5 Common Trailer Problems & How to Prevent Them

Imagine loading up the boat, hooking up your trailer, and pulling off from the driveway to enjoy a nice beautiful summer day on the water. But, as soon as you start to pull off, something goes wrong with your trailer. Uh-oh! Now, what would have been a fun day on the water has turned into a head-scratching frustrating game of what happened in the driveway.

Your boat’s trailer needs to be maintained to ensure that it works properly and to ensure that your boat remains on the trailer and is not dumped on the side of the road. Improper maintenance of a boat trailer can leave you stranded and quickly put an end to the fun you planned to have.

Below, we will discuss 5 of the most common problems that arise with trailers and how you can prevent them from happening. Remember, prevention is key and will help save you time and money.

1. Wheel Bearings

What exactly are wheel bearings? Wheel bearings are located within the wheel hub assembly on your trailer and connect the wheel to the axle. If you did not have wheel bearings, your wheel and tire would not spin.

One of the most common issues that occurs with boat trailers is the wheel bearings going bad. When this happens, you cannot freely and smoothly move your trailer down the road, which means you cannot go anywhere with the trailer or you find yourself stranded somewhere with a trailer that refuses to move.

So, how do I know if I have a bad wheel bearing? There are some signs that you want to keep an eye and ear out for.

First, if you notice noise coming from your wheel area, this can be an indication of a bad wheel bearing. You may notice that the sound is of a rumbling, humming, or even growling that will increase as you press to accelerate or as you turn the trailer. Another noisy sound is a grinding or whining when you turn the trailer. Lastly, you may notice clunking noises as you go over bumps or uneven areas of the road.

Another good indication of a bad wheel bearing is how much looseness is felt in the wheel. To test this, simply jack up the trailer and attempt to wiggle the wheel. There should be minimal play and room to spare when you try to move the wheel. In addition, when you spin the wheel, if it looks loose or has a wobble to it, you have bad bearings.

Lastly, you want to check for heat. To do this, you want to tow your trailer for a short distance of about 5 miles at a good moderate speed. Once you have done this, park the trailer and place your hand on the wheel hub to see how hot it is. If you find that the bearing is too hot to touch, you have a bad bearing.

Preventing Issues with Your Wheel Bearings

Fortunately, wheel bearing issues are preventable and with proper maintenance, you can avoid a costly replacement.

To prevent your bearings from wearing out and going bad, you will need to reseal or repack the bearings once per year. You should use a lubricant that is designed to be used in water as your trailer will come into contact with water.

Failure to lubricate your wheel bearings regularly can result in the bearings generating too much heat and causing failure.

Should you find that your wheel bearings are showing any of the signs that were listed above, you want to have them replaced. When a bearing completely fails, your wheel will lock up and your trailer immobile until the problem is fixed.

2. Lights

Okay, so you are loaded up with your boat on the trailer ready to go and you run through a quick inspection to make sure everything is working properly. You get to the back of the trailer only to find that the lights are not working.

Issues with trailer lights are the second most common issue that arises with boat trailers and fortunately, usually do not indicate a major problem.

So, why aren’t my trailer lights working?

There are several reasons why your trailer lights might not be working. The four most common reasons are covered below.

First, it is possible that the ground wire is not properly connected and has a faulty connection because of this. A faulty ground wire can happen when rust or dirt accumulate on the wire and then lead to issues with the connection.

The second possible reason is due to a blown fuse. Fuses blow for several reasons from damage to wear and even just age.

The third possible reason is due to a faulty vehicle side connector. You will want to inspect the vehicle side connector and make sure that it is functioning properly. If it is not, then this is likely the culprit.

The last possible reason is due to a faulty trailer side connector. If the vehicle side connector is working, your issue could be with a trailer side connector. You will need to make sure to test it to narrow down if this is the actual reason for no lights.

While these are the four most common problems that lead to your trailer lights not working, they are not the only reasons. For example, the bulbs could simply be burnt out and need to be replaced.

Preventing Issues with Your Lights

With proper maintenance, trailer light issues are preventable and can be identified quickly. It is important to make sure that you do maintain the lights of your trailer as they warn others when you are reversing and braking. Not having trailer lights can lead to an accident or a traffic infraction.

Before you take your trailer out, you should check the lights to make sure they are functioning. You should first ensure that there is power to them. Something as simple as a blown bulb is easy enough to replace and quickly identifiable.

Walking around your trailer allows you to see what is going on with it and keeps you informed when there is an issue. Preventing issues will start with simply making sure all components work correctly.

If you do find that an issue is present, it is important to make the necessary repairs to restore the functionality of your lights.

3. Tires

The tires on your boat trailer are an essential part of your trailer as they help you move on the road and take your boat from one location to the next.

Tires that are not properly maintained can quickly become a serious safety hazard and continued use of damaged tires can lead to an accident.

