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How to Pack a Wheel Bearing

Part of being avid ATV riders and living in the suburbs is that owning a trailer is an absolute must. While there are a very few places we can ride locally, most of the ATV parks near us are at least a two hour drive away. It’s no secret that maintaining our ATVs is important to us, but we haven’t gotten much into how we maintain our trailer yet and today seems like as good a time as any. When it comes to trailer maintenance, packing your own wheel bearings is a great way to save time and money. While it’s not something that needs to be done often, if you’re like us and drag your trailer everywhere you go, it is good practice to repack your wheel bearings at least once a year. Of course, if you have a boat trailer or are pulling your ATVs through water that rises over the hubs of the trailer (even though I know we’d all much prefer to ride through the water), you may want to repack your bearings more often. Fortunately, this is one of those tasks that requires very simple tools:
    • A jack and a jack stand
    • Hammer
    • Chisel
    • Pliers
    • Socket with ratchet for the hub (the size will vary depending on what you’re working with)
    • Grease
    • Rags
As usual, we’ll walk through the steps we take and show you what does and does not work for us. Of course, you probably don’t have the same trailer we do and the tools you use probably won’t be the exact same. So as always, use your discretion and if you get stuck, let us know in either the comments or via email.

When I set about repacking the wheel bearings in our trailer, the first thing I did was put the trailer on jack stands and remove the wheel.

SAFETY WARNING: Never raise anything and set to work without using jack stands.  Remove the Wheel

With the wheel removed, I started working on removing the bearing cap. Remove Bearing Cap To remove the bearing cap, I used a chisel and drove it between the lip of the cap and the hub. After a few minutes of working the chisel around, the cap popped right off. Before you start, keep in mind that wheel bearing caps come in all different shapes and sizes. It’s a good idea to make sure you can get a replacement just in case it’s damaged during removal. And just throwing my opinion out there: The wheel bearing hub caps that have a grease fitting on the outside to lube the wheel bearing are a joke. You’ll use half a tube of grease in the hub and still not get the inner bearing packed right. For something that’s so easy to do in the first place, why take a shortcut and risk not getting it done right? Ok, now off my soapbox and on to the next step… Next I removed the cotter pin. You will need pliers to straighten out the legs and remove the pin. Remove Cotter Pin Then I removed the spindle nut retainer. Remove Spindle Nut Retainer After the retainer, I removed the spindle nut, washer, and outer bearing. Then I cheated - I put the spindle nut back on and pulled the hub out until I could feel it catch the rear bearing and gave it a little jerk. Replace Spindle Nut Most of the time, replacing the spindle nut and pulling the hub will pop the rear seal out of the hub without damaging it. Inner Bearing Removed Using this method is a great alternative to a seal puller, which requires that you replace the seal every time you use it. Since this seal is just a dust and moisture seal it can be reused as long as the metal case is not damaged and the rubber parts are still pliable. Remove Inner Seal When everything is removed, it’s time to clean out all the old grease. I normally clean off the spindle and check it for any cracks or discoloration. Then clean out the hub doing the same. This can be done quickly by just wiping away the old grease with your hands and a grease rag. Cleaning Up For the bearings it is a little different - You will need some type of cleaner with a brush to get the old grease out. So let me say this: if you do not have access to a parts washer of some kind you can just wipe the bearing off and pack it until the old grease is all pushed out and the new is in but if it is at all possible, you really want to clean them. Parts Washer I have access to a SmartWasher, which uses microbes that literally eat the petroleum-based products off the parts. Because it uses environmentally safe water-based cleaner, there is no smell and no need for gloves (in fact, it makes your hands softer). When I first heard of the SmartWasher a few years ago, I was skeptical and I never would have thought it would work as well as it does but now it’s my preferred washing method. SmartWasher After you clean the bearing, you will need to blow them out so that they are completely dry. [alert-announce] SAFTEY WARNING: NEVER, AND I REPEAT -- NEVER, SPIN A BEARING WITH AN AIR GUN. Instead, blow through the bearing as seen in the photo below. [/alert-announce] Blowing the Bearing After the bearings were dry, I packed them. Because of my background, I have a very handy tool to pack bearings. It is very affordable. I have had mine for several years and it has paid for itself more than a few times. You can find a similar one on Amazon here. This is a great tool if you are going to do a few wheel bearings a year. Follow the instructions on how to fill the packer and then place the bearing in the tool with the tapper faced down. Then put on the cap and push down until new grease comes out of the top of the bearing. Handy Packer Of course, if for whatever reason you don’t have or don’t want the tool, then you can always pack your bearings by hand. It takes a little more time (although not much) and a little more cleanup, but it is very easy to manually pack a wheel bearing. To start, you’ll want to get a big glob of grease and put it in the palm of your hand. Then you’ll want to use the bearing to slice the grease, making sure that the large end of the bearing is facing down. Hand Packing a Wheel Bearing Do this until the grease is coming out of the top of the bearing. Then rotate the bearing and repeat the process until you can see grease coming out all the way around the bearing. Hand Packing a Wheel Bearing Regardless of which method you use to pack your bearings, you will also want to make sure to add grease around the outside. I usually just use my finger to smear it around the outside. Once both of my bearings were packed, I greased up the races of the bearings in the hub. Grease Bearing Race Then I put in the inner bearing back into the hub and replaced the seal. Drive Inner Seal I put the hub back on the spindle, inserted the outer bearing, washer, and nut. Torque Spindle Nut After I torqued the nut down, I replaced the spindle retainer nut and the cotter pin. To replace the cotter pin, I used a hammer to tap the pin legs through the spindle retainer and then used the pliers to bend the legs back out. Bend Cotter Pin Legs Before replacing the wheel bearing cap, I added some new grease to the inside. Then I just tapped it back on with a hammer. Replace Wheel Bearing Cap The only thing left to do was replace the wheel. Replace Wheel And of course, do it all over again on the other side. We really want to know your opinion. How often do you repack your wheel bearings? Do you own a packing tool, or do you prefer to pack your bearings by hand? And is there anyone else out there that has to drive two or more hours to the nearest ATV park? There’s gotta be someone out there who feels our pain…

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