Tips on Lubricating Your Jeep


The Universal Jeep CJ-3B Owner's Manual was a formidable document -- nearly a hundred pages, describing the function and maintenance of every major component of the vehicle.

1957 Owner's ManualIn those days it was quite possible for the typical owner to do much of the maintenance, troubleshooting and repair of their Jeep, and the manual provided most of the information they needed to do it.

Today, many CJ-3B owners know every nut and bolt on their Jeep, but the basic maintenance guidelines in the manual (which may no longer be with the Jeep -- no glove compartment, after all) can still be useful.

See the Lubrication Diagram and Chart (100K GIF), showing location, frequency, quantity, and type of lubricant required in fourteen main areas.

Taking account of developments in lubricants, and the periodic hard use that today's recreational Jeepers may put their vehicles through, here are some more recent recommendations on Lubricating Steering Box and Knuckles, Rear Wheel Bearings, and Lubricating After Driving in Water. -- Derek Redmond

Choice of Lubricants

Mobil 1 greaseJon Paulsen: "One precaution with synthetics: because they had cold leakage problems, the manufacturers have added ingredients to cause the rubber seals to swell for a tighter fit. This works well and might even make small leaks you may have had with natural oils go away, but if you stop using synthetics, you could well develope new leaks. This goes for engine and gear box oils. This would only apply to rubber seals. If you have old felt or rope seals, you will likely have cold leakage with synthetics. To me, the unknown results in an old t90, and the expense, makes synthetics unattractive for the gear boxes. I change all the gear oils every 6 to 12 mos., depending on usage ($$$).

"I have been using Mobil 1 grease for all my chassis lube and wheel bearings on 3 vehicles with very good results. It's compatible with old greases and very, very water resistant. I have never seen it emulsify. Its bright red color makes it clear when you have purged out the old grease on u-joints, tie rod ends, etc. I use it everywhere, except where I mix oil and grease, in the steering gearbox and the knuckles."

Ed Wilson comments, "Based on the recommendations of a friend (he builds engines for drag racing), I'm using Kendall petroleum based oil for engine break-in on my newly rebuilt F-head, and will change to Kendall synthetic at 800-1000 miles. I am also using Amsoil synthetic 75-90 gear oil in both gear boxes. The synthetic has already shown a significant improvement in cold operation and performance. I plan to change both differentials to synthetics shortly."

Lubricating Steering Box and Knuckles

Jon Paulsen: "The steering box I packed as full as I could with Slick 50 grease, put the cover on and topped off with oil. Then I turned the wheel back and forth several times and topped it off again. I don't know if it mixes as much as maybe the grease does not let the oil reach the seals, so they can't leak. I haven't opened it since and it doesn't leak. (6 mos. since I packed it... new shaft seal and gasket.)"

Ed Wilson adds: "I use STP oil additive (high viscosity) or like product in my steering box. Got that tip from an old-time mechanic. Works well but is slow to add! I don't understand why they put just the grease fitting on that box, it just pushes the grease out of the way when it is moved."

Steering knuckle oil sealJon Paulsen: "I rebuilt the steering knuckles several years ago and they have never leaked and there has been no sign of water intrusion when I change the fluid. I completely removed the knuckles and cleaned everything up real well with solvents. I sanded the sphere a LOT with emery cloth for a good finish. I think that is one of the keys and you can't do a very good job without removing the knuckle. It's a good idea to tear it down anyway, because you can inspect the axle u-joint, wheel bearings and king pin bearings, as well as adjust the king pin pre-load. (You won't likely need a shim pack to adjust the pre-load, as it has been wearing loose and removal of shims tightens it up.) Chilton's tells how to do the tear down, Haynes says go to a dealer. (Our Lafayette dealer doesn't know what model my Jeep is. I told them it's a WW 1!). All you need besides common tools is a torque wrench, spindle nut socket, and a fish scale.

