Tech Tips - Trailer

Trailer Maintenance
by Kent Anderson

Whether you are towing a fourteen-foot aluminum fishing boat or a forty-foot performance boat, you have to make it to the water before your version of excitement can begin. Many boat owners take the old adage of “driving until the wheels fall off” much too literally, and their day of excitement with family and friends turns into frustration and unnecessary expense. By implementing simple preventative maintenance checks and procedures, you can guarantee that your often too short boating season is not plagued with time-consuming and costly repairs.

Prior to leaving for your day of boating, several inspections should be made. First, inspect the tires for proper inflation, unusual wear, sidewall bulges, and damage from sharp objects. The most common reason for premature tire failure and unusual wear is improper inflation. Trailer tire manufacturers strongly recommend that you keep your tires at the maximum cold pressure rating listed on the sidewall of your tires. Sidewall bulges require tire replacement and sharp object damage located in the tire tread can usually be repaired at your local tire shop and should be done promptly.

Secondly, check the lug nuts on the wheels for tightness and the bearings for proper lubrication. The lug nuts should be checked prior to each trip and approximately every 200 miles during extended road trips. It is very important that you use lubricant that is compatible with the type already in the hub (i.e. lithium grease is not compatible with standard automotive bearing grease). Check the manual provided with your trailer or with your trailer manufacturer for the proper procedures and recommendation.

After attaching the trailer to the tow vehicle, check that all lights are functioning properly. The submersible lights currently used by most trailer manufacturers are extremely resilient to the conditions in which they are used most often and have a low failure rate. Assuming the fuses in the tow vehicle are good, the most common failures are the trailer ground and corrosion on the wire connectors. A simple test light or voltmeter can be used to verify power to the light prior to purchasing a replacement.

The final pre-departure inspection only relates to trailers with hydraulic brakes. The most commonly missed and ultimately expensive preventative maintenance item is the braking system. Before each trip, insure that the master cylinder located inside the coupler of the trailer is full. The master cylinder reservoir should be accessible through a cap on the top of the coupler and most take regular DOT 3 brake fluid. Also, check under the trailer to make sure there are no standing puddles of brake fluid. While towing, the trailer should not make any excessive “bumps” when stopping or taking off. This is a sign that your brakes are not working properly and should be checked by a qualified repair facility as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Once again, check your trailer manual or with your trailer manufacturer for fluid recommendations and proper procedures.

Once you have safely arrived at your water destination and have launched your boat, other inspections can be made. Starting from the front, insure that the winch strap is not frayed or damaged. Also, make sure the bow stop is secured and the bow roller and attaching hardware are secure and undamaged. Having the bow stop or bow roller fail during loading can result in costly fiberglass repairs. Next, inspect each bunk board carefully. Make sure the boards are securely fastened and that all nuts, screws, or bolts are present. Insure that the bunk carpet is free of debris and is not torn or worn down, which would prevent it from protecting your boat. It is also important that you inspect for counter-sunk carriage bolts protruding from the boards underneath the carpet. This inspection can be completed easily by running your hand over the carpet right where the bunk brackets attach.

Lastly, inspect the fender boards, keel rollers, and make a mental note of any structural items or rust that may need to be addressed the next time you have your trailer in for repairs.

Depending on the design of your trailer, there may be several other areas that should be addressed periodically. For instance, the nuts and bolts on bolt-together trailers will occasionally need to be tightened. A general rule of thumb is: If it can come loose, it will.

Preventative trailer maintenance is often overlooked and can lead to costly repairs to both your trailer and your boat. Even on new trailers, most trailer manufacturers will not reimburse for repairs to trailers or boats when simple preventative maintenance or discontinuance of use would have avoided the damage or minimized it. It is ultimately your responsibility on whether or not you can safely make it to your destination without incident. Following a few simple steps can make your boating experience much more pleasurable. Happy Towing!!!

Kent Anderson is the Sales Manager for Road Runner Trailers, The Colony Texas.