There are many different issues that can cause your tires to deteriorate or become unsafe over time. Here are some signs that point to your tires needing to be replaced:

  • Noises when driving
  • Uneven tire wear
  • Poor tire tread
  • Cracks
  • Bulges
  • Exposed steel belt
  • Bubbling
  • Poor air pressure
  • Leaking valve stem
  • Age

Preventing Issues with Your Tires

Breakdowns due to flat or blown tires can be completely avoided with proper tire maintenance. Fortunately, tire maintenance does not take a long time to perform and can prevent serious issues from happening. The last thing you want is to be traveling down the road and your tire blow out with your boat on the trailer.

Issues with your tires are bound to occur at some point in time whether you maintain them or not. Maintenance can help extend their life and allow you to recognize issues quickly so that they can be handled.

The first thing you want to do to prevent issues with your tires is to take a walk around your trailer and visually inspect the tires first. You should look for visible signs of damage such as the steel belt being exposed, bubbles or cracks, bulging, and any other noticeable oddities. If you do notice any of these issues you will need to replace your tires. Catching the issue early on will prevent accidents and sudden blowouts while driving down the road.

Another step in preventing issues with your tires is to make sure that you are using the right type of tires, the load rating is accurate for your boat and trailer, and you keep the tires properly inflated.

By doing the things above, you can ensure that your tires are in good condition and ready to go when you are. If you are ever in doubt about your tires, get them replaced. It is better to be safe than sorry.

4. Axle

Your boat trailer’s axle is very important as it allows you to tow your trailer and boat. Without it, you would not be able to achieve this. An axle that is broken or not in good condition is a serious safety hazard because, without the axle, your trailer is uncontrollable. If your axle were to snap or disconnect while you are towing your boat, you, your family, and others around you are in danger. Accidents can occur when the axle is bad and it is not something you want to take lightly.

Since there are no adjustable parts located on the axle, if there is a problem with yours, it will need to be replaced.

How can I tell if my boat trailer axle is bad?

First, you will notice rust on the axle, and this is usually the first indication that there is a problem, and that replacement is needed. Rust eats away at the metal and can quickly cause your axle to become unstable and unreliable. It makes sense that rust will occur on an axle because you move the boat trailer in and out of the water often and sometimes, water becomes trapped. Small amounts of rust that are not deeply ingrained into the metal are usually okay but if the rust is flaking or there is a lot present, you need to replace the axle.

Sometimes, you will notice rust first around the bolts and not directly on the axle. You want to take this as a warning sign as well.

Second, the wear on your tires will tell you if there is an issue with your trailer axle. If you notice that the tires are wearing quickly or they are wearing in odd patterns, this is indicative of an axle alignment problem. Driving around with a misaligned trailer axle can lead to suspension damage as well. A trailer axle cannot be realigned, so you will need to have it replaced.

Lastly, you want to make sure that you pay attention to how your trailer moves when it is on the road. If the trailer feels slippery or you can feel every bit of it moving around when you make turns, go over bumps, etc., it is time to have it replaced.

Preventing Issues with Your Axle

Your trailer axle will need to be replaced if there is damage to it. You cannot simply repair it and you definitely do not want to ignore it.

One of the best things you can do is be proactive and inspect your trailer axle often to ensure it is in good condition. Since rust is usually the biggest culprit of a bad axle, you should make sure that water is freed from the axle often and that it is not allowed to sit in there. When you do notice rust, make a note and continue to check on it to make sure that it is not getting worse.

If you are ever in doubt about your trailer axle, replace it.

5. Rollers

What are boat trailer rollers? Your boat trailer rollers are the wheels or small rollers that you see located on the trailer itself. These wheels and rollers help to support the boat when it is on the trailer and allow it to seamlessly glide on and off the trailer.

Roller trailers are ideal because they allow you to launch your boat in shallow water or at boat ramps that are not as lush as others. You can pretty much place a boat into the water right from the bank with a roller trailer.

While they are convenient and a great option for individuals who like to explore far-out waterways, there are issues that can arise with them. For example, some of the most common issues include the rollers getting deformed over time, the rollers not turning, and the shafts getting rusty.

If any of these things do happen, replacement is easy and affordable, but of course, prevention is the best.

Preventing Issues with Your Rollers

Over time, your rollers will likely need to be replaced, especially if you use your boat trailer often.

Nothing can be more disheartening than getting your boat to the ramp only to find that it will not roll off the trailer due to damaged or broken rollers. It is vital that you inspect your rollers regularly to make sure they move freely and are not deformed or locked up.

You also want to prevent the shaft from getting rusty, so make sure you dry it off after each use for the day.

Keep Your Boat Trailer on the Road

Keeping your boat trailer on the road is easy when you are proactive and you inspect your trailer and know exactly what is going on with it. Proper maintenance may sound like a chore but it is worth it in, the end, to prevent a serious accident or other issues from arising such as a damaged boat.

The above 5 issues are the most commonly reported by boat owners and some of the most preventable too. Often, if you notice an issue with your boat trailer, it is best to replace the part. For example, axles must be replaced and used tires are not always a good idea.

As you use your boat and boat trailer, set aside some time to inspect the trailer each time before you take it out and when you bring it home to ensure it remains safe and operational for your use.

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