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Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 in Do It Yourself, How To, Safety and Seamanship, US |

Trailer Maintenance: 3 Lessons from the Frankentrailer

An almost-breakdown brings home the importance of trailer maintenance and good equipment.

Fourteen months ago, I bought a trailer from a friend. (Note: he’s still a friend.) Now one axle, four bearings, and six tires later, I think it’s finally ready for a trouble-free road trip.

You may remember my first picture of Frank, or at least his top rack, with another trailer loaded on top of it. Since then Frank has been used, abused, altered, tweaked, and finally—I hope—updated enough to survive a summer trip to Iowa and a fall drive to San Diego without further significant maintenance. I’ve learned a lot about trailers in the past year, so let me share a few lessons with you.

frankentrailer with two Snipes

The Frankentrailer was built to carry two Snipes, and now it’s finally ready.

 

1. Size matters.

Tire size, that is. The original tires were 12″, which were big enough (in theory) to match the 1500 pound maximum trailer load. (Snipes weigh about 400 pounds each.) In practice, smaller tires (spinning more rapidly than larger tires) generate more heat and don’t disperse it very well. This is true especially for those of us who tend to—ahem—exceed the speed limit.

After hearing from the previous owner that “I used to go through a lot of tires,” and chatting with our local mechanic who does a lot of towing himself, I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade all three tires (including the spare) to 13 inches. It’s amazing the difference in size, appearance, and ride. Also, it’s possible to buy radials at this size, while 12 inch tires only come in bias construction. Radials disperse heat better, last longer, and provide better traction.

13 inch tires

13 inch tires are much bigger and better than 12 inch for highway travel.

2. Check your bearings.

On a long drive back from Florida, I ignored the “minor” squeak that developed halfway and never looked at or felt the bearings. If I had, I would’ve realized that the  “squeak” I was hearing was not minor at all: the left bearing had spat itself out on the road somewhere, and the wheel was now rolling directly on the axle. If I’d touched it, I might have burned my fingers. And by the time I rolled into my destination (at 2am of course), the squeak had become a squeal, the tire was half bald, and the entire wheel was angled out at about 20 degrees.

According to Chris from Legendary Trailers who replaced bearings, tire, and axle (it had been so chewed up by all the bearing-free mileage that it couldn’t be saved), I had about another two miles to go before I lost the wheel completely. “You get a lot of warning before something this bad happens,” he said. “Best bet is to jack up the wheel before you leave and check for any play. Also, grease the bearings before you leave, and make sure the tire pressure is topped up.” All I can say is, I got lucky on this one.

Snipe bow location on trailer

Note to self: This fore and aft placement of the two boats will result in ideal tongue weight.

3. Balance the load.

The Frankentrailer is built to carry two Snipes, but I’ve done a few road trips with just one boat on it. The load and ride are completely different in each case, which is hardly surprising; the difference in all-up weight is almost doubled with two boats, and the additional cargo is five feet above the ground.

When I load the two boats, I need to push them forward enough to create the right amount of tongue weight. That keeps the trailer from bouncing and jiggling on every bump, which is not only noisy but unsafe. It’s surprising how little I have to move the boat to make a big difference.

None of this is rocket science, and we’ve written about it before; there’s a lot of great information in the videos and posts listed below. But nothing will make me remember the importance of good equipment and regular maintenance like the “that was almost me” video that’s been playing in my brain the past few weeks: 2am by the side of the highway, staring down at an axle without a wheel.