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Treat your trailer right
  |  First Published: April 2014



Keeping your trailer in good shape isn’t that hard, and it’s a very worthwhile exercise. You don’t want to find yourself in that nightmare scenario of being stuck on the side of the road, smoke coming from your trailer wheel, and telling yourself life just isn’t fair. Take it from me – life is a whole lot more fair if you do take a few easy steps to avoid nasty surprises!

BEARINGS

Bearings are one of the more vital items on your boat trailer, but they’re something we often forget about – until they fail. Wheel bearing failure is the most common problem people have with their trailers.

If you keep your bearings well greased they will last longer, but eventually they will need to be replaced. To check your bearings, jack the wheel off the ground and spin the wheel. If there’s a grinding sound, that’s bad; your bearings should be smooth and silent. If you grab the wheel at the top and bottom, there shouldn’t be much play in it. If there is excessive movement you’re on borrowed time.

Lots of boaters replace their bearings at home. If you haven’t done it before there are plenty of YouTube videos showing how it’s done. Or, if you want to avoid the mess and hassle, just take it to your local tyre shop or mechanic.

There are several bearing lube systems available that will allow you to keep your bearings well greases and oiled. These include brands like Dura Hub and Bearing Buddies, and you’ll find they are easy to fit and come with helpful instructions.

And finally, if you have an extended road trip planned I would suggest taking 2 pairs of bearings plus a tub of waterproof grease and a general tool kit… just in case.

SPARE TYRE

In an ideal world, your spare tyre would happily spend its life perched on your trailer and never have to touch the road. But just in case your luck runs out, you need to make sure your tyre is ready to roll.

The next time you’re at the servo, top up your tyres to the recommended PSI rating (this is displayed on the wall of the tyre). You also need to carry tyre wrench that fits the nuts on the wheels. I got option is to get a quality X-bar wrench. With 4 wheel nut sizes they’re compatible with nearly all trailers.

Lastly, remember that wheel nuts have a habit of coming loose, so give every nut a tighten on a regular basis.

RUST

Got some light rust on your trailer? Attack it with a wire brush to remove any surface corrosion, and then give it a good coating of anti-rust agent such as Cold Gal.

Major rust is obviously a much bigger problem. If you have significant rusting of the trailer frame or parts you should get them replaced immediately or get a licensed trailer repairer to fix the damage.

Because springs aren’t galvanized they’re one of the areas that are particularly susceptible to rust, and so they need some attention to minimize this problem. I recommend spraying your springs several times a year with a rust-inhibiting silicone spray. It’s also a good idea to clean them thoroughly after each trip. If you’re planning an extended trip you should bring a spare set; it’s difficult to find exactly the right spring when you’re off the beaten track.

WIRING AND LIGHTS

The trailer’s electrical wiring system is prone to failure after repeated dunkings in saltwater, as well as wear and tear on the road. For this reason it’s wise to make a visual inspection of the wiring to check for corroded or damaged wires or loose connections. Before each trip you also need to check your indicator and brake lights. If you have a large trailer, check that your clearance lights are working.

Every so often, take a look at the electrical tow plug connectors on your tow vehicle and trailer. You want to avoid surface rust on the plug, and you can help to prevent this with a good quality silicon spray. If there’s a small amount of corrosion you can clean the contacts with a small wire brush and a light spray of CRC. If there’s heavy corrosion you’ll need to replace the plug.

When it comes to the lights themselves, many boaters have made the switch to sealed LEDs because they last longer and usually have fewer problems. They also have a low power draw and are very bright.

If you’re not familiar with the wire colour codes, here they are: the yellow wire is for the left indicator; green is the right indicator; brown is for the tail, side and clearance lights; red is for the stop lights and the white wire is the ground/earth wire. If you have power brakes they’ll most likely have a blue wire.

JOCKEY WHEEL

To keep your jockey wheel in good nick it’s a good idea to keep grease inside the winding mechanism and on the internal shaft. If you have a swing-away jockey wheel, check that the handle (or other parts of the assembly) doesn’t scrape on sloped surfaces when retracted. If this is an issue it may be possible to secure the handle to the drawbar of your trailer.

Brakes

Boat-trailer packages with a specified gross capacity of 750kg or higher are required by law to have trailer brakes. If this is you, you should test your brakes and brake lights before each trip to make sure they’re operating properly.

Also remember that if you’re going on an extended trip it’s all too easy to overload your rig with ice, tackle, camping gear plus a big load of fuel. Have a look at your VIN plate to see the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding the net maximum capacity.

TRAILER ROLLERS

If you own an aluminium boat and the trailer is over three years old, your rollers probably aren’t doing their job as well as they used to. It doesn’t help if your keel gets knocked about, because the uneven surface damages trailer rollers. You can see the bits of blue or red poly stuck to the keel when you’re tying the boat down.

When your rollers don’t roll it’s time to buy new ones. Measure the length of the roller itself and the pin it sits on so you know exactly which ones to get. If your trailer is designed for driving on, it’s good to replace the first keel roller with a self-centering roller. It’s a bit more expensive than a plain roller, but it’s easier and quicker to drive on with a self-centering roller.

So that your new rollers don’t quickly end up shredded like the old ones, you’ll need to smooth the keel. You can do this with a file or grinder, and it only requires a light touch. All you want to do is take out the nicks and dents to leave a smooth surface.

Once the keel is smooth, it’s time to get the old rollers off and put the new ones on. To do this you’ll need long-nose pliers, side cutters and a hammer. It’s also good to bring marine grease to increase the pins’ lifespan, plus a decent sized rag to clean up with.

The next step is to put grease on the new pin. Be generous with the grease, because the saltwater environment is pretty unforgiving. Then position the new roller between the posts, push the pin through and then secure everything with the split pins (if the split pins are too long you can trim them with side cutters). When the pin and split pin are in place, put grease all over them to ward off rust.

Going through this procedure with all the rollers should take you around 20 minutes in total. Getting the boat on and off the trailer should now be a lot easier.

WINCH

Check your winch cable regularly for signs of wear. It can be good to change your winch straps to the seatbelt or Spectra rope type as they have very high load ratings and are easy on the hands. It’s also good to periodically spray the working parts with a good quality silicone spray.

Finally, make sure that the safety chain from your winch post is in good order and hooked up to your boat before you hit the road.

CLEANING

It’s important to give your trailer a thorough hosing down after each trip to prevent the saltwater from attacking the metal. When you’re washing the boat, wash down the trailer as well with warm, soapy water. The biggest problem areas are the springs, axle, wheels and rollers, so give them some extra attention. When you’re finished, give your springs, axle and any moving parts a spray with good quality silicone spray or Inox.

It’s also advisable to have two safety chains from your trailer to your tow hitch, crossed and secured with a quality D shackle. A shackle is something you don’t want to skimp on unless you want your boat to overtake you on the highway.

Every once in a while use a shifter to make sure all the nuts and bolts are tight on your trailer, as they tend to gradually loosen.

Remember, you can’t get to and from the water without your trailer, so look after it and you’ll get many years of faithful service. - FMG

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