With the hectic pace a rental business endures, it's sometimes hard to keep maintenance schedules current for all your equipment. But you know, without proper maintenance, your customers won't get the highest productivity they need from your equipment and will look elsewhere for solutions to their problems. It's the same with trailers. But for some reason, trailers are sometimes ignored or forgotten until a crisis — like the brakes not working — happens.
To get long life, safe operation and to meet your customers' expectations, scheduled preventive maintenance needs to be applied to trailers just like any other equipment in your fleet.
"In the rental industry, success is about product lifecycle," says Clint Lancaster with the Trailer Safety Institute. "The longer the product lasts, the longer income can be generated. Preventive maintenance will extend the life of a trailer as well as extend the income for the rental business.
"The consequences of poor maintenance not only includes lost rentals, but also excessive cost in extra repair time as well as time lost retrieving broken down trailers from customers on the road. The worst case scenario, of course, is litigation from an accident caused by a poorly maintained trailer."
Where to start
"Trailers are pretty simple equipment," says Chuck Hutchinson with bil-jax. "If you follow a timely, routine maintenance schedule, you'll be fine. It's when they're neglected that little things turn into bigger costs."
The first step is knowing your trailer and its maintenance requirements. Read the owner's manual carefully and review it with your staff. Inspect the trailer and become familiar with it. Make sure your employees receive proper training as well.
A good visual inspection of the trailer when it's returned from a rental is the next step. A walk-around or inspection checklist will identify any damage or repairs needed after a customer uses the trailer.
The third step is scheduled maintenance, which will vary depending on the usage level of the trailer. Scheduled maintenance will include inspecting items such as tire tread, lights and undercarriage on a quarterly basis; brakes, hydraulics, hoses and wiring on a semi-annual basis; welds and steel supports annually; and every three to five years, blasting and repainting the unit, which will help prevent rust and keep the fleet looking sharp.
Don't forget to maintain accurate records. Documenting the maintenance history of your trailer fleet can help track costs and determine serviceability, says Lancaster.
The critical points
There are a number of critical points on a trailer that cannot be ignored. "Any of these are not only a real safety concern, but they can also cost the business a lot of time and money," says Gary Knudsen with Towmaster.
Tires are probably the most often overlooked item. Tires can be visually checked when loading to see if they have excessively low air pressure or have no tread left on them. You can also find the correct tire pressure for your tow vehicle in the owner's manual or on the tire information placard.
Underinflation reduces the load-carrying capacity of your tow vehicle or trailer, might cause sway and control problems, and can result in overheating, which can cause blowouts or other tire failure. This can damage other parts of the trailer — wiring, fenders or crossmembers to name a few — driving the cost of a simple tire problem way up.
Overinflation causes premature tire wear and also affects the handling characteristics of the tow vehicle and trailer.
Brakes can malfunction due to adjustment, worn parts or broken wires. Malfunctioning brakes are a serious safety problem, of course, but can also be costly in other ways. An insurance claim due to malfunctioning brakes can raise rates for years. Worn parts if not replaced soon enough, can wreck other parts like brake drums or cam shafts and can cause a wheel to "lock up" and ruin a tire.