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Everything You Need To Know About Trailer Maintenance

January 13, 2022

Owning a travel trailer can be a costly but smart investment in the long run. A new unit would cost you anywhere between $12,000 to $35,000. To fully maximize its value and enhance returns, you need to protect this investment through routine trailer maintenance.


Why is trailer maintenance important?

Just like any other vehicle or equipment, a trailer is subject to wear-and-tear. However, with regular maintenance, the ageing process can be delayed so the trailer remains serviceable for a long time. Preventive maintenance ensures that the locomotive maintains its optimum performance and utmost safety. It can also help avoid or delay major malfunctions and expensive repairs. So, every minute spent on trailer maintenance is worthwhile.

The good news is that you can do many of these trailer maintenance tasks yourself in your free time. You don’t need expensive or advanced tools to perform basic trailer troubleshooting. Minor maintenance and repairs entail manual work instead of tools.

You can easily complete regular tasks such as checking tire pressure, and cleaning and washing the trailer interior and exterior. Some routine tasks, like replacing light bulbs, lubricating moving parts, and troubleshooting trailer cable malfunctions, might need basic tools and some skills but are still doable. However, for major and more complex projects, such as spot welding, replacement of entire 7-core trailer wire system, and brake repair, it might be best to call professional help.


Tips for complete trailer maintenance

Basically, trailer maintenance tasks are the same regardless of the type and size of trailer. However, larger units might come with additional components as well as more complex mechanics. Starters might be confused where to start and how to proceed with trailer maintenance. Here we list down the basic trailer maintenance chores. This should also help you decide when to call experts.


Regular cleaning

Simple yet very effective, regular cleaning and washing keeps your trailer looking aesthetically sound. The more often you do this, the better for your unit. Cleaning the interior prevents the accumulation of dirt, grime and other particles that can make the interior smell awful or look old. Meanwhile, exterior cleaning prevents buildup of deposits on the chassis or body. When dirt and some chemicals get deposited into the trailer’s metal parts, they can eventually cause rust formation. It can likewise make the exterior look old.

The things you need are just around the house: bucket, hose, brush, and detergent or car shampoo. If your trailer comes with an automotive finish on the body, it’s best to use soft-bristled brushes. Trailer wire usually runs beneath the thin lining, using stiff-bristled brushes can damage this layer and expose the wiring system – so be extra careful. The same is true with pressure washer; never use it for cleaning the interior.


Grease moving parts

Moving parts, particularly the trailer ball and the hitch, are prone to wear and tear. Before you take the trailer back onto the road, be sure to clean and lubricate the joints and axels first.

Applying standard automotive lubricant on the ball and hitch can help reduce friction and ensure that they move smoothly while in tow. Some signs that suggest the components need lubrication include loud sounds on movement, lack of turn radius, visible corrosion or wearing, and build-up of heat around the attachment area.

It’s important to use appropriate lubricant depending on the component you grease. For sealed components such as wheel bearings, apply lubricant with pressure from a grease gun. Meanwhile, for hinges (door and gate), oily lubricant applied through spraying are recommended.


Check light bulbs

Another simple maintenance chore, troubleshooting trailer light problems, is important to keep your trailer safe. Before working on the trailer cable or connector, first check if the light bulbs are good. Usually, it’s not the 5-core trailer wire that has problems but only busted lights that need replacement.

Periodically check trailer lights, particularly the turn indicators, brake lights, and taillights. Driving with faulty lights increases the risk of road accidents and can even get you pulled over and fined.

Ask someone to operate the signals and brakes while you check the trailer lights to see if they are working. If a light isn’t working, usually it’s due to a busted light or lamp. Meanwhile, if there is a delay or lights turn on simultaneously, you can suspect an issue with the trailer wire or wiring system.

Changing the light bulbs entails screwing and unscrewing. However, there are different sizes and types of trailer light bulbs like LED, halogen and incandescent bulbs. Be sure to buy the same type of bulb – and handle new bulbs properly.


Inspect trailer wiring

If the light bulbs are good but not operating, the problem could be with the trailer connector, the trailer cable, or the tow vehicle’s controls.

First, detach the connector and clean its attachment head. In some cases, the connector may be  loose or improperly attached. There might be some wires that need tightening or crimping. If this basic troubleshooting doesn’t solve the issue, then suspect a severed trailer wire or corrosion at some point.

To test the integrity of a 5-core trailer wire, you need a probe-style test light or 12V circuit tester. These toolkits are available at local auto shops or hardware stores. They are also easy to use. Just attach the ground wire to the trailer frame, poke the sharp probe onto the wire connection, and check if the device lights up.

If it doesn’t light up, there’s probably an interruption with your cable wiring. You can isolate the problem by working from the light bulb going back to the battery, until you find the break. The trailer’s electrical system comes with 12V, so don’t worry about being electrocuted. Once you’ve detected the damaged portion, you can replace it with same scale wire. If you’re unable to detect the main problem, it might best to ask for professional help. Never purchase replacement trailer cable if you haven’t found the problem.

