10 Point Camper Trailer Health Check

Michael Borg — 9 November 2017

We all know things don’t always go to plan when you are out and about exploring the countryside with your camper in tow. Obviously, big mishaps like buggered wheel bearings or structural breakages can become massive show-stoppers, but believe it or not it’s the little niggly problems like busted water hoses, 12V power problems and seized mechanisms that have a tendency to turn into a massive pain in the backside if you don’t catch them early. Not to worry though, we’ve learnt a thing or two about pre-trip maintenance over the years (usually the hard way), and we reckon it’s about time we passed on some info that could literally save the day, errrm before it needs saving...if that makes sense.


First up and arguably the most  important thing to check is, yep you guessed it – the wheel bearings! Now we’re keeping things fairly basic here, so if repacking the wheel bearings with grease every time you head off sounds like as much fun as visiting the dentist on a Friday night, you can start off by simply checking the wheel isn’t about to wobble off. With the trailer hitched up to your vehicle (to stop it from rolling away), jack one wheel up at a time, grab the tyre from the top and bottom and give is a solid wriggle inwards and outwards. A little bit of free-play is acceptable. It’s even encouraged, but obviously a lot of play indicates the bearings require adjustment or replacement. Also, look for any early warning signs to follow up on, like grease leaking out of the hub, which could indicate that the bearings have overheated in the past, or the grease level is too low to keep every lubricated properly. Oh, and make sure the bearings aren’t getting hot while you drive; it’s a dead giveaway that something isn’t right!     


The overall condition of the tyres on a trailer seems to be an after-thought for some reason or another, but trust me; they’re every bit as important as your vehicles tyres. In fact, your trailer tyres can be subject to truckloads of abuse out on the tracks. You see, as the trailer tips from side to side or skips sideway into a bog hole, all that weight places plenty of strain on the sidewall of the trailers tyres, not to mention all the bouncing around they’re subjected to. So what do you look for? Well, obviously there should be plenty of meat left when it comes to the amount of tread available. But to go a step further, look for signs of uneven tread wear too. If the tread is wearing excessively on either edge of the tyre, it could indicate there’s a wheel alignment or tracking issue. If it’s worn out on both edges but not the centre area, it usually means the tyre has been underinflated for a while. On the other hand, if the middle of the tyres tread is worn more, it’s likely the tyre has been over-inflated! Another thing to look for is if you run your hand over and around the top of the tread/tyre, it should feel round and even. If you feel bumps, bulges or flat spots it could indicate the tyres have been skidding while braking or the shock absorbers are worn.


If you find one of your indicator lights isn’t working, check the auxiliary plug terminals aren’t damaged or rusty, first up. A quick spray of WD-40 can do wonders on old plugs, but it won’t do much good if the wiring is loose or damaged. If you’re confident the problem isn’t there, it’s time to check you’ve got good 12V power at the lamp itself by probing it with a test light. If you’ve got power there, the problem is either in the lamp itself (maybe a light globe), or an issue with the earth circuit.  


There are plenty of different hitch and coupling designs out there these days, and each have their own maintenance procedures to adhere too. As a general rule of thumb, though, they should be lubricated so they move, twist or rotate nice and smoothly. So look for any grease nipples to service, and don’t be afraid to squirt some lubricant around any moving parts there either. While you’re at it, check the nut for the hitch is nice and tight too – they’ve got a nasty habit of working loose over bumpy tracks!


Ok, so all of your accessories are working ok. Now what? Well, it’s time to find any problems before they occur. Look for any signs of corrosion on the electrical terminal. If you spot any, you can usually clean it up by pouring hot water over the top and sealing it up and spraying it an anti-corrosion terminal solution. Also, pay particular attention to signs of melted wiring insulation, which could indicate a whole range of problems, along with any substantial rub marks on the electrical cabling throughout the camper. And last but not least, run a spanner over any electrical connections, as well as the mounting bolts for each of the electrical accessories to ensure they’re nice and tight before you head off.


Make sure any compartment doors and latches are aligned and adjusted correctly to prevent dust getting past the seals and running amuck with any sensitive gear inside. That goes for rear tail gates on soft floor campers too. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to lubricate the hinges to stop them squeaking, and preventing rust which can eventually lead to the whole hinge collapsing. Nasty stuff, huh?   


Give the old water tank a good flush to ensure it’s nice and clean before you leave. Make sure you flush and clean the hoses connected to it while you’re at it, and nip the hose clamps up to ensure they’re nice and tight. Pay particular attention to the condition of the hoses and the fittings themselves and fix any minor leaks before they blow-out into a bigger leak. Here’s a fun fact for you; most modern 12V water pumps are pressure sensitive, which means they switch on when the water pressure dips below a pre-determined pressure, and switch back off once they’ve built the pressure back up. So you can imagine the problems even the slightest of leaks can have —  rust —  which can eventually lead to the whole hinge collapsing.


There’s only one thing worse than struggling to open a jammed up zipper, and that’s ripping the bloody thing to shreds when you’re in the middle of absolutely nowhere! So, if the zips are getting a little rougher than usual, try using a dry lubricant spray to loosen them back up. Why use a dry lube? Well, the wet variety tends to attract more dust which sticks to the zips while you’re out and about. Can’t find any dry lube? Try using the pointy end of a graphite pencil, or even a crayon – they work a treat!


Believe it or not, how you pack your camper trailer, or more specifically, how the load is distributed can have a massive effect on how well a trailer behaves behind a 4WD. One of the most important things to look for is ensuring you have the right ball weight. What the hell is that you ask? Well, in a nutshell it refers to the amount of weight the trailer places on your vehicles tow ball when the trailer is all hitched up. Obviously the more weight there is up the front of the trailer, the heavier the ball weight will be. As a general rule of thumb the ball weight should be around 8-12% of the trailers total loaded weight. So if your camper weighs 1400kg fully loaded, and you placed a scale under the coupling up the front, a ball weight reading of 140kg would indicate 10% of the trailers total weight, which is about right. But what happens if there’s not enough ball weight? Well, long story short the rear of the trailer can become “loose and unbalanced”, which can cause the trailer to start swaying all over the place.


Before you head off, make sure you check the bedding situation out properly. There’s nothing worse than rocking up to camp only to discover you forgot the pillows, or the blankets you left in there from the last camping trip are covered in mould. Another thing to keep your eyes peeled open for is bug infestation. It might seem a bit funny, but trust me; bed bugs will ruin a camping trip quicker than a dog can lick a dinner bowl clean! Look for brown or black staining on the mattress, sheets and bed base.


Well, there you go. With a bit of knowhow and a little elbow grease there’s no reason why you can’t hit the tracks with complete piece of mind that your camper with make it back in one piece! Now, this 10 point health check shouldn’t be a complete replacement or a regular maintenance schedule. After all, we can’t cover everything in just ten simple steps, can we? Just think of it like an extra precaution to take, and a good excuse to ditch date night with the better half...works for me!


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