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RV How To Tips

Jeff Johnston gets a Used Travel Trailer 'Up to Snuff'

Well, there’s very few days as exciting as the first day that you bring home your new or slightly used trailer. This one is a 1996 Kit Road Ranger. The owner, Dan Mountjoy, has been going around and doing a little bit of inventorying on it to find out what has to be done to it. Now, it doesn’t matter whether it’s new or used. There are things that you’re gonna have to do to a trailer before you take it out for your first run. You gotta check the safety things, you gotta check the functions, make sure everything’s working like it’s supposed to, make sure all the parts are there and up to date, and that’s what we’re gonna do with this trailer. We’re gonna go through it and show you just some of the most important things that we have to do. We aren’t gonna cover all the interior fabric and curtains and all that stuff. Mainly, we’re gonna be looking at things relating to safety and mobility because it doesn’t much matter if the refrigerator works if you can’t get the trailer to the campground and back safely. So we’re gonna take a look at those things and see what it takes and go through the process of getting this little guy ready to go.

The propane connection equipment on this is definitely original to the 1996 model. This is the pre-, you know, easy hand wheel removal ones. So we’ve got a pair of these guys that we’re gonna install to replace these, and we also have a new auto changeover regulator. This original one is an older style. It may or may not still work, but, frankly, as old as it is, it’s just not worth it to try and make this work. We can add one of these, and it’ll be good to go for a long time.

We removed the cylinders to clear up access to the plumbing parts. The old regulator came off easily, but we needed washers to make the old screws fit the new model due to slightly shallower mounting holes. After removing the optional adapter fittings, the new Acme hand wheel-equipped hoses screw into the new regulator. The red substance is thread sealer, factory-pre-applied to the fittings. After assembling the parts, we cracked open the tank valve and checked for leaks with a soapy-water solution. We only found one fitting that needed to be tighter. This completed the propane-supply part of our once-over.

Jeff: Next up was inspecting the brakes and associated hardware and repacking the bearings. After safely supporting the trailer frame with jack stands, we broke the lug nuts loose, raised the trailer a bit farther and finished removing the wheels. While the brakes are used and rusty inside, the components are still functional, so we brushed the assembly out and left it as is for now. Both the bearing races and seal surfaces looked good. After repacking the wheel bearings, probably our most important step in the trailer work process, we reassembled the unit with new grease seals, torqued the castle nut to spec, and carefully tapped the dust cap in place with a soft mallet. We’ll check the lug nuts again after a few miles on the road. It takes a while for them to fully seat and remain tight.

There’s something else kind of interesting we learned while messing around with the wheel bearings. The tires show an awful lot of tread. They seem to be in pretty good shape from a tread standpoint, but when we inspect the DOT numbers here on the sidewall, according to the numbers, this tire was manufactured in the 19th week of 1995. It’s a 1996 trailer, so it’s quite possible these are the original tires from the trailer, and to say that they have passed their age of use is tremendously understating it, plus, if you look really close here, besides the fact that they have– that the age indicates they’re too old, you check out the sidewall here, and the cracking and corrosion on the rubber is really pretty incredible, so stop at the tire shop. That’s gonna solve another major problem for mobility on this trailer.

Before we head for the tire shop is the right time to get the weight-distributing hitch properly set up. This process works best on a flat, level surface, but we may do with our slightly sloped gravel driveway. Ideally, we want the hitch head adjusted so the truck and trailer are parallel or more or less in line with each other. Okay, item number one on adjusting a weight-distributing hitch like this is to set the truck and the trailer more or less at the static-ride height where you’d like ’em to be when they’re goin’ down the road. Now, both of ’em are sitting fairly level here. We’ve adjusted the hitch jack until the trailer, you know, looks pretty good cosmetically, relative to the truck, and it’s a little tough to measure on a rough surface like this, but we’ll start by inserting the jack or insert the head in there, do a test fit on it, and see how it looks, and then, if we have to adjust it up and down, we can work from there.

We’ve removed the two large mounting bolts and positioned the head up one hole in the mount. This produced the kind of truck and trailer alignment we wanted, but further adjustments may be needed after a test drive.

Next, we cleaned and installed the spring bars and attached the chains to the frame-mounted hangers. The bars must be tight enough to distribute the hitch weight but not so tight that they stiffen the ride. You’ll need to adjust the chain hangers with trial and error. Once it’s set right, you’re good. Next up, a stop at the tire shop right after these commercial messages.

Let’s continue our look at making a few modifications and adjustments to a used travel trailer to get it ready for life on the road. Next stop, the visit to a tire shop to get some new Goodyear endurance trailer tires installed.

Final step of our project today, we’re here at Luis’ Tire Service in Oregon City, Oregon to install a new set of Goodyear Endurance Radial Tires. These are Goodyear’s brand-new trailer tires designed specifically for trailer use. Now, these are made in the United States, so it’s none of that imported tire stuff that you see on a lot of products. In fact, it’s kind of a testimony to the original Goodyear tires that were on this trailer for an excess of 20 years that we made it all the way down here to the shop without the tires going bad on us. We’ll show you what we’re gonna be doin’, including balancing the tires. Very important step.

 As you’re going about your regular maintenance procedures with your trailer, always remember to have your trailer tires balanced. Now, there’s nobody riding in the trailer to feel if it’s vibrating or shaking all over the place; however, with the tires balanced, you get a couple of significant advantages: One, there’s a lot less vibration transmitted through the axle, the bearings, and up into the body of the trailer. It rides smoother. And, number two, the tires will last a lot longer. Instead of bouncing along the ground because they’re out of balance, they’re gonna ride smoothly. The tread has a better contact with the ground. So keep in mind, balance your tires and your trailer. They’ll last longer. You’ll never regret the investment.

One of our wheels had more lateral runout than it should, so it required more weight, in excess of six ounces, to help it run true. The other tire-and-wheel combo was fine and called for approximately two ounces to balance. When you get new tires for the trailer for the ones that are on the ground, don’t forget the spare ’cause, if you got a bad tire on the spare and you get a flat, you’re takin’ a risk. Add the extra tire to your purchase. You won’t go wrong.

The new Endurance tires looked great on the trailer, and when we selected the size to use for the trailer, we bumped up one size from ST205/75R14 up to ST215/75R14. Now, the 215 tires are a little bit larger diameter, a little bit wider, but they fit the opening just fine. They fit the wheels, obviously, and they don’t contact the wheel well; there’s plenty of clearance around here. The advantage to jumping up one size like this is that the new tires have approximately 200 pounds of extra payload capacity per tire, or, in other words, we have another 400 pounds of weight-carrying capacity for the entire trailer on the axle. Now, this doesn’t change the gross axle-weight rating on the trailer. It just means we have a little room to spare, a little bit of wiggle room as far as piling things into the trailer, and there’s less chance that we’re gonna be overloading the tire. However, these are the new Endurance radials, so we have a lot more confidence in these tires than we do on some of the, oh, imported ones that you see runnin’ around on the road today. It’s a pretty smart investment for a trailer.

With a tire that’s good to go, brake lights checked, and the rest of the projects done on the trailer, it’s ready to hit the road for the new camping season. A day or two of small projects can make a big difference in keeping things together and trouble-free en route to your favorite campsites.

Buying a used trailer, you’re always gonna wind up with a certain amount of things that have to be done to it. If you’re very lucky and you get one that’s a turnkey operation, terrific. Otherwise, you may wind up with an older rig like this: needs a little bit of help along the way. Once it gets done, of course, then you can be ready for relatively smooth RV sailing and head out for your first weekend, knowing that you can get there and things are gonna be safe.