Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Layman's Approach To Trailer Maintenance

Hello Folks,

I am in no way a mechanic. However, I have been a boat owner for over 22 years and have learned, sometimes the hard way, just how important maintenance of my jet rig and trailer is. I recently mentioned how I was helping a buddy learn some skills in driving his jet rig. Well, I believe before one drives their boat to the put-in, they should be sure that the trailer is safe to haul.

Here are a few suggestions that I have learned over the years...

1. Make sure that the U-bolts that attach your bottom bunk boards onto the trailer are solid and safe. A few years back, I noticed that a few of my U-bolts were cracked. So, I took the trailer in for maintenance and through inspection, they found that all but one was cracked! Why? Because when I would load my boat onto the trailer, the weight of the boat and the pounding those bolts took eventually weakened them and they failed.

At the same time, it was time to replace my bottom bunk boards. I choose to buy the "Ultimate Bunk Boards" that were composite and not wood. I no longer have to worry about the wood rotting - A big peace of mine.

I asked the boat dealer to find me the biggest and toughest U-bolts to keep my boat safe while trailering, which he did.

Also check your side bunks for rotting. I have had side bunks actually fall off as I was trailering my boat. I had failed to check them on a regular basis and lost them and the bolts.

Each year during the coldest winter months, I take my boat and trailer to the dealer to have routine maintenance done. The dealer usually isn't as busy during these months and can get to the job rather quickly.

2. I have them check my wheel bearings. If they need replaced, they will do it. Remember, Bearing Buddies are a great thing to have. But keep in mind, if you grease your own bearings, only give them a small squirt and do not blow out the seal! I made that mistake and had to have the whole package done. Not good and a bit more expensive overall.

3. Check your springs and make sure all bolts are secure. You can do this by taking the time to check... slide under the trailer with the correct tools and go over everything you can see that needs to be tight.

4. Check the rollers on the front of the trailer that the bow seats upon. Once that roller has worn down from landing the boat and the wear and tear of trailering the rig, it's time for a replacement.

I boat a nice heavy duty roller from BPS and did my own replacement. It's easy and quick to do.

5. Trailer jacks are a big help. I've seen some boat owners un-hitch their rigs and place the front of the trailer onto a concrete block. If this isn't an accident waiting to happen, I don't know what is.

Buy a heavy duty trailer jack and make sure that it is maintain. They all have a grease nipple that should be used to grease the jack on occasion. You can clean the jack before applying a new shot of grease.

Check the wheel on the trailer jack after each trip to make sure that it is still tight and not cracked. That hard plastic will eventually wear and crack over time. If so, it's time to replace the wheel.

6. Two tow chains in excellent shape are needed in case you trailer jumps the ball hitch. This will keep the trailer and boat attached to your vehicle at all times. I use huge carabineers to attach my chains to. When these are hooked onto the tow vehicle there is an added safety factor over just hooking them onto the hitch.

I have actually seen two rigs jump the hitch ball in the past few years. There are a lot of sparks flying, but the safety tow chains did their job. Both rigs were held to the two vehicles and no one was harmed.

7. Strap Downs for your rig are essential to hold the back end tight to the trailer. You can judge when the strap is worn enough to warrant new straps. I have to laugh at how many times I and friends have forgotten to remove these straps before launching... it's confusing until you figure out just what went wrong. :)

8. Light Maintenance is crucial. Think about how many times you have driven and seen trailers that were not adequately lit... light out, brake light(s) doesn't work, or turn signals are not functioning. I see it almost daily.

I actually saw a fellow driving just two weeks ago in front of me to the ramp with a trailer that only the brake lights were lit and he had no turn signals... all the time! I'm not sure if he knew this and I mentioned it to him at the ramp. He gave me that, "So what!" attitude and I walked away from him - So much for trying to warn him of a potential safety problem and traffic ticket from the local police.

If you have a conventional lighting system, always carry extra bulbs in case of a burned out bulb. To help prevent burn outs, unplug your lights from the tow vehicle and allow the lights to cool a bit before placing them into cold water.

I have gone to LED lights two seasons ago and I love them. Even though unplugging is not supposed to be necessary, I still find my self unplugging my LEDs just as religiously as I did my other lights.

Light plugs can be sensitive creatures. When I kept my boat outside, I would spray silicone on the male and female plugs to prevent rusting. You can also put a plastic baggie over the boat's plug and spray some silicone inside the bag... It worked well for me and I can't remember ever having a problem.

Also, the hitch ball needs to be free of rust. I achieve this by always having a hitch cover on when I'm not towing. On top of that, I give a small shot of the marine grease onto the ball that helps it from rusting.

Having a rust free hitch ball is extremely important for good light grounding!

7. Poly Straps for Motor... I use two heavy duty poly straps with metal hooks to assist in holding my motor in place while towing. I am positive that the motor/steering could end up having a major problem flopping back and forth in turns and while taking curves while towing.

I used to use one strap, but I found that they would break rather quickly. Since I went to two of the cords, I've had zero problems.

I'm not saying that the straps hold the motor in one position, but they keep the motor from erratically swinging and always return the motor to a resting position.

8. Tires should always be checked for wear and tear. Proper inflation will prevent a lot of problems. I've had close boat friends fail to maintain their tire pressure and paid the price by needing to purchase new tires way before they needed to.

A spare tire should always be ready to place on the trailer in case of a flat tire while towing. Whenever you check and fill your trailer tires, be sure to do the same for the spare

9. Trailer and hitch locks will provide safety of theft while you have the tow vehicle and trailer parked at the ramp. I've know boaters who've had horror stories about returning to the ramp only to find that their trailer was stolen. Don't allow this to happen to you!

10. Keep in mind - Safety First!