many months the grease settles to the bottom side, leaving the top exposed corrosion.

We spent 3 days dry-camped in the driveway to the county dump near Chicken AK because a wheel bearing failed+ruined axle stub, allowing the wheel to fall off. I'll keep re-packing per axle mfgrs schedule from that time forward.
I respect Mark's abilities, however I disagree with his position. Both Dexter and Alco-Kober state annually or every 10,000/12,000 miles- whichever comes first.

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8 hours ago, Ray,IN said:

My trailer bearings are completely serviced annually. I never did use the zerk fittings to add grease, this eliminates the ability to inspect bearings for any damage or corrosion. BTW, when a wheel bearing sits unused for many months the grease settles to the bottom side, leaving the top exposed corrosion.

We spent 3 days dry-camped in the driveway to the county dump near Chicken AK because a wheel bearing failed+ruined axle stub, allowing the wheel to fall off. I'll keep re-packing per axle mfgrs schedule from that time forward.
I respect Mark's abilities, however I disagree with his position. Both Dexter and Alco-Kober state annually or every 10,000/12,000 miles- whichever comes first.

Bearing grease does NOT "settle" under any circumstances. Annual servicing of packed bearings is a good idea if only to inspect the parts and the brakes. It is not necessary to repack bearings annually or at 12,000 miles. My bearings are the sealed cartridge type employed in all modern automotive applications and never get repacked,  nor can they be. They have been in use for several years and the only inspection needed is to unload the wheel and check for play.

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13 hours ago, RBH said:

Bearing grease does NOT "settle" under any circumstances. Annual servicing of packed bearings is a good idea if only to inspect the parts and the brakes. It is not necessary to repack bearings annually or at 12,000 miles. My bearings are the sealed cartridge type employed in all modern automotive applications and never get repacked,  nor can they be. They have been in use for several years and the only inspection needed is to unload the wheel and check for play.

Dexter has their version of this called the "NeverLube".  It is a sealed cartridge that is not serviceable, and just about not user replaceable unless you have a huge hydraulic press.  But it is still recommended to remove the wheel assembly and check the tolerance of the bearing.  The side loads our trailer suspension parts endure are greater than the average car type bearing cartridge today. 

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This pdf from Lippert explains service interval, storage concerns, in fact-everything about Lippert axles. Yes it does state 12,000 miles./12 months.

Bearing grease, which is actually oil mixed with thickeners, does separate during long-term storage.(lay your grease gun on a shelf for 2-3 months and note the oil on the shelf) The oil separates from the thickeners, oil runs to the bottom, leaving only the thickeners in the bearings.

That bearing grease link highlights the reason bearings should be manually cleaned, inspected, and repacked. Without doing so there is no way to remove the hardened "thickeners" that remain after the oil is used up that was in the bearing grease.

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