How Much Play Should Be In Trailer Wheel Bearings? (Full Guide)

how much play should be in trailer wheel bearings

Do you know how much play should be in the trailer wheel bearings? Well, you are at the perfect place to find the answer to such a question.

Your trailer wheel bearings are vital. Located within the wheel assembly, the wheel bearings play an essential role in allowing your wheels to spin.

Bearings too tight? Those wheels won’t spin. Bearings too loose? Well, those wheels may not stay attached to the axles for too long.

 But, how much play should there be in trailer wheel bearings? Where is the point between too tight and too loose?

Well, generally speaking, you want to aim for about 1/8″ of play in the wheels i.e. side to side movement. Anything less than this, and the bearings are probably too tight. Anything higher, and the bearings are probably too tight.

How Much Play Should Be In Trailer Wheel Bearings?

There will always need to be a bit of play in your trailer wheel bearings. If there isn’t, then the bearings are too tight and they probably won’t allow the wheels to spin.

The easiest way to test whether your trailer wheel bearings are too tight is by moving the wheels on the trailer.

You want to move the wheels from side to side. There should be a bit of movement, but no more than around 1/8″. Anything less than that, and the bearings are too tight. Anything more than that, and the bearings have managed to work themselves loose.

There are some people that claim that the wheel bearings should be a little bit tighter than this. Some people are willing to have as little as 1/64th play in the bearings.

We suppose that this is something that could work.

However, there isn’t too much difference between that and 1/8th of an inch, so if you are dealing with roughly 1/8th of an inch movement, then you don’t need to worry too much. 

Do bear in mind that if you see any abnormal movements when you move the trailer wheels e.g. the wheel doesn’t move in a way that you expect it to (it moves with a bit of a wobble), then this would also indicate that you have loose or failing trailer wheel bearings.

Read also >> This is Why Your Travel Trailer Squeaks – 5 Ways to Easily Fix it

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Other Signs Your Trailer Wheel Bearings Are Too Tight or Loose?

While loose trailer wheels are probably going to be the biggest sign that your trailer wheel bearings have not been fitted correctly, this is not going to be the only sign.

You may notice a few other issues with your wheels that could warrant further inspection.

Noise When You Are Driving

Hear a vibrating noise coming from the wheels when you are driving? This could indicate that you are dealing with a loose trailer wheel bearing.

If your wheels are vibrating, then you need to stop that trailer immediately. You are running the risk of the trailer wheels falling off the vehicle and, trust us, this is probably not something that you want to have to happen!

You are unlikely to be able to hear any noise until you travel beyond 25mph. So, if you are planning on checking that trailer for rumblings, then you best find a good bit of road that you can drive on.

Excess Heat Coming From The Trailer Wheels

The reason why it is fine to have a little bit of looseness in the trailer wheel bearings is that once those wheels start to heat up from all the driving, the bearings will expand. This means that there will be much less play in the trailer wheel bearings.

The problem? If there is too much heat, then this could indicate that you have had trailer wheel bearings.

In order to test whether your trailer is generating too much heat, drive around 10-15 miles at your standard pace. Most people recommend traveling at a highway pace.

Once you have hit the mileage, pull the vehicle over and place your hand on the wheels. If the wheel feels too hot to touch, then chances are that your trailer wheel bearings have too much play, and they will need to be tightened up a bit.

We do want to point out that overheating trailer wheel bearings isn’t just down to the fact that the bearings have too much play in them.

In some cases, it is going to be because the trailer wheel bearing lacks lubrication. The bearing will need to be lubricated every few thousand miles, and this is something that will need to be checked whenever you take your vehicle in for a service. 

What Can You Do With Poorly Fitting Bearings?

You can tighten them. Yes, we know it sounds simple, but you will be surprised at how often the simplest answer isn’t the most obvious.

If your bearings are too tight, then tighten them up. You will need to raise the trailer wheel off the ground to do this, but the price shouldn’t be too high.

That being said, we are not huge advocates for tightening bearings yourself. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, if your bearings have suddenly come loose, then chances are that your bearings are failing. They will need to be serviced. This may mean adding a bit of extra lubrication to the wheel bearings, or it may involve replacing the bearings completely.

If you don’t know what you are doing, then chances are you won’t be able to spot if the bearings need to be replaced. This means that you will forever be dealing with the loosening issue.

Secondly, your bearings are going to need to be tightened to a specific ‘tightness’.

For this, you are going to need to get your hands on a torque wrench, plus find the manufacturer’s spec for your wheels. This may be more hassle than it is worth.

Adjusting Trailer Bearings: The EASY way >> Check out the video below:

What Does It Mean If Your Trailer Bearings Keep Loosening Up?

If you constantly find that your trailer bearings need to be tightened up, then they probably need to be replaced.

One of the main reasons why trailer bearings come loose is because they have started to wear out. This is something that normally happens after a few thousand miles.

Although, it will be dependent on the bearing.

In this case, your best bet is to head to a garage that deals with trailers. They will be able to replace the wheel bearings for you.

The cost isn’t going to be that high. As in the previous section, this is a job that you probably would be able to do yourself, if you really wanted.

However, it is going to be a whole lot easier to get right when you have the experts in on the job!


While some people aim for a small amount of play in the trailer wheel bearings (roughly 1/64th of an inch), it is unlikely that you are going to run into too many problems if the play is around the 1/8″ level.

This is assuming the wheel moving from side to side. If you have issues with the wheel moving backward and forwards, or perhaps not running straight, then it is vital that you tighten the bearings up as quickly as possible.

If it keeps happening, then you will need to take the trailer to your local garage so that it can be properly inspected. 



Jeff is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Reatta. Jeff has been creating written and video content about transportation, automotive, electric cars, future vehicles as well as new, used for more than 18 years. Jeff is based in Boulder, Colorado.

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