The Importance of a Trailer Pre-Trip Inspection

Boat TrailerOne of the more eye-opening exercises that I used to conduct at this time of the year was to park my police vehicle at the brake check and wave in vehicles pulling boat trailers for a mechanical inspection. I had learned that boat trailers were often the most poorly maintained of all recreational trailers and there were often serious safety defects to be found. A simple pre-trip inspection by the driver would have found them easily and made sure that the trip would be a safe one.

The first thing I would do after gathering all the paperwork was to hand the driver a wrench and ask him to open the surge brake reservoir for a brake fluid level check. If the cap did not break off the reservoir was frequently dry or contained rust coloured liquid that indicated the fluid was contaminated with water and likely had been for some time. If the brake fluid appeared appropriate we would then activate the breakaway brake and try to move ahead. It should be very difficult to move the trailer.

Next I would ask for the running lights and hazard flashers to be turned on. A quick circle check examined safety chains, lights, reflectors, tires, wheels, licence plate and decal as well as load security. This could be accomplished in a couple of minutes and I then had a good idea of how roadworthy the trailer was or wasn't.

Many times the exercise would conclude with an order for the trailer to be taken to a designated inspection station for a more thorough examination by a mechanic. I spoke with one of these inspectors once and was told that I had a light hand when it came to using my pen. In his opinion, a large number of the trailers that I had sent should have been taken away from the roadside by tow truck.

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Not at all surprised by what you found.  most people seem to think that they just buy it and drive it.  have encountered people that were surprised to find out that engines needed oil - and you know how they found out, don't you?  when they didn't have any.

Also used to stop at brake check stations myself as I travelled around the province working.  Used to watch the trucks and  semis that came in after I did, and departed before I did - to see how many actually did an air brake system check.  was shocked to find that virtually nobody did it the way they are supposed to.  A few got out and walked around and looked at the tires or something, some pounded them with a pipe to see if there was air in the tires.   Virtually nobody (I mean less than 1 in 100 believe it or not) actually went under and put a hand on a slack adjuster to see if the air brakes were adjusted correctly   Every now and then one of those few would also do an adjustment.  

To me this is a shocking situation, given the mountainous terrain of BC.   Every time I hear a news report of a truck crash and the driver claims 'he lost his brakes' I remember this survey I did.  Is this a reflection of total ignorance on the driver's part of the critical role of brake adjustment on these rigs?  or is it a reflection of their lack of caring - the only thing that matters is getting more 'k's' in the day?

In any case, my practice is to stay away from them on the highway, especially the mountainous roads.  Trucker competence is sadly lacking by the majority, in my opinion..


I bought a used boat up in Kamloops a couple of years ago, 8 years old, but absolutely mint, under 100 hrs, and used in fresh water. I had never used surge brakes before but was impressed on the ride back down along the Coquihalla, and on a trip up to C River and back last summer. Everything working fine.

I have only had it in the (salt) water about 5 times in the two years.

Took it in for a 100 hr check this spring, and the mechanic said the wheel bearings were toasted, and the actuator was dry. So over the winter it had gone from working perfectly to unsafe.

They definitely need a Pre Trip inspection, each and every time.

This one strikes close to home as I am an owner of boat and trailer.

Here on the West Coast we do have rugged conditions that continue to attack boat trailer with a ferocity and intent to leave them stranded at the roadside.

Even though I recently purchased new boat trailer tires, I had a blowout and was at the roadside for several hours due to the fact that the spare tire bolts were seized onto the holder. I had to use a cold chisel to cut them off so that I could free up my spare tire.

I was also surprised to learn, after speaking to the tire specialists at Sidney Tire, that I should run the tires at maximum pressure settings as that allowed them to run cooler and more efficiently.

With our continuous salt water launches, it is very hard on wheel bearings and braking systems. These also need to be frequently maintained or risk roadside failure.

Thanks for the gentle reminder, much better than a ruined fishing trip and days of tow trucks and mechanics instead of a peaceful outing on the water.

Being aware of the potential mechanical disaster a boat trailer could turn out to be, and the antipathy that many owners have toward safety checks, a wise driver will always give them lots of following distance, and be always conscious of the way(s) out if a bearing or tire should fail on the trailer ahead.

Alternately, it may be viable to pass the vehicle with the trailer, and leave them behind you as a potential hazard for someone else.