Boat Trailer Maintenance
Clean your boat trailer regularly
It should go without saying, but you should wash your trailer down with fresh water after every use if possible, and use a specialised cleaner like Salt Away or ExSalt at least a couple of times each season. Dried on salt will accelerate corrosion, so washing your trailer regularly is the simplest way to extend its life.
Clean and protect wheels and brakes
Your trailer’s wheels are in contact with salt water more than just about any other part of the trailer, so they need special attention. Clean brake hubs out thoroughly with fresh water and protect them with CRC, but carefully avoid the actual braking surface or you'll prevent the brakes from working properly until it burns off. Pack wheel bearings with marine grease to help prevent corrosion.
Keep those tyres inflated
Under-inflated tyres will wear out prematurely, not to mention being less efficient and costing you more in gas. Don’t forget the jockey wheel too.
Check for corrosion – particularly on springs and bolts.
A quick scrub with a Scotch Brite or sandpaper will reveal if any rust is just surface deep, or more serious. Replace any bolts that are badly rusted, and replace springs if necessary.
Pay attention to the tow ball coupling
A failure of the coupling could be more than just an inconvenience – it could cause a serious accident, so make sure it’s well protected from corrosion with marine grease.
Maintain winch and rollers
Like all the other moving parts on your trailer, these will last longer if you protect them from corrosion with plenty of marine grease.
Make sure all lights are working
Replace any dead bulbs, and check rubber seals around lights for water-tightness. Check electrical connections too, and dab with a corrosion inhibitor like CRC Lanocote to help protect them.
Get a Warrant of Fitness
If you don’t do anything else, make sure your trailer is road-legal. Most people regard trailer WoFs as a necessary evil, but remember it’s all about making sure your trailer is well maintained and safe to use.
Boat Trailer Maintenance Information
The best time to maximise the benefits of maintaining your boat trailers are when it's brand new before corrosion has started before threads start to seize up, and bearings seize through lack of grease and so on.
Let's start with the wheel bearings; failure in which is extremely inconvenient at best and can be disastrous. Has the supplier packed them with grease and do they have bearing ‘buddies’ fitted to maintain the grease under slight pressure in order to prevent sea-water ingress? (Aakron does this) If not done already get it done NOW!
While you’re at the wheels, check the wheel bearing for adjustment. The wheel should not clunk when pushed and pulled sideways, nor should it be too stiff to spin a couple of turns when suspended. If you hear ANY grinding noise get them checked by a mechanic promptly, or simply replace them. They aren’t as expensive as a failure in the middle of no-where.
Now let's look at the parts of your ‘fully galvanised’ trailer that isn’t actually galvanised at all. For a start, the wheel studs are made from hi-tensile steel and can’t be galvanised or they would lose their strength. So spray some ‘Corrosion X’ (obtainable from Aakron Xpress) over these, front and back several times a year.
Now have a close look at you winch; at least the gears won't be galved (that would clog up the gears with zinc) and quite often the whole unit is only zinc plated. You can tell zinc plating by its very silvery, slightly blue look whereas hot-dipped galved products are slightly duller and not so bluish, even when new. So spray these parts with CorrosionX too. Obviously greasing the gears makes sense not only for protection but also you will find dry gears make winching in your boat a lot harder, and they wear out much faster. Unwind the strap or rope completely and spray the inside of the drum. This is very prone to rusting as the strap retains the saltwater it picks up when you retrieve your boat, and the salt just keeps eating away at the innards of the drum forever unless you protect it. If you want to be thorough you should run out the strap and rinse it with fresh water after every outing, but who is that good?
When older, check the outer few cm of the strap where it is exposed to sun damage and cut away any doubtful fabric. Think what a break here could mean if it occurred as you wound in your heavy boat up a steep ramp!
Check out the jockey wheel too; many are not hot-dip galved so give them a good wash after use and when dry spray with CorrosionX. Grease the winding gears inside once a year to keep the unit working smoothly.
Now have a close look at ALL the fastenings, U-bolts etc. If the supplier hasn’t already greased them consider removing and greasing (or spraying with CorrosionX) the critical ones before they seize up with corrosion. The ones you may need to adjust such as the roller height U-bolts and possibly the winch post/jockey wheel position U-bolts are the best candidates. If you notice the silvery blue of zinc plated nuts or bolts replace them immediately while you still can because these will rust mercilessly.
As you probably already know most trailers die from the inside out. So it's very important to flush any saltwater out of the mainframe and cross members. With the trailer on a bit of a slope, you can generally hose fresh water down the length of the main beams. If possible feed a hose with a slim, old-style spray nozzle set to a wide fan down the frame. Leave the trailer on a slope to let all the water to drain out completely. Remember; for rusting to occur you need iron + salt + water + oxygen. Cut out water and salt and you are covered. The cross frames are generally more difficult to flush but if you look underneath you will see drain holes in the middle or at each end. The only thing you can do is to force a blast of freshwater into these holes then let them drain. For both the main beams and the cross members adding a “Salt-away” rinse after the initial flush is a big step forward too. The units are only about $50 and available from most chandlers. Alternatively, Aakron Xpress can treat the interior of the whole trailer with CorrosionX for a small fee.
Now mudguards: while not as critical as frames these guys often rust badly from the underside only, due to salty mud and sand sitting there from your last trip to the beach. So always hose thoroughly UNDER the guards and when dry, a blast with CorrosionX can is a good idea.
Springs: all modern boat trailer springs are hot-dip galved so last better than they did in the ‘good old days’. Unfortunately, the friction they experience as you bounce along the road soon wears off the protective galvanising between the leaves so it's worth sloshing some old engine oil or CorrosionX over them regularly to delay the loss of zinc. And the springs will work better and quieter.
Check the critical bolts at the beginning and end of each season. These are firstly: the bolts holding the tow-ball coupler in place should be hi-tensile and double lock-nutted for security, especially the foremost pair. Check they are in place and tight. Now have a look at what’s holding the axle in place. Often the axle is clamped on top of the springs to help keep the boat as low as possible. This practice means that the U-bolts securing the axle to the springs are critical as a failure would release the axle with disastrous results. Such U-bolts should have double (lock) nuts and you should check these from time to time to ensure they are in place and locked together. Don’t overtighten as a stripped thread means the U-bolt and its nuts must be replaced.
Finally the electrical stuff: Modern LED lights such as on all Aakron trailers are safe to submerse and need no maintenance. However the wiring can get damaged leading to lights failing, so watch out for any point of chafing and if it occurs, protect the damage with electrical tape or cut and rejoin using waterproof joiners from any electrical wholesaler. The joiners have a built-in coating of resin which seals the cable as you apply heat from a hairdryer or hot air gun. You should avoid letting saltwater get onto the 7 pin connector to the car power as these are not water-proof. Any saltwater in there will cause havoc. You can protect the plug a little by spraying the wiring inside with CorrosionX or you could try embedding the interior in silicone sealant if you have to submerge your whole trailer.
As you trailer ages and signs of rust start to appear you can slow down the damage by wire-brushing to clean steel and degreasing with MEK, toluol etc then immediately spray on some “Cold Galv” zinc-rich paint. This only works on clean FRESHLY prepared iron. Get the highest zinc content you can find. You will see this on the can label. Anything over 75% is good but lower grades are ineffective so don’t waste your money.
Boat Trailer Maintenance Videos
How to remove a bearing buddy?
How to remove a bearing buddy?
How to grease the bearings?
How to remove the cotter pin?
How to wind up the winch?
How to protect the which?
How to grease the winch?
How to protect the jockey wheel?
How to oil the springs?