Trailers: Some Common Problems, Fixes, and Items To Carry With You

by Rhonda

We all drive our personal vehicles, and yet most of us are not mechanics. Well, the same applies to those who drive big rigs! But there are some common problems that you'll come across when dealing with your trailer that you can easily fix, or avoid altogether. There are a few things that you should always carry with you in the truck, and we'll cover some of them here too. You'll learn a lot during your training, and the rest will come with more time behind the wheel.

Some Common Trailer Problems and Fixes

One thing to be aware of is that you can't move right away (with most trailers)even after you disengage the trailer brakes on the dash.Why? Because it takes time for the air to get to the trailer brakes and release them. It's a long way back there!Also, the air pressure in your tanks must be at a certain level. If there is a problem getting the brakes to release, it could be one of several things, including brakes shoes that are frozen to the drum, ice in the air lines, a broken air line, a broken air bladder, or a bad glad hand seal, amongst other things.

Most of the time if your shoes are frozen to the drums you can rock the trailer forward and backward a little bit to break them loose or tap the shoes with a hammer.If the glad hand seal is bad you can sometimes fix it by wiggling the handle a little bit or by replacing the seal. If you suspect ice in your air lines you can pour some air line anti-freeze into the opening in the glad hand and release your trailer brakes, giving the anit-freeze time to work its way back to the ice.

If the locking pins are stuck and you can't get them to release, first and foremost is to check the alignment of all 4 pins. You may see that the two on the left side of the trailer are forced against the front of their slots, while the two on the right side are forced against the rear of their slots. That means the trailer tandems are cocked to the side and you'll have to get them lined back up by moving the trailer slightly forward and backward a few times in a straight line and hitting the brakes rather hard to force the tandems back into alignment.

If all four pins are forced against the front or the rear of their slots then you simply have to relieve the pressure on them a bit by forcing the tandems to slide a little. You also do this by slowly rolling the trailer a bit and spiking the brakes to force them to move just a little in the right direction.

At this point, when the tandems are lined up as good as you can get them, release the handle as far as you can get it to go and then pound the pins through with your hammer. You may need a bit of WD-40 or grease to help you out in extreme circumstances.

Another item to carry with you is glad hand seals. You can buy these seals for a couple bucks at any truck stop and they are a lifesaver at times also. If you find your glad hand seals are leaking, try wiggling the handle just a bit to get it lined up properly. Once in a while you'll hook to a trailer that has a ripped or missing seal. These things are cheap and can be installed with a little help from a flat blade screwdriver in less than 2 minutes. If you get a trailer with a seal missing the air is going to leak out like crazy. If you don't have any seals with you, you're going to have to steal one from another trailer - passing the problem onto the next guy. You don't want to do that.

Sometimes the mechanism that holds the trailer doors secure to the sides of the trailer when the doors are open is missing. Simply carry some bungee cords with you to strap them to the side of the trailer.

Items To Carry With You

I'm not a mechanic so I don't actually fix the equipment. It's mainly because my employer would rather it actually run and pass inspection! But I do carry several things with me to handle common problems. The first, and most important thing is a hammer - a big hammer! A mini-sledge is perfect. A regular carpenter's hammer is not hefty enough. Sometimes the door handles need a little persuasion, sometimes the brakes freeze, sometimes you get a nail in the trailer floor that you need to pound in, and sometimes you have to beat the locking pins in to get them to release so that you can slide the tandems. A big hammer is a life-saver out there for sure! This item is not an option!

A second item is bungee cords. I'm no mechanic, but I do have the talent to bungee cord the trailer doors to the side of the trailer if the chain is gone that normally holds them secure.You'll also find yourself strapping your air lines off the tractor deck sometimes. There are a variety of uses for them, so always have bungees with you.

Another item is brake line anti-freeze in the winter. Using a little bit of this when the temperatures get extreme will help keep the air release valves from freezing shut and ice from accumulating in the air lines. Also, add work gloves to this list. Of course, it would have only taken you one day to figure this out - your hands will get miserably filthy if you don't wear gloves when hooking and unhooking the trailer.

Some WD-40 is yet another item. The pins that lock your tandems in place get quite rusty over time and a little WD-40 helps when trying to get them to release. If you're so inclined, a bit of grease is even better. WD-40 helps, but there can be a lot of pressure on those pins and grease can stand up to the pressure when WD-40 may not be enough.

Lastly, carry a simple, inexpensive toolkit with all of the common tools - adjustable wrench, pliers, screwdrivers, etc. It doesn't need to be fancy at all - just one of the common sets you see at any Sears or Walmart.

Trailer Doors and A Pet Peeve

Finally, a pet peeve of mine. When you open the trailer doors, place the handles in their holder and make sure you properly fasten the doors to the side of the trailer. Do not let the handles simply hang there or allow the doors to swing freely.This can get the doors ripped right off the trailer when someone goes to move it - I've seen it happen a bunch of times! In a tight dock area, not having the doors fastened properly makes it more difficult to avoid other trailers or objects in the way.If the handles are just hanging down without being in their holder, there will be less room to work with when trying to fasten the door to the trailer. And for us short, wimpy people it makes it much harder to open and close these doors.The next time you're at the trailer doors, try this out for yourself and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.Get in the habit of placing the handles in their holders and properly fastening the trailer doors to the side of the trailer and life will be easier for everyone.


Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".


Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".


Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.


When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

by Brett Aquila

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