"I added grease to my knuckles last spring, when I got a tube of slick 50 grease for the steering. But they weren't leaking. I don't know how much I added, I just pumped 4 or 5 strokes with the grease gun through the fill hole. The idea was to help prevent leaks maybe, and to introduce Teflon for wear reduction."

Mike Hrischuk: "OK, what's the story on the ends of the front axle? Do I remove the filler plug and put 80W gear oil in it till it starts running out? If so, you mean those felt seals really keep it in there? Is the purpose of the oil to lube the tapered bearings up top and bottom? I didn't look but is there a drain plug?"

Wes Knettle: "The 1953 Owner's Manual (first production year) and the factory lube chart disagree with the 1965 Jeep service manual SM-1046 which clearly states gear oil SAE-140. MB/GPW and Chilton manuals say Gear Oil. M38 & M38A1 manuals say chassis lube grease for clean and repack, then they go on to say check oil level. I think the Rzeppa and Tracta joints should be hand packed in grease then periodically add gear oil to the level of the filler plug. These type joints have all their ball and socket surfaces exposed to grease. The later Cardan joints will require the gear oil to penetrate inside the needle bearing cups."

Reed Cary: "The consensus, as expressed on many Jeep mailing lists, seems to be that whatever lubricant the manufacturer referred to in the early manuals, it is no longer available. The reference to 140 wt gear oil is interesting, as it seems to be a later one. 'Knuckle pudding' is a concoction many are using -- a 50/50 mixture of bearing grease and 90wt gear oil. (The 'pudding' comes from the fact that to make this stuff, one has to slowly heat the gear oil, while stirring in the grease.)"

Chek-ChartSteve Chabot: "I have a 1956 Willys mechanic's manual for CJ-2A thru CJ-6 with separate lube charts on all models, as well as 1957 and 1959 owners manuals. And all three say that the front axle shafts are to be lubed with chassis lubricant No. 1 in summer and No. 0 in the winter."

Note: The Jeep Chek-Chart (right) has the same suggestion.

Ed Wilson: "I have run 90 wt gear oil in mine for years (and years). I think Willys put plugs where gear oil goes and grease fittings where grease goes. The only exception I've made to this is the steering box and it is for the same reason I have reservations about pure grease in the knuckles. When it has room to do so, grease pushes away from the moving parts and tends to stay there, not having the viscosity of oil. Of course it lubricates some, but the parts are not in a "bath" as I think the knuckles were intended to be. Reed's 'pudding' is probably the best compromise if you have leaks you can't deal with right now. Butre-sealing these knuckles is fairly easy and inexpensive. I replaced mine near six years ago and have no leaks as of yet."

Reed: "It might be mentioned in passing, that regardless of choice of lubricant, there is a real question as to lubrication of the upper kingpin bearing, unless one believes that the action of the u-joint is enough to sling enough oil up there."

Mike Hrischuk: "Yes, I decided to put 140W gear lube in just for that reason. I think that is the only reason the spindle was designed as a sealed vessel. The u-joints will get lubricated by default but the upper kingpin bearing needs oil slung up into it. If you noticed, the later open knuckle rears use externally greasable joints. No more reservoirs. Smart move.

"Just found in Chilton's repair and tune-up guide Jeep CJ 1953 to 1979, a chart on page 15: 'Recommended Lubricants.' It states,'Steering Knuckles (through 1971) ----- SAE 140, GL3 gear oil.'"

Jon Paulsen: "The other key to keeping your knuckles from leaking is to clean the sphere periodically and coat it with grease (from the outside). I always wipe a little grease on when the Jeep will be parked for extended periods of time. I always wipe it off after driving in wet weather in sub freezing temperatures. All this fanaticism is to keep from tearing the rubber seal when you hop in and turn the wheel. Keeps it from sticking to the sphere. I use Mobil 1 for external lube of the sphere."

