TRAILER MAINTENANCE by Bryan Corless
Okay guys, here we go. Its just about time for another boating season. Weve spent all winter getting the boat ready for the new season. Some of us had that jack plate installed or got that lower unit back from the shop getting the LWP installed or for the lucky few , bought a whole new engine or powerhead. How many of you thought about your trailer? I understand its not exactly the most glamorous subject, but for most of us, if it wasnt for the trailer, wed never get our boats to the water.
Being in the trailer parts and repair business in FL Ive seen first hand what a neglected trailer can look like. Ive also seen what happens to a boat and trailer when the hub, wheel and tire come off the axle at 70mph. Needless to say it is NOT a pretty sight. I had one customer come to me with a $36,000 Ranger Bass Boat wanting me to do a simple bearing job (clean, inspect, and regrease the bearings). All would have been fine if he had brought the trailer to me at regular intervals before he had real problems. Instead, he waited until he knew he had a problem and $800 later he had a new axle, rotor discs, calipers master cylinder, etc. Moral of the story?.......regular maintenance now will save you possibly hundreds of dollars later.
The most common maintenance item on a trailer as everyone knows are the bearings. If the wheels dont turn youre not going anywhere. I suggest to my customers that at least once a year to completely disassemble the hubs and thoroughly clean and inspect the bearings. You can use any type of solvent you want. I have a parts washer and use a variation of mineral spirits and/or naptha. Im sure most of you will use gasoline or kerosene. These will work just fine just be very careful. As you inspect the clean bearings, look for any obvious wear marks, pits, or gouges where a piece of dirt might have gotten caught in the needle bearings. The needle bearings themselves should be completely smooth with little wear. Next, clean the hub itself completely. You will then inspect the races inside the hub. More often than not the races will tell the full story of the condition of the bearings. The races should be mirror smooth with no marks at all. If there is a groove, pit, or even a water mark on the race, replace it. Always replace your hub seal when you inspect your bearings. For the couple of bucks it costs, it will be well worth it. And for boat trailers, use nothing but a double lip seal. This type of seal has a little spring on the rubber part and keeps tension on the seal to aid in keeping water out of the hub.
If you need additional information on bearing maintenance a good website for info iswww.championtrailers.com. They have many articles on trailers in general. They also sell trailer parts, but I would definitely shop around before you plunk your hard earned cash down. The prices are fair on some things and some are just way out of line.
While you have your hubs and wheels off now is a good time to check your springs, axle, and other suspension pieces. If you boat mainly in freshwater, your springs will probably look O.K. If you boat in saltwater, be prepared to replace your springs every few years depending on how much you use your boat. There should be no scaly rust on the springs and the leaves of the springs should be sandwiched tightly together. The axle should not be bent (duh!) Or have an abnormal amount of rust. The one item that should not be overlooked on the axle is the place where the hub seal rides. This area should be completely smooth no rust pits or grooves. If the seal does not fit tightly around this part of the axle, you can expect nothing but problems. If you do find that you need to replace your axle, it would be worth your while to search for a type of axle that has a grease fitting on the end of the spindle itself. This eliminates the need for any other type of lubrication device like bearing buddies. In my opinion, this is the best type of axle you can buy. With bearing buddies, only the outside bearing gets any grease. Bearing Buddies are better than having nothing at all but caution must be used not to overgrease and blow out the rear seal. If you are slinging grease on the insides of your trailer wheels it is time to replace your hub seals and quite possibly your bearings and races also. With the accu-lube or posi-lube style axle the inside bearing gets the grease first and with each pump of the grease gun flushes the old grease and water (if any) out through the end of the hub at the tip of your grease gun. There are oil bath systems out there, but, in my opinion, are complicated, expensive, and replacement parts are hard to come by.
One avoidable problem when towing a boat has to do with tire wear. Many customers come into my shop telling me they think they have a bent axle because of bad tire wear. 9 out of 10 people that have abnormal tire wear is simply due to low tire pressure. Most trailer tires carry their max rating at full pressure. What most people dont realize is that max pressure on a trailer tire is usually around 50 psi. not 35 psi. like car tires. Some large trailer tires carry max ratings of 90psi.!!! Always check tire pressures before you go out on a long trip. The sidewall on most trailer tires are not as stiff as passenger car tires and will overheat very quickly when underinflated which could lead to a blowout. Not very fun in the middle of nowhere.
On long trips, (FIREWATER?) I would suggest to bring along spares of everything you can think of. This would include a whole hub assembly, a spare tire, spring?(you never know, stranger things have happened), u-bolt kit to attach the axle to the springs, and anything else you can think of that might wear out or break. A friend of mine took his boat from Jacksonville, FL to Victoria, BC in Canada. (That is from one corner of the nation to the other diagonally) I made a spare axle with hubs springs and a u-bolt kit along with a bag of all the bolts he might need to do the swap. Overkill? Yes! But only because he didnt need it. There were stretches where he didnt see anything but literally desert for hours. The old adage is true "If anything can go wrong, it will" I had a customer come into my shop about 4 mos. ago (actually, he had his entire rig brought to me on a flatbed wrecker) The entire hub, wheel and tire came completely off his axle while he was doing about 70mph. He told me that when the trailer (axle) hit the ground it caused his 4x4 full size extended cab Dodge truck to jump completely from one lane to the other. Luckily, there was nobody beside him and he was able to safely stop on the side of the road. The only damage to the trailer was a bent fender and some worn down u-bolts on the axle. His problem (after the obvious one) was finding the tire and wheel assembly that had bounced somewhere into the woods at 70mph. He never did find it and if he had a spare hub, tire and wheel as well as a castlenut washer and cotter pin he would not have had to have his rig towed over 50 miles to my shop. He could have fixed his own trailer on the side of the road and kept going. Although, Im sure he would have needed clean underwear after an episode like that. Lets see, a $32,000 truck, a $30,000 boat and a dinky little $1500 trailer to carry it all. Dont neglect your trailer, its carrying a lot more than you think! In my case, Its carrying my pride and joy!! A 1990 Vegas XT! A boat that was destined to be mine the moment the previous owner pulled the cover off to show me the boat and made me a Hydrostream owner for life!
If you have any questions or comments on this article, feel free to E-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. or if you want to call me at work (904)276-1005 I will try to answer any questions you may have.