Important trailers are underappreciated

What’s fiercer than a man-eating shark? Perhaps a Rat-L-Trap-chomping redfish in this south-central Louisiana hotspot.

I have written a lot about maintaining your boat and engine, but the trailer is quite possibly the most important component of your rig. It is also likely the most overlooked component of your rig.

Your boat spends most of its life sitting on the trailer, either in the garage or on the road traveling to and from the water. I am sure that you have seen boaters sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck because of a blown tire, a bearing failure or possibly a cracked or broken trailer frame.

These things don’t just suddenly happen. They are usually the result of a trailer not receiving the tender-loving care and maintenance it deserves.

When I ask customers when was the last time they checked their trailer, I usually get some crazy looks and a tale about how they do not have the equipment to lift the boat and trailer off the ground so they can crawl under the trailer and make an inspection.

Unfortunately most boaters do not realize that every time they launch their boat, the trailer is just sitting there behind their car or truck completely exposed for them to inspect. It would only take a few minutes either before leaving the dock or when you return to make an inspection of the trailer.

This simple inspection can be performed every time you go boating, repairs can be made, and the chance that you will be one of the unlucky boaters sitting on the side of the road will be greatly diminished.

Start with the simple things first. Check the condition of the bunk boards to verify that they are not beginning to rot. Is the carpet on these boards loose or starting to tear? If it is, replace it.

Check the brackets and U-bolts that support the boards. Are they bent or rusted?

If your trailer has rollers, check that they roll easily and are not cracked or split. Damaged rollers could give way under the weight of your boat. Without the rollers to protect the boat, the metal roller brackets could do serious damage to the bottom of your boat.

Next check the bow stop roller for signs of aging. Your boat needs to be secured tightly against this roller while on the trailer. The bow stop also helps to cushion the boat when you encounter bumps in the road. The bow stop roller is a vital part of your trailer.

While you are inspecting the bow stop roller, take a look at the winch and winch rope, cable or strap. The winch and rope are your main links to hold the boat tightly against the bow stop. If either breaks, your boat could be thrown off the trailer onto the highway.

A close inspection of the trailer frame should also be performed. Are there any signs of the frame cracking, or splitting? Check very closely all of the welded joints for cracks. Also check for rust damage to the frame.

For most trailers, rust damage can be repaired with a wire brush and a can of spray paint. However, if your trailer is constructed of tubular steel, you need to be extremely aware of any rust that may appear. That rust may actually be coming from the inside of the frame, which means that the structural integrity of the frame has been compromised, and you probably need to go shopping for a new trailer.

The most important part of your trailer is the undercarriage. The undercarriage is made up of the axle, springs, hubs and tires. The majority of the boats you have seen on the side of the road are there because one of these items failed.

The axle needs to be inspected for rust, and if you find any then clean and paint the affected area to protect against further damage. The U-bolts and plate that attach the axle to the springs should be inspected to ensure that the bolts and nuts are tight and rust-free.

Springs are made up of several different pieces called leaves. The spring leaves should nestle into each other tightly. If the leaves appear to be separating from each other, the springs should be replaced.

The springs should also have a bow shape. If they are beginning to flatten out in the center, then they have lost their strength and should be replaced.

Inspect the bolts that attach the springs to the trailer frame. If they are rusted, replace them.

Finally if you see any signs of cracking or if one of the leaves is actually broken, the spring should be replaced immediately. If a spring breaks on the highway, the axle can become detached and you could have a serious accident.

The last two components of the undercarriage are the tires and hubs. Tires can be easily inspected while you are looking over the rest of the trailer.

I recommend that the next time you visit your favorite auto parts store you purchase a tire pressure gauge to keep in the glove compartment of your car. Checking the air pressure in your tires is very simple and should be done frequently. On the sidewall of your tires you will find a rating which tells you how much air pressure the tire should have. It is important to keep you tires inflated to that max rating at all times. Under-inflated tires are subject to possible blow out.

While you are inspecting the tires also check the condition of the tread. If the tread is getting worn or if you notice that the side walls appear to be cracking or dry rotted, then new tires are in order.

Trailer hubs are the most difficult components of the trailer to check. The trailer has to be jacked up so that the wheel is off the ground. Grip the tire and try to rock it back and forth. If you feel movement or slack in the bearing, then you will need to remove the hubs and check the bearings.

If you do not feel any slack, then spin the tire several times and listen closely for any grinding noise, which would indicate a failed bearing.

Take good care of your trailer. It is the most important component of your rig. If you have any questions about your boat, motor or trailer, you can e-mail me at theboatdr@yahoo.com.

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