Trailer TLC

As the season hits the midway point, don't neglect your boat's chariot: the trailer.

trailering-bw-07-2016If you’re like most boaters (and I include myself at the top of the list), you did some work on your trailer to winterize it at the end of last season, and you did some upkeep at the start of the season. But since then, even though your trailer has probably been in and out of the water many times, your total maintenance regimen has consisted of kicking the tires a couple of times.

Maintenance: can’t live with it, can’t live without it. You’d rather be out on the water having fun, but you need to ensure summertime enjoyment by spending a few minutes checking your trailer.

Let me share a cautionary tale: My friend was towing his boat to the water when his wife said, “Hey, look, there’s a boat exactly like ours next to us!” He looked and, of course, it was their boat. The hitch lock hadn’t been checked and the safety chain had popped like five-pound test line with a hundred-pounder hooked. The tale had a happy ending. The trailer eased to the side of the road on its front roller and stopped … without hitting anything. Guess who checks the hitch and chain several times before setting out now?

Two trailer areas are particularly prone to midseason issues: the wheels and the trailer hitch. Let’s look at these first.

WHEELS
Flats, blowouts and burnt bearings are the most common causes of trailer breakdowns. Check the tire pressure (cold) before each trip, and compare it with the recommended pressure, which is molded into the sidewall of each tire. And yes, depending on your tires, the PSI may vary.

While you’re squinting to read the PSI, look for spider-web cracks in the tire sidewalls, caused by heat or age. If you see them, replace the tires. Check the tread depth for wear, too. Less than 2/32 of an inch of tread, and you need new tires. The best way to check is to put a penny into the tire tread. Make sure Lincoln’s head is facing inward, toward the tire center. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, navigate to a tire shop.

Inspect around the lug holes for any signs of cracking, and check the lug nuts for tightness.

The wheel bearings take a beating from heat, water and road grit, so make sure they’re in good shape, because you don’t want them seizing while you’re on the road. One good way to check them is to jack up the trailer and spin the wheel. Listen carefully for any grating noise; you want to hear a smooth hissing sound. You can grease the bearings yourself — it’s messy but easy — or run the trailer to your marine dealer for greasing. If you have a Bearing Buddy, you can add grease easily by using the grease fitting in the center of the hub. Test your grease level by pushing on the edge of the movable piston: If it rocks or moves, you have enough grease. If it doesn’t move, add grease until the piston moves out about 1/8 inch. Some Bearing Buddies have a blue ring that should extend 1/8 inch outward. If it is flush, add grease. Always use a hand-pump grease gun and use quality multipurpose #2 lubricant (the same as used on auto suspensions).

HITCH
Lubricate moving parts of the hitch, including inside the ball socket that accepts the trailer ball. There are a number of locking methods for trailer hitches, but hinged locks and rotating ratchets are the most common. The hinged lock usually has an opening to insert a padlock, and you shouldn’t tow the trailer without a large bolt in that hole, to prevent an accidental opening. The ratchet models are more difficult to secure, but make sure the latch fits snugly and the spring holds it tightly in place.

Don’t forget the trailer ball, either. I just happened to touch the trailer ball before a long trip and found it loose, with just a few threads holding it. I have no idea how it got that way, but it won’t ever happen again!

If you have hydraulic brakes, the master cylinder is usually by the hitch, so you can check it for the correct level. Don’t let any debris fall into the cylinder while you’re checking. If it’s low, you may need to bleed the system to get air out of the lines. See your marine dealer.

Look for wear on the safety chain and, if you have S-hooks, look for bending. Tip: Replace the S-hooks with screw pin shackles that you can lock with a wire tie.

MISCELLANY
Check the lights by plugging the trailer lights into the car and then turning on the vehicle lights. Have someone watch for your brake, turn and night lights. It’s best to test them at night, when you can really tell if a light is dim, which may be caused by a poor ground wire or corrosion. Make sure no wires are loose or chafed.

Eyeball the boat supports, too. Whether you have carpeted bunks or rollers, make sure they’re not worn or broken. When the boat is in the water, you can treat the carpeted bunks with silicon spray to make the boat slide on and off easily.

All this sounds like a lot, but it’s just common sense and takes only a few minutes to ensure that you don’t lose a day on the water.

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