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March 09, 2012

Prepping Your Trailer

Don’t forget to service the boat trailer before the season begins

Spring fever is reaching epidemic proportions, and we all know the cure. Before you head to the ramp for some therapeutic salt spray, did you remember to inspect and service your boat trailer? If not, your eagerly anticipated trip might be over before it even gets started.

“Ideally, the best time to go over a trailer is in the fall if it’s going to be sitting all winter,” says Dan Hays, co-owner of Coastal Trailer and Hitch, in Medart, Florida. “But if you didn’t do it then, you definitely need to do it now. Hubs are the biggest problem area. They should be cleaned, inspected and repacked with grease so corrosion doesn’t get a chance to take hold.”
 
Hays recommends using a quality grease that is formulated for high temperatures and repels water. After the initial servicing, hubs should be regreased periodically throughout the season. The frequency depends on the axle type. Hays suggests adding a small amount of grease to torsion axles after every trip to displace the water that collects in the hubs. Pump the grease gun four to five times, until clean grease oozes out. With capped hubs, like the Buddy Bearing style, add new grease at least a couple of times a season.

Hubs are not the only problematic component, however. Tires should be checked and inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure, listed on the sidewalls. This is especially critical if the trailer hasn’t been used for a while. A combination of friction heat and low pressure will ruin tires quickly. Once one does start to scallop or develop uneven wear from improper pressure, there’s nothing that can be done to reverse the damage, Hays says. Bias-ply tires are cheaper to replace and will do the job if the distances traveled are fairly short. For a smoother ride and better wear over long hauls, however, radial tires are a better choice.

Trailers equipped with brakes should be tested for proper operation before the first trip of the season. When trailers are backed in and put away for extended periods, the actuator on the brake often locks up. To avoid this problem, block the tires and slowly ease the trailer forward to release the tension, Hays says. And while you’re checking out the brakes, be sure to inspect the springs, U bolts and other hardware for rust and to ensure all fasteners are tight.

Running, brake and signal lights need to be checked to make sure they all work properly. Incandescent bulbs and saltwater dunking have never been a good combination. Fortunately, LED light kits are now a sensible solution. LED lights are bright and sealed and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. If a diode does go out, there are several others in the light to back it up and keep things illuminated.

“The price of LED lights continues to drop, so it makes sense to change over if you have to replace your trailer lights,” says Rex Holmes, Hays’ business partner. “LEDs require a solid ground, however — and always use heat shrink or heat-shrink butt connectors when splicing wires together. The more you can do to prevent corrosion, the better.”

That advice applies to other components as well. Give the hitch-ball coupling a periodic blast or two with WD-40 or a similar water-displacing spray lubricant. Make sure safety chains and straps are intact and securely fastened. If the trailer jack has a grease fitting, give it a squirt. Once you launch the boat, see if the bunks need adjusting or if any of the carpet is torn and needs replacing. On average, a set of leaf springs will last four years with proper care, while some torsion axles are good for five to 10 years. When it comes to trailers, a little TLC can help ward off a lot of headaches.

“Always clean your trailer as well as you do your boat, at least by washing it down with fresh water,” says Holmes. “Salt water is especially destructive, so rinse it off as quickly as you can. Wash out the brakes too.” Even if your boat stays in the water, don’t let an empty trailer sit unattended for long periods, or the salt air will do its damage. Hook it up to the tow vehicle, drive it around a couple of times a season to keep the brakes from freezing up, and hose it off occasionally.

When spring fever strikes, the best prescription is getting on the water as soon as possible. Service your boat trailer beforehand and maintain it regularly throughout the summer, and you’ll spend more quality time fishing. Doesn’t that sound better than being stranded by the side of the road?

Preseason Checklist

  • Inspect and repack hubs and bearings with quality grease.
  • Inspect tires for tread wear and damage.
  • Check bunks and guides. Replace carpet or rollers as necessary.
  • Inflate tires to the recommended air pressure.
  • Visually inspect all U bolts and connecting hardware for corrosion and tightness.
  • Grease or spray the hitch-ball coupling.
  • Grease or spray jack.
  • Inspect bow strap, tie-downs and safety chains for integrity.
  • Check brakes for proper operation.
  • Check trailer wiring for proper grounding.
  • Check tow-vehicle trailer connections and fuses.
  • Check all trailer lights for proper operation. Replace with LED lights as necessary.
  • Make sure trailer tag is current.