Basic Trailer Maintenance


By John Fisher General Manager, Nationwide Trailers in Cabot Arkansas Trailers being serviced

What are the most important preventive maintenance can I do to extend the life of my trailer?

Your trailer is a big investment and for many of our customers, an essential tool for running your business. To keep that trailer on the road and keep your business running, basic trailer maintenance is vitally important. Good trailer maintenance involves several areas, cleaning, lubrication, tires, and electrical. You don’t need to be a mechanic or have any specialized tools for most maintenance tasks.  

Dirt Is Your Trailer’s Worst Enemy.

Washing your trailer may not the first thing you think of when it comes to maintenance, but all too often not keeping your trailer clean leads to many other maintenance problems that might be hidden by excess dirt. Washing your trailer can give you a chance to inspect it for any damage. Our service managers recommend a mild dish soap such as Dawn and a simple water hose with a spray nozzle for washing. Pressure washers are not recommended as they can destroy the finish and cause damage to your trailer. Don’t forget to rinse off the undercarriage as road grime, grease, and dirt can also accumulate underneath and eventually degrade the moving mechanical parts. For boat trailers it’s important to wash it after every use, especially if used in salt water as salt water can seriously accelerate corrosion! Be sure to pay extra attention to the suspension and brakes. Salt water can collect on these parts and evaporate leaving salt residue that can wreak havoc on metal. The same is true in cold climates where roads are often treated with salt.  

Look For Rust

Dirt on a trailer can hide rust. As you wash your trailer look for areas where rust is starting to form. Catching rust early is key to preventing further damage. For surface rust we recommend sanding away any rusty patches with steel wool. After treating rust, spray the area with a rustproof paint then apply a healthy coat of wax to the painted metal parts. This will prevent further corrosion. Keeping your trailer waxed may sound a little bit over the top, but remember, your trailer is an investment that needs to be protected. For larger cargo trailers it may be difficult to reach the top. Telescoping brushes can make life a lot easier when trying to wash those high areas. If you’re using a ladder, be sure to use a nonslip ladder to avoid falls on wet pavement.  

Keep Moving Parts Moving

Now that your trailer is nice and shiny, let’s get down to the dirty business. We’re talking about the particles of dirt and dust that get into your trailers moving parts and cause friction and eventually breakdown. Keeping a trailer greased will allow the joints and axles to move smoothly and help extend the life of your trailer. Before you take it on the road, make sure to grease everything that can be greased. All the moving parts on your trailer come in contact with other parts, and those parts need to be lubricated to prevent corrosion and friction. The springs and tongue jack (when applicable) should also be lubricated. Lubricating all moving parts before each trip should become a ritual. We can’t stress enough how important it is to keep these moving parts lubricated! It will pay dividends in the form of fewer repairs along with time and cost savings.  

Lube Those Bearings

One of the most important parts to grease and lubricate are your trailer’s wheel bearings, the cylindrical rings that connect the wheel to the axle and allow the wheels free rotation. Since the wheels are constantly moving it is extremely important to your trailers ability to function. That’s why it’s important to maintain these bearings by greasing them and inspecting them regularly. The wheel bearings allow the wheel to spin easily on the axle spindle. Cleaning and greasing the wheel bearings for each wheel may sound like a pain, but not as painful as several days of lost productivity and trailer repair expense or worse, being stranded on the road with a trailer you can’t move.  

How to Lubricate Wheel Bearings

The first step to lubricating wheel bearings is to remove the tire and any hardware holding your wheel in place on your axle. You’ll then find the wheel bearings on the wheel hub and they should be easily removed. After removing the hardware holding it in place, you’ll want to clean the bearings of any grime, dirt or old grease. Next remove the seal, clean the inner bearings, and repack them with grease. Lastly, replace the seal and remove the excess grease. Now is also a good time to grease the axles if applicable. Re-install the wheel bearings and tire and move onto the next one.  

Don’t Neglect Your Tires

Any function your trailer performs is dependent on your wheels so it is also very important to ensure that your tires are well-maintained and in proper condition. In many cases, especially for large tires, the added weight of the cargo is even harder on the tires and improperly inflated or badly worn tires will greatly increase your risk of blowout and/or possible accident. If your trailer has been idle for a significant length of time it’s likely the tires will need inflating. All tires lose pressure when not in use and any tire will leak overtime, so keeping an eye on air pressure is essential. Even if a blowout doesn’t occur, improperly inflated tires flatten under the strain of a heavy load. This can create another dangerous situation, increased swing and sway of the trailer. You can check the manufacturers suggested pressure rating on the side of the tire. You can also find this in your owner’s manual. Also look to see if your tires require high psi when carrying heavy loads and if so, be sure to adjust accordingly. Check your tires before every trip!! It is recommended to replace your trailer tires every five years but Michelin also states that it can be dependent upon wear and overall condition. When you do have to replace some of your tires, make sure you match the ones you already have. Unmatched or unevenly worn tires can result in difficult handling and towing of the trailer.  

Check Those Lights

So now that you’ve inspected your tires, washed the trailer, and lubed all moving parts, we’re almost ready to hit the road. Almost? Yes. We are missing one major component that is very important. YOUR LIGHTING SYSTEM!! Your lighting system operates off your vehicles 12 volt trailer plug. All states require functioning brake lights, turn signals and running lights for any trailer on the road. Please note that most states require the license plate be illuminated as well. In most cases, all your trailer’s wiring converges at a central plug and box that will connect to your vehicle. Take some time to check all the wires and connections for breakage, cracks and wire exposure. Look for corrosion on your four-way, seven-way or six-way connector and vehicle plug. Corrosion can inhibit your lights from working correctly. We recommend dielectric waterproof grease on all plugs to help prevent corrosion. You can also use this grease on all your light bulb sockets. Now that you’ve inspected your trailer’s wiring, plug your trailer into your vehicle to check your lights. The easiest way to check your trailer lights is to turn on your vehicle running lights and activate the hazards. Go around your trailer and be sure that all the running lights are working and your tail lights are blinking. Next check your turn signals, right then left. (Make sure you turn off your hazards during this test) Lastly, you will need a buddy to press the brakes while you inspect the brake light function. If everything is in good working order…  

Hit The Road With Confidence

Congratulations!!!   You have just performed the basic maintenance on your trailer and you’re ready to hit the road. REMEMBER, SAFETY FIRST!!!  If you have any reservations, please remember that Nationwide Trailers Is here to assist in all your trailer repair, service, or maintenance needs.  

Nationwide Trailers Service Department

Most of these procedures are preventive maintenance that can easily be performed by the owner before every trip. Many of our customers prefer to have our service department perform regular maintenance on their trailers. Every Nationwide trailers location has a full service trailer repair department staffed with expert technicians trained to service any trailer make or model. Come in to one of our 8 locations or call to set an appointment if your trailer needs major repairs or if you’d like us to perform periodic maintenance. Happy Towing!!!