Wheel and tire problems are no fun, especially when in-transit. Here are three simple checks that can be performed before each trip to help keep your trailer rolling smoothly down the road.
Trailer tires perform an entirely different function than your car’s tires. They’re not built for traction but for stability. This is why special “ST” (Special Trailer) tires are designed with stiffer sidewalls and higher operating pressure. Maintaining that higher tire pressure is very important both to prevent flats and to keep the sidewall stiff to prevent trailer sway.
Checking your pressure with a tire pressure gauge is quite easy. This activity should be done before every trip.
And rather than driving around looking for a gas station with air, I recommend having a portable air compressor in the garage for a fast fill-up before departure.
Lug Nut Tightening
As the sticker on my popup camper indicates, regular wheel lug maintenance is critical, as your wheel could suddenly fly off the axle if not properly secured. A few minutes spent checking that your lug nuts are tight will prevent such an incident. This activity should be done before every trip.
You should tighten each lug nut by one quarter turn at a time in a criss-cross sequence like the picture above to ensure proper alignment of the wheel.
Continue tightening until all nuts are tightened to the wheel manufacturer’s specified torque, which requires a torque wrench, not those simplified cross-bar lug nut wrenches. The proper torque is usually indicated on the wheel itself. Mine recommends between 50 and 75 lbs of torque, which is fairly common for a 13″ trailer wheel. Under-tightening can cause the wheel to become loose and even fall off. Over-tightening can cause the bolt itself to break.
You’ll also need a deep socket to fit your lug nuts (mine are 13/16″ on a 1/2″ drive torque wrench). And while you’re at it, pick up a deep socket to fit your hot water heater anode, which must be removed for draining, winterization, and anode inspection and replacement.
Greasing the Wheel Bearings
Small steel bearings inside your wheels support the entire weight of the camper, so it’s important to take good care of them, and this means keeping them well greased. While trailer manufacturers recommend more thorough maintenance on a yearly basis, a quick squirt from the grease gun into your quick lube zerk will help ensure you have enough lubrication in the system. I recommend completing this activity every third trip.
Ideally you should use the same type of grease that is already in the bearings. If you don’t know what kind that is, some manufacturers allow you to flush the system through the quick lube zerk, continually adding more of the new grease until all of the old grease has been discharged and the new grease finally starts to discharge. This is the process I recently followed, opting for the LubriMatic LMX grease, which is both one of the highest quality greases you can buy and is also red for easy comparison to my old black grease.
The video above shows how to perform this quick grease activity. If simply adding a little bit of grease, the process is simple and mess-free. But if flushing the old grease out, make sure and have plenty of paper towels on hand and either a screwdriver or even a paint stir stick to collect the old grease as it is discharged. You do NOT want to allow the grease to drip down onto the wheel, as this could make it’s way into your trailer brake – and brakes don’t work very well with grease between the contact surfaces.