Keeping your Trailer Roadworthy

legal contract for trailer use

Saturday’s post talked about buying a trailer. Once you have one, your next task is taking care of it. After all, your horse’s safety depends on it!

At least once a year, you should go over your trailer and do a safety check, although there are some things, like electrical and tire pressures, that you should check every time you haul.

What should your yearly checkup include? If you take your trailer to a dealer/service location, the standard package usually includes:

  • Inspect frame and flooring
  • Re-pack bearings, races, and replace seals
  • Inspect brake drums and hubs
  • Test all brake functions
  • Inspect tire wear and balance / adjust tire pressure
  • Inspect rims and torque lug nuts
  • Safety chain inspection
  • Inspect coupler or pintle ring
  • Lubricate all necessary locations
  • Inspect suspension: springs, bushings, shackles, etc.
  • Inspect hinges
  • Examine wiring to test light functionality
  • Inspect safety breakaway system.

Many of these you can do yourself, especially if your husband is mechanically inclined and willing to help. I’m lucky to have on-site support for my trailer as my husband has been able to trouble shoot and fix most of the issues that have occurred.

When I hitch my trailer up for the first time, here’s what we do:

DeoxIT helps remove oxidation and improve your electrical connection.

Test the electrical system: Do you have turn signals and lights? Do they work properly? One year I discovered mine had reversed. When I signaled left, my right turn signal came on! More often, the problem I have is that the electrical plug at the hitch isn’t working properly because contacts have become corroded — green with copper oxide. If that’s the case, there’s a special contact cleaner called DeoxIT, which removes the oxidation from the contacts, improves conductivity, lubricates, and reduces intermittent connections, arcing and wear and abrasion. After spraying on both the plug and receptor, plug and unplug several times.


Tires: The first thing to check is tire pressures. You don’t want to pull your trailer with underinflated tires as they are more prone to get hot, flex and blow out. Tires filled to their maximum rating stay cool. Check to makes sure your tires have sufficient tread, but remember that unless you drive A LOT, your tires may need to be replaced because of age, rather than wear. Old tires may have degraded and weakened even though they still look fine. Mine did, but I replaced them a few years ago when I realized just how long they’d been on the trailer! Don’t forget to inspect your spare tire, too. It won’t do much good if it’s flat when you need it.

Brakes: Make sure your breaks are working smoothly and not grabbing. If your trailer has sat over the winter (like mine) you may need to start and stop a few times.

Breakaway battery and Safety chains: Make sure your breakaway cable system is working. I had an inadvertant test of mine a few years ago when the cable got pulled out. It stopped my trailer right away! Luckily I was only just pulling out when it happened. Safety chains are also critical. A friend of mine had her trailer de-couple on Route 128 here in Boston (think major ring road around the city). Luckily her chains held the trailer and she was able to coast to a stop with the trailer still attached to her truck.

Each spring when I pull out my trailer it gets a complete “going over” before a horse goes in it. We check the electrical system — one year mice feasted on the wiring — pull the mats out, check the floor and the ramp, and, of course check the tire pressures. Under-inflated tires.

Flooring & Ramp: Pull your trailer mats out and check the floor for any weakness or rotting. In my trailer, the ramp failed a few years ago when I was unloading. The original plywood wasn’t pressure treated and it rotted, plus it carries a lot of weight when loading and unloading.

trailer maintenance
My husband does an awesome job of checking my trailer and repairing anything that needed fixing

Wheel Bearings: Wheel bearings need to be greased because most horse trailers don’t have sealed wheel bearings, they are two-piece designs. Over time, the grease spins out of the bearing and it needs to be replaced. If the bearing isn’t properly lubricated it can seize up and cause your wheel to stop spinning. This is a great job to deligate to your dealer!

Check the torque on the lug nuts: Properly tightened lug nuts keep your wheels safely on the trailer.

Lube the door hinges: Properly lubing can prevent a hinge from breaking. I had one break and had to have the upper door on the back left side re-welded. Don’t forget the ramp hinge and spring. They should be washed and lubed as well.

Hitch – You should lube and inspect the hitch. I have an Equalizer Hitch that squeals like a pig if it’s not properly lubed up. I certainly can’t sneak up on anyone! With a weight distributing/anti-sway hitch you need to lube the connection points of the bars as well as the ball and socket.

Windows: Make sure that your windows open and close. Spraying the window channels with a silicone spray helps keep them working smoothly.

Once you have everything set, make sure you check the inside for any hitchhikers. I’ve known people who’ve found wasp nests in their trailer — not something you want to have riding along with your horse. And one year, I found a bird had built its next in my hay bag.


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