Answers To Your Boat Trailering Questions From The Experts
By Ted Sensenbrenner and Dustin Hoover
Better To Be Safe, And You Know The Rest
Q: I recently purchased a 1995 Boston Whaler Montauk 17 with a 1995 Load Rite Lil Rider. I plan on taking the boat home via a four-hour drive from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. How should I prep the trailer for the drive? Would it be wise to buy a spare hub assembly just in case? Note that I drove this trailer-boat combo one hour to its current resting place at the time of purchase without incident or any noticeable heat to the axles.
Ted: The boat is new to you, so I wouldn't take for granted that the previous owner serviced the trailer on a regular basis. I'd jack the trailer up, give the wheel a spin, and listen for odd noises. If all seems good, I'd repack the bearings now so you know the trailer is up to the task and will give you the peace of mind you'll need for a trip of this distance. As for spare parts, I'd be certain you have a spare wheel and tire as a flat tire is the usual cause of a mishap on the road. It also wouldn't hurt to have a spare hub assembly with bearings that you could swap out easily if needed. Hubs don't usually go bad, unless you towed for a distance on bad bearings, which could also damage the axle. If that were the case, you most likely wouldn't be able to do it yourself on the side of the road and would require the help of professional services.
Dustin: If you haven't pulled those bearings apart to be 100-percent positive that they're OK, you're taking a very big chance. I'd at least jack both sides up and spin the wheels to listen for any rumbling or noise. If you hear any, change them. Having a spare hub is great but the fact is that if you have a bearing go out, it damages more than just the bearings. It could damage or destroy the hub, bearing, and axle. And you need a lot more tools to fix it on the roadside. Have a spare tire but make sure the bearings are rigged before you leave.
Debunk The Bunk
Q: I need to replace the bunks on my trailer — boards and carpet. Instead of carpet, I'm thinking of using a product called Snaptraxx (www.snaptraxx.com) to cover the new bunk boards. I know this product costs much more than carpet. Here are my questions: 1) What have you heard, good and bad, about this product? 2) Have you heard of any bad experiences boaters have had using this product? 3) Putting price aside, would you recommend the use of this product instead of carpet on my trailer bunks?
Ted: Bunk slides made from synthetic material like those offered by Snaptraxx tend to work great! Although I've never loaded a trailer with this particular brand installed, in general the friction coefficient is much less than carpet, and with UV inhibitors and resistance to chafe, they tend to last longer than carpet. It also lets air circulate under the boat hull to help prevent blisters. There are other brands out there that are less expensive and simpler in design. The only recurring caution I've seen on message boards is that because they're so slippery, always use sufficient tie-down straps when retrieving and trailering your boat. Snaptraxx claims to have alternating "slip" sections and "grip" sections incorporated in their design that allows the boat to glide off and on, while preventing unwanted sideways shift on the bunks. If you choose Snaptraxx, let us know how it works out.
Q: Will outdoor carpet work on my bunks or do I have to buy the stuff sold by marine stores that costs more?
Dustin: The outdoor carpet will do just fine. Try to take down any sharp edges on your bunks before you cover them and you'll be fine. Be sure to use galvanized or stainless staples to install your carpet. If you really want it to last longer, double it up. My carpet is five years old and still doing well.
Ted: As long as the outdoor carpet claims minimal water absorption and is weather resistant, you'll get similar results. Trailer carpet tends to have a slightly thicker backing. If you go with outdoor carpeting, you can double it up, but just pay attention to the backing material. You don't want the material to act like a sponge, especially if you have a fiberglass boat, which could cause blisters.
Steps To Stop
Q: I need to replace the brakes on my trailer. I've been reading your column about disc brakes and drum brakes, and get the feeling both of you prefer disc. I'm not a do-it-yourself-er at all, but can you suggest why I should go with a particular brake system? I have drum brakes now. They've worked great for 10 years.
Ted: I'll start with where you end — if drum brakes have worked all these years, I wouldn't change them. The choice of drum versus disc brakes usually comes down to the overall gross vehicle weight (GVW) of the trailer. To function well, disc brakes require high pressure caused by great inertial mass pushing against the surge coupler when decelerating. Therefore, disc brakes work better for a heavier GVW package. Drum brakes work better on a lighter GVW package. According to Champion Trailers' website (www.championtrailers.com), boats under 3,000 pounds would benefit from drum brakes, and boats over 3,000 pounds tend to have relatively comparable performance for either drum or disc brakes. Drum brakes, however, require periodic adjustment after every 3,000 miles or so. Disc brakes are self-adjusting and require less maintenance. So I'd say that disc brakes slightly edge out drum brakes on heavier boat and motor packages.
