It’s been a carefree summer on the water with the family, the only issue being the occasional sunburn. To keep the good times rolling, now is a good time to perform a midseason maintenance check on the trailer.
Even if it was serviced before the start of boating season, unexpected trailer problems can still turn up. Boaters can do the inspection themselves and take it to the local trailer repair shop if they spot any problems.
“Things tend to work themselves loose over a course of time, so it’s always good to just look it over and do that check and have a checklist of main items that you should see every single time,” said Bill Tweedie, sales manager for MYCO Trailers in Bradenton, Fla. “Just like an airplane pilot before he goes out. He checks this, that and everything else, and hooks up and goes.”
Here are some tips from trailer experts about what to inspect at the midseason mark.
1 Tires and Rims
Manufacturers recommend owners check the tire pressure and make sure the lug nuts are tight every time the trailer hits the road. Yet most of us never do that. Trailer tires can look full because of the sidewall, which is designed for increased load capacity, but can be significantly underinflated. Tires on a boat trailer generally require between 50 and 65 psi — look for the pressure rating on the tire sidewall — and manufacturers recommend inflating to maximum pressure.
Look for any unusual wearing on the trailer tires, which can be an early sign of alignment or bearing issues. It’s also a good time to check the age of the trailer tires, especially if you bought a preowned boat and trailer.
“We always check the date on the tires to make sure they’re not running a tire that is 12 years old,” said Buck Powers of A&A Trailer Hitch Center in Florida. “It’s just going to be a common blowout problem.”
2 Seal Leaks
The hubs and seals on a marine trailer take a lot of abuse. They’re dunked in cold water and heated up on the highway, and as a result the seals will eventually leak and need to be repaired. Don’t panic, though, if you spot some grease around the wheel and axle. Take a towel, clean off the grease and check the spot after the next trip. The best-case scenario is the technician got a little sloppy with the grease gun and the seal isn’t leaking.
“If you need a new seal and you’re not that handy at doing it yourself, because you have a 5,000- or 30,000-pound boat sitting on the trailer, you might end up taking the whole thing in to get it worked on by a professional,” said Tweedie, noting that trailer shops should complete the work in a day.
3 Trailer Lights
Most marine trailers sold today come with sealed LED lights instead of incandescent lights, but plenty of trailers on the road still have the old technology. Powers said the biggest mistake boaters with incandescent lights make is not unplugging the lights before they back into the water. Trailers with sealed LED lights don’t have the same issue.
“It makes electrolysis set in very fast,” Powers said. “The electronics don’t live very long doing that, unless they’re sealed lights.”
If the trailer lights have been giving you problems, it might be a good time to upgrade the trailer lights to LED technology. Replacing the lights and wiring will cost less than $450, if you do the work yourself.
Rust is the enemy of marine trailers, and boat owners need to keep it in check. Rock chips and scratches need to be covered to keep rust from spreading quickly.
“The worst thing is a painted trailer going in and out of salt water, because they only paint the exterior of the metal,” Powers said. “They can’t get to the inside, especially if it’s tubing. If you back into the water, you’ve just got bare metal with salt water running through it; it’s going to rust out extremely quickly.”
Even an aluminum trailer can develop rust issues. Powers said it’s wise to inspect the bunk brackets, because trailer manufacturers sometimes use galvanized brackets mated to the aluminum trailer frame. The two dissimilar metals will cause oxidation, which will eventually break down the aluminum.
A well-maintained trailer, especially one given regular checkups, should last at least a decade. Tweedie has a customer who has put more than 1 million miles on a painted steel trailer.
“It’s kind of like an oil change in your car,” Powers said. “Have the trailer serviced once a year and you should have no problems.”
A yearly service of the trailer’s brakes should be enough to get through a boating season. Problems can result if the trailer and boat are parked for long periods of time.
For a trailer with surge brakes, Tweedie recommends making sure the brake mechanism is pulled out, so it’s not putting pressure on the hydraulic system. Just as important is making sure the brakes, calipers or rotors are washed down with fresh water before the trailer is put away. It’s good practice to move the trailer around every six to eight weeks when it’s not in use.
“It’s just like myself; you get a little older, you’ve got to get out every so often and move the body around,” Tweedie said. “And the same thing with the trailer. You’ve got to take it around and move it every once in a while.”