Get ready for the season ahead
For lawn care operators in many parts of the country, this time of year brings a rush of chores to get ready for the new growing season. Much of this spring maintenance focuses on equipment—getting mowers tuned up, blades sharpened, changing spark plugs in trimmers and edgers and generally making sure everything is ready to run—but in the process of maintaining equipment, don’t forget to pay attention to the two tools you’ll use every day to bring you to the job site: your truck and trailer. In order to keep you operational and profitable, these hardworking items need to be maintained, and this is the perfect time of year to be sure your trucks and trailers are ready for the road.
Company pickup trucks, which may have seen winter use by plowing snow or as daily drivers, may be up to date on their maintenance, but special-duty vehicles used mainly during the growing season to transport equipment and materials may have seen limited use during the winter, and therefore deserve a checkup before they return to service.
Isuzu, for example, has a line of commercial trucks popular in the landscape business. While some companies outfit these vehicles with plows because they offer good maneuverability in parking lots, Brian Tabel, retail marketing manager with Isuzu Commercial Truck, says it’s not uncommon for landscape companies to shut down at least some of their trucks during the winter months. That means spring is a busy time for servicing dealers. “This is a busy time, because there are a lot of trucks in the landscape business that haven’t been operated for a number of months, so we see a lot of people bringing in trucks for oil changes, tire checks and other general maintenance,” he explains. “Just like they get their mowers ready, they want to be sure their trucks are ready for the season ahead.”
Most of the spring maintenance is pretty routine and can be done by the owner, says Tabel. “An oil change, check the air filter to be sure that’s clean and nothing has crawled in there over the winter and brakes should be checked if the truck has been sitting for a while. If the truck is a diesel, the operator hopefully has put an additive in to prevent any gelling that might have happened in the fuel over the winter.”
Tabel adds that, especially in the landscape business, truck owners need to be aware of engine hours as much as mileage. “Many landscapers don’t drive long distances, but they might be using the truck for PTO applications for hundreds of hours,” he explains. Oil and air filter changes should be scheduled accordingly. “Get the work done now. Once the season is going strong, you really don’t want to have any downtime with your trucks,” Tabel advises.
Equipment trailers are even more prone to be put into storage and forgotten about until it’s time to once again begin mowing. For that reason, they require a more comprehensive spring maintenance program. “The two most common things to need attention are the bearings and the brakes,” says Kevin Lauze with DownEaster Manufacturing, which produces trailers in Maine.
Bearings are critical to the performance and safety of a trailer, and should be checked over and serviced before putting the trailer into use. “Take the bearings out, clean them, grease them and put them back in,” Lauze explains.
As for trailer brakes, Lauze recommends removing the wheel and taking a look at the entire assembly. “Look for wear on the shoes, gouges on the drums and the wiring. Look for corrosion, and be sure you have a good ground,” he explains. In particular, drums tend to rust up during the winter, and need to be cleaned before the trailer is taken out on the road. “If you get rust in there, eventually it will ruin the pads,” he says, an example of how a little maintenance work can save money in the long run. After a check and cleaning, if you have a helper, have one person try to turn the drum while the other is applying the brakes to be sure the brake is functioning, says Lauze.
Suspension components can wear out and should also be checked, says Lauze. “Put the trailer up on blocks and check to be sure there isn’t any wear in the suspension.” If there is slop (looseness) in the shackles or bushings, they likely need to be replaced. “You can wear shackles right through to the point it brakes,” he points out. Leaf springs should also be inspected to be sure none are broken. “If there are broken leaf springs and you replace one side, you should replace both,” he adds.
Unlike landscape and cargo trailers, dump trailers often feature a number of grease fittings and greasable parts, and these should be cleaned and greased, as needed. On all trailers with breakaway batteries, the battery should be inspected before the trailer is hooked up for hauling. “If the battery doesn’t hold a charge, the breakaway won’t hold,” says Lauze. “Then, if you get stopped by DOT and they check the breakaway, there’s a pretty severe fine. That’s definitely something you want to check, especially if the trailer has been sitting all winter.”
Lubricating the tongue jack is sometimes necessary in the spring, as well, according to Lauze. “Some have grease fittings, others you can either take them apart and lubricate them with lithium grease or use some WD-40.” Of course, making sure the trailer license plate is properly affixed, and that the trailer is up to date with registration, inspection and insurance requirements are also important considerations.
Sam Gayman with Bri-Mar Trailers says that spring is also a good time to inspect trailer lighting. “Wiring should be inspected to be sure connections are good and that all the lights installed are working properly,” he says. He advises checking with the owner’s manual for guidance on a specific trailers’ wiring system and lighting components. Checking the lighting, like most trailer maintenance, “is pretty straight-forward and commonsense,” says Gayman. “There are always people who don’t take care of their equipment, but if you’re in business, you really should be keeping up with maintenance.”
Of course, it doesn’t make much sense to maintain the trailer itself without also paying attention to the tires it rides on. Lonnie Wells, general manager with Kenda Tire, says that trailer tires are too often forgotten as a maintenance item. “It’s probably one of the most overlooked items. People sometimes never think about their tires until they have a problem,” he says.
Don’t wait until tires are “completely bald, or you’re sitting on the side of the road calling AAA” to take action, Wells urges. Fortunately, tire maintenance isn’t overly complicated. “It starts with proper tire pressure, that’s essential for trailer tires,” he explains. “Trailer tires are expected to carry a load, and tires are rated specifically for the trailer, the application and the load it’s going to be handling. If you don’t have proper inflation pressure, you can have overheating problems that could result in tire failure.
Each tire comes with a maximum load rating stamped on the side (see diagram on page A20 for an explanation of tire sidewall data), and that maximum weight capacity is based on maximum air pressure. While some trailer manufacturers may suggest using a lower tire pressure, Kenda recommends keeping trailer tires inflated to the maximum pressure listed on the tire, also indicated on the sidewall. While it’s important to monitor and inflate as necessary throughout the year, it’s particularly important during preseason maintenance, especially if the trailer has been stored or seen little use for several months.
Wells says that keeping tires at proper inflation levels helps them to last longer. “If they’re underinflated or overinflated, you’ll have an uneven wear pattern on the tire and end up with premature tire life,” he says.
Kenda Tire advises against mixing radial and bias tires on trailers. “Tires should be replaced with the same ply and size as originally equipped on the trailer,” adds Wells. “If you do mismatch with different brands of tires, you might get one that has slightly different specs, which can lead to the trailer not being positioned evenly and that could result in some uneven wear issues, or maybe even some towing problems.” If you have any questions about proper replacement tires for your trailer, check with the trailer manufacturer to be sure.
While there was a time when tires could be permanently damaged by sitting in the same position for an extended period of time (say, during the winter months), Wells says that most of today’s bias ply tires are not as susceptible to such problems. “Tires can develop a little flat spot from sitting in the same position for a long time, but once the tires starts to move and it heats up, it should take its normal shape again,” he says.
With proper care and inflation, trailer tires generally wear out from age before they lose enough tread to be replaced, says Wells. “You want to keep an eye for any cracking on the tires tread areas or sidewall, that’s a sign it’s time to replace the tire. Moisture can get into the cords of the tire and you can have failure in the internal casing of the tire.”
Finally, Wells recommends carrying a spare tire, something commonly done on RV trailers, but sometimes overlooked with utility or landscape and cargo trailers. “It’s a good idea to carry a spare, it sure beats sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck,” he points out.
Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.