Own a boat? Make sure you’re servicing the wheel bearings on your boat trailer - The Globe and Mail

2022-07-15 09:10:35 By : Ms. Erica Wang

This article was published more than 1 year ago. Some information may no longer be current.

Last week, I visited a family member for a day of sailing on the waters of Georgian Bay. I also make a sport out of counting the broken-down trailers littering the side of the highway on the journey to and from cottage country. This year’s count was one utility trailer and two boat trailers. I couldn’t tell why the utility trailer was stranded as we sped past, but clearly both boat trailers had suffered a wheel separation.

As countless boats get pulled out of the water across the country over the next few weeks, let this be a reminder to all boat owners. The majority of you haven’t serviced the wheel bearings on your boat trailer properly. Every single season, the trailer axle needs to have a proper service where the bearings are completely removed, cleaned, inspected, repacked and regreased. Most boat owners get lazy and rely on their bearing protectors. A bearing protector is a great product which allows for periodic injection of grease into the bearings throughout the summer. Bearing protectors do not, however, remove the need for proper seasonal maintenance as described above.

As you travel to the boat launch, friction within the hub and bearings generates heat. As soon as you submerge the trailer, the cool water contacts the metal, causing rapid contraction of the metal and creating a vacuum, which inevitably sucks in some water. As everyone knows, water and grease don’t mix,, which means as soon as you first submerge the trailer every season you are on a timetable. Therefore, regardless of how many times you actually pull your boat in and out of the water, you still need to perform a proper seasonal service.

Utility-trailer owners are not excluded from servicing their trailers, either. Bearings need to be periodically serviced, all trailers need their tire-condition checked; lights, chains and fasteners all need to be inspected and repaired.

Lou, I have a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan. When my grandson was torqueing the wheel nuts on the winter tires last fall, he noticed cracks forming on the wheel-nut shoulders. Currently, the cracks visually appear to be superficial in the chrome plating. The shoulders only hold on hubcaps. Are these nuts defective, and should I have them replaced before the cracks deepen? My grandson also asked why I don’t place the hubcaps on the winter tires. I’m of the belief that the hubcaps cause slush to accumulate and freeze to the rims causing problems. Am I correct?

Summer is surely over when I start answering winter-tire questions. Chrysler products and multiple other manufacturers use a metal acorn-style nut with a cheaply chrome-plated outer casing made of a much thinner metal. Corrosion occurs between the two and causes the thinner outer casing to swell and crack. Most technicians get frustrated with these wheel nuts, as getting them on and off quickly is impossible. Correspondingly, consumers can’t understand why a summer-to-winter tire changeover can take so long. That is, of course, until they perform the task themselves at the side of the road, trying to force their lug wrench onto these swollen wheel nuts. If for no other reason than to alleviate roadside difficulties, replace all the nuts that you have difficulty getting the lug wrench onto.

Yes, hubcaps can accumulate snow and ice, but it can gather on the inside of the wheel as well. I am not a fan of the cheaply made universal hubcaps that are held on by friction, but your factory installed hub caps, held on by the wheel nuts, are intended by Dodge to be used year-round. I’m sure you are fine either way.

I recently had aftermarket wheels and winter tires installed on my Audi. After they were mounted, I noticed that the outer sides of the new rims and tires are noticeably farther outboard than with the stock wheels and tires. Digging into this further, I learned that the aftermarket wheels have a positive offset of 38 mm compared with 46 mm for the stock wheels and that this moves the wheels and tires, and hence the tire contact patch, 8 mm outboard from the stock position. It seems this will change the load distribution on the wheel bearings and the scrub radius of the front wheels.

When I queried the tire supplier, I was advised that wheels with a positive offset as low as 34 mm would “fit” my Audi. Will the steering be affected, and will the wheel bearings wear faster? I would appreciate your comments.

The relationship between the centerline of the wheel and the mounting-point pad of the wheel is referred to as offset, and it can be confusing. Auto manufacturers typically recommend a 5-mm variance for wheel offset. However, that is an optimal specification, and given that aftermarket companies design wheels to fit as many applications as possible, the variances will be pushed closer to their limits.

When I was a young apprentice, an instructor used this analogy, and it has stuck with me for all these years. While it is not entirely accurate, it gets the point across. Imagine back to the day when teeter-totters were in every playground. We all know what would happen if mom or dad placed their sturdy-framed 10-year-old son on one side and their feather-weight five-year-old daughter on the other – daughter was getting launched to the moon. However, by sliding one child or the other closer to the fulcrum point, mom or dad could lessen or exaggerate the effect.

Changing the offset of your wheels gives similar results, and yes, it will change the scrub radius and cause additional wear. But given that yours are winter-only products and that you are only slightly outside the optimal window, I doubt in your specific case that you will notice any negative driving characteristics or premature wear.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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