Trailers have a lot of parts, and the failure of any one of them can cause a huge headache—or worse, especially if it happens on the road. Fortunately, you can head off problems before they happen by conducting routine inspections and maintenance of your trailer.
In the accompanying video, New England Boating host Tom Richardson and John Bernier of North Atlantic Marine Services show a worst-case example of a poorly maintained trailer, then walk you through some key inspection points to make sure your trailer is in top shape.
Trailer Inspection Points:
1. Coupler: Check the coupler and latch for smooth operation. Periodically grease the latch and coupler spring.
2. Safety chains/cable: A weak link in your safety chains or rusted cables could cost you your rig should the coupler detach on the highway. Spring for some new chains and cables if the old ones have deteriorated to the point where the metal is flaking off and wearing thin.
3. Brake actuator: Periodically add grease to the actuator rollers via the grease fittings. Also, check the brake fluid level and top off if necessary. Check for signs of leakage around the cap and replace the cap seal if necessary.
4. Brake line: Inspect all brake line fittings for rust, corrosion or leaks. Replace if necessary. Make sure the line is secured to the trailer frame.
5. Roller bunks: If your trailer has roller bunks, make sure they turn freely. Replace any damaged rollers, and consider carrying spares in your tow vehicle. Also check the roller arms for signs of fatigue or rusty hardware.
6. Carpeted bunks: With carpeted bunks, make sure the carpeting is secured to the bunk and that there are no exposed staples or metal fasteners that could damage your hull.
7. Frame: Inspect the entire trailer frame for cracks around welded areas and badly rusted hardware. Replace if necessary. If galvanized, touch up any scratched metal with zinc paint.
8. Winch: Make sure the winch components (handle, ratchet assembly, hardware, safety clip) are in good shape. If you trailer to saltwater, you should probably replace the entire winch after several seasons to be on the safe side (consider the hassles of failure at the ramp).
9. Winch straps/cable: Inspect the winch straps for tears and replace any rusty clips. With cable, check for broken, frayed or rusty strands and damaged sleeves.
10. Winch stand: Inspect the base of the winch stand for cracks and make sure the bolts are tight. If they are badly rusted, replace the hardware.
11. Trailer jack: Trailer jacks need frequent greasing or they’re guaranteed to fail when you need them most. Check for smooth operation and add grease throughout the season via the fitting or cap. Also, make sure the wheel on the base turns freely and grease the pivot plate and spring.
12. Tires: Check the tires for proper inflation, tread wear and sidewall damage, ideally before each trip. If you see cracks in the sidewall, replace the tire. Check the spare as well. Make sure the bearings are filled with fresh grease, or, if you have oil-protected bearings, that the oil is at the proper level. Lastly, make sure the wheel lugs are tight.
13. Spring leaves: Spring leaves deteriorate faster than you think in salt water, so replace them once the metal starts to flake off in chunks. The U-bolts and other hardware that hold the springs in place will likely also need replacing every few seasons if used in salt water.
14. License plate: If your trailer plate is held in place with plastic wire ties, switch to stainless bolts and locknuts. While you’re at it, make sure the trailer registration is current and that the sticker is up to date.
15. Lights: Check the trailer light harness and wires for signs of damage or corrosion. Occasionally coat the terminals with dialectric grease. Also, check to see that all lights are functioning properly before each trip. Replace any bad bulbs and cracked housings (before water can get in and corrode the wire).
16. Rollers: Make sure all rollers are in good shape and turn freely. Look for cracks that could allow the hull to make contact with bare metal. Replace rusted hardware if necessary.
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