Wires that are exposed to rough metal or perforations should be supported and protected. Corroded wires can be de-iced using chemicals available from auto supply shops. Just make sure to wash the area immediately after cleaning with chemicals.

If after checking the trailer cable and wiring, the lights are still not working, the main problem could be with the tow vehicle. This is a totally different topic that deserves a separate post. In rare cases, the malfunction might be so widespread that rewiring the trailer’s entire electrical system is advisable.


Inspect the tires

While waiting to hit the road, we often park trailers on the garage for quite some time. During this long lull, tires are seldom  checked. So, before driving your trailer, make sure you inspect the tires.

Check for any damage, worn, bulging, or cracked tires. These tires can blowout when running at high speed or when fully loaded. As such, tires with these defects should be replaced. You must also check the tread depth. It should not be more than 2/32” in major grooves. Next, check the air pressure in all tires. Uneven tire pressure can cause tire wear problems. Similarly, overinflated tires can cause center wearing. So, be sure to gas up all tires properly.

Tire rotation is a good way to ensure that all tires wear out evenly. Follow a scheduled swapping. In case you need to reverse the rims, you might need specialized equipment and the help of an automotive specialist.


Check the braking system

Brakes are a critical component of any moving vehicle. Usually, trailers that exceed 1000 pounds come equipped with braking system. On the other hand, smaller trailers will not have brakes since the towing vehicle’s brakes are sufficient to stop. Trailer brakes ensure an instant, safe, and full stop, which is crucial when you’re traveling in freeway speeds.

If yours is a brake-equipped trailer, , check the pads, springs, drums, and brake shoes. If there is any sign of wearing or shrieking sounds on braking, you might need to have it checked by an auto mechanic for possible cleaning or replacement.

Inspect the controller and see if it is working properly. The brake lights should also be responsive. If there is any trouble with the brake light, you can suspect the trailer cable to have some problems.


Inspect frame and body

Fasteners and bolts hold the trailer’s frame and body together. Over time, these locking mechanisms might loosen up due to sudden jolting and vibrations. Examine the entire frame and body, checking for obvious signs of loose parts. Unusual noise specially rattles or squeaks might suggest loose bolts. To find out these loose knots, you can try moving the trailer body and listen intently where the squeaks come from.

To perform routine tightening, you would need a combination wrench and socket set. Trailers made by American manufacturers use Imperial sizing for the fasteners, while some foreign-made trailers use metric measurement system. If you already have a socket wrench set, you can check if it’s compatible with your trailer bolts. If you’re purchasing a new set, make sure to check bolts and fasteners used in your trailer. Investing in a new set of tools proves worthwhile especially since you can also use it for other purposes.


Check the suspensions

A lot of trailer owners overlook the importance of the trailer suspension; in fact, they play a critical role as they bear the weight of the entire vehicle and its content. This assembly of bolts, bars, shock absorbers, and springs ensures that the wheels do not touch the body and frame of the trailer. It also ensures that cargo runs smoothly and absorbs sudden jolts and physical blows imposed by the road.

Visually inspect suspensions to look for possible heat cracks and signs of irregular wearing.  It should suspend freely and nothing must interfere or touch its movement. There should be equal and enough pressure throughout the air springs. Clean the suspension to remove mud, dirt, and other deposits.

Before leaving, you again need to check the suspension. In case the suspension does not have adequate clearance, you might have overloaded the trailer and consider cutting the load.



Major trailer repairs for professionals

When it comes to trailer maintenance, you need to know when to DIY and when not to. This would not only save you time and money but also to protect your investment. Here are some cases that necessitate professional help.


Electrical/lighting rewiring

While you can perform basic lighting maintenance tasks, such as replacing the light bulb or changing damaged portions of trailer cable, it is best to ask professionals to rewire the entire system. Take note that the trailer wire supplies several lights and components, if you fail to rewire it properly, you might end up spending more on a rework.


Suspension replacement and repairs

Trailers use different types of suspension depending on its intended weight capacity. If you suspect any unwanted wear and tear, you should not attempt to replace it. Not only does it require heavy-duty tools, but it may result in serious injury if you unwind the suspension parts.


Brake cleaning and repairs

When it comes to the brake, it’s always best to entrust it to professional auto mechanics. Your concern is only to check if it’s working. If you think its faulty, better ask a specialist to check it. Usually, trailer brakes use a combination of hydraulic and electric system. To open the brakes, you’ll need specialized tools. Trying to DIY this chore might only lead to damage.


Coupler repairs

The tongue coupler keeps the trailer safely hitched to the towing vehicle. As such, you want it to be in perfect shape. To ensure proper  coupler repairs, you should entrust it to professionals.


Final Thoughts

Spending an entire day on trailer maintenance might sound uninteresting and worthless. Some might even find it unnecessary. However, if you consider your trailer as an investment, you should consider maintenance checks as a necessity.

Routine trailer maintenance gives you peace of mind knowing that you are safe while on the road. So, before you hit the road, make sure you do these maintenance tips.


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