When Things Go Wrong

By Pat Piper

BoatUS TRAILER ASSIST Towers tell why they get "the call".

It's a bad feeling. You hear it first and think, just for a moment, it's the wind or you hit a bump. But the sound continues and you know it's time to step on the brake and get to the side of the road to see what's going on. And then, after hearing it, you see it. And then, you call TRAILER ASSIST.

BoatUS Trailering spoke with two of more than 15,000 TRAILER ASSIST service providers about the most common problems they see.

Tony Huffman is the branch manager for Stepps Towing in Brandon, Florida. "Most of the calls are [about] bearings and axles, and it's usually at the beginning of the season when people are eager to get out on the water and do no preventive maintenance on their trailer. Ninety percent of the problem can be traced to dropping the trailer in saltwater. Salt crystals have a cutting edge and it gets into the trailer bearing grease. The other thing I see a lot is, folks have an aluminum trailer but the leaf springs are steel as are the bolts and fasteners that hold the leaf springs onto the frame. After a while, when the trailer hits that first "bounce" in the road, the leaf spring gives out. It's frustrating because the trailer could be built using galvanized steel bolts and leaf springs, but that will up the cost of the trailer.

Number One Reason BoatUS TRAILER ASSIST Is Called? ... Tires

While bearing problems are second for calls to TRAILER ASSIST, tire trouble remains at the top.

Here Are 5 Things To Check:

Tire Pressure (A)

Photo of tire inspection

A tire with low psi is going to heat up faster because of the excess friction with the road surface while reducing its load-carrying capacity. Eventually, the tire will blow out. After checking the psi, put your finger on the side of the tire valve and listen for any air that might be leaking out. Malfunctioning tire valves are also a cause of tire failure.

Inspect The Sidewall OF Each Tire (B).

Dry rot or spider cracks indicate a pending tire failure.

All The Same? (C)

Never mix radials and bias-ply tires on your trailer. Never use different-size tires on your trailer. Make sure the load capacity of each tire exceeds the total weight of the boat and trailer, including fuel, equipment, and coolers — the gross vehicle weight (GVW) — of each axle.

Carry A Spare.

In fact, carry a pre-greased hub with bearings. Be sure your lug wrench can fit the lug nuts.

Check The Thread.

If there are worn areas, there's a reason and it can be alignment (as evidenced here), inflation (too high or too low), or suspension problems. Take a look at the depth of the tread, too, by doing the Lincoln penny test (see Trailering Checklist).

For long-term storage, cover the trailer tires to protect them from UV rays in sunlight.

If You Break It Down:

  • Pull off the road so the boat trailer and tow vehicle are safely out of the way of traffic. Be careful opening your door with traffic coming from behind you.
  • Try to identify your location (for example, westbound Highway 4 between point A and Point B).
  • Call the BoatUS Dispatch number on the back of your membership card (800-391-4869).

"Tires really aren't much of an issue here. I think people do take the time to check the psi and the tread. It's easy to see and doesn't take a lot of time, unlike bearings."

Photo of TRAILER ASSIST Tower Miles Towing towing a boat Miles Towing of Elkridge, Maryland, is one of 15,000 TRAILER ASSIST service providers.

"Experts say most accidents occur within a few miles of home. I can tell you most trailer calls we get are on interstates, 20 miles from home. If a bearing is already in decline, it's going to heat up even faster at high speed on the interstate, sometimes to the point of the entire wheel coming off. I remember one fellow hadn't tied down his boat on the transom and lost the wheel on the trailer, and the boat landed on the concrete.

"I remember one gentleman was towing a 35-foot cabin cruiser on a tri-axle trailer with a Ford F250. He couldn't control it and the boat went across all the lanes of I-4. The trailer was totaled. He didn't have enough vehicle for the boat." Kevin Kanabe is with Miles Towing, Elkridge, Maryland. "It's definitely bearings that we deal with when we get a TRAILER ASSIST call. People will say there's no way to tell a bearing is bad or needs grease. Most of the breakdowns are on the interstate, but that's not to say we haven't answered calls for boat trailers on country roads. Bearings are internal so, unlike tires, you're not going to know right away if there's a problem.

"Rusted axles are also a reason we get calls. People don't think to look under their trailer or to take a look when the boat is off the trailer. You'll be able to tell pretty fast if there's rust on the axle. The problem occurs when the rust penetrates the metal to the point it's weakened and can no longer support the weight being carried.

"We used to get calls for flat tires, but more and more, people are carrying a spare with them. Always a good idea. In most cases, they can change it on the side of the road." 

This article was published in the Spring 2012 issue of Trailering Magazine.

Trailer Trouble?

One of the benefits of BoatUS membership is having access to TRAILER ASSIST. If your boat trailer breaks down, call BoatUS Dispatch and we'll send one of 15,000 service providers out to either repair the problem on the spot or get the trailer to a repair shop.

All BoatUS members receive $50 off the cost of the service provider coming to your point of breakdown. BoatUS members also enrolled in the Trailering Club can receive towing assistance up to 100 miles at no charge. However, you are responsible for the cost of repairs made. Please visit www.BoatUS.com/towing for a full explanation of the program benefits.



  • On-the-road assistance for your trailer and vehicle
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