Essential Trailer Tips and Tricks
Get the most from your utility trailer with these practical tips and ingenious, hard-working accessories.
No More Banged Shins
Everybody’s done it—walked right into the ball mount and gotten a really banged-up shin. Now you can soften the blow by adding a ShinShield protective rubber cushion (available online). The cushion curves downward to prevent contact with the sides of the ball mount and the ball stud. Right now the ShinShield fits only the 2-1/2-in. plate found on most 2-in. ball mounts. If yours is a different size, you’ll have to wait for new models to come out. Contact the manufacturer for release dates. To install the guard, remove the ball. Then slide the guard onto the mount and reinstall the ball, lock washer and nut. Tighten to the specified torque.
We use ratcheting tie-down straps to ensure that the stuff in the trailer stays in the trailer. There are tie loops on each side of the trailer, perfect for hooking to. But whenever we hook the first tie-down to one of the loops, it falls off before we can walk around to hook the other side. It makes you feel like you’re stuck in a scene from “The Three Stooges.”
We recently stumbled across a product called Hook-Tight. It keeps straps and bungees in place while you secure them. You can find this product at some home centers, or you can buy them in packs of four online. They’re worth every penny.
Keep your trailer safe
Here are two ways to deter most would-be trailer thieves.
- Add a Club Tire Claw No. 491, which locks over the wheel. It works like a wheel chock, except it has a lock. Just don’t leave your spare with the trailer.
- The little padlocks that go through the lockdown hasp on a trailer coupling won’t deter a crook beyond the time it takes to close the handles of a bolt cutter. Might as well skip it and install a bolt cutter-proof Trimax UMAX100 trailer coupler lock. It clamps and locks over the coupler so the losers can’t just hook up your trailer and haul it away. The truth is that both of these products can be thwarted by a tooled-up, smarter-than-average thief. But these two products will deter all but the most determined ones.
Photos courtesy of Bill Zuehlke
The best hitch camera
Even with a spotter guiding you, hooking up a work trailer is always a pain. If you’re tired of this process, check out the iBall trailer hitch camera. This thing is super-cool and really simple. The monitor plugs into the truck’s power port (cigarette lighter), and the camera is equipped with a magnet, so it can be stuck to the truck or trailer. We stuck it to the top of the tailgate for an overhead view.
The first time we tried it, the camera was telling us to adjust to the right while it seemed we should be going left. Then we discovered the button that reversed the image so your brain and the camera can come to terms (!). Our only complaint is that we wish we had had this thing for those several hundred times we were forced to rely on a spotter with sketchy depth perception and even worse hand signals.
Photo courtesy of IBALL
An aluminum jack
The wedge-shaped aluminum EZ Jack (available from Cabelas) is perfect for trailers with tandem wheels. First, loosen the lug nuts on the flat tire. Then wedge the EZ Jack under the good front tire and pull the entire trailer forward (or place it on the back wheel and drive backward if it’s a flat front tire). Then chock the opposite side. Swap out the tires, then toss the lightweight jack (9 lbs.) back in your truck and you’re good to go.
Trailer lights for emergencies
If you own any type of trailer, there’s taillight trouble in your future. And if you’re lucky, you’ll only get a ticket some dark night instead of an F-350 up your rear. But if you’re smart, you’ll keep a battery-powered bicycle taillight in your trunk. When a taillight fails, strap the bike light to your trailer, where it will alert tailgaters (and hopefully ward off cops). Don’t push your luck, though. Fix the problem ASAP.
And one more thing: Be sure you have a spare tire and a wrench for the lug nuts on your trailer wheels—don’t expect your truck’s lug wrench to fit.
Step up to your trailer
Your tailgate’s down and you’ve got a load to place and secure. That’s where the HitchMate Truck Step comes in handy. Just slide it into any standard 2-in. trailer hitch receiver and insert the lock pin. Release the spring-loaded retainer knob and pull the bar out all the way. The bar extends 23-1/2 in., so the step is located right where you need it—at the end of your open tailgate. When you’re done, simply flip up the step, pull the retaining pin, and stow the entire unit under your truck bed.
Remove a stuck ball mount
When the ball mount on your trailer hitch is rusted in place, don’t whack at it with a sledgehammer. Here’s what to do instead. Buy a can of CRC Freeze Off penetrating spray, an air chisel and a hammer bit.
Spray the opening to the hitch receiver. This newest style of penetrating fluid chills the metal, causing it to contract to help break the rust seal. Then use the air chisel fitted with the hammer bit to knock everything loose. The air hammer will break up the rust, spread the penetrant and free up the ball mount. Once it’s free, just tap the rusted ball mount out with a hammer. If you plan to reuse the rusty mount, coat it with a rust converter or waterproof marine grease.
Hardened steel trailer locks
Trailer thieves get quite a laugh out of coupler “latch locks.” They can cut them in an instant with even the smallest bolt cutter. Then they’re on their way with your trailer. If you want real protection, use a coupler lock that presents thieves with a real challenge. (Shown here is the Trimax Universal Coupler Lock.) Just insert the ball into the coupler and slide on the U-bracket. Unless the thief has the time to unbolt the entire coupler and install a new one, you’ll be well protected.
Stop trailer thieves
If you have a really expensive trailer, it pays to get an extra layer of protection by using a “boot”-style lock in addition to the coupler lock. There are many styles to choose from, but we liked this particular model (the Trimax TCL75 Wheel Chock Lock) because it doubles as a wheel chock to prevent the trailer from rolling. Just slide it onto the wheel and press in the lock cylinder.
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