Buying a Used Trailer? How to Make an Accurate Assessment Part 2Eric Johnson
In this Article:
Buying a Used Trailer? How to Make an Accurate Assessment Pt. 2
Begin with Trailer Tires, the Most Important Component of a Used Trailer
Inspect the Wheel Rims on the Used Trailer
Inspect the Exterior of the Used Trailer
Consider Checking the Used Trailer Wheel Bearings
Assess the Condition of the Suspension Before Buying Used Trailer
Take a Close Look at the Electrical System Before Purchasing a Used Trailer
Be Sure to Test the Brakes When Purchasing a Used Trailer
Don’t Miss Part One: Buying a Used Trailer? What You Need to Know
We’re Treadworld, Home of the Finest Trailer Tires Anywhere
Once you’ve made all the pre-shopping decisions regarding what type of used trailer will serve you best, it’s time to check your options. What follows are a few tips from the tire experts here at Treadworld to help you make a wise investment. These tips are aimed at helping you identify potential issues and problems that might not be immediately visible to the eye, including possible issues with: brakes, bearings, frame, flooring and ramps, suspension, exterior, and of course, the most important component of any used trailer, the parts of the trailer that meet the road, the trailer wheels and trailer tires. Taking the steps below can help you better assess the condition of a used trailer, to determine if it is safe and reliable, that it’s a good fit for your needs and, in a nutshell, that it will give you your money’s worth.
NOTE: This is Part Two of two. If you’d like to see more tips relating to selecting the style and type of used trailer you need, along with determining what size will be optimal for you, what weight capacity will serve you best, what you can do to be certain your used trailer pairs well with your towing vehicle, and where you should begin your search for a used trailer, see Part One—Buying a Used Trailer? What You Need to Know.
Obviously, we’re biased, since we’re all about the trailer tires. But it’s hard to argue that there is no component more important to a smooth-running, reliable trailer than the tires. Following are suggestions to help you evaluate the condition of the prospective used trailer’s tires to ensure it’s safe to tow.
- Check the tread on the trailer tires carefully. The tread provides the gripping action and traction you need to keep your trailer from slipping and sliding. That includes tread depth, the measurement from the top of the tread rubber to the bottom of the deepest grooves, usually measured in 32nds of an inch. To determine tread depth, you can use the built-in tire tread depth indicators found within the tread grooves, you can use a tread depth tool, or you can use a penny. With the penny test, place the penny with Lincoln’s head upside down into the tread groove. If you can’t see the top of Lincoln’s head, the tread is at least 2/32-inch deep at that location—the minimum. If the Ol’ Railsplitter’s whole head is visible, your tire is living on borrowed time, and should be replaced. And it also includes treadwear because unusual or uneven treadwear can lead to expensive, time-consuming tire failures or blowouts, and can also provide you with a window into other issues that will eventually prove troublesome.
- Check the sidewalls for any bulges, cracks, or cuts, which can weaken the tire and lead to a blowout or flat tire.
- Inspect the valve stem since cracks in that area can allow the air inside to escape.
- Check the tire pressure. Occasional pressure loss, especially during colder weather, isn’t indicative of a problem, but obviously any kind of pattern of air loss is an issue. It’s doubtful a seller will show you a used trailer with a flat tire, but it’s good to have air pressure top of mind.
- If possible, check the age of the tires because unfortunately, the rubber in tires degrades over time and may need replacement even when there aren’t any visual signs of wear. While estimates vary, most experts agree that tires should be replaced every 3-6 years. That’s because even infrequently used tires will begin to suffer from oxidation, air permeating the tire wall and weakening the structural integrity, which will make the tires harder and less flexible. And less safe. So, How Do You Tell the Age of the Tire? Tire manufacturers are required to put the 3 or 4-digit manufacturing date on each tire, and you’ll find it at the end of the DOT number on the sidewall. The first one or two digits signify the week, and the second two numbers signify the year. So, if the number reads “1922,” your tires were manufactured in the 19th week of 2022. It’s good to check this number even with brand new tires to be certain they were recently manufactured and haven’t spent half their useful lifetime sitting on a shelf.
- Check for any signs of rust or corrosion, which can weaken the metal and cause the rim to fail, and which could be a sign that the trailer has been exposed to moisture, or has not been well maintained.
- Inspect the lug nuts on the wheel rim to ensure they are first, intact, and second, tight and secure because you certainly don’t want a wobbly wheel to come off when you are towing the trailer.
- Check for any dents or cracks, which can affect the structural integrity of the wheel. Dents can be caused by hitting a curb or pothole, while cracks can be caused by overloading the trailer or driving on rough terrain.
Thoroughly inspecting the exterior—including the frame, flooring and ramps—of a used towable utility or cargo trailer is an important step in determining the trailer’s overall condition and identifying any potential issues before you buy. Following is a checklist for your exterior assessment.
- Carefully inspect the integrity of the frame for any signs of bending, cracks, dents, rust and corrosion, or damage of any kind that may affect the trailer’s structural integrity. Look for any indication the trailer has been in an accident or has been exposed to the elements for a long period of time. Don’t forget to evaluate the corners and edges for signs of bending or cracking,
- Inspect the hitch and tongue for any signs of damage or wear. Look for cracks, bends, or other signs of damage that may affect the trailer’s ability to connect to the towing vehicle.
- Inspect all the exterior surfaces looking for scratches, dents, or other signs of damage that may affect the trailer’s durability. If it’s an enclosed trailer with a roof, check for any signs of cracks, leaks, or damage. This is particularly relevant if the trailer has been parked under trees, as falling branches have been known to cause damage.
- Inspect the floor of the trailer to be certain it is stable. Check all metal components for signs of rust or corrosion, and if there are floorboards, check them for dampness and rot. Flooring can degrade quickly over time, especially in regions with harsh winter weather conditions that require salt on the roads.
- If there are doors or windows, inspect them to ensure they open and close smoothly. Check any locks to ensure they work properly. This assessment should include any seals around doors and windows to be sure they’re intact and not cracked or damaged, and will prevent water from getting into the trailer.
- Speaking of water damage, keep an eye out for signs that indicate past water-related issues, like staining and discoloration, peeling or soft spots.
- Inspect the undercarriage of the used trailer for any signs of damage, especially rust or corrosion on the frame, suspension or axles.
- Check the cargo area for any signs of damage or wear. Look for scratches, dents, or other indications of damage that could impact the trailer’s durability. Check for any custom modifications such as added racks or shelving to be certain they have been properly installed and do not compromise the trailer’s structural integrity.
- Pay attention to the welds, looking for signs of cracking or separation—including signs of repair, which could indicate that the trailer has been in an accident or has been repaired.
Checking the wheel bearings on a used trailer is not one of the easier assessments, but it can be a crucial step toward ensuring safety and roadworthiness since the wheel bearings essentially carry the entire weight of your trailer. Wheel bearings are subject to damage from hitting a pothole, curb or speed bump at a higher speed. They are located inside the wheel hub assembly, which connects the wheel to the axle to help provide friction-free movement, allowing your tire and wheel assembly to spin. Here’s how to perform the wheel bearings check.
- Jack the trailer up off the ground, so that the wheels can spin freely.
- Check for play by grabbing each tire at the top and bottom and trying to move it back and forth. If you feel any play or movement, it could be a sign of worn bearings.
- Check for noise. Spin the tire and listen for any grinding or humming noise. This could indicate that the bearings are worn and need to be replaced.
- Remove the wheel and tire from the trailer.
- Remove the dust cap from the hub of the wheel with a screwdriver or pry bar.
- Inspect the bearings by first carefully removing the cotter pin and washer from the spindle, then removing the bearings from the hub. Look for any signs of wear, discoloration, rust or pitting. Make a mental note for future reference regarding whether the bearings are properly seated and lubricated. If not, and you decide to buy the trailer, you’ll want to take the necessary action.
