May 02, 2024

BOB MAINDELLE: Consider a spare hub if you have a boat trailer

This photo shows the author’s spare hub kit, the tools required to remove and replace the hub, and a set of instructions he wrote based on lessons learned the hard way.

I left the house on Tuesday morning about 70 minutes before I was due to meet with my clients for a morning fishing trip on Stillhouse. I stopped for fuel and continued on toward our meeting point.

It was around 5:30 a.m. and still dark. I noticed a car some distance behind me in my driver’s side mirror. As I glanced at that car’s headlights, something was not right. I looked a bit more closely and saw what, at first, looked like a spray of water coming out of the boat (which made no sense, as there was no water in the livewell nor anywhere else in the boat).

A few seconds later, it became clear that “water” was actually smoke coming from a failed bearing on the driver’s side wheel of my trailer.

Having lived through a similar scenario for which I was not well-prepared about two and a half years ago, and having lost out on the income for that day’s fishing trip as a result, I was much more prepared this time.

I immediately hit my four-way flashers and pulled off on the first wide spot in the road I could find. I phoned my clients, advised them of what had happened, and told them I would phone them back in about 20 minutes after I had assessed the situation.

Behind the seat in the cab of my truck I had assembled a kit for just such an emergency. That kit included a spare hub, complete with seals, inner and outer bearings, grease, a washer, a castle nut, a cotter pin and a dust cap.

This kit also had the specific tools this job required, including a 7/16-inch wrench, a pair of water-pump pliers, a pair of needle-nosed pliers, a pair of curved needle-nosed pliers, a ball-peen hammer and a four-way lug wrench, as well as rags and a pair of nitrile gloves.

As in most modern vehicles, my truck has a small scissor jack underneath the passenger-side front seat.

Last time this happened (and the first time it ever happened to me), I was unfamiliar with the process of how to change my hub, and found myself watching YouTube videos and calling some friends to figure things out while stranded on the roadside.

Learning from that, I made a typed-out set of directions to use as my guide for the future.

Following those directions on Tuesday, I turned off my truck, put the transmission in park and set the emergency brake. With the trailer tires still on the ground, I broke loose the lug nuts on the bad wheel using the four-way lug wrench (which I have because the lug wrench which came with my truck does not match the lug size on my trailer).

Next, I placed the scissor jack beneath the axle of the trailer on the driver’s side and raised the trailer until the tire cleared the ground by about a half inch. I then removed the five lugs and the tire and rim.

I used the hammer and water pump pliers to remove the dust cap and then used both sets of needle-nosed pliers to remove the cotter pin securing the castle nut in place.

I started using the water pump pliers once again to get the castle nut loose, but found it was already loose enough to spin by hand, so I backed it off completely and removed it and the large washer behind it.

I used the 7/16-inch box wrench to back out the two bolts holding the disc-brake calipers on and gently laid that caliper assembly aside, beneath the axle.

With just a bit of pulling on the brake drum, the hub and everything inside it (seal, ruined bearings and grease) came off neatly.

I cleaned the spindle off with a rag and placed the spare hub (with seal, inner bearing and grease) back where the old one had just come from.

I placed the outer bearing in place, put the large washer behind it, and then threaded the castle nut on until it seated firmly against the large washer. I then grabbed the brake disc and tried to shove it in and pull it out to check for looseness. Verifying there was no play, I inserted the cotter pin through the spindle and castle nut.

I reinstalled the calipers using the 7/16-inch box wrench to tighten both caliper bolts.

I put the tire and rim onto the new hub and snugged up the lugs. I then lowered the trailer with the jack, removed the jack and did a final tightening on the lug nuts.

The final step was to tap the new dust cover back in place.

Once the caliper was back on, I phoned my client to let him know we were still a go for his fishing trip. This entire process took me about 40 minutes and allowed me to still conduct the fishing trip I had planned for that morning.

Having been through this twice now, I urge you to seriously consider keeping a spare hub assembly with you if you trailer a boat. I would consider it just as handy and necessary as a spare tire.

My wife and I considered the alternatives, all of which would have cost me a day’s earnings, including waiting until a parts store opened and then asking someone to buy and bring a hub to me, or worse, having the boat towed on a flatbed wrecker to a repair shop.

Although I felt well-prepared for this event, as I worked through the process, I saw two things I could improve on for the future.

First, backing the brake caliper bolts out with a box wrench was a slow process, but there was not enough clearance there to use a ratchet wrench. So, I went out and got a ratcheting box wrench to make the bolt removal process easier and faster if there is a next time.

Finally, I noted that although I had pre-greased the spare hub, there was still more grease required after installation to fully lubricate the hub. Although this could certainly wait until I got back home, I went ahead and added a small, three-ounce cartridge-style grease gun to my kit so I could pack the bearing with grease right from the moment it was installed.

When all the dust settled, I attempted to repair the hub in which the bearing failed, but found that the inside of the hub was badly scored from the spindle rubbing on it during the short time between bearing failure and bringing the vehicle to a stop. Hence, I replaced that hub with a new one, so I now have a running spare ready to roll once again.

A complete hub with seal, bearings and grease will run you $45-$90 depending on the number of lugs your wheel requires. Considering the cost of a ruined fishing trip combined with the cost of paying for a rescue, buying such a kit ahead of time and knowing how to use it may just serve you well.

Given that my livelihood requires access to our area lakes, and given that the water level in our area lakes continues to drop with each passi…

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