Boat trailer undergoing maintenance

Essential guide to proper boat trailer maintenance.

Boat trailers are not the sexiest item, but they are essential if you want to enjoy boating. So, why is the trailer so often overlooked when it comes to maintenance, sometimes by even the most fastidious of boat owners?

Duncan Reid, from Melbourne’s Trailer Repair Centre, has seen it all and suggests that people will happily spend hundreds of dollars keeping their outboard motors and boats well-serviced, often never giving a second’s thought to the very thing that keeps their pride and joy out of contact with the bitumen.

Poor trailer maintenance is often sheeted home to money-saving. Let’s face it, it’s not a whole bunch of fun spending money on your trailer when you may be able to buy a fishfinder instead. Landing that big snapper doesn’t rely on whether or not you service your trailer. Or does it?

Boat trailer maintenance done right

“Anything that goes into saltwater will require maintenance. Boat trailer wheel bearings must be checked every 12 months. The trick here is that doing this will actually save people money. We have a trailer that comes in here that we haven’t had to replace bearings in for 12 years. Fresh lubricant has been responsible for that. So regular checks are a cheaper way to go in many cases,” says Duncan.

Most boat trailers use leaf springs for suspension. These are constructed of layers of spring steel, bound together, offering a springing or cushioning effect. The key here is the fact that these are prone to rust. Toss in the extremely corrosive effects of salt and it’s easy to see why this is an area for attention when it comes to trailer maintenance.

Once a leaf spring rusts, it will start to spread apart. It’s at that point it should be replaced, there is no repair for rusty leaf springs. Toss ’em and get newies, simple as that.

Trailer tyres are asked to perform in extreme conditions (salt, often driven offroad etc). The fact that they may not be called upon to cover high mileages often results in them staying on a trailer for very long periods, usually in the one position. This causes them to perish and crack — danger.

Tyre pressures are also critical, especially in warmer weather, because they run a far higher tyre pressure than that of a car. Lights are another area requiring attention on a regular basis, with Duncan recommending moving over to LED lighting if the trailer doesn’t feature them already.


Preventing rust on boat trailers

Rust is a boat trailer killer. Regular inspection of cross members, especially on older trailers is a must. Rust results in a loss of structural integrity and is one of the major causes of boats being dumped on the deck.

“People don’t look for rust, so they don’t see it. Rust opens cracks and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. You have to get under your trailer, look closely. If it’s rusty, it’s weakened and that may well mean it’s time to replace your trailer,” says Duncan. There you have it. The rule is; look after your trailer and it will look after you. Easy, isn’t it?


Six essential steps to maintain a boat trailer

1. Wheel bearings | Need to be checked and possibly replaced at the bare minimum of once every 12 months. If replacement is unnecessary, give them a good clean, apply fresh grease and fit new seals.

2. Leaf springs | If you can see daylight in between them, replace them.

3. Tyres | Replace them every couple of years, maintain good pressures, move trailer around when laid up.

4. Hammer test | Run around the trailer with a hammer. If you hear a ‘ping’ sound, that’s good steel. If you hear a dull thud, there could well be rust. Carry out the hammer test every six months.

5. Brake adjustment | Adjust brakes and keep them adjusted.

6. Wash down | Wash every part of your trailer thoroughly after use. This is the single most effective way to look after a boat trailer.

Originally published in TrailerBoat # #250, November 2009.