Trailering Guys

By Ted Sensenbrenner and Dustin Hoover

Photo of a bearing packer

Bearing By Hand Or Packer

Q: I saw your video about changing bearings and noted you use a bearing packer. I have to admit, I've been doing this for a while and never heard of a bearing packer — I just do it by hand. Do you use this for speed or is there another reason?

Dustin: We use the bearing packer because we handle several thousand bearing jobs each year. So, it's faster than doing it by hand. The advantage is that the packer pushes the old grease out and keeps us from having to use a solvent to clean the bearing first. If you use a solvent, then you have to dry the bearing completely or risk the chance that the new bearing grease will be contaminated by the remaining solvent in the bearing you're trying to clean. One other word of caution: I've seen folks use air compressors to spin-blow the bearing dry, which can actually spin the bearing so fast that it explodes in your hand. A simpler way is to dry it by running it over a paper towel several times. Using your hand works just fine and, yes, it does the job, but the packer sure is nice, neat, and fast.

Which Hitch Pin

Photo of a hitch pin

Q: At the boat ramp, I seem to get into conversations I never thought possible, but here goes: Here's a photo of the pin clip I used on my truck to hold the trailer ball receiver. A guy who parked his truck and trailer looked at this and said I should give serious thought to using a pin that locks to secure the connection. I told him, I've never even had a passing thought about something like this, but now I'm writing to you. Is there a preference?

Ted: If you think about it, the hitch pin has an important job. If the cotter pin and hitch pin were to come out, your hitch is sure to follow. The only thing left to keep the rig from separating from the vehicle are the crossed safety chains. Using a hitch pin that locks as a backup to prevent the pin from backing out is better, like your buddy at the ramp is saying. In fact, that's what I always use. It will never vibrate out and it is secured from thieves. Yes, people have been known to steal hitch ball assemblies, and that can be major trouble if you don't realize it. The pin you have is the same pin Dustin uses and he has no complaints, so probably the best answer is to take a moment to ensure the pin is in place before you leave for/from the ramp.

Ground Control

Q: Doesn't the trailer ball work as a ground when the trailer is hooked to the truck, and isn't that enough to use for my trailer lights on a short trip to the ramp? It seems to work fine for me.

Dustin: The long and short of it is, yes, the trailer ball can create a ground, but the important thing to know is that you shouldn't rely on it. When the trailer bounces as you drive along the roads, the connection is lost and your lights go out. That's not good. This is why your trailer should be grounded through the wiring. I always test a lighting system without the trailer hooked up so that I'm sure I'm not getting a false ground through the ball. Even a short trip to the ramp could prove dangerous if you get rear-ended because you lose the ball ground. You may not realize it when it happens.

Spinning Wheels

Q: My tires spin when I try to pull the boat out of the water. I was wondering if you have any advice to make this easier? Most folks have someone sit in the bed of their trucks and that usually seems to work, but there's got to be an easier way.

ed: You need more weight on your trailer tongue. This in turn puts more weight over your drive wheels, and that is what's being accomplished when someone sits in the truck bed. To get more weight forward on the trailer, winch the boat further up on the trailer. You may also need to move the winch pedestal forward slightly. Once the boat is up and on level ground, be certain you don't have too much weight on the tongue. A good rule of thumb is to have no more than 10 percent of the loaded weight on the tongue, as it will affect the steering and braking performance of the tow vehicle.

Level with Me

Q: I read in an earlier issue where one of the Trailering Guys said the boat trailer should be level when it's hooked up to the tow vehicle. My trailer is a little higher than level, but I've been reading about something called an adjustable hitch that uses pins to change the height. Why should it be level, what if I keep running the rig the way I have it, and is this device really needed?

Dustin: Towing the trailer level allows it to track properly, and if you have dual axles, it puts the same amount of pressure on each axle. In fact, you should tow a trailer a bit high so that if you add weight, you can come down to the trailer being level but not be low. The adjustable hitch pins are great to make height adjustments, but a good old-fashioned solid ball mount that is measured out right and gets you just a hair high does the same job. If you are towing multiple trailers with the same ball mount, and they require different heights, then the adjustable is the way to go. If you are towing a single-axle trailer, being level is less of a concern, but I would still try. If your trailer has two axles and your hitch is on the high side, you’ve inadvertently shifted more weight to the back axle. You will eventually see excess wear on the tires and suspension components of the rear set, and you may even have braking and handling issues.

Suspension Tension

Photo of rusted and nonrusted leaf springs

Q: My leaf springs are showing lots of rust but they seem to be OK holding the boat, and I use a dirt road to the boat ramp with lots of potholes. Still: (1) At what point do I replace them, (2) is there something I should have been doing to keep the rust off them, and (3) am I asking for one or both of them to break while going down the road if I don't do anything?

Ted: I'd use a wire brush to knock off the rust until you get to solid material so you can tell what's really going on. It's usually just surface rust. If the rust has taken hold and you've got large flakes coming off, it might be time to change the springs, hangars, U-bolts, and related components. There's no rule of thumb for replacement, but you should do a thorough inspection each year. Look for gaps between the leaf springs, indicating that the metal has rusted and fallen away. I would also look at the bow in the spring to be sure it still exists. Every spring should have an upward bow when the boat is on the trailer. If they are flat or, worse, bowing the opposite way, they need to be replaced. If you're using fresh water to rinse your trailer after each use, I'd suspect you wouldn't be looking to replace these components until the trailer reaches 20 years of age.

I Walk Align

Q: My dad and I want to check tire alignment and we've heard about using a tape measure and a board to make sure tires are at equal distance from the trailer frame and that the center of the hub on one side is the same distance to the front or back of the trailer as the center of the hub on the other side. We keep getting different measurements over a period of days, so I was hoping you could show us how this is done.

Dustin: It's not as easy as it sounds. You need to take the tires off and measure to the hub or drum. This will give you a solid, direct piece of metal to measure. Trying to measure with the tire on the hub is almost impossible to do accurately. You can also measure from the front of the trailer to the spring. The hub to the frame and the axle and all of that good stuff can be measured if you take the wheels off, too. Just be sure you put the weight of the boat and trailer back down on the axle; place jackstands under the springs and under the tongue (I never trust a regular, everyday jack to do this) and two under the rear of the trailer for added safety.

PSI Math

Q: This is a very confusing topic for me, and while I've looked at the archives, I am still looking for help. I have a 20.5-foot Boston Whaler weighing (boat, motor, engine) about 4,800 pounds. It sits on a tandem trailer, which states max pressure cold, 50 psi, 1,450 pounds. Since there are four tires, I am OK weight-wise, but should I inflate my tires to 50 psi? What should the tire pressure be before starting the trip? Thank you.

Ted: It's a matter of math. You have four tires, each with a load range of 1,450 pounds, so you have 2,900 pounds on each axle; with two axles, you have a load range of 5,800 pounds. You're right, you are good on weight. Each tire should be inflated to the max so if the tire says max psi is 50, then that's what you want to use. Remember to inflate the tire when they are cold — meaning, first thing in the morning rather than after being on the road for three hours. 

This article was published in the Winter 2013 issue of Trailering Magazine.


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