Extendable trailers guide

Lights and bearings are common problems on boat trailers | Sports

With fishing seasons approaching, now is the time to think about the most common problems with boat trailers: lights and wheel bearings.

LIGHTS: The most common headache with boat trailers is the struggle to keep the lighting system in good working order.

Corrosion and oxidation attack the weak links in the system – plugs, bulb sockets, splices – depriving them of solid connections. Take preventative action by keeping the four-pin plug and receptacle clean by giving them an occasional spray with penetrating oil to clean them, then spray them with battery terminal spray (available at auto parts stores ). Another option is a thin layer of dielectric grease. Although this grease is non-conductive, a thin coating will not prevent a good connection between clean metal. It is commonly used for marine related applications. Many tow vehicles in use today have a round blade terminal socket, which means an adapter is required, creating more contact. Be sure to maintain them as well.

All splices are vulnerable to corrosion. They are most common where the pigtail of the plug joins the main wiring and in the connections between individual lights and the wires that feed them. Crimp butt connectors are typically used to make these connections. These have a bad habit of separating and corroding. When replacing butt connectors, buy the correct ones at an electrical supply store, as opposed to the cheap connectors that come in a kit (with a cheap crimping tool) available at big box stores. Butt connectors with a heat-shrink insulating sleeve are also available. I have used them successfully.

The filaments of the bulbs break under the effect of vibrations or simply go out. As a general rule, it is enough to disassemble a lamp to access the bulb or bulbs. Since there are many similar bulbs, take the wrong one to the auto parts store and ask the clerk to help you replace it. When you’re sure it’s the right one, buy spares. Dab the connectors with dielectric grease when replacing them.

The lights of many modern trailers are fitted with sealed modules or LEDs rather than bulbs. Both are a bit more expensive to replace, but (in my experience) hold up better.

WHEEL BEARINGS: A bad wheel bearing can cause a major dilemma, especially when it goes undiscovered until it causes damage to the axle shaft, the part on which the bearings roll.

Bearings depend on grease to prevent failure. Boat trailers present a challenge since the wheels are regularly subjected to water during the launching process.

There are two common ways to maintain proper grease loads in wheel hubs. Some axles have a grease fitting on the end of the spindle. To access the grease fitting, remove the neoprene dust cap. The grease pumped into this fitting reaches the inside of the hub via holes drilled in the axle, those located to lubricate the front and rear bearings.

The other system is a “rolling buddy” design, where the dust cap is replaced with a spring-loaded cartridge into which grease is pumped. The cartridge acts as a reservoir, with the spring providing the force to load grease into the hub as needed. Devices of this type lubricate the front bearing well, but not so much the rear one.

I’ve only had three bearing failures, and I’d say all of them were due to water entering the hub, which breaks down the grease. For this reason, I now keep two extra hubs for each of my two boat trailers.

The hubs already have the bearings (hand packed with grease) installed. Every spring, you simply remove the tire, remove the hub, then replace it with the spare tire. The “old” hub then becomes the spare part, after installing new bearings.

While the dust cap (or bearing) prevents water from entering the hub from the outside, a grease seal is used inside the hub. When purchasing components to service the hub, be sure to get a double lip grease seal, designed to seal inside and out. Standard grease seals are only designed to keep grease in the hub, not to keep water out from the outside.

Be sure to inspect your trailer wheels after launching your boat. Once you have cast off your boat and parked the rig, push the trailer with your foot to check for any side play. Watch your tires in the mirror as you back up the ramp for any wobble. Keep your ears tuned for the funky sounds out there. Catch things early and it’s a simple matter of replacing the hub on the spot with a channel lock, punch and hammer. Wait too long and the axle shaft will be burned out, resulting in a dump bed service tow, a trip to the weld shop to have the shaft replaced, or even a new axle.


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