Keep an eye on your wheel bearings
Amber and I were trailering our boat down Ontario Highway 105 en route to the lake we intended to fish that morning, when we came upon the start of a debris trail, which, at that point, was primarily made up of tire fragments and small pieces of metal.
We were clipping right along, and by the time I’d figured out what we were seeing, the debris field had grown to include various items of personal property and larger pieces of metal, and we’d passed two separate small grass fires, burning just beyond the roadside ditch.
Before I could find a place to pull off the road, we went around a sharp curve and saw what had once been a large aluminum boat smashed flat against a sheer granite road cut. Its tow vehicle — a Suburban or something similar — was in the ditch but was upright. There was already a vehicle with Ontario plates parked at the scene, so we went on.
My mind still replays a vivid image of that scene every time I pass a temporarily abandoned boat trailer parked beside the highway between Sedalia and Warsaw. I always wonder if the trailer’s owner realizes how lucky he is that he’s only facing a major inconvenience.
Almost all trailering mishaps are easily preventable. My grandfather used to say that grease and lubricating oil were the most effective tools he owned, and he applied both early and often. His mechanical down time was minimal despite the fact that most of his farm machinery was old enough to vote and a few field implements could have retired on Social Security, so his assertion is hard to dispute.
I’m happy to present myself as evidence that my grandfather’s grease-and-oil regimen is equally applicable to boat trailers. I’ve only had one trailer bearing failure in who knows how many hundred thousand miles, and that failure was not catastrophic — I was able to continue on to a town with a repair shop.
Despite my zeal on this subject, last year was one of a few times I’ve greased my boat trailer after the last outing of 2012, so forgive me if I’m jumping to unfair conclusions when I assume you didn’t.
Don’t worry. Putting off postseason trailer maintenance until spring isn’t an unforgivable sin, so long as the work gets done prior to the first trip of 2013.
Please excuse me for talking down to those of you who already know this, but trailer wheels have bearings and bearings have to be kept properly greased.
Given that they’re used according to direction, zerk-equipped Bearing Buddies or similar products make greasing wheel bearings easy, but bearings need to be greased several times a season whether doing so is easy or not.
Wise trailer owners take time to examine wheel bearings prior to the first trip of the season. This requires removing the wheel hub from the axle.
Don’t be intimidated; it’s a simple job that doesn’t require any specialized tools. Any sign of wear or corrosion is a signal to replace the bearings and races or, better yet, the entire hub assembly.
Now’s also the time to check out your trailer’s lights. Don’t be surprised if some or all of the circuits don’t work — electricity-devouring gremlins roam North America in packs during the winter months.
Usually, all that’s required to get everything working is polishing connections and replacing any burnt-out bulbs. If this doesn’t do the trick, buy a multi-tester from an auto parts store.
The instruction manual will tell you how to locate several types of deficiencies in your trailer’s electrical system, and you’ll find plenty of other uses for it.
Crawl under the trailer and inspect the bunks. Each roller should make firm contact with the hull but should not lift it high enough to significantly reduce the load on other hull support points.
Rollers should also roll. Make a note to check them the first time the boat is in the water. Give them a shot of grease or heavy oil, if needed. Replace them, if necessary.
Inspecting bunks while the boat is on the trailer isn’t a total waste of time, but be sure to thoroughly go over both load bearing an nonload bearing bunks the first time the boat is in the water.
Check for any sign of uneven wear, rot, loose bolts, etc. Make a list of everything you’ll need to make repairs the next time you have access to the bunks.
While you’re at it, consider topping your bunks with E-Z Slide Trailer Pads. I use them, because I can load my boat with only a minimal amount of submerged bunk. This not only lets me stop farther up the ramp, thus keeping my feet dry, but also makes loading in strong cross winds or currents much easier.
Everything I’ve recommended in this column can be done in a few hours, depending on how much time you spend daydreaming about all the fish you’re going to catch.
Even if you do daydream, I guarantee it will take less time to get your equipment ready at home than it will to walk back to town for a new wheel hub.