No matter how many times you remind yourself that the arrow of time goes only in one direction, you still forget it. This is especially true when it comes to little-used items around the house. You put away the Christmas decorations at the end of the yar and assume they go into stasis, ignoring the passage of time until needed again.
Of course, time continues, stasis isn’t real. Nowhere is this more blatant than when it comes to trailer maintenance and the various items towed. Your boats, off-road vehicles, campers, and other once-a-year machinery faces a lot of neglect.
It’s one thing to find out your 20-year-old string of Christmas light no longer works. That’s a trip to the store and back to replace. But when your trailer suddenly shakes apart on the highway, that’s not an easy fix.
With that in mind, check out these tips on how to maintain your trailer in a few simple steps.
Trailer Maintenance Checklist
Ideally, you want to be thorough and go through each of these steps at the begging and end of seasons you use a trailer. If you happen to need a trailer frequently, then you both need to hit this list harder and will have it memorized in short order.
The steps are listed broad strokes down to the gritty details. For the most part, trailer maintenance is something you can do on your own. When it comes to significant issues with the electrical system or structural breaks, you’ll want to seek professional help (or replace the trailer outright).
The Power of Washing
Generally speaking, the most important thing you can do to keep a trailer in good condition is to give it a solid wash.
Much the same as the vehicle you use to pull it, a trailer gets caked in grit and remnants of salts and debris from the road.
Over time these build-ups creep through the seals and do damage to bearings, axels, and the material structure of the trailer itself. Even if the trailer has been sitting, covered or stored in the yard, it faces corrosion from atmospheric agents.
While washing you want to clean the hard reach places and thoroughly rinse any soaps. Depending on the construction of the trailer you will want to apply surface protection. For metal parts, this can include waxes and seals. For wooden trailer planks and panels check that the finish hasn’t come off.
Wash the trailer when its warm and you can ensure it will dry completely before you load up anything you intend to haul. Trapping water can lead to freezing and additional corrosion (depending on the time of year).
With everything cleaned, it’s far easier to perform a visual inspection of the trailer.
The inspection will be different depending on the type of trailer you have. This guide talks specifically about a drop deck trailer but most of these steps are identical to other types.
Start with a visual inspection of the surface areas. Look for early signs of corrosion such as peeling paint and chipped panels. Trailers are tough and they’re not ruined at the first bit of damage but you want to stay aware of accumulating wear.
Take note of wooden panels that are cracking or splintering. Look for holes in metal and fiberglass.
With a drop deck trailer, there is a lot of additional weight carried by the joint to the hitch and the area around the rear loading area. Cracks and gaps in the longer panels in the center are less of a problem. Any damage at the seams is an issue, as those are the load-bearing areas.
Check the tires for signs of cracking or damage to the sidewall and tread. Finally, make certain the lights function properly when connected.
It’s not possible to see all the issues from a visual check. For the moving parts, you’ll need to run some tests or physically move them to locate any issues.
Start with the trailer hitch. The hitch should lock and the lock shouldn’t be stiff or hard to move into position. When a hitch starts jamming it’s usually a sign of corrosion build up inside. This creates a gap between the trailer hitch and the ball on the vehicle that can turn into slippage.
Prop up the trailer so you can get at the wheels. They should turn freely.
Moving parts need to be lubricated and greased. They don’t need this every trip but you’ll want to clean out old lubrication and apply new once a year minimum and every so many miles for a trailer with heavy use.
Check the pressure in each tire and refill to the proper psi.
For tires unusually lower in pressure than those surrounding, check for slow leaks. These can be caused by cracks or gaps and damage in the wheel well.
If tires on one side are flatter than the other it’s recommended to rotate the tires and check the alignment of the axle.
Tires should be replaced when they have signs of visible damage or every three to five years.
Lights and Brakes
The lights and brakes are controlled by the power system that runs through the wires of the trailer to the central plug.
During your inspection, you should have noticed any corrosion to the wires. If you don’t see corrosion or breaks in the wires and the lights aren’t working, the most likely issue is the plug connection.
Disconnect the plug and turn off your vehicle. Clean the connectors on the plug and the receiver. Apply waterproof grease aka dielectric grease to the area inside the socket. This is non-conductive and helps form a tighter seal to keep grime out of the connections.
Apply dielectric grease around the lights and wire terminals as well. Replace individual bulbs if one light works and another doesn’t.
It’s easier to plan a few days a year for performing trailer maintenance than trying to do everything before a trip. This gives you time to troubleshoot and replace parts as needed without the time crunch.
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