Maintenance Tips to Keep Your Heavy-haul Trailers on the Road

Here are some things to keep in mind when hitting the road with a heavy load.

Conduct a pre-trip inspection of the trailer and key wear parts before taking off with each load.
Conduct a pre-trip inspection of the trailer and key wear parts before taking off with each load.

Heavy-haul trailers see it all — rocks, ruts, bumps and jolts. It all translates to an increased risk of damage. Here are some things to keep in mind when hitting the road with the load.

Key Areas to Regularly Inspect

According to Troy Geisler, vice president of sales and marketing for Talbert Manufacturing, owners should conduct a pre-trip inspection of the trailer and key wear parts before taking off with each load. This includes looking at the brakes, as well as ensuring the tires are in good condition and properly inflated to the right psi. Also check hydraulic hoses for damage or cracks, which could cause the system to fail if a leak occurs.

When it comes to detachable and rear-load models, maintaining proper hydraulic pressure is another important aspect to keep in mind regardless of whether the system is self-contained or a wet line. This ensures proper operation of the components and reduces potential for overheating or other issues caused by low hydraulic fluid.

In addition, walk around the trailer and inspect the frame, chains and straps for damage. Trailers see a lot of use and abuse, particularly in harsher weather conditions, so repairs or replacements could be needed sooner rather than later. Keeping an eye on these components and replacing any that begin to show wear will help keep your trailer ready when you need it.

Owners should also inspect their trailers for damage to the structure and make repairs as soon as possible to extend the life of the trailer.

How to Minimize or Prevent Accelerated Parts Wear

Because of the sheer amount of use, parts such as wheel ends, tires and brakes will wear faster and need to be replaced sooner than other trailer components, notes Geisler. But there are things you can do to get the greatest longevity out of these features. 

Regularly check tire pressure and keep them properly inflated, either manually or with an automatic tire inflation system, advises Lloyd Hair, director of maintenance for Keen Transport, a heavy-haul logistic and transportation service provider. Traveling with underinflated tires is one of the biggest culprits of premature wear, so keeping them properly inflated will allow them to last longer and boost fuel efficiency.

It’s just as important to replace tires when they become worn to avoid a blowout and downtime. Always select the right size and rating to ensure optimal performance and keep tire pressure equalized for the greatest longevity.

Wheel-ends can also wear quickly, Geisler points out, and must stay lubricated to prevent gear oil leakage and ensure proper and safe operation.

Because trailers haul some heavy loads, brakes are also among the top components that can wear the fastest. They take a beating and will need to be replaced depending on use, says Geisler. To get the most longevity out of your trailer brakes, ensure you follow the right loading capacity for the trailer. Overloading or unbalanced loads will put added stress on the brakes, causing them to wear much faster. Proper loading techniques also go a long way toward preventing premature trailer wear, so be sure to follow the right recommendations for your type of trailer and equipment. 

Hydraulic cylinders should also be fully retracted when not in use to minimize exposure of the stainless steel rams to the elements and maximize their longevity.

Keep wear components in mind when purchasing a trailer, Geisler adds. Models made with high-quality materials and finishes will last longer than those with traditional paints and standard materials. Select units with high-strength steel - such as 12-in.-deep I-beams with a minimum yield strength of 100,000 psi - to ensure long-term durability. Choose a trailer with premium primer and topcoat finishes. Choosing quality from the beginning ensures you’ll have a trailer that looks great for years to come, he states, and will have a higher resale value as a result.

What to Keep in Mind When Implementing a PM Plan

Trailer fleet owners should match their equipment needs to a preventive maintenance (PM) schedule, Hair advises. For example, will the trailer need to be on the road all the time or will it sit idle for longer periods of time? Developing a program that aligns with your business needs will optimize longevity of trailers and their components. It also will enhance safety.

Get to know the trailer components and which ones work best for your operation. Manufacturers are typically happy to answer questions and provide the best recommendations based on your specific needs and applications.  

A good maintenance program will also reduce breakdowns and increase the life of the trailer. It’s critical to establish a PM program that includes lubrication intervals to prevent wear and ensure that the brakes and components operate correctly. Use dielectric grease on lighting connections, electrical components, lights and lighting harnesses to reduce corrosion. Brakes, cams and slack adjusters need to  be lubricated. Always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations and grease guidelines.

Proper record keeping is also important so you know when PM is needed and what has already been done, says Geisler. This helps your operation optimize efficiency and prevent any small issues from becoming larger headaches down the road. Putting proper procedures in place will keep appropriate personnel accountable for performing the maintenance when needed.

Trailer owners should ensure anyone involved with any aspect of the trailer’s use has proper training, Geisler emphasizes - not only to prevent damage to the trailer, but also for their safety and the safety of others.

Drivers and maintenance technicians should have open lines of communication in regard to trailer issues or required maintenance, Hair adds. This will ensure the right kind of maintenance is performed and that it’s done in a timely manner. Having mechanics who are well-trained on maintaining heavy-haul trailers is another good way to ensure the maintenance your company is doing is the right type of maintenance. 

One of the best ways to see a direct reflection of the success of your maintenance program is through the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s inspection program, says Hair. The nonprofit organization scores commercial motor vehicles based on inspection procedures and CVSA criteria — the lower the number the better.