Year-Round Trailer Maintenance

A good portion of you don't have to winterize, so here are some tips to keep the trailer in top shape all year.

shutterstock_515121472 copy   For most boat owners, their trailer is invisible. They lavish care on the boat that sits atop the trailer — washing it, waxing it, dealing with every little booboo as it happens — and use the trailer as a stepladder to take care of the boat. That’s all well and good until the fit hits the shan somewhere en route to or from a favorite boating spot because you missed something.

Why did you miss it? Well, you (and many, many others) weren’t paying attention. So here’s a look at the things you should do year round — especially those of you lucky enough to go boating all year — to keep your Why did you miss it? Well, you (and many, many others) weren’t paying attention. So here’s a look at the things you should do year round — especially those of you lucky enough to go boating all year — to keep your trailer rolling along without any surprises.

First, focus on your trailer at the same time you’re checking out your boat. There aren’t many “secret” compartments on most trailers, so everything that needs to be checked is pretty much out in the open.

Right after you hitch up your boat and trailer rig, turn on the tow vehicle’s headlights and walk around to make sure all the tail- and side lights are working. Then have someone stomp on the brakes to check those lights, and hit the turn signals, too. If a light is out or not working, it’s time to do something about it before you have a personal chat with a state trooper.shutterstock_352591031 copy

You wouldn’t think of launching your boat without making sure the drain plug is in place before you leave the driveway, so kick the tires at the same time. Actually, kicking tires doesn’t show you anything, but doing so makes you look at whether they seem to be infl ated properly, so kick every tire and eyeball it. Even better, grab the tire-pressure gauge from the glove compartment and make sure the pressure is not only right in each tire but that they match each other. One underinflated tire can give the trailer a case of the wanders at highway speeds.

You wouldn’t dream of not rinsing your boat with fresh water, even if you’ve been in a lake, because even pure water can leave scum and crud. Whether you conduct your hose-down at the ramp or when you get home, be careful not to simply wash the salt and crud off the boat and onto the trailer. Make it a point to give the trailer a good washing after the boat. Squirt water into every crevice, and take this moment to see if there are any dings in the paint that can lead to rust or, if neglected, trailer failure. See a chip? Hit it with an anti-corrosion spray now, not later.

If you look at the calendar on your desk at home, you’ll certainly see notations such as “dentist appointment,” “Aunt Edna arrives” and others. Don’t stop there. Add the trailer to your calendar. Write “trailer brakes” every six months, or “repack trailer bearings” at the beginning of the boating season.bayliner175rampshot copy

These are projects that are more involved than a casual once-over, and you may just want to drop your trailer off at the dealership, so the pros there can do the icky job of the repacking wheel bearings or pulling the wheels and the brakes. Here’s a tip: It doesn’t matter whether you think you haven’t driven your trailer far enough for your bearings to need repacking — just do it! A few pumps of grease can prevent a highway catastrophe that starts with a howling noise that sounds like a hundred raccoons mating and ends with one of your trailer wheels parting company with your trailer and heading for South America.

Do the same with brakes: check them regularly. With disk brakes, eyeball the pads for how much useful life they have left. They usually start at about 9 to 12mm thick. If you’re down to 3mm, get new ones. Don’t forget to run your hand on both sides of the brake rotor to see if there are gouges or scoring. If so, have the rotors turned. It’s more diffi cult with drum brakes (a good reason for your dealer to do it), but you still want to check pad and drum wear. I shouldn’t have to tell you to wait until the brakes are cool before touching them but … there are warnings on the turpentine can not to drink it.1 copy

Last, when you’re hitching up, take a look at the gear up front. Douse the hitch regularly with anti-corrosion spray, including the socket where the trailer ball lives while on the road. Whatever winch the trailer has will need some attention in the form of lubrication. Check the manual for details, and don’t forget to examine the winch cable or strap for signs of wear.


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