Think of checking the roadworthy condition of your trailer BEFORE heading out on the road
The first days of spring usually bring out a collection of trailers onto the highway. Their owners want to either get away to the beach with their boat, head for the tip with their box trailer, give the caravan its first outing for the year or head for pony club with the trusty family steed.
All this enthusiasm is great, but all too often the best laid plans for travel come unstuck at the side of the road. Usually the drama develops around tyres and wheel bearings, but it can be equally problematic when tow bars work loose and trailers become uncoupled.
A roadside breakdown with a trailer can work out to be hugely expensive as instant repair may not be an option. The only solution is to call in a tilt tray for recovery. But, for those now standing beside the freeway holding the lead rein of their horse, it continues to get worse.
Owning a trailer requires some pre-drive thought to preventive maintenance. Although most trailers have extremely basic leaf spring and overslung axle suspension, being left stationary in the same position for months on end is where the problems originate. So, before even contemplating heading out on the road, head down to your local mechanic for some technical intervention.
Our trusty box trailer turned 15 years old this season, and on close inspection it was obvious that recent harsh weather conditions had not been all that kind. The front floor section was showing signs of severe rust activity, with perforation through the floor and along the seams where it joins the sidewalls.
The first thought was to consider total replacement, but then we thought we would go through a refurbishment exercise to see just what level of improvement we could achieve.
First up was the repair of the floor, and a local mobile welder replaced the front full width floor section with new steel and reinforced the mounting position against the sidewall by adding new steel angle section. This new floor section extended back one metre to join the existing floor, adding strength and security.
Our local mechanic then handled the remedial work necessary on the suspension where one of the spring shackle bushes was showing signs of extreme wear. This was more a case of replacement than repair, so a new spring hanger bracket was made up, the old one ground off and the replacement welded in.
The “U” bolts securing the leaf springs to the axle were then checked for tightness and to make sure none of the leaves had broken. Then it was the turn of the wheel bearings for attention. All bearings were removed, cleaned and then, having been given the thumbs-up, were repacked with new grease and reassembled. Wheel bearings should ideally be serviced annually as they can deteriorate from standing for long periods. If in doubt, a new set of bearings literally only costs a few dollars, a small price to pay when on-road recovery expenses can skyrocket.
Most small box trailers will not have brakes, so that’s one item that isn’t a concern. The requirement to have a braking system comes in when the laden weight exceeds 750 kg, hence they become common fitment on trailers such as caravans and horse floats.
Trailer braking systems themselves are usually electrically operated, but still require mechanical maintenance, and this is well within the capabilities of any local mechanic. If the laden weight of the trailer is between 751 kg and 2,000 kg, at least one axle should be fitted with brakes on each wheel. If the laden weight of the trailer is between 2001 kg and 4,500 kg, then it needs braking on each wheel, on all axles, and an automatic breakaway system in case the trailer becomes detached.
Tyres come under pressure, literally, from having to cope with a wide range of loads, ranging from running unladen to carrying home a country tonne of firewood.
Pressure checking before leaving home is an obvious requirement. But so too is having the tyres checked by your local tyre depot. This is to ensure that the years of neglect from having left your trailer parked under the tree on the back lawn have not been detrimental to the tyre composition and safety.
Now it’s time to turn your attention to the front end and clean and re-grease the tow coupling. Check out the way it fits snugly on the towball and adjust the coupling to take up any slack. Also up for checking is the condition of the safety chain and D-shackles that attach it to the tow vehicle. Make sure there’s enough slack to enable the trailer to turn but not too much so that it can dangle on the road surface.
If your trailer is more than five years old there’s every chance the rear lights are still fitted with globes or festoon bulbs. These units have always had their moments of indecision and have lived a life of abuse, being subjected to water, dust and extreme vibration – the net result being that mostly they are extremely temperamental.
LED light units are the answer, and a completely new unit is a direct replacement for the old system. The beauty of these is that they not only work perfectly, they maintain their brilliance and don’t suffer from vibration, water ingress or dust. As usual, with lighting, we went for the best available and chose a replacement kit from HELLA.
Given that the wiring system to power the lights extends back to the rear of the trailer, we would always now consider adding extra LED marker lights along the sides of a long trailer. This makes travel a lot safer, especially when pulling out of a side road at night, as the outline and length of the trailer becomes much easier for other road users to see. These are also available from HELLA.
Another good safety tip that is literally only adding a few dollars to the refurbishment is to buy a pack of reflectors and add these to the sides, rear and front of the trailer. Again, this is a see-and-be-seen benefit.
Everything that we would do to a box trailer applies to all other trailers, but those carrying boats and entering salt water on launch ramps do require more attention. Salt water and steel are not happy companions and it’s important to make sure that any salt water is hosed off from the trailer as soon as possible after use.
With all the work completed our local mechanic pronounced our trailer was now back on top when it came to safety, lighting and strength. The only problem remaining was that it looked dreadful, as though we had painted it a brown rusty colour.
After all that effort we felt we should follow through and finish the job properly, so a trip to Narellan Smash Repairs found some sympathetic spray painters more than willing to treat the existing bodywork with rust remover and then re-spray with a grey hammertone finish. The result was exceptional.
Back in action and looking as good as the day it was bought, the trusty box trailer was now painted in a shiny grey to match the D-Max, had a solid floor, new tyres, re-greased bearings, a new spring hanger mount, new HELLA LED rear lights and a complete set of reflectors. All completed for a fraction of the cost of a replacement trailer. And to keep it in that condition, it now has it’s own spot in the garage, under cover and out of reach of the elements.