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By Curtis Von Fange
One of the fun things of summer and fall are the parades and tractor shows that go on across America. Many owners of tractors travel long distances to attend these shows and they usually take their restored iron along with them. Safe trailering practices and inspections will ensure that the event is a fun one.
A good habit to develop when using a trailer is to give that ‘quick look over’ before taking it on a trip. Before hooking up to it check the tongue for proper operation. The latches on the ball hitch, if that is used, should be free of dirt and debris and should engage the ball securely without binding. A small dab of grease on the trailer ball will lubricate the area for your excursion. Try to avoid getting the grease on your shirt or too much on your hands as it seems to end up about everywhere if you do.
Go ahead and hook up the trailer to your tow vehicle. Install the safety chains and plug in the electrical pigtail. Don’t forget to check the breakaway switch for proper hook up. Turn on the parking lights and the left turn signal on the tow vehicle. Walk around the trailer and make sure all the marker lights are working including the tail lamps. Check the right turn signal and then have a companion step on the brakes so the brake lights can be checked. Next, take a look at the tire pressure; a visual isn’t always enough as with dual wheeled trailers the tires may look fully inflated even when loaded. Look on the tire sidewall for correct pressure and check with a tire gauge.
These are simple steps that only take a few moments to do and will give a higher level or security and safety on the road. A more detailed inspection should be done on a more periodic basis, especially if the unit is used quite often.
An overlooked place of inspection on a trailer is that of the framework. Trailers that have been overloaded can develop fatigue cracks and broken welds. These hidden dangers can only be found by climbing underneath the unit with a flashlight and a bristle brush and looking. Areas of particular importance to check are where the shackles meet the springs, the mounting braces for the tongue, and the front and rear framing. These areas tend to show up first as the torsion stresses of the trailer twisting around turns are more prevalent at these points. Use the brush to clear dirt and debris away from the welded joints and look for hairline cracks in the welds or on the steel plates or beams. If found grind them out and reweld or find a local welder to reinforce the framing.
While underneath the trailer check the wiring for integrity. It shouldn’t be hanging down dragging the ground or wedged in between cracks. Make sure it is in proper retainers screwed to the frame. Rubbing and dangling wires are a primary cause for short circuits and goofy light action on the trailer. Also make sure that the lights are properly grounded to the framework. Bad grounds make the lights do strange things too.
The tires and springs make up the business end of the trailer. This is where all the loaded weight gets transmitted to the bumps and holes in the road. Check it carefully. Look closely at the tires. First, look for checking on the sidewall. Excessive cracks are an indication of dry rot on the tire. The ultraviolet rays of the sun break down the rubber on the tire and cause it to dry and contract. This leaves the inner cords exposed to weathering and dries them out where they are not very pliable. Road heat and overloading can easily cause a sidewall blowout on excessively checked tires. Also check the tire for broken inner cords by running your hand along the tread. You are looking for small bumps in the tire surface caused by inner cord breakage. Also look in between the tire treads for fatigue cracks that indicate a failed casing. One last area to check on tires is the valve stem. Take the cap off and put a little spit on the end. A leaky stem will blow you a bubble and be the cause for that slow leak in the tire.
The leaf springs on the trailer should be in alignment with one another. The retainer brackets should be firm and in place. Check the spring ends for grease fittings and lubricate. If none are present make sure that the bushings haven’t wallowed out and that the shackles are free to rotate back and forth. You might also look for a cracked leaf spring or a loose shackle bolt. The retainer plate on the bottom of the axle, which holds the spring assembly, should also be securely fastened by the two u-bolts. While you are under there take a look at the backside of the brake assembly. Many designs permit inspection of the brake shoes, as backing plates are not always present. If none is present then put the trailer on a jack, remove the wheels and inspect the brakes. Make sure the shoes have lining and that the magnet is still functioning. Blow out the accumulated dust and debris with an air gun making sure to wear a dust mask. Check the wheel bearings for proper grease as you button it up and don’t overtighten the spindle nut. Also make sure the lugs on the wheels are properly torqued.
One last area to check is the breakaway switch on the tongue. Most states require this unit as a backup in case the trailer separates from the tow vehicle. A small battery in a case provides enough electricity to engage the electric brakes when the breakaway switch pulls apart. Hopefully there is enough to stop the trailer from rampaging down the highway. But that depends on whether or not the wire connections all are in good working order. When hooked up properly the charging system on the vehicle will keep the battery trickle charged and ready for action. Make sure the terminal ends are clean, the battery has ample electrolyte in it, and the plug ends are clean. Put a volt meter on the battery to check double check its charge and to make sure it is receiving a charge through the trailer plug. There is also a small stainless steel wire attaching the breakaway switch to the frame of the tow vehicle. Make sure it is not frayed or damaged and has good hookup connectors on the end which attaches to the vehicle.
All in all taking the time to inspect and properly service a trailer will be worth the owners while. There is no greater security than knowing that the unit is safely attached to your vehicle and that it will reliably deliver that restored tractor to its proper designated show.