Periodic checks of your trailer's condition are a good idea, particularly at those times of year when you do the most hauling. Such inspections can not only turn up minor problems before they require major, expensive repairs, but they can also keep you from taking to the road with potentially unsafe problems.
In about 60 minutes you can scrutinize the easily visible areas of your trailer. Of course, you'll need to set aside more time to make repairs, but in this time you can determine whether the trailer is ready for the road or jot down the repairs needed. Ideally, every trailer would receive a one-hour check twice a year--more often if it's in heavy use. But even then all problems may not be apparent to an untrained eye, so you'll want to have a qualified mechanic do an annual inspection. He'll focus on the overall integrity of the trailer and its more complex systems, such as the brakes and suspension.
15 Minutes - Flooring
Manure and urine cause both wood and metal floors to degrade, and a weakened floor can give way with catastrophic results. Use a screwdriver or a dull knife to check the integrity of the trailer floor: If the tip of the tool sinks into any of the floor's wooden boards, they need to be replaced. Be especially thorough around the edge of the floor, where rot is most likely to begin. If corroded areas on a metal floor yield to the blade, they are probably weak spots that signal the need for a complete floor replacement. On a bumper-pull trailer in which the wooden floor does not extend all the way to the front of the vehicle, be sure to check the metal portion that does. Extensive corrosion in this area can cause the front of the trailer to separate from the rear.
10 Minutes - Hitch
Make sure your hitch is easy to operate, with all parts moving smoothly. If the hitch is difficult to manipulate, a spring or pin may need replacement--a job for a trailer mechanic. Also check the welds that attach the hitch to the trailer, especially those that you don't normally see underneath the mechanism; even a hairline crack in this area is serious. Finally, grasp the jack handle and wiggle it back and forth. If it moves at all, the gears inside may be beginning to wear.
10 Minutes - Tires
If your trailer sits idle more often than it hits the highway, its tires are targets for dry rot. Check each tire for tiny cracks in the rubber; once rot has begun the only option is replacing the tire. While you're at tire-level, check the treads for wear. For proper traction, a tire needs treads at least a quarter-inch deep. Also, if the tires are worn unevenly, your trailer may be misaligned or have a bent axle. An easy way to check alignment is to pull the trailer straight through a puddle and check to see whether the tires on the same side of the trailer "track" each other perfectly.
10 Minutes - Ramp
Difficulty raising and lowering a ramp is usually the first sign of trouble with this component. But even if you're still able to move the ramp by yourself, look very carefully at the springs and hinges for signs of corrosion. Test the integrity of the hardware with a solid smack with a hammer--if the metal chips or caves, the entire mechanism is weak and needs replacement. Also, use a semi-sharp tool to check the surface of the ramp for weak spots, just as you did the trailer floor.
10 Minutes - Doors & Windows
Swing all doors and open all windows to make sure they move freely. If they resist, the hinges may have rusted or the channels may be obstructed, requiring replacement or repair. If rust hasn't weakened the hinges, a small drop of oil on each one may be all that is needed to prevent it.
5 Minutes - Electrical System
With a friend's help, test every light on the trailer, including the brake lights and turn signals. If any light isn't working, make it a priority repair.
This article originally appeared in the August 2002 issue of EQUUS magazine.