Before hitting the road, make sure both your tow vehicle and trailer are in optimal condition.
Call it the poker run that never was. Some boating friends had invited me along on a big Memorial Day weekend boat rendezvous on the Alabama Gulf Coast. My friend had paid the early registration fee and made sure the engine in his beautiful 25-foot Sea Ray Sundancer had been serviced, the boat washed and detailed, the galley and coolers stocked full of food and beverages, and the fuel tank topped off. We piled into his pickup truck and hit the road just before daylight to make the two-hour drive to the annual spring outing. But we never made the launch ramp.
A flat tire on his trailer brought the trip to a halt. While surveying the ruined tire and rim, we realized that although my friend had made sure the boat and our provisions were taken care of, we hadn’t given the trailer or tow vehicle a proper inspection. And what was supposed to have been a fun-filled weekend was anything but. The lesson learned from this experience: You can’t go boating if your tow vehicle and trailer aren’t in tip-top shape.
To prevent potential problems, plan ahead and do regular maintenance on both tow vehicle and boat trailer. Start by taking your vehicle to an authorized dealer. A professional inspection will give you unmatched peace of mind.
Before each trip you take, make sure you do a routine safety check yourself. Whenever you perform maintenance and safety checks, start with the tow vehicle. For most of us, the tow vehicle is also our source of daily transportation, so it only makes sense to check it first and thoroughly. The following sections cover the areas you should check before heading out for a fun-filled outing.
SEE AND BE SEEN
When preparing your tow vehicle, make sure you have ideal visibility. Clean windows and mirrors are a must. So are wiper blades, which should be free of debris and flexible. The silicone-impregnated type cleans the best and lasts longer than standard wiper blades. Many vehicles offer a rear-vision camera (like those standard on many GMC Terrain, Acadia and Yukon models) for additional help with visibility. The Terrain and Acadia have the rearview camera within the Color Touch radio screen. On other select GMC models, the camera comes integrated into the rearview mirror or, when ordered, into the NAV screen.
Next up, lights. Make sure the headlights, tail lights, directionals, brake lights and four-way flashers are all working properly.
Tires are the next important factor. Over- or under-inflated tires wear out more quickly than properly inflated ones. They can
also make a big difference in fuel economy.
For maximum tire life, you should check and adjust inflation pressures on the tow vehicle and boat trailer monthly. The proper tire inflation levels for your tow vehicle are usually listed on a sticker on the driver’s door opening—either on the vehicle itself or on the door near the locking mechanism. On a replacement tire, inflation levels may be listed directly on it. Check with your mechanic or your tire manufacturer if you have questions. When you know the proper inflation level, use a quality air pressure gauge to check tire pressures while the tires are cold.
Examine the tires for abraded, bruised or cracked sidewalls; excessive or unusual tread wear such as scalloping (indicating bad shocks); wear on only one side (poor alignment); and worn centers or outside edges (improper inflation). Also look for chunking tread, nails and other problems related to the water.
Replace any tires exhibiting excessive wear, and don’t forget to check the spare for both wear and inflation level. Lastly, get out the tire wrench and make sure all the lug nuts are snug.
Having good brakes is essential for safety, especially when towing. Even though some trailers have their own braking system, the vehicle supplies primary stopping power—and most of that with the front brakes. GMC’s Acadia and Acadia Denali have Power Four-Wheel Disc Brakes for outstanding brake performance in virtually any condition. Their ample size offers the capacity for repeated stops, while the smooth, progressive action of the brake pedal can help you maintain control in situations where only a small amount of brake force is required. Also consider GMC’s available Integrated Trailer Brake Controller on Sierra and Yukon. Located close to the steering wheel for easy adjustments, it displays the level of brake force or gain for easy monitoring of your trailer brakes when under way.
If you use your pickup or SUV to do a lot of towing, visit your car dealer and have it serviced for your needs. Brake shops and tire dealers have the hoists and air tools to make the physical inspection quick and easy. Your Sea Ray dealer is the best one to handle the boat trailer brake inspection. Also, check the operation of the parking or emergency brake. Frequent parking on an incline while towing makes this brake extra important.
UNDER THE HOOD
Before heading out on any trip, check under the hood. Make sure the engine oil, radiator coolant and transmission fluid levels are where they should be. Check the battery connections. They should be clean and tight. Make sure the serpentine or V-belts are in good condition, and check for cracks, splits, chunking or other signs of abnormal wear.
Before every tow, take a few minutes to closely examine the tow vehicle hitch and trailer coupler. Check for obvious wear and tear, make sure the receiver locking pin is in and the lock pin in place.
Next, inspect the hitch ball and the trailer coupler. The ball nut must be really tight, and it’s good to have a light coating of marine grease over it. The trailer coupler latch and coupler should be in perfect working order, too. The ball and coupler should be compatible (there are two primary standard sizes) and the lock pin in place to keep the coupler latch securely closed.
Finally, examine the wiring harness and plug that the trailer wiring plugs into; the connector plug and wiring should be in good condition. Look for corroded plugs/sockets, abraded wiring, dangling wiring, hanging lights and anything else that looks out of the ordinary. If you see a problem, fix it.
If you are comfortable around the automotive toolbox, start by checking the brakes. Jack the trailer up and pull the wheel drums (or rotors/discs) for a thorough inspection. At the same time, check, clean and repack the wheel bearings. (This should be done at least once a year.) Use a good bearing protector to keep them properly lubed. If you aren’t comfortable with these tasks, visit your dealer or mechanic. Trailer lights get a lot of dunking at the launch ramp, and corrosion can creep into light sockets and wiring. The new LED trailer lights are far less troublesome, and if your trailer doesn’t have them, consider an upgrade. If your trailer isn’t equipped with sealed lights, pull the light bulbs and spray dielectric grease into every socket. Then plug the harness into the tow vehicle and check to make sure taillights, the license plate light, directionals and stoplights are all working perfectly.
Next, check the condition and working order of the bow winch and cable, rollers and bunks. These help make launch/retrieval a lot easier. Inspect the winch and cable or strap. Lube the winch as necessary and replace obviously worn straps and cables. Rollers usually have grease fittings; fill them with a marine-grade lubricant. On the bunks, check to make sure the carpet padding is firmly attached, that it is not overly worn down, and that there are no protruding staples, screws or nails sticking through that might damage the hull.
Finally, do a walk around the trailer, inspecting all welded and bolted joints for integrity. Cracked or broken welds need fixing immediately, and bolts need to be checked for tightness. Carefully inspect the trailer’s safety chains/cables and the trailer jack. Make sure they all work properly, and lube the jack with a light marine grease. Check your trailer tiedowns to make sure they’re in good working condition. Inspect the springs, axle(s) and the mounting bolts for each, tightening as needed. Check the overall tire condition and inflation pressure as noted earlier.
As with anything of value, proper handling is key. “We never want to see anyone have problems controlling the combination of vehicle and boat,” says Robert Krouse, trailering engineer for General Motors North America. “So we put a lot of work into handling with a trailer. On the Sierra HD, which trailers the heaviest loads, we have available features like engine exhaust brake, an electronic stability control system, trailer sway control and hill start assist to make the job easier.”
If you make trailer maintenance and care part of your routine at the beginning of each new boating season, or take the time to check things over before a particular trip, you can rest assured there will never be a boating outing cut short due to a mechanical malfunction.
— Bruce W. Smith, author of The Complete Guide to Trailering Your Boat.