Extending a horse trailer’s life benefits both the owner and the animals carried inside. Here, two top trailer professionals offer six maintenance tips to minimize costly repairs.

Most horse owners know first-hand the high cost of purchasing a trailer, new or used. Trailer experts Vic Keeton and Pete Zanetti explain that proper maintenance can help owners save money over the long haul, plus ensure safer travels for their horses.

Keeton, of Hitchin’ Post Trailer Sales in Lake George, Colorado, has bought, sold and repaired new and used trailers for more than 20 years. Zanetti established a successful career in trailer manufacturing before founding Zanetti Trailer Repair in 1980, located in Weatherford, Texas.

Together, Keeton and Zanetti have more than 50 years of trailer service and repair knowledge. Here, they list six tips for extending a trailer’s life.

Check the Tires

Tires not only affect the trailer’s ride, but also impact the bearings, axles and brakes.

Improperly inflated tires diminish gas mileage and increase trailer wear. Though lower air pressure may offer a smoother ride, the tires wear faster and drag on the vehicle, which affects gas mileage.

“If the tire says 85 pounds of air pressure, you run at 85 pounds,” Zanetti says. “Tire manufacturers are a lot smarter than we are. If you under-inflate  a tire, it can run hot and increase the chance of blowouts. Even a brand new trailer needs the tire pressure checked.”

If your trailer goes weeks or months between trips, prior to loading up be sure to check the tire pressure as well as the tires’ overall condition. Tires exposed to direct sunlight have a greater chance of tire rot, so it is best to keep the trailer under a shed or keep the tires covered, Zanetti says.

“Tire covers are expensive,” he says. “But a piece of plywood with a brick over it can cover tires, too. Rotten tires are often the cause of blowouts. Blowing tires can blow fenders off and ruin brakes. That can get really expensive.” Also, be sure to inspect the tread wear. Tire treads should be both deep and even. Uneven tread wear can indicate problems such as a bent axle, which may have resulted from a wreck or simply by hitting potholes and driving on rough roads.

“If there is bad tire wear, or unusual wear, we know there is a problem with the axle,” Zanetti says. “Caught early, the axle can be straightened. Others have to be replaced.”

Inspect the Bearings

Trailers without properly packed, or greased, bearings are a common problem seen by both Keeton and Zanetti. Bearings allow the wheels to rotate freely as the trailer travels down the road, and are located in the hub. Packing them with grease periodically helps them continue functioning properly.

At Keeton’s shop, bearings are always checked when a trailer comes in for repair. If you cannot take your trailer in for inspection prior to each long trip, Keeton suggests one way to test bearings at home.

“Facing the tire, I put my hand on top of the tire and pull it toward me and then back to check the bearings. There should be a slight amount of play in there, but not excessively, because that would mean the bearings are worn out. If there is no play, that means it cannot rotate back and forth, and it will burn up the bearing,” he says.

While you can test your bearings at home as Keeton recommends, Zanetti believes only a professional should pack the bearings, and that should be done at least every 20,000 miles.

“Have a service professional check the bearings to make sure there is chrome on them and not pits [or holes from wear], and always have the seals changed,” he explains. “The main problems we see are bearings not properly greased and maintained.”

Adjust the Brakes

Brakes should operate in unison with those on the tow vehicle, says Keeton. For example, when there is no pressure on the vehicle’s brakes, the trailer brakes should not be engaged.

The amount of force applied to the brakes should be equal to the force applied to the vehicle brakes. When stopping leaves drag marks on the road, it is a sign you need immediate repair or adjustment because the brakes are exerting too much force.

Calibrate the brakes often, Keeton says. The trailer should not push or pull the tow vehicle because the brakes are not functioning properly. Calibration not only extends the life of the brake pads, but also the tires. Also, it is important for brakes to be in good condition in case of emergencies, such as the trailer becoming unhitched.

A breakaway cable is usually put around the ball of the hitch, and if the truck and hitch separate from the trailer, it engages the emergency brakes. “One of our most common problems is the breakaway battery or the break-away cable,” he says. “They are often in need of replacement.”

Combat the Elements

Because Hitchin’ Post Trailer Sales and Zanetti Trailer Repair are located in different climates, each deals with the maintenance issues inherent in their differing weather conditions. Cold-weather hauling often means driving roads salted down to melt or prevent ice buildup. Salt damage can cause any number of trailer problems.

“You should wash the underside of the trailer every time you haul, like you would the car,” Keeton says. “Salt is an oxidizer and will deteriorate the under-side of the trailer.”

Rust accumulation can affect the way bearings and brakes function, and it also makes for an unsightly problem. Keeton suggests using SOS-type cleaner to remove rust from stainless steel hubcaps and fenders.

Cold weather and less severe elements, such as sunlight, can also wear on a trailer, including those made of aluminum.

“While you can powerwash a trailer to keep it clean, keeping it out of the sunlight helps more than anything,” Zanetti says “There is no way to protect aluminum other than keeping it out of the sun.”

Keeping a trailer under cover reduces the oxidized buildup that can appear as a green mold-like film on white-skin aluminum, or appear as a chalky build-up on plain aluminum.

“Here, we use a car wash with a wax treatment that gives a good coating to protect the trailer,” Keeton says. After a soap-and-water wash, or after having the trailer acid-washed, it is prudent to invest in a wax coating.

Check the Plumbing

Structural features are not the only cause of concern when maintaining a trailer. Living quarters require upkeep, too.

“If you have interior living quarters, then you have a water system,” explains Keeton. “Most often ignored is the plumbing. Leaks and breaks often appear after winter. The biggest culprit is water in the system.”

Flush the pipes routinely, even if you have not hauled recently. Watch for leaking water and stop a problem before it affects the entire living quarters.

Change the Shavings

Manure accumulation under mats can cause the trailer door to deteriorate at a faster rate.

“Shavings get down under the mat, and the manure and shavings can ruin the trailer,” Zanetti says. “The best thing you can do, at least every two or three times you haul, is pull the mats out and wash the door of the trailer well. Let it dry before you put the mats back in.”

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