Note: The Owner's Manual has a similar recommendation about the Steering Knuckle Oil Seal: "When parking during cold, wet weather, swing the front wheels from right to left to wipe away moisture adhering to the front axle universal joint housings and oil seals. This will prevent freezing with resulting damage to the oil seals. When the vehicle is stored for any period, the front axle universal joint housings should be coated with light grease to prevent rusting."

(For more details and opinions on this always contentious topic, see the new article on Lubricating the Steering Knuckles. -- Derek)

Lubricating Rear Wheel Bearings

Jon Paulsen: "If your baby likes to play in the water, a good synthetic grease will shed water better and be much less likely to become contaminated. I use Mobil 1 everywhere, except where I'm mixin' it with 90 weight, like in those beloved steering knuckles. There I'm using slick 50 grease, or other lithium based. Mobil 1 and lithium based are said to mix happily. Another benifit of Mobil 1 is the red color, which allows you to tell dirty grease from clean.

"If your rear axle has no grease zerks (newer axles): Woe is you. Every 12,000 miles, or after your baby goes for a good swim, or at whatever other reasonable interval the little voice in your noggin allows, pull the axle shafts, and clean and pack 'em by hand, while the bearings remain pressed on the shaft.

"If you have grease zerks (earlier design): Recommended interval is the same as above, but since the process is much less labor intensive, I would do it soon after every swim and every time you're goosin' the other 20 some zerks on your baby with grease. Get out of your church clothes first, or the boss gets real mad.

"Do the following the first time around, maybe skip it if you are confident the grease vents are venting. Otherwise you end up greasin' the brake shoes. God bless those stock 9 inch drums. They don't need any help with a good grease job. Get the back end up safely on stands and pull both drums so you can see the grease if it is going in there. It will come out behind the hub and drum."

Rear wheel bearing

"Now that those upper vents are squeaky clean, a schmardt fella would do something to cover them up. I think I'll try a large stainless hose clamp with a rubber pad over the hole, loosening the clamp when going ape with the grease gun later.

"My lower vent holes in the flange are still full of crud, but if I ever tear her down, and these vents appear to do what I think they do, I'll tap 'em for a plug or fitting to keep 'em clean."

Lubricating After Driving in Water

See Jon's 3B in the waterJon Paulsen: "Being in water over the hubs means an inspection of all fluids after returning home. No need to fear as this is a good chance to spend quality time with your baby and bond with its unique underside.

"After letting it sit overnight (it needs its beauty rest; also this lets the water settle), drain plugs should be pulled on the differentials, and gear boxes, then quickly replaced if good clean oil came out. Same goes for the steering knuckles, but just pull one of the bolts from the bottom bearing cap instead of a drain plug. This is followed by a finger in the fill hole to check the quality of the oil, then a squirt of 90 weight to top it off. If water went in, the fluids should be over full, too. If water or emulsified oil is discovered, it's best to drain, flush with kerosene and replace the oil. A field fix is just to let out the water, if it hasn't emulsified. If it is emulsified, it looks like a chocolate shake and functions as oil about as well.

"I flush the diffs by squirting the kerosene with a squirt bottle and spinning the gears by hand, and the stock gaskets can be tossed in favor of silly-cone RTV. By the book, the hubs and wheel bearings should be disassembled and repacked. I just pull the cap on the hub and if there's no water there, and the knuckle is OK, I stop there.

"Finally, all the grease zerks get at least a double shot with Mobil 1 grease, and maybe a triple shot if any water or emulsified grease comes out. Best to drop one end of each drive shaft and compress the slip joint to get all the water out if they were submerged.

Randy Buchanan suggests hosing the leaf springs down with WD-40 to keep them from rusting solid. He also says, "Don't get too much on the brakes if you can help it!"

Thanks to Jon Paulsen and the other contributors, and to Dan Fedorko who supplied the picture of the 1963 Manual. -- Derek

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Last updated 23 March 2001 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond