When was the last time your livestock trailer was booked in for a service? It may not have an engine but it is your responsibility to ensure it is kept roadworthy.
Regular maintenance of your livestock trailer is critical to keeping it on the right side of the law, plus it will increase its lifespan and residual value. For those trailers used more frequently for commercial use servicing every 6 months would be recommended whereas for less frequent use a yearly service would be recommended. Undetected faults caused by lack of proper servicing are the major cause of breakdown or accidents involving trailers; with faulty lights, brakes and worn tyres being the most common.
In between your regular service here are a few simple maintenance tips Farm Compare has pulled together to keep your trailer in top condition.
It’s the most obvious thing, but take the time to test your vehicle’s lights. Get the trailer hitched on while someone sits in the vehicle and turn on the lights so you can check that the lights are working. Make sure to test each of the lights separately, and then turn on two or more at once for example brake light and indicator as they are all used in different combinations. It is not only making sure that they work when activated but that they don’t dim or flicker when one or more are activated.
When the trailer is disconnected from the tow vehicle and if the trailer has a separate electrical system, make sure its power source is disconnected as well. Start at the trailer’s connector, follow the wiring harness, checking for deterioration and loose wires, as almost 80% of lighting issues are caused by corrosion at the plug.
Next, inspect the trailer connector. Clean off the pins using a wire brush, steel wool or fine sandpaper. Then put some dielectric waterproof grease on the connector to help prevent moisture from getting in. Make sure not to get any grease on the plugs or slots themselves, as it is a non conductor. While it has been argued that the grease will not affect the electrical connection, it is better to take some extra time and not coat the metal connectors rather than risk a bad or temperamental connection.
Check that the tyres are properly inflated and know how much pressure they need (check your user manual). An underinflated tyre will flatten under a full load, which can lead to the trailer swaying, the tyres receive more friction when they’re spinning on the road and these will increase the tyres' degradation, which can lead to a blowout.
Check your trailer’s tyres before each use to make sure they’re still roadworthy by measuring the depth of the tread approx. at least 1.6mm tread and that shouldn’t have any bulges or cuts. If you find that only half of the tyre has worn then this could be a clear indication that the axle is bent and may need replacing.
Ideally you want to be replacing your trailer’s tyres all at once. This is not always easy to do especially if some are still good, but remember they’ll still be worn more than the new tyre, and the difference between the tyres can make your trailer harder to handle.
The secondary brake cable coupling needs to be in place and connected and it must be looped through an eyelet on the chassis rather than wrapped around the ball, because if the hitch bolts shear then the whole lot will come free. Ideally you would want to be keeping a spare in the towing vehicle just in case it snaps while unhitching as the cost is relatively low.
The handbrake is another quick-check item. A spring is used to keep the brakes locked-on once it is applied, so if you pull the arm upwards and it flops back down then the spring will need replacing. Once engaged, the arm should sit at a 45deg angle – if it points to the sky then it either needs adjusting or the brakes need changing. As a test, the handbrake should be strong enough to stall the towing vehicle if it tries to pull away with no throttle.
Use a hose instead of a pressure washer and use some liquid car wash soap in some warm water. This will protect finishes on a livestock trailer. Ideally wash it down after each use and don’t forget to hose the underside of the trailer as that’s where a lot of dirt, dust and road chemicals are likely to pile up especially in the winter months with the roads being gritted.
If you are washing your trailer regularly you will spot rust spots early on and if you do get some sandpaper or steel wool to remove them and then when it is dry touch it up with some rust-proof paint that is the same colour as your trailer.
Always remember most livestock trailers are as tall if not taller than you so use a stepladder or extended brush to reach the upper walls and roof. Clean the lights and the reflective surfaces of your trailer. This is one of the most obvious things but often it can be overlooked especially as the seasons change and the longer days are gone and it is only when you are driving at night that you realise.
Grease your trailer. Your trailer’s ball hitch, tongue jack and ramp hinges are all parts that will need to be greased regularly, ideally before each trip. Do this with a dab of grease on a rag, then put a coat of grease on the ball hitch or the inside of the tongue jack.
It has been recommended to grease the wheel bearings once a year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes sooner so this is probably something that can be undertaken at the regular service. The wheel bearings are what let the wheel spin on the axle. The average wheel bearing assembly consists of two concentric rings called races. Sandwiched between them is the bearing. This is a lot of moving parts coming into contact with each other and you don’t want a bearing to overheat and break down; so you want to make sure your trailer is serviced regularly so those bearings are properly greased by a professional.
The bolt and bush that connects the leaf spring to the chassis is the main anchor point and needs to be in good order. The bolt should run through the centre of the bush – if it doesn’t then the bush is shot and the sloppy fit will eventually cause the bolt to shear. Keep an eye out for marks on the chassis that will indicate whether the bolt has been moving about.
It is your responsibility to make sure your trailer is in good working order. Sometimes it is the most obvious things you forget; so ensure you follow these few simple maintenance tips in between your regular service and it will cost you less in the long run.