Dustin: Drum brakes have been around a long time and have proven themselves useful in many applications but, in my opinion, they have been getting worse and worse for some time. Is it the materials? The environment? Or is it the time it takes to care for them, that none of us seem to ever have? I don't know why but they are failing more and more today. As far as the disc brakes go, they're just new technology for trailers and some are built very well and some are not. They have fewer moving parts, they're accessible to clean easily, they work harder, and are easier to work on. I have a set of Kodiacs on my trailer and will never go back to drums.
All Aluminum? Nope
Q: I was looking at my leaf springs today and they seem fine. I have an aluminum trailer. The thing that doesn't look so good is the thing the left springs are attached to. It's rusty and, obviously, I don't know what it's called. I thought aluminum trailers aren't supposed to rust? Is this something to be worried about?
Ted: Anything in the marine environment is prone to either rust or corrosion. Unfortunately, even aluminum trailers have steel components that must be looked after regularly. You're probably looking at tie plates or spring hangars and its associated hardware, which is usually galvanized steel. I'd go over it with a wire brush and if large penny-sized chunks flake off, I'd replace these parts. If only a fine dusting of rust comes off, I'd say it's just surface rust and you'll be fine. Just keep an eye on it.
Dustin: Most aluminum trailers have a galvanized running gear rail that the springs mount to. This is a very simple answer. If it concerns you and it's rusting, then get it changed. Now not all rust is dangerous, but heavy rust is because it can affect the bolts that hold it all together.
Trailers And Neighbors
Q: My community has decided boat trailers can't be parked on streets and I have no yard or garage so I'm going to have to store the boat and trailer outside at some storage location during the winter. Now, if I were allowed to park it at my house, it would still be outside. But I'm trying to plan ahead. Should I take the tires off the trailer and, if so, can I just leave the hubs exposed?
Dustin: Sure. Leaving the hubs exposed won't hurt a thing, and is a good theft deterrent. But if you leave the tires on, make sure they're covered and are on a hard surface that will allow the rain to run through the tire tread. Putting them on grass is a no-no; grass and dirt will eat them up. Last but not least, be sure you block the trailer properly with at least two jack stands in the rear, two in the front, and something very solid under the tongue.
Ted: Taking the wheels off your trailer will do two things: It will prevent possible theft of your boat and trailer, and it will extend the life of your tires by getting them out of the elements. An exposed hub presents no problems. I've seen people place garbage bags around them and other things like the trailer jack and even the trailer winch. All that does is trap moisture and is likely going to accelerate the deterioration of components.
The Pro Is A Con
Q: My neighbor has a boat trailer and asked me to lend a hand checking bearings. I work at a tire shop so I know what I'm doing. I brought my pneumatic grease gun with me and he refused to let me use it. So we did the hand-held grease-in-a-tube routine, which seemed to take forever. You guys have to tell us, who's right? Me, the guy who does this for a living or him, the guy who wears a suit and tie all day?
Ted: Well, I'm not sure by your letter how far you got into the breakdown of the bearings, but hand-packing bearings and assemblies is preferred as it allows you to press grease into all the little areas.
Dustin: Well, I have to go with the suit-and-tie guy. Sounds like he reads our articles a lot. It's one thing to throw a pneumatic grease gun on a tie rod end or a ball joint and fill up the cavity until the grease comes out, but it's an entirely different thing to do a trailer hub. I've seen even hand grease guns put so much pressure into the hub that it pushed the rear seal out of a hub while grease was still being added. You wouldn't tell a car customer to just add oil all the time without draining the old stuff out, would you? Pulling the bearings apart, cleaning them, cleaning out the old grease, inspecting them, and repacking them either by hand or even a hand-bearing packer is still the best way to go.
Don't Know Jack
Q: I have a single-axle trailer. If I ever have a flat, should I jack the trailer up from behind the wheel I need to change or from in front of the wheel? $20 is riding on this one.
Ted: I usually try to place the jack directly under the axle, close to the wheel under the plate for the leaf spring.
Dustin: Do you mean, from behind the wheel, or on the frame toward the back of the trailer? Never jack from behind the wheel where the springs are unless you can get the jack directly on the spring or if you have a torsion axle. If it's a standard axle, you could bend it from jacking it the wrong way. I always try and go behind the axle on the frame of the trailer. This is the safest place. Hope you're the $20 winner — and my commission is only 50 percent.
Boat trailers need maintenance of bearings, brakes, and wiring to keep them safe and legal
Bunk boards are cheaper than rollers, provide more even weight support, and require little maintenance
A flat tire on a boat trailer is a serious tire failure on the tow vehicle and should be changed immediately