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Old 03-10-2014, 06:42 PM   #1
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Wheel bearing grease is wheel bearing grease-or is it?

I have been a boat mechanic all my life, and now teach the trade. I have probably repacked hundreds of trailer wheel bearings in my lifetime and a while back I had someone ask me what makes a "waterproof grease" waterproof? I didn't know so I did a bit of reading about wheel bearing grease as it applies to trailers. On a very basic level, grease is really just oil suspended in a thickner to keep it in the bearing. There are different thickeners, and some are more prone to being washed away with water than others. The thickeners least prone to being washed away earn the label of being "waterproof, or water resistant".
With that being said, I started wondering why when repacking trailer bearings that sometimes the old grease came out "chunky" and other times it almost just ran out of the hub, as if it was no longer "thickened". In almost all of these cases I could see that there were different colored greases used to grease the bearings as grease was added over time. It turns out that not all greases are compatible with each other, or rather the thickeners used are not compatible, and can cause the grease to no longer be able to do an adaquate job of lubricating the bearing. So what I have learned is to always use greases that are compatible with each other. My trailer has the Dexter EZ lube hubs, and Dexter specifies a Lithium Complex base thickener. I have been greasing my bearings using a grease with a Aluminum Complex base thickener. I started to worry, but found the below chart (stolen off the net) that says I am ok. Probably will repack them this year anyway. So the moral of the story is that not all greases are equal, and to always use the same grease, not just what is handy in the garage. Read the label and make sure it is of the correct thickener base.
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Old 03-10-2014, 07:12 PM   #2
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Go to you local farm store and buy a tube of "lithium" grease that contains "moly" (molybdenum disulfide). Pull off the plastic cap on the end and it will most likely be black in color. It will probably run you a whopping $2-$3 and will work just fine. As long as your seals are good and you don't back your travel trailer through water deeper than the axle you'll be fine.

I've owned cars and light trucks from cradle to grave that have NEVER had the front wheel bearings repacked or replaced in their life. I've seen tapered roller bearings in industrial gearboxes etc. that have lasted for years of 24/7 service with precious little grease to keep them alive. As long as the preload/clearance is set right and it gets even a small amount of grease they will last a surprisingly long time. Most people will probably have a lithium complex grease in their posession unless Uncle Fred handed them a tube of polyrex that he stole from work. They don't generally sell the weird stuff at most consumer retail outlets.

And yes you are correct that the thickeners must be compatible. Thanks for attaching the handy chart!!

I recently attended a Noria "Fundamentals of Machine Lubrication" training class in Branson, MO and we covered all that stuff and then some...pretty interesting.
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Old 03-11-2014, 09:45 PM   #3
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What about synthetic?
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Old 03-12-2014, 07:07 AM   #4
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Synthetic greases use the same base thickeners as mineral oil greases. For instance Amsoil's Water Resistant Grease uses calcium sulfonate as their thickener. The only difference would be the synthetic oil that is mixed in. I would think the benefits of using a synthetic grease would be similar to using a synthetic oil, better lubrication resulting in reduced heat of components. This should improve the durability and longevity of the bearings.
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Old 03-12-2014, 08:06 AM   #5
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I have a new Jayco Eagle with the ez-lube axles. Can I start pumping in synthetic grease behind the factory grease? If the synthetic (Valvoline) has a compatible base as you say, then it should be compatible with the Jayco factory lithium grease.
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Old 03-12-2014, 03:38 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wwsmith111 View Post
I have a new Jayco Eagle with the ez-lube axles. Can I start pumping in synthetic grease behind the factory grease? If the synthetic (Valvoline) has a compatible base as you say, then it should be compatible with the Jayco factory lithium grease.
There should not be a problem in mixing synthetic with the original grease, as long as the bases are compatible.
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Old 03-12-2014, 05:02 PM   #7
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Be very careful pumping grease into EZ lube bearings. The grease can ruin your brake shoes.
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Old 03-12-2014, 06:28 PM   #8
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Heard that! I have read many other places about greasing EZ-lube axles. We bought a new Jayco Eagle and I have only towed it 17 miles. The bearings were ice cold afterwards. My last TT was a Springdale and the bearings would get a little warm in about 5 miles even after being totally replaced. I plan on only giving a squirt or two on each trip.
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Old 03-12-2014, 08:23 PM   #9
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Wheel bearings do not use grease. IMO a few squirts a trip will cause you brake troubles down the road.
My dealer recommends checking them once a season and repackage the old fashioned way.
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Old 03-13-2014, 05:14 AM   #10
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Over greasing a bearing can be just as bad as not greasing it at all. Ideally and depending on the size of the bearing it should be between 50%-80% filled.

The volume of the bearing itself, not the wheel hub cavity.
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