What to Look For When Buying a Used Trailer

Question: I’m looking at purchasing a mid-80’s Escapade trailer. What should I look at when considering the condition of this trailer?

Answer: There are a few things I’d consider with any used trailer and a couple of specific points with the Escapade.

To begin, I would only buy a used trailer if either a) the manufacturer is still in business or b) replacement parts are clearly available from auto sources. I get many requests for parts for trailers (especially campers) I have never heard of or that went out of business decades ago.  Business stability and length of production are factors that I  considered when choosing the trailers I would sell.

In evaluating a trailer I pay most attention to the stuff you can’t see easily because that’s usually where the problems lie. I mean, a trailer isn’t that complicated, so there isn’t that much to consider.  If you’re buying a trailer to tow right now (as opposed to buying a restoration project) you want to make sure the frame underneath is clean and straight, that the trailer shows no signs of neglect (stored outside uncovered for years), and that any special parts are in good repair (more on that in a minute).  I would pull one of the wheels off, take off the dust cap and look at the condition of the grease.  Dry, old grease means the bearings may need to be replaced.  Any slop or movement in the wheel while attached to the hub may mean the same.  Check the lights to make sure they work and the wiring harness hasn’t been hacked.

Inside, does the trailer show signs of water leakage? Is the gasket around the tub in good condition or does it show signs of dry rot?  Is it dirty or does it look like it’s been kept reasonably clean?  Carpet can be refreshed or replaced if its worn but an unusual amount of crud is just another indication of how the trailer may have been kept. What’s the condition of the fiberglass? Are there cracks or breaks that need to be fixed?  Does hardware like locks and hinges work properly? Likewise, exterior cosmetic issues like trim or paint can usually be fixed (or ignored) but a big slash or gaping hole might give you pause to wonder about a trailer’s history.

Campers require an extra level of scrutiny because they have many more parts, some of which are sensitive to wear. Set up the entire rig and check the tent canvas carefully.  Look for signs of dry rot or weakness due to UV exposure.  Nylon tent material breaks down as it is exposed to sunlight.  Many campers develop problems not because they’ve been heavily used but because they haven’t been maintained properly. For example, a rider returns home from a wet weekend camping trip and forgets to air out the canvas…that’ll create ripe conditions for rotting, a situation you can sniff out as soon as you open up the unit.  Does it smell musty?  If it does now, it will months and years from now unless you strip it and refit it.

You also want to set up a camper to make sure it has all its poles, supports, etc.  The first camper I bought had a half dozen poles needed to set up the interior. A few years later I sold my bike and camper to a buddy in California who flew out and rode it back.  He sold off the camper when he returned home.  A few years later I was cleaning out the garage and found…you guessed it…the poles.  I’d forgotten to include them and he never set up the camper.  Apparently, the buyer never did either.  Whoops.

Now, about the Escapade.  This brings me to the topic of special equipment.  The Escapade is a well made trailer that uses air shocks to smooth out the ride.  Those air shocks are also specially made for the trailer and available only from Escapade.  I would make very, very sure the air suspension system holds air because replacement shocks are north of $350 each.   The air system may leak air due to old o-rings in the air system fittings, so if there’s any question about the air suspension, you’d want to sort out the problem or have the seller account for the replacement cost of those shocks as you negotiate your price.

As usual, common sense, a little skepticism and a critical eye are useful tools in evaluating a used trailer. Hopefully the points I just outlined will give you some additional points to look at to ensure that you make the best buy possible.

Have a question about motorcycle trailering? Feel free to e-mail me, dale@openroadoutfitters.com and I’ll try to answer your question, or point you in the right direction.

8 inch versus 12 inch wheels

Question: I’ve heard that 8 inch wheels on a trailer are a problem but I’m not sure. I’ve heard the bearings run hot. What is your opinion on 12″ versus 8″ wheels?

Answer: The short answer–8″ wheels are fine. On some trailers they are the only choice due to the design. I would not make a buying decision based solely on wheel size.

The longer answer is that the problems people have with bearings has more to do with maintenance than wheel size. It is true that an 8″ wheel turns faster at the same highway speed than a 12″ wheel, that’s just mathematics (or geometry or algebra or physics or something, I dunno.) However, today’s axle assemblies use bearings that are designed for much heavier loads than a motorcycle trailer or camper will EVER carry, so when you’re tooling along at 80 mph on I-90 out west, properly maintained bearings can handle that all day long, day after day.

To achieve the proper ride height based on design, sometimes an 8″ wheel is the only choice. For example, the Mini Mate and Time Out campers both use 8″ wheels and as a class motorcycle campers are heavier than cargo trailers. I’ve towed both thousands of trouble-free miles.

The key is keeping the bearings packed with fresh grease and this is not a big deal either. If you are a casual tower and don’t ride in a lot of rain, you may need to service the bearings just once every few years. This consists of pulling the dust cap and castle nut off the hub, pulling out and wiping off all grease from the bearings and hub, then repacking with fresh high speed high temperature grease.

12″ wheels do have a couple of advantages but, as I said, they are not deal makers or breakers for me. A 12″ wheel will not step as deeply into a rutted road surface, so it pulls fractionally smoother over rough surfaces. And there are a few more design/material options in 12″ wheels, chrome and alloy, so you have some different looks. But that’s about it.

Bottom line, I’d not hesitate to pull a trailer with 8″ wheels and I wouldn’t worry about maintaining a specific road speed to “save” the bearings.

Have a question about motorcycle trailering? Feel free to e-mail me, dale@openroadoutfitters.com and I’ll try to answer your question, or point you in the right direction.