Servicing Wheel BearingsRe-greasing the squeaky wheel and all others
Re-packing wheel bearings isn't nearly as bad as getting a lower GI, but it isn't most people's idea of a good time either. Bearings make the wheels go 'round and 'round, and lack of lubrication will cause their rollers to whine. To expound on the old cliché, if the squeaky wheel's bearing(s) don't get the grease, it'll eventually seize, kind of like pistons in an engine that doesn't have oil.
In this article, we won't bore you with how to remove and replace wheel bearings. Instead, we go straight to the dirty deed-forcing grease in and around all of the moving parts on a tapered roller-bearing assembly.
Grease is the Word
Tapered roller-style wheel bearings are the modern equivalent of ball bearings. All wheels have them, but not all of them are serviceable: some are sealed while others are pressed onto the axleshaft or integrated into the hub assembly. However, many front axles and most trailer axles have removable bearings that must be kept lubricated as part of normal maintenance. Boat trailers are especially susceptible to premature bearing death because the axles are normally submerged while unloading and loading the boat. In general, wheel bearings should be checked about every 24,000 miles or 24 months.
In the age of specialization, grease is designed for specific uses. We won't list all of the variations; just be sure to match the formulation to the application. For example, "marine" grease was developed with boat trailers in mind, high-temp grease thrives better in disc-brake environments, and so on. If in doubt about what type of grease to use, consult a service manual for your vehicle or ask the counter person at a reputable auto parts store.
Once the bearing and tube or tub of the proper grease are in hand, the fun can begin. The accompanying photos show both the hand-packing method and how modern technology makes the job less messy.
Packing wheel bearings is far from glamorous, but it sure beats driving on dry bearings (as some of us have learned the hard way). To get in the correct frame of mind, regress to childhood and remember how much fun mud pies were.