- Check for any sign of grease or oil leaks around the bearings, which could indicate a problem with the seals.
- Reassemble the hub in the reverse order you used to disassemble it. Repeat the process for each wheel on the trailer.
If you don’t feel like you’re in a position to check the wheel bearings by disassembling the hub, you may be able to identify symptoms of a bad wheel bearing by actually towing the trailer and listening for a humming, squealing, growling or clicking noise that gets louder as the speed increases. Additionally, once you stop, place your hand on each of the wheel hubs. If the hub is too warm, that’s another sign that the bearings may be bad.
Following are some steps you can take to evaluate the suspension of a used trailer before you buy it.
- Inspect t the leaf springs (if the trailer has them), and check for cracks, damage or missing components. The springs should be straight and level.
- Check the shackles and hangers that connect the springs to the trailer frame. They should be in good condition, free from cracks, and not bent or twisted.
- Inspect the equalizer (if the trailer has one) for damage or wear. The equalizer should be level and straight.
- Check the axles for any signs of damage, such as bends or cracks. The axles should be straight and level.
- If possible, test the suspension by driving over a bumpy road while listening for unusual noises or vibrations. Make sure the trailer tracks smoothly behind your vehicle.
Checking to see that the electrical systems are working—including brake lights, turn signals, and interior lights—can save you headaches down the road (pun intended.)
- Inspect the wiring on the trailer for any signs of wear or damage, along with any exposed wires, frayed insulation, or loose connections.
- Check all of the lights on the trailer, including the taillights, brake lights, and turn signals. Turn on each light and ensure it is working properly. If a malfunction is evident, check to see if there is an easy fix like a bulb or fuse replacement.
Check to be sure the breakaway system (if the trailer has one) is functioning properly. The breakaway switch is a safety device that provides a means of automatically slowing and stopping your trailer in the event that it becomes detached from the towing vehicle. If a separation occurs, the pin is pulled out of the switch which activates the brakes of the trailer to slow and eventually stop.
In the U.S., any trailer with a weight of 3,000 lbs. or more must have brakes on all wheels, in most states—though laws may vary so perform your due diligence. Some states require braked axles on trailers with a weight of 2,000 lbs., and other states have a higher limit.
- Check the brake pads for wear or damage—keeping any eye out especially for any signs of uneven or excessive wear.
- Inspect the brake drum for signs of wear or damage in the form of cracks, grooves, or scoring on the surface of the drum.
- Check the brake lines for any signs of damage or leaks, along with any cracks, cuts, or corrosion.
- If the trailer has electric brakes, check the brake controller to ensure it is functioning properly, and activates the trailer brakes smoothly and without delay when the tow vehicle brakes are applied.
- You can test the brakes on the trailer by towing it slowly and applying the brakes. The trailer should come to a stop smoothly and without any pulling or swaying.
If you’d like more tips for making your best decision on buying a used trailer, see Part 1 of this article, Buying a Used Trailer? What You Need to Know, at Treadworld.com.
When you’re looking for new trailer tires, or a spare trailer tire, or tire and wheel combos, count on us here at Treadworld to provide you with the high-performing, long-lasting trailer tires you can depend on for the long haul—in a wide range of styles and a huge selection of sizes. All our RubberMaster Trailer Tires are manufactured to strict tolerances from top rubber compounds, then triple-tested for quality, balance and uniformity before being X-rayed to be sure they’re perfect. All our dent-proof, crack-proof and virtually indestructible SteelMaster Wheels are manufactured from tough, durable steel then put through several quality checks to provide you with dependable quality. Expect easy ordering, and fast shipping, plus your satisfaction is guaranteed with our no-hassle Ultimate Advantage Warranty. Don’t hesitate to contact our tire experts via live chat or email with any questions you may have, and to get the ideal trailer tires—or the perfect ATV tires, UTV tires, lawn and garden tires, agriculture tires and many others—from our extensive selection. Or use our Treadworld Product Selector Tool to help you find exactly what you want.