We’re often amazed by the lack of regular trailer maintenance that some people seem to get away with. The funny part is the owners act all surprised when a tire blows or a wheel bearing lets go. There are usually many signs that something is wrong long before the actual failure. Trailering your 4x4 to the trailhead or weekend getaway has become increasingly popular over the years. With a quick once over on a regular basis, you can avoid the hassle of your trailer doing its best to undermine your four wheeling vacation.
There are a lot of different opinions on which tires are optimal for trailer use. In most cases, a trailer-specific tire will work best. Check the tire pressure regularly. The biggest killers of trailer tires are non-use and sitting in the sun. A trailer tire that sits unused in the sun for 2-3 years is a time bomb waiting to go off. Camping World (campingworld.com) and etrailer (etrailer.com) offer covers to protect trailer tires from UV damage when parked for extended periods of time. If you have the storage space, it might even be worth removing the trailer tires when not in use.
You can easily check to see if the wheel bearings are loose and need repacking. Jack up the trailer, grab each tire at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and check for slop. There shouldn’t be any looseness and the wheel should spin freely. If you’re repacking the bearings, it’s also a good time to inspect, adjust or rebuild the trailer brakes, too.
We have had really good luck using the spindle grease fittings to purge the old grease from the bearings. If you see lots of metal bits in the grease coming out, or the grease looks burnt, you should pull the assembly apart. Some trailer shops don’t recommend using these grease fittings. If the wheel seal is damaged or worn, you could be pumping grease into your trailer brakes. Repack the wheel bearings using the traditional method if you can’t tell if this is happening or not. Make sure each hub has a dust cap to keep the grease in and contaminants out.
We’ve found that the use of high-quality synthetic grease like Amsoil’s (amsoil.com) Synthetic Water Resistant Grease extents the life of our wheel bearings. When repacking the hubs, inspect the spindle and bearings for wear. Bearings with damaged rollers like this should be replaced. New spindles can also be installed, but it’s generally a more complicated weld-on procedure. Individual parts are available at most local parts stores and from etrailer.
You can check the temperature of each bearing hub while refueling or making a pit stop for lunch. A warm hub could indicate that the wheel bearings are due for a repack. The non-braked hubs should all be about the same temperature. Braked hubs will likely be warmer if you have been using the brakes.
On longer trips, we usually carry along a complete wheel bearing service kit and grease just in case we need to do a roadside rebuild. The kits are available at most auto part stores, Camping World, and etrailer.
When servicing the trailer bearings, suspension, or brakes, we prefer to jack up the trailer by the frame. Placing a jack improperly under a trailer axle can sometimes bend or crush the tube if not done properly, especially if the trailer is loaded. A Hi-Lift (hi-lift.com) jack like this can lift up to 4,660 pounds, which is more than half the capacity of our 7,000-pound car hauler.
Inspect the coupler for damage and wear. This coupler has worn completely through. We prefer to use a dry lubricant on the trailer ball and coupler to keep our pant legs grease free when we walk too close. Regular lubrication can help avoid wear like this.
Your trailer’s suspension takes a beating, look it over regularly. It’s not uncommon for the holes to wallow out, leaf springs to break, and hardware to come loose or get completely worn in half. Etrailer offers suspension rebuild kits for most trailers—simply match up your suspension design and order the parts you need. Also check the trailer chassis for cracks during your inspection. Repair anything that looks damaged or worn out.
You should be checking your lights every time you hitch up the trailer. Regularly inspect the wiring and lenses. The sun can deteriorate both. Cheapie trailer bulbs don’t last much longer than a year or two in some cases. If your lights are sun-faded and crumbling like ours, it might be a good time to upgrade to LED lights. The LED lights are a bit more expensive, but they will last a lot longer than traditional bulbs.
If the lights or electric brakes work intermittently, trace the wires from front to back. You’ll likely find that the buddy you let borrow your trailer last did a little rewiring to match his truck. Tie up any loose wires, replace anything that looks frayed, and seal up all the electrical connections to keep them from corroding and causing issues.