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Keep Your Boat in the Water with Proper Trailer Maintenance

Nearly 7 million Americans own a boat with a trailer. You’ve probably seen some of those very boaters pulled over on the side of the road with trailer problems–wheels off, axles broken, people in a state of frustration and panic as their boat balances on a broken-down trailer. Truth be told, not enough of us pay the proper attention to the condition of our boat trailers. Following are a few simple tips on boat trailer maintenance which can reduce the possibility of that broken down trailer being yours.

The Top Five Reasons for Trailer Breakdowns*:

44% – Flat Tires
20% – Wheel Bearing Failures
14% – Axle Problems
9% – Suspension Problems
5% – Tongue/Coupling Trouble

Tires

Trailer or ST tires are different from car tires—they’re usually of a bias ply design, which provides higher load capacity and stiffer sidewalls whereas the radial tires found on most passenger cars are more flexible.

Under inflation is the prime cause of trailer tire problems. An underinflated trailer tire won’t sag like your car’s tires because of its stiff sidewall construction. Tires may look normal, but you can’t eyeball them accurately; check your tire pressure with a tire gauge.

Oxidation is often the next culprit for trailer tire failure. Trailer tires need to be replaced every 3–5 years of use, even if they appear to have plenty of tread left. Trailer tires often sit in one spot for weeks, if not months, and usually in sunlight where UV radiation will decay the tire. Is it any wonder that the deteriorated sidewalls blow out under pressure? Check for dry rot and crazing on the sidewalls.

Trailer tires need to be replaced every 3–5 years of use, even if they appear to have plenty of tread left.

Wheel Bearing Maintenence

Boat trailer wheel bearing maintenance is crucial as they are regularly immersed in water–often corrosive salt water. Even fresh water will cause the wheel bearings to rust if not properly packed with lubricant.  Very few owners check the lubrication of the hubs and bearings as often as they should (like before every road trip). Even if they do, they don’t always use the right lubricant. Fill the hubs completely with a multipurpose No. 2 grade lubricant.

One solution that will keep the wheel bearings fully lubricated is a spring-loaded hub, such as Bearing Buddies, that constantly forces fresh lubricant into the wheel bearing. Some models of Bearing Buddies even have a visual exterior reference to show you at a glance if there is enough lubricant in the hub to protect the bearings.

Even trailers not immersed in water are subject to bearing corrosion. Condensation from cooler air will be sucked into hot hubs if they are not completely filled with lubricant, causing rust and pitting. The only solution is to be vigilant about lubricating your wheel bearings.

Axle, suspension, and tongue/coupling problems

Even if your trailer has passed a visual inspection for rust and corrosion, it is still possible to have axle, suspension, or coupling problems if it is overloaded or safe towing techniques are not followed.

* according to a recent BoatUS survey