When was the last time you performed maintenance on your stock trailer? If you can’t remember the last time you did, you’re not alone. One of the most neglected aspects of owning a trailer is performing maintenance on it. That’s unfortunate, because regular maintenance will add years to your trailer’s life.
Fortunately, trailer maintenance is easy. We’ve put together a list of 10 simple maintenance tips that will not only keep your trailer functioning like you just hauled it off the lot, but make your trailer look nice too!
1. When washing your trailer, play it safe—use a hose instead of a pressure washer, and use some liquid car wash soap in some warm water. This will protect finishes such as colored side sheets or polished wave panels on a livestock trailer.
2. Make sure you clean the lights and the reflective surfaces of your trailer. This will help improve visibility at night. Also, be sure to get down on your knees and spray out the underside of the trailer with a hose, since that’s where dirt, dust and road chemicals are likely to pile up.
3. As you’re washing, keep an eye out for any patches of rust. If you find any, use some sandpaper or steel wool to eradicate them. When you’ve finished washing the trailer, let it dry and then use some rust-proof paint to touch up the spots. Make sure the paint you use is the same color as your trailer—it’ll look better.
4. A lot of livestock trailers are at least as tall as a person, so make sure you have the tools to reach the upper walls and the roof. You can get long-reach brushes or telescoping brushes that will connect to your hose. A step stool or stepladder will also help you reach the top. Just make sure it has a good tread!
5. Test your vehicle’s lights. This is best done with two people when your livestock trailer is hitched to the tow vehicle. One person sits in the tow vehicle and activates the lights, and the other person confirms the lights work. Test each of the lights separately, and then activate two or more systems at once. This may seem like overkill, but consider how often your trailer’s lights are used together, such as slowing down to make a turn at night. The lights should come on when activated, but make sure to look for other problems, as well. Make sure the lights don’t dim. Also make sure they don’t weaken or flicker when the turn signal or brakes are activated.
6. Before checking individual lights for problems, examine the wiring harness and trailer connector. First, disconnect the trailer from the tow vehicle. If the trailer has a separate electrical system, make sure its power source is disconnected as well. Then, starting at the trailer’s connector, follow the wiring harness. The wires in the wire harness are usually held together with nylon zip ties, although some trailer companies such as Featherlite go one step further and enclose their wires in a rubber “sheath” to provide extra protection against wear and tear. Keep an eye out for any points where the zip ties have deteriorated, letting the wires swing loosely. Examine the wires individually, particularly in the loose areas, to make sure the insulation is intact. If any wire has cracked or there are weak areas, use electrical tape to reseal them. You can also reseal any weak areas in a rubber sheath harness with electrical tape, but don’t worry about the wires inside unless the harness has been torn enough to expose them. If wires have been exposed, reseal the individual wires as needed before sealing up the harness itself. Use zip ties to rebundle any loose wires, although electrical tape may also suffice in a pinch.
Next, inspect the trailer connector. Clean off the pins using a wire brush, steel wool or fine sandpaper. Then put some dielectric waterproof grease on the connector to help prevent moisture from getting in. Make sure not to get any grease on the plugs or slots themselves, as it is a nonconductor. While some people argue that the grease will not affect the electrical connection, it is better to take some extra time and not coat the metal connectors rather than risk a bad or temperamental connection.
7. Make sure your tires are all properly inflated. This is important—underinflated tires receive more friction when they’re spinning on the road. This really speeds up the tires' degradation, which can lead to a blowout. Even if you manage to avoid that, an underinflated tire will flatten under a full load, which can lead to the trailer swaying. Before you inflate your tires, make sure you know how much pressure they need. You can find the right PSI for your tires by consulting the owner’s manual for your trailer. If you no longer have the owner’s manual, look on your tire—most of them usually have how much PSI they need printed on them.
8. Check your trailer’s tires before each use to make sure they’re still roadworthy by measuring the depth of the tread. Most state laws require a tire’s tread to be at least 2/32” deep. You can check a tire’s treads using a tire tread depth gauge. If you don’t have one you can always use the “penny test.” Take a penny and stick it in your tire’s tread grooves at several points around the tire. If the penny sinks in deep enough that part of Abraham Lincoln’s head is covered, the depth of your tire tread is more than 2/32 of an inch. If the tread doesn’t cover Abe’s head, it’s time to get new tires.
9. When you do replace your trailer’s tires, it’s best to replace them all at once. Even if your other tires are good, they’ll still be worn more than the new tire, and the difference between the tires can make your trailer harder to handle.
10. Grease your trailer. Your trailer’s ball hitch, tongue jack and ramp hinges are all parts that will need to be greased, preferably before each trip. Put a dab of grease on a rag, then put a coat of grease on the ball hitch or the inside of the tongue jack. For hinges, try some white lithium grease, and make sure it gets between the hinge segments where it’s most needed!
11. When most people think of greasing, though, they think of wheel bearings. For those of you not mechanically-minded, the wheel bearings are what let the wheel spin on the axle. The average wheel bearing assembly consists of two concentric rings called races. Sandwiched between them is the bearing. This is a lot of moving parts coming into contact with each other, and if a bearing overheats and breaks down, your trip is pretty much over. So you want to make sure those bearings are properly greased. Unlike almost every other maintenance task we’ve discussed, this is one you’ll want a professional to do. Fortunately, you don’t have to grease your wheel bearings each time you use your trailer. Grease them once a year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes sooner.