Our “Super Lube” axle disaster. Is there one waiting for you?

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Last fall we bought a used 2008 travel trailer. For most of its prior life, it had spent time just parked in a Palm Springs, California, RV park. Its snowbird owners would fly down from Canada, spent a few months at the park, and then fly home. For the most part, it had lived an easy life.


When we bought the rig, we noticed it had Zerk fittings under the axle dust caps. It’s a Lippert Super Lube system, purported to make your life easier – just give your axles a squirt of grease and forget about all that hassle of pulling the drums off and hand-packing the bearings. Sounds like a great idea, right?

The instructions, per a Lippert-released YouTube video, show the happy RVer pulling a rubber plug from the dust cap, attaching the grease gun to the Zerk, then squeezing the handle on the grease gun until grease appears to flow back. Wipe up the excess, replace the rubber plug, and you’re good to go. That’s what we thought – so we hooked up the grease gun, gave a few pumps, and waited for the grease to flow back. It didn’t. It became a bit worrisome, and after a few more pumps, we decided to back off and take the rig home to Arizona.

Our thinking is, buy a used rig – buy somebody else’s problems, particularly if you’re not sure about their attitude toward maintenance. Still, the rig had spent most of its time parked, so we didn’t expect to find much brake wear.

Our "Super Lube" axle disaster. Is there one waiting for you?
Click to enlarge. R & T De Maris photo

On pulling the first drum open, we found that truly there wasn’t much brake wear – but the brakes were totally worthless. The entire interior area of the drum was full of gunky grease, which had taken up residence on the inside of the drum, the magnet face, and thoroughly and irreparably destroyed a healthy thickness of brake lining.

Hoping against hope, we ordered a new brake and backing plate assembly, replacing the first one. On pulling the second of the four wheels, sad to say, “Same song, second verse.” Again, grease had inundated areas where grease should never be, wiping out the brakes.

This time we just guessed that this could be an issue all around, and ordered brakes for the entire trailer. Turns out, the driver side of the rig showed signs of grease infiltration, and if we’d been careful, we might have saved the brakes – but having them on hand, we just went for the gusto and replaced all. We’re feeling a lot more assured with a 3,500-mile road trip ahead of us in a few days.

So why did it happen? It’s obvious that the grease seals gave way and allowed this mess to happen. Was it because of the “Super Lube” system? In recent years, some RVers who have purchased a rig built on a Lippert chassis have reported serious grease-in-hub problems, and many of them had those problems adjusted through the warranty process. Some were, indeed, users of the Super Lube system. Others had Lippert axles but had the standard “take ’em apart and hand-pack” system. Both suffered grease damage issues.

Our gut feeling is there may be something rotten in Denmark when it comes to Lippert’s seals or assembly procedures. By adding the additional pressure of the Super Lube system, a fault in the seal just makes it a ripe situation for this kind of issue. We’re not willing to take the risk again. Heaven knows it was costly enough to buy the parts to fix this issue, and if we’d had to pay shop labor to right it, we’d be headed the wrong way on our monthly balance sheet.

If there is, indeed, an issue with the Super Lube creating problems, well, we’ll just head it off by ignoring those Zerk fittings. Fact is, so many of the Lippert dust caps were damaged too, we bought standard all-metal dust caps and replaced the lot.

After this, we’ll run a regular maintenance schedule of pulling the drums off and doing a thorough inspection of the brakes and bearings, and repacking the bearings the old-fashioned way. If we did take the easy way out, pumping a bit of grease in now and then, we’d never really know where we stood on the condition of all those other components.

As it is, all four of the wheels needed either inner or outer bearings – they showed obvious signs of overheating. A shot of grease with the grease gun would never have fixed that issue, and the image of a wheel bouncing down the highway is something we’ve dealt with in the past – and don’t ever want to repeat. In our minds, safety of both ourselves and “the other guy” on the highway is worth a lot more than the simplicity of a few chugs on the handle of a grease gun.

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Grumpaw

Been there, done that. With the risks involved and as easy as it is to remove hubs and inspect the brakes and bearings, there is no reason not to do so, and every reason to do so. Brake assemblies and bearings are cheap and easy to replace. And repacking bearings requires no great skill or fancy equipment. As always, better safe than sorry.

Bob2

I’m just curious. Did you spin the tires as you were pumping in the grease or was the wheel static? I have this type of lube system and never had a problem.

