Brakes and Axle Expenses 101

For the investment we have in our RVs of every type, we depend on the axles and brakes to protect both the investment, and ourselves and tow vehicles, from having an accident due to insufficient braking. Many RVrs have no idea of how their electric brakes work, nor care. That's OK as they usually depend on professionals to do the work for them. Don't worry, this article will not be that technical. It is about saving money, especially if you are like many of us and do the work yourself. But even if you don't, the following is important information, to make a better choice in what you have done with the relatively simple trailer electric brake systems and axles. And if you ever burn a wheel bearing, and are told you need to replace the axle, you'll know if the price quoted is correct.

Since I keep hearing that many RVrs have paid more for brake jobs than all new brakes, the below will make you a much smarter consumer. Paying more for brake parts and labor, leaving rusty springs and backer plates on your rig, when all new is cheaper and smarter doesn't make sense. I know of several RVrs that have paid more for a brake job on a dual axle rig than replacing the axles, brakes, hubs, bearings, and races, with all new!

So here are some considerations when you find yourself ready for brakes, or constantly having problems with your axles. Or even how cheaply you can upgrade to a much more heavy-duty suspension.

I have had RVrs tell me they paid up to $1000.00 for a brake job with bearing repack for two axles! If you have even paid 300.00 dollars or more you are in for a real surprise here in many cases. Even that is too much if all they did was to replace the braking parts themselves, and if your brakes are standard electric systems. Doing brake jobs on trailers, with the exception of replacing brake shoes, if you do it yourself, is a waste of money. Trailer backer plate assemblies come pre-assembled with a new backer plate, all new brake parts including the magnet, ready to bolt-on with four bolts for well under 50 dollars each for a standard electric brake trailer system. So total cost of parts to replace the whole assembly for four axle ends with all new parts by buying all new backer plate/brake assemblies is only $200.00 max. Add 20 bucks for new grease seals.

See some examples of backer plate assemblies for trailers at these links with prices:
Brakes 1

On the next link scroll down to the bottom and read about why it is smart to replace the whole assemblies

See what I mean?

To jack up the trailer, pull all four wheels, R&R the backer plates (four bolts each and two wires,) clean and repack all four wheel bearings (The labor is already done to R&R them right?) reassemble and adjust, is at max 2 hours. Maybe 20 bucks worth of expendable supplies (Grease, cleaning solvent, rags, electrical connector nuts, etc) Total for brand new brakes, reusing no rusty parts, should be around $240.00 before labor. 2 hours at even 100 bucks an hour is still only $440.00. Remember that new backer plates require no removal of springs and parts, no cleaning the old system, just four bolts off, four bolts on, and reassemble. No labor time essentially beyond the R&R of the four wheels packing and adjustment time-the same labor involved in a four wheel bearing repack plus the time it takes to take off and screw back on or solder the four wires to the axles/backer plates.

Many RV shops and brake specialists will not tell you that the labor to rebuild brakes on an old rusty backer plate assembly costs twice the price or more of bolting on all new assemblies.

Now the kicker. New axle stalks only cost about 150-225 bucks each with brakes hubs bearings-the whole shebang! For the money many spend on a brake job, they could have gotten all new axles, brakes, hubs, bearings, races, etc.- the whole shebang!

Since you already have the springs, hangers, u-bolts, and other suspension hardware, and assuming you have around 5200 pound axles, the total cost per axle, with new electric brakes, hubs, and mounting saddles already welded on is only $250.00 each. $500.00 to replace all of your suspension except for the springs and tires/rims, and I would bet less than two hours labor at a qualified non-RV trailer place. Places like the above link showing the price of complete 5200-pound axles. I have never used Southwest Wheel, the folks I found for an example above, but I would bet that all new axles installed, with all new brakes would cost right at $700.00 plus tax. Of course they would have to see the trailer to match the axles and brakes perfectly. They have a toll-free number at the top of their WebPages. If you doubt that they can be done that cheaply, I would call them and see if they do the installations too, or have a nearby shop that does them, and what the labor would be. I think that price includes new hubs and all the bearings and races too.

A good shop can order the right axles with all hardware new. Then, all it takes to install them is to jack up the trailer, remove the tires/rims, which will be the only old parts you keep, remove the U-bolts holding the old axles in place, then bolt on the new axles with new U-bolts. (I would not use old U-bolts no matter how new.) If you have shocks then you will need to have the shock mounts installed. Then attach the brake wires and test. Maybe one hour to three tops. And you are rolling out of the shop. With a warranty!

So next time you need brakes, even if you are a do it yourselfer, you might consider all new if your rig is a few years old and the parts are beginning to rust. And if you are told you need a new axle, you will know about what they should cost.

Safe and frugal Travels!

RV Roadie

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