For many PWC buyers, a trailer is an afterthought even though it protects one of their largest investments. It’s not until they are stranded on the side of a highway with a busted trailer that the workmanship and maintenance come into perspective. Picking the right trailer and maintaining it properly can be the difference between a great day on the water or an expensive tow to the mechanic. Here’s what you should know about PWC trailers.
PICKING A PWC TRAILER
If the trailer will go into salt water even once, it should be built from either galvanized steel or aluminum. Powder-coated steel trailers are strictly for fresh water; dunking it once into brackish water will accelerate rust, which is the mortal enemy of trailers.
“With the powder-coat system, you can’t paint inside of a steel tube,” said Chris Meilahn of Karavan Trailers in Fox Lake, Wis. “When folks who aren’t aware start dunking their trailer into salt water, they’re
suddenly surprised that it’s rusting from the inside out.”
Single-axle PWC trailers retail for between $900 and $1,600, and generally the higher-priced models are better built and feature top-shelf components. Buyers should climb on the empty trailer to see how it flexes. Too much flex could be an indicator of cheap metal. Check out the paint to see if it was applied well and doesn’t easily chip or scratch. Bring a friend who knows metalworking to check out the trailer’s welds. Poor workmanship could be a harbinger of problems down the road.
Axles on PWC trailers come in two flavors: torsion or leaf spring. Many manufacturers are including torsion axles as standard equipment, because they require little maintenance and provide a smoother ride. The only drawback to a torsion axle is if the axle is faulty, the entire suspension has to be replaced. A leaf spring axle can usually be repaired.
“Anyone who has towed a torsional axle trailer with the window down will notice the difference,” said Mike Sodano of Load Rite Trailers, whose company now only offers torsional axle trailers. “It’s a quieter and softer ride.”
Buyers should opt for more expensive radial tires made for trailers, if theirs doesn’t come so equipped. Radial tires run cooler and have a wider footprint to reduce slipping at the launch ramp. The rim bearings will be lubricated using either oil-bath or grease-type hubs. Both methods work well, but owners need to be on the lookout for water intrusion.
It’s important to know how much weight a trailer can support, or its gross vehicle weight rating, which can be found on a sticker on the inside of the frame near the hitch. The trailer has to hold the PWC, a full tank of gas and a normal amount of equipment, and all that needs to come in less than the GVWR. Overloading the trailer can be dangerous and will shorten the trailer’s lifespan.
Brakes aren’t required on single- or tandem-axle PWC trailers, because they are typically under the 3,000-pound capacity. The same goes for boat trailers, which are beefier versions of PWC trailers and use a carpeted or roller bunk support system.
“The consumer needs to do some research, rather than just banking on the fact the dealer knows exactly what they need,” said Rick Norman of EZ Loader. “It’s worth your own while to research your own weights.”
PWC TRAILER MUST-HAVES
For Renee Mason of ShoreLand’r trailers, a must-have on a new PWC trailer is a fully grounded LED light system. LED lights are more durable and provide better visibility than incandescent lights. If the manufacturer doesn’t include LED lights as standard equipment, it’s worth the upgrade to not chase shorts that can occur with traditional lights.
A good winch with a sturdy strap to pull the PWC onto the trailer is a must, especially at a crowded launch ramp. Retractable tie-downs provide convenience and security.
“Nobody wants to be straining to crank their PWC those final inches into the winch,” Mason said. “A good winch system allows you do this with ease. This is especially important in light of today’s bigger, heavier watercraft.”
Buyers can also add a storage locker and walk boards, but those accessories are usually found on tandem PWC trailers. Rather than using a heavy metal box, companies such as ShoreLand’r are opting for molded poly storage units that are durable yet lightweight.
Many price-point PWC trailers don’t come with a tongue jack for attaching or detaching the trailer from the tow vehicle. Ask the dealer to include one on the trailer or consider an aftermarket tongue jack. Surprisingly, most trailers don’t include a spare tire, and an owner’s regret will kick in on the roadside after a blowout. Buyers should make sure the trailer has a tire hanger and buy the spare trailer tire on their own.
A TRAILER’S LIFE
A well-maintained trailer can last longer than the personal watercraft it carries. EZ Loader’s Norman said he gets inquiries from customers looking for parts for trailers built in the 1960s and 1970s. Finding parts is one of the reasons Norman recommends going with a name brand manufacturer who has a history of building trailers.
“They’ve been around long enough to know how to make a good product,” Norman said. “Usually, big-name companies don’t become big-name companies by developing a poor product.”
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