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Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Bumper-Pull Safety

Whether you’re parking your bumper-pull trailer for winter or gearing up to head south, now is the time to make sure everything is in good working order. Here are a few tips for maintenance and hauling from a trailer professional.

Flickr/Shakimba/CC

Flickr/Shakimba/CC

I learned how to drive a trailer by hauling a gooseneck around town on short trips, eventually working my way up to inter-state all-day travel with a variety of horses along for the ride. Those long goosenecks look pretty impressive, especially when you’ve managed to park it in some keyhole of a spot somewhere at a truck stop, but truthfully, I’ve always felt that the longer the trailer the easier it was to haul. Years later, I drove a two-horse bumper pull and managed to somehow wedge it into a chain-link fence much to the chagrin of the horse inside; I then hauled a bumper-pull dump trailer full of stove wood and came very close to backing it into a tree before I was even aware of what was happening. Give me a gooseneck and I’ll put that thing wherever you need, but when it comes to bumper-pulls, I am definitely not an expert.

Fortunately, Bob Owen of Hawk Trailers in Manawa, Wisconsin, happens to be just the expert we’re looking for, and he kindly loaned his expertise in a checklist of safety and maintenance points for bumper-pull owners.

Hauling safely

When it comes to hitch balls, size matters. “One of the biggest issues we see is people having the wrong size hitch ball for the trailer. The sizes have to match or you run the risk of the trailer slipping right off the ball.” Sure, your two-inch ball might appear to fit your two-and-five-sixteenths hitch, but you’re running the risk of ball and hitch separating at the worst possible time down the road.

Use your chains! “People forget to use these all the time — they can only do their job if they’re being used!”

Use your mirrors, too. “One of the most common parts of the trailer that we’re replacing all the time are the fenders: they get ripped off or dented on stuff. Usually people say ‘well, I wasn’t looking in the mirror.’ A large number of these accidents can be prevented if people remember to check their mirrors.”

Practice at home before you hit the road. This is especially important if you haven’t driven your trailer in a while, or don’t drive it regularly enough to feel truly proficient. “A bumper-pull will turn much quicker, especially in reverse, and people need to be prepared for that when they’re driving. We see a lot of dented-in trailer fronts from people turning too sharp and actually crunching the trailer with the back of the truck.”

Run level. This is an often-overlooked part of the hitching process that leads to trouble down the road: a trailer needs to run level in order to run safely. “A trailer that’s tipped too far forward due to a too-low hitch will put more stress on the front trailer axle and tires; the same is true for a trailer that’s tipped too far back.” It’s also much more dangerous and uncomfortable for your equine passenger to try to balance in a trailer that’s not running level.

An example of how a trailer should rest when traveling level. Photo by Kristen Kovatch, courtesy of Hawk Trailers.

An example of how a trailer should rest when traveling level. Photo by Kristen Kovatch with thanks to Hawk Trailers.

Maintenance at home

Keep the breakaway battery charged. Most trailers (goosenecks included) have an emergency breakaway brake: as the name suggests, this brake is activated in the event that the trailer breaks away from the hitch. This feature only works once: if your breakaway brake has ever been activated, the trailer will need professional maintenance before it’s hauled again. Even if your breakaway has never been activated, the battery that powers this feature must stay charged if it’s going to work for you.

Check your trailer brakes and keep the axles lubricated.

Check those tires, especially if you don’t haul frequently. Dry rot is a plague for parked trailers, and a too-soft tire has a greater chance of blowing on the road. Again, make sure your trailer is running level as described above.

We know those tires will never be that clean again ... but check for dry rot and good air pressure!

We know those tires will never be that clean again … but check for dry rot and good air pressure! Photo by Kristen Kovatch with thanks to Hawk Trailers.

If you have a wooden floor, keep it clean. The number-one enemy of wood is urine, but manure and other types of moisture can wreak havoc as well. If you’re cleaning your trailer out every time you use it, you should be in good shape, but at least twice a year you should remove all of the mats and check the wooden floor for integrity.

Check your wires and fuses. “Mice love wires! And they can fit through the tiniest of cracks.” Often these are the culprits behind lights that don’t work — but if the wires are in good order, check the fuses on both the trailer and the truck. “Trailers come in all the time where the owner says the lights stopped working, and the problem turns out to be in the truck rather than the trailer.”

Cover the trailer if you can. If you have a trailer cover, use it — it can extend the life of your trailer. Parking the trailer out of the elements whenever possible will help as well. If you can’t cover the entire trailer, cover the plug: many issues with lights and brakes occur because there’s moisture or dirt in the plug.

Check those lights too. Photo by Kristen Kovatch with thanks to Hawk Trailers.

Check those lights too. Photo by Kristen Kovatch with thanks to Hawk Trailers.

The bottom line

Much of trailer maintenance is common sense: check potential trouble spots and perform maintenance when required to keep your trailer in good running shape, especially if you don’t drive frequently. Safe hauling requires a bit of experience to master, so remember to practice with an empty load. Any reputable trailer dealer or manufacturer should be able to answer your questions, provide plenty of advice and perform maintenance or repairs on your trailer, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Happy hauling! Go riding!

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