Wayne Caldwell

I was taught 50+ years ago how to hand-pack bearings. It may take me a little more time and be a little more messy, but by taking everything apart I can see the condition of the brake shoes and make sure the bearings are in good condition. Still doing it the “old school” way.

Gary Stone

We have the EZ-Lube zerk fittings. I used the zerk method of lubing for the first 18,000 miles of ownership…about 4 years. Beginning the 4th season I did a full hub removal and hand repacking. After close inspection the spindles, races and bearings were just fine…no pitting and no corrosion. So, it’s not always a dismal picture.

Alpenliter

Once again the Lippert name comes up in a product failure. Well known for broken frames due to poor engineering and worse welding, axle failure can now
be added to their list of shoddy work, and poor reputation.

KT Gillespie

We own a 2014 Denali 5th wheel, this year while adding grease to the hubs I noticed that one didn’t act correctly (no return grease), although I am capable of doing the work I decided to have a mobile tech come out to perform the needed repairs. These included replacing all 4 of the brake assemblies (manual adjusting, picked up in Phoenix for $32 each), replace the inner seal, clean everything and repack the bearings after inspection. They also adjusted the brakes and check the emergency breakaway switch. The total cost was a bit more than expected, BUT the peace of mind is invaluable. While doing my own inspections and investigations, I discovered that my axles are labeled Lippert, but are made by Dexter..Just sayin.

mike

Ouch! Purchased a Open Range 5th 2013 wheel a few months ago and read the maintenance manual regarding greasing the axles. Went under the rv to find the rubber piece that fits over the grease zerks, but to no avail. So while under the rv took pictures of the underneath of the rv including axle info and around each wheel hub. That was it UNTIL reading this article. Pulled the photos up and sure enough Lippert axles. Now not certain what to do. Don’t know the maintenance history on the wheels, travel history etc, so question is leave well enough alone or do I dig further into checking out the disposition of the wheels.

Irv

Same problem with Super Lube axles on a new trailer and a few thousand miles. I read all the online tips ahead of time; especially about making sure everything was warm so as to thin the grease. I waited until the afternoon of a 90° day and had left the grease tube out in the sun.

There were reports that many trailers came from the factory with insufficient grease in the axles and not to worry if it took two or three pumps to see grease coming out the front.

I had the hubs and brakes inspected 2000 miles later and the brakes were covered in grease.

I’ll never again use the zerk fitting to add more grease.

Jeff Arthur

I have the lippert axles in question . Discovered the situation you describe some years back.

This year I discovered a distressing feature of the Lippert axle. It seems 1500# axles take the same bearings as my 4400# axles?

Bob p

I’ve always been suspicious of this type of axle, as a retired industrial mechanic I know that when fresh grease is pumped in the old grease comes out. Where it comes out is the BIG question, a seal is there primarily to keep dirt out of the bearing as well as keeping the grease in, since there is only a set volume of space for the grease if it is full from the factory, where does the old grease go when you pump new grease in? Around the seal and into the drum or onto the disc if you have disc brakes. This type of axle works on boat trailers where there are no brakes and you pump grease in until you see grease coming out the back of the hub. This type of system on an RV seems to be more of a production idea where the manufacturers pump X number of pumps into the axle on the assembly line instead of having the bearings properly packed before assembly, this gives the bearings enough grease to carry it through the sale and if it fails during the warranty the dealer can deal with it. If it makes it through the warranty and you lose an axle due to seizure of a bearing it’s on you because they provided you with a way to lube the bearings. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lawyer came up with that idea. Lol

Scooter

Yep. Between a boat trailer and our fifth wheel, three axles, we had 3 of the 6 seals fail. I was so angry I removed all of the grease zerks and replaced the dust covers with solid faced versions to remove any temptation to use that system again. I tell anyone I know my story with the hopes they don’t repeat this issue. It is a dangerous issue as you have no idea the seals have failed until you disassemble the wheel or (as I did) notice the reduced braking. On my 5er, the failed seals were on the driver’s side and created a very noticeable yawing motion when braking. Yes I followed the manual’s instructions to the letter.

Jeff

Unfortunately, like so many RV products, even bearings are made in China. I had the morryde IS axles installed last year. However, I made sure they installed Timken Bearings and seals. Made in the USA. I have the axle zirk fittings too. Use grease very sparingly, you don’t need much. And you need to use the correct grease too. I use Lucas oil axle grease, has a drop rating of 540 degrees. Meaning, the grease has to get to 540 degrees, before it becomes liquid. And if your bearings are generating that much heat. You have a major problem.