By Craig Lamb
Your vehicle’s dashboard has a display of warning lights that illuminate whenever vital engine parts need repair or replacement. If there’s a problem you’re instantly alerted about it while behind the wheel. Seldom is there any reason to open the hood and look for trouble.
Today’s low maintenance world of driving includes trailer boating with one glaring exception. None of the trailer’s essential safety and operating hardware is connected to computers sending messages to the dashboard. There’s no way to anticipate problems until they occur unless you’ve taken preventative action.
A preseason safety inspection of your trailer is the solution for avoiding expensive repairs or highway breakdowns. Here’s a checklist to get you started before the busy tournament season begins.
Check Your Bearings
Don’t wait until you hear the telltale grinding noise from spinning trailer wheels to recognize bad bearings. Take these precautions to avoid costly downtime and frustrating emergency repairs on the road.
Experts recommend annual repacking or replacement of bearings for safety and performance. The same attention is a given for popular grease-based protectors. These systems are constantly bathing bearings in oil or grease, so they should be checked prior to each trip for adequate lubrication. Keep a grease gun handy to fill protectors through the Zerk fittings and follow manufacturer recommendations for the amount needed. Discolored or watery grease oozing from protectors are signs of bad bearings.
On long trips make inspecting hubs part of your refueling routine. Bad bearings make hubs hot to the touch, giving you time to take action before a breakdown occurs on the highway.
Inspect trailer surge brakes at least twice during the tournament season for wear or replacement of discs and drums. One efficient way of testing brakes is by using this two-man operation.
Jack a wheel off the ground, making sure it spins freely with your hand. Have the friend manually activate the brake as you watch. The wheel should stop spinning when the hydraulic surge protector is compressed. Most systems simply require compressing the actuator at the coupler using a large slotted screwdriver for leverage.
Next, remove the wheel and eyeball the disc brake for wear or replacement. Disc brakes are the easiest to maintain of the two popular types of trailer brakes. Drum brakes require more labor intensive care.
Surge brake assemblies vary by manufacturer and type. The best advice is don’t get too far into a job you can’t handle in your driveway. Seek the advice of a qualified boat dealership mechanic.
Average tread life for vehicle tires is measured according to miles driven and road conditions. Miles don’t always add up for tires behind your truck. Tire age and routine exposure to the elements makes the clock tick toward replacement tor trailer tires.
Look for cracks in sidewalls or other obvious signs of wear along sidewalls. Consider replacing tires in pairs after five years, using the original size and load rating provided for your trailer.
Never use tires or wheels made for vehicles. Trailer tires are designed with tougher sidewalls and special tread designs for the give and take of towing a heavy bass boat.
Keep tires inflated to the manufacturer’s specifications on the sidewall. Checking inflation with a handy tire pressure gauge will add time to the life of your trailer tires.
Float Your Boat
Trailer bunks, guides and rollers get a workout each time you unload and load your boat at the ramp. Rough water and hard landings add more stress to the trailer frame. While your boat rides on the trailer, it could be damaged without you knowing problems exist.
An empty trailer gives you an unobstructed view of important areas normally hidden from view by the boat. Before ramps get crowded during tournament season launch and dock the boat for a trailer inspection in the parking lot.
Look for loose bolts and hardware securing bunks to the trailer frame. With wrenches in hand, make sure nuts and bolts are tight and free of rust or sharp, broken edges harmful to gelcoat surfaces. For drive-on trailers make sure bunks tilt smoothly as designed by the manufacturer. Check carpeted surfaces for wear and tear that can scratch gelcoat. Inspect the trailer frame for signs of chipped paint and road wear.
With the trailer empty, now is a good time to inspect other exposed hardware, including wiring and light connections.
Wire runs throughout the trailer frame, connecting brake lights at the rear and safety lights on the sides and fenders. Looking for burned out blubs is the no-brainer of trailer wiring inspection.
Be more thorough by checking for bared or frayed wires along the frame. Pay special attention for wiring gone slack that could break if tangled with moving parts.
Connect ends of equal gauge wire with heat-shrink butt connectors. Double seal the ends with heat-shrink insulated tubing for watertight, secure connections.
Before loading back up at the ramp, check the most important connection between boat and trailer.
Unlock the winch and extend the strap to the rear end of the trailer. Look for frays and give special attention to stitching that secures the strap to the boat hook. If the strap needs replacement, be sure to match width with the spool size of the winch. Replace with a heavy duty, polyester strap for long life and durability.
With bow straps it’s better to go with more than you need. Be sure the strap meets or exceeds its rated capacity.