Avoid 4 Trailering Uh-Ohs

Don't let the winter layoff spoil your first outing this year.

shutterstock_193964462 copyBLACK TIRE MARKS
THE SCENE: The long, cold winter has finally ended and you’ve hitched up early on a perfect morning. As you start down the driveway, you hear a screeching noise, and the trailer doesn’t want to move. Two black tire marks mar your driveway.
WHAT HAPPENED? Your trailer tires didn’t turn.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN? Your trailer bearings are frozen.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? If you’re really lucky, like a friend of mine was, you can whang the outside of the bearing with a hammer and the bearings will free up. If you’re really, really lucky, you can drive slowly, very slowly, to a repair shop and get the bearings replaced. If not, you need someone to replace the bearings on the spot. Not cheap.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT IT? When you’re putting your boat away for the winter is the time to
have the bearings checked and repacked by your dealer.
Trailer bearings come in a variety of styles, including waterproof, but if you believe they’re
permanently waterproof, well, I’ve got a nice bridge to sell you. Grease and synthetic seals
are what protect your bearings, and both should be renewed regularly.

THE SCENE: Lunch is packed and excited kids are walking around the boat when one says, “Hey, dad, the trailer lights aren’t on.”
WHAT HAPPENED? Lots of possibilities: a broken wire, a blown fuse in the car or burned out trailer lights.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN? The wiring system on trailers is, more than anything else, likely to go bad. Water, especially salt water, and electricity are not a happy combination.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? Start with the easy stuff: the car’s fuse box. If it’s OK, then take a look at the trailer wiring harness to see if it’s broken or abraded so it shorts on the trailer. If so, you may have enough slack to be able to join the broken wire with a twist connector until you can do a complete repair. Trailer lights rarely burn out all at once unless you had a lightning strike, but check the bulbs anyway by removing the plastic cover. If nothing solves the problem, get the trailer to a repair shop by driving slowly on back roads.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT IT? Once a year, and preferably while the boat is off the trailer, you need to check the wiring. Look for brittle wires, corroded connectors and terminals, and bare wires worn by scuffing on driveways. Replace any of these problems with new marine-grade wiring of the proper size. If you find a number of problem areas, it’s a lot easier to just replace the entire wiring harness with a new one from a marine or RV store.
Once you’ve inspected the wiring, take some anti-corrosive spray (I like Corrosion Block) and work your way around, giving a shot to all connection terminals. Remove the light covers, pop out the light bulbs and give the sockets a dose of protection as well. When you remove the plastic light covers, check the rubber gasket. If it’s brittle or broken, replace it with a new one, either from a trailer store or cut to match from a piece of rubber gasket bought at an auto parts store. Don’t forget the clearance lights, either.

Di013217 copyPOW!
THE SCENE: You’re doing your walk-around before you hit the road. You give the trailer winch a crank to make sure the boat is secure and, Bam!, the wire snaps.
WHAT HAPPENED? The wire cable that you use to pull the boat onto the trailer and then secure the bow just broke.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN? Wire is susceptible to many things that can cause it to break. If wire is bent, it can break the strands and reduce its strength to almost nothing. Corrosion or rust can cause the same problem.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? Take a length of sturdy line, such as a dock line, and lash the bow to the trailer post. Run the line from the bow eye (where the winch line attached), wrap it around the post and secure it with half hitches. This will make it safe to drive the trailer to a shop that can replace the wire, since you need it to pull the boat back onto the trailer.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT IT? You should regularly unwind the entire wire ca  ble and stretch it out. Look for kinks or rusty areas. Wearing gloves, pull the wire through paper towels: any tufts of paper on the wire mean “meathooks” or broken strands. Replace the cable.

THE SCENE: As you step up on the trailer fender to toss gear in the boat, the fender bends and then breaks off the frame.
WHAT HAPPENED? The metal supports from the fender to the frame bent, collapsed and broke.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN? The metal was rusted!
WHAT CAN YOU DO? This probably won’t ruin your day on the water if you can get the fender completely off the frame. If necessary, use a hacksaw to cut away any remaining supports. You’ll need to go to a welding shop (preferably with the boat off the trailer) and have the fender reattached with fresh metal supports.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT IT? When you put your boat away for the winter, wash the trailer to get rid of any salt and road grime. If you can, use a pressure washer or go to a do-it-yourself car wash. During the season, every time you launch your boat, wash the trailer and the boat.shutterstock_284679725 copy

You should regularly inspect the trailer frame carefully for signs of rust on steel trailers and corrosion on aluminum trailers. One sure indicator is an area of bubbling paint, like where that broken fender support joined the frame.

Welding can leave tiny pinholes into which water can seep, leading to rust, so do your inspection. If you find corrosion, wire brush it down to bare metal. Clean it with paint thinner, apply two coats of corrosion-inhibiting primer and finish with a gloss coat of matching paint.

2 thoughts on “Avoid 4 Trailering Uh-Ohs

  1. A further tip to prevent trailer light failure: Don’t launch and retreive your boat with the lights still plugged into the tow vehicle.

  2. On the Trailer Bearings.

    It is NOT necessary to slowly go to a garage to have the bearings replaced. If you look at the picture of the wheel in the FENDER BROKE OFF section you will see a cap in the middle of the wheel. Jack up the trailer and brace it. Pull the wheel off. then pull this cap off (various techniques are usable including hitting it sideways or actually buying a cap puller). Under this cap is a nut held on with a cotter pin. Pull the cotter pin and discard it (after finding one the same size – and a nail won’t do as a replacement). The nut “should” be easy to get off as it is NEVER put on wrench tight (as in never). Pull it off and the thing behind it is a washer. Pull it also and behind that is the bearing. It should also be easy to get out. If it even looks a bit damaged – take it to an auto repair shop to get another one (Track Auto – Pep Boys – etc). Wipe the bearing race with alcohol and look closely at it. If it is pitted, rusted or damaged, take it to a tire place and have them put in new bearings as the races are now useless. If OK, then buy some good grease and pack it properly (details on request) then put it all back together and you should be good to GO.

    The re-packing should be done every year anyway.


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