How To Replace Model Train Wheels



One of the great pleasures all model railroaders share is in purchasing rolling stock for their model train layouts, and justifiably so! After all, a great deal of time, effort, and research is spent by the hobbyist in selecting the right scale for their layout, as well as the time spent in choosing an era and railroad to model.

It then goes without saying that in having made these important decisions, the purchase of rolling stock is of paramount importance to the model railroader. These are the trains that will be run on their layouts and they are the very thing which will bring their railroad to life along with its scenery elements.

With that said, however, one would not think that the wheels that come with newly purchased trains, whether they be locomotives or rail cars may or should be replaced to insure a smooth running model railroad, but that could and often is the case.

To reiterate the point, there are actually a variety of different types of wheels which can be found on prototype trains, and the same applies to model trains as well.

With that knowledge, it is important that the hobbyist make sure that they have the best possible wheels on their trains, and in so doing, you will have taken a big step in getting the best running performance out of your rolling stock.

Plastic or Metal Wheels? Which Will Serve My Trains Better?

The truth is, there are arguments for using either. It depends on who you talk too! For example, there are model railroaders who swear by plastic wheel sets, and say that regular cleaning will deal with any potential problems. Athearn and MDC/Roundhouse make some excellent wheel sets.

On the other hand, there are hobbyist who prefer metal wheels. There argument is that they would rather not deal with the need to constantly clean their wheels, because, they do in fact, collect dirt and grime through regular use. Kadee has made wheel sets for the HO scale for quite a few years and they are superb. Reboxx also makes wheelsets that have the reputation of running quite well, and facilitate drop-in conversion.

Another thing that the hobbyist should be aware of is that the size of the wheel is very relevant. The size of the wheel will change the height of the car and it will also effect the height of the couplers if they are mounted on the cars body. The following is a list of sizes for various types of cars:

Locomotives – all sorts of different sizes

Freight and Passenger cars – 28, 33, and 36 inch diameters are the most common sizes.

If there is a common size for wheels today it is 33 inches.

Returning once again to the question of which type of wheel is best…….plastic wheels are renown for collecting dirt, in spite of having greater friction. If dirt collects on the wheels of your cars this can cause problems with electrical pick-up with your rails, and can possibly be the cause of derailments as well.

Metal wheels roll more freely and are much easier to keep clean. Heavier wheels tend to handle imperfections in the track better as well. An added benefit, you’ll get a little more of that “clickety-clack” sound as the train crosses rail joints. Because they roll more freely, your locomotives will be able to pull longer trains.

How To Change Wheels

The good news is that changing out wheels is actually an easy project. Begin by removing the truck from the car as this will make changing out the wheels considerably easier. Next, and if the trucks are made of plastic, spread the side frames with care until you can pop out the wheels and axle. If you’re dealing with metal trucks you may find it necessary to perform some additional disassembly. Now, place your new wheels in place and that is it.

There is one additional thing which you will have to give attention to, and that is making sure that your new wheelset is set to the proper gauge. Do this by following the standards which are forth by the NMRA and by using a NMRA gauge.