Trailering Safety, Part 2
By Eli Benson
Two months ago I wrote an article about trailer safety (which was published in the previous newsletter). After a very trying trailer experience a few weeks ago, I have a few bits to add about trailer safety. I went with a couple other people to deliver horse feed to the disaster relief organizations that were working in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. The trip started very ominously with a flat tire. That’s not a problem though, because we had 2 spares and a nice floor jack. We took care of that pretty quickly. Then once we got on the road, we realized that the trailer brakes were not working. The brake controller seemed to think that they were working, but we had no brakes. Well, we decided to keep going, since we were not going to be transporting horses, only feed. By the time we had picked up the horse feed in Houston (4 hours into the trip), I had checked the tire pressure on the truck and trailer about a half a dozen times. It seemed to me that the spare that we put on the trailer at the beginning of the day was losing air. We stopped at a Sears Auto Center to get the tire fixed and also fix the one that started out bad. Here’s the first new bit of information: national chain service centers may or may not do work on your trailer. They were happy to fix the tires, but they didn’t want to mess with a trailer loaded with 7000 lbs of horse feed. It was up to us to remove the bad tire. Second new bit of information: two 2x8 blocks nailed together to form a “jiffy jack” work fine on an empty trailer. On our loaded trailer, we still had to use the floor jack a bit to get the offending tire off the ground. Three 2x8 blocks would have probably done it, but I think next time, I’m going to get 4 and cut the edges to make a nice ramp out of them. While the service center was fixing the tires, I dug into the trailer wiring to see if I could figure out what was wrong with the brakes. I figured out pretty quickly that the brake wires going to each hub had worn and corroded through. Third new piece of information: not as vital, mind you, but weird. Sears didn’t carry any wire splices that I needed to fix the brakes. The best I could do was a roll of electrical tape. So I twisted the wires as snugly as I could back together, and taped them well. I had brakes at last - a much more comforting feeling to be sure. Strangely enough, just as I was finishing the brake repair, a gentleman showed up who owned a trailer maintenance company. He had seen us working on the tires and brakes and offered his help. It was a nice gesture, but about 20 minutes too late. I thanked him anyway. One final note about Sears: they didn’t charge us for the two tire repairs, due to the fact that we were making the trip for the hurricane relief. A mighty nice thing, since they normally charge $17 to fix a flat.
The next adventure happened in Louisiana. Just as we were in Baton Rouge about to head south toward Gonzales on Interstate 10, we blew a tire. One of the ones that we had just repaired at Sears 4 hours before. What was more exciting (but not fun in any way, shape or form) was that the blown tire knocked the other tire off the rim, essentially blowing it too. I was driving the truck at that time, and I knew it wasn’t an ordinary tire blowout. The whole trailer and truck started vibrating and swaying violently. I had to cross 3 lanes of heavy traffic, and found the only place to pull off that didn’t have a concrete wall blocking the shoulder. The really exciting part was that we couldn’t pull the trailer off too far because we needed a place to set the jack on concrete. The driver’s side was about a foot away from the white line, and cars were not slowing down, making space, or even acknowledging the flashing obstacle beside the road. A very nerve wracking experience to have semi trucks whooshing by and rocking the truck and trailer 3 feet from you. Needless to say, I didn’t exit the vehicle through the driver’s door; I squeezed past the stick shift and center console to exit the non-deadly side of the vehicle. So, I had two blown tires on the same side. It could be worse; we did have 2 spares, after all. We tried the wooden block method of raising the trailer, and it didn’t work. The rim of the front tire would not climb up the 2 wooden blocks. We tried the jack, but that didn’t work either. The jack was rated at 6000 lbs but couldn’t budge the trailer. I tried to call my roadside assistance through Allstate Motor Club. This was a time when everybody and their mother were using cell phones in the area. It took repeated tries to get a circuit that wasn’t busy. Then, It took just as long to get a person to answer at Allstate. It seems that they were being slammed in the Baton Rouge area because of the post-hurricane traffic. Fourth piece of new information: Allstate does cover roadside emergencies with your trailer. The woman that I talked to didn’t think that they did at first. She had to go and look it up. This leads me to believe that not all auto clubs will cover horse trailers. If you have an auto club, check to make sure your horse trailer is covered. It didn’t matter anyway, because they don’t have any contracted service providers in the Baton Rouge area. I would have to find someone, get the help I need, and then get reimbursed at some time in the (probably way distant) future from Allstate. It was really frustrating; all I really needed was a bigger jack. My brother had a better idea than the Allstate Motor Club. He dialed 911, and told them that if we didn’t get some help out there soon, there was going to be a really nasty accident. In about 10 minutes, a gentleman from Louisiana’s roadside assistance showed up and turned on some very comforting yellow overhead lights. It is a state sponsored department that handles just this sort of emergency. The gentleman didn’t know what all he could do with a heavy trailer with two blown tires. I explained that I had enough spares, but I needed a bigger jack. His was actually the same as ours, 6000 lbs. It didn’t lift the trailer either. After a bit of thought, we decided to try and use both jacks simultaneously. That finally worked. The gentleman also had a very handy cordless impact wench that made the tire removal and installation a lot easier (a DeWalt, in case you are wondering). I think I am going to buy one for myself. It isn’t powerful enough to crack the nuts loose, but it sure makes quick work of the nuts once you crack them with the regular spinner. With the two bad tires, and the precarious 2-jack arrangement, we decided to change one tire at a time. If the trailer had shifted (which it did some) and fallen off the jacks, it might have been a medical emergency for sure. Also, it is really hard to get a jack back under a trailer that is completely on the ground. The tires got changed, and the man even helped us get back into the busy traffic. All that work, and we were about 10 miles from our destination. We spent the next morning unloading feed and then went to purchase 2 new tires. Luckily we found a place that had suitable tires - 14 ply tires this time, instead of the 12 ply ones that were on there.
There are a few things to learn about our misadventure.
- Tandem axle trailers may not always save you. The next trailer I buy will be a triple axle trailer.
- Check with your auto club about trailer emergencies.
- Don’t count on a name brand service center working on your rig.
- And finally, always carry a jack that is bigger than anything that you could possibly carry with your trailer.
This wasn’t my truck or trailer. Even if I had my truck, my jack may not have been enough either. I have a house jack that is rated at 8000 lbs. I’ll have to test that when I have a heavy trailer next time. I would like to know that I am equipped for this sort of thing should it happen again. I am only glad that we were not carrying horses at the time when the tires blew. As badly as the trailer was vibrating and swaying, I hate to think of how it would act with 4 scared horses moving around in it.
I would like to thank the Louisiana Roadside Assistance, they were helpful and professional. I would also like to thank the Sears Auto Center. It wasn’t their fault that the tires blew out, but they did give us two free repairs. One final thank you goes out to the Love’s truck stop on Hwy 59 just east of Victoria. They gave us all the free ice we could carry because we were involved in the hurricane relief effort.