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This is the most common and reoccurring problem with trailers. Gross trailer weight rates (GVWR), may vary depending on the manufacture, model, or company policy. You should know your company's policies and the trailer weight rating. Every trailer should have a manufacture tag stating this information. Now, why is this your concern? There are several reasons. The DOT is now paying a lot of attention to buses pulling trailers and weight. I have heard drivers state that "I am not responsible for the trailer" or "I really don't want to know". Try telling that to a DOT Officer during an inspection. Here is another thing to think about. Imagine being overweight and having a rear end collision. Anyone think the trailer might get weighed during the accident investigation? Folks, anytime there is a bus accident with injuries, the driver is named in the lawsuit. When your trailer is overweight, you are putting yourself, job, and bus owner/company at a huge risk!
Now let’s cover what can also happen when the trailer is overweight. Tires most usually blow out and what is even more fun, you lose a wheel. This is the result of bearing failure. There are only two ways a bearing fails, being overweight or the lack of maintenance. Most bus or trailer companies routinely inspect and/or replace the bearings. Overweight is the most common cause. Unless you enjoy taking a break sitting on the side of the road waiting for help, this should motivate you to weigh the trailer. If the trailer is overweight, give it enough time and I promise you will be having this experience! Normally bearing failure results in ruining the axle. Ordering a new axle can take up to eight weeks so that means you now need a rental truck and a replacement trailer whenever one can be found. I won't even go into how much inconvenience this causes your tour. As I recently experienced, this can be a royal pain on a holiday weekend.
Now for those who do not know or believe that knowing your trailer weight is not all that important, you can save yourself a lot of grief by simply spending $10.50 of the band's money by stopping at a truck stop and weighing the trailer. The correct way to weigh the trailer is to pull the bus all the way through the scale, getting it off of the scale. Place the jack stand on the last scale and the axles on the next. Uncouple the trailer and pick up your tag wheels. No need to move the bus and it is quick to hook back up. This will give you the tongue, axle, and total trailer weight. If you take your time, it will only take fifteen minutes. Save your scale ticket in your bus book. If you are inspected you can show this to the DOT Officer.
Here is something else to also give a little thought to. Almost all bus and trailer leasing companies have lowered the maximum trailer weight in contracts to avoid the costly repairs. Your band is responsible for the damage and tire replacement. I now have in my contracts that the trailer must be weighed and scale ticket returned to me within 24 hours or there is no warranty. Also, I have a client who now not only requires this but makes the driver responsible for all damage for failure to weigh the trailer within 24 hours. In case you are wondering, total cost for replacing an axle, wheel, and tire is about $2200.00.
Hopefully this will be of help to those of you who care and take pride in their job.
There is a lot to understand when dealing with weight on trailers. Bands all too often will load a trailer giving no thought at all to safety or trailer weight limitations. Their only concern is to get the gear on the road without the extra costly expense of a second truck and extra driver. I have seen trailers loaded to the point that you could not add a brief case. There are a lot of common sense clues that will warn you of an overweight trailer. You can have a trailer that is not overweight but yet loaded improperly and still cause a catastrophic failure. When a trailer is loaded near the maximum limit, you often find this to be true.
Trailers should be loaded with the weight being distributed evenly. If you have a trailer with a 14,000 lb. GVWR and it weighs only 13,750 lbs., it is very easy to have more weight in one area than another. The Production Manager will always be quick to declare that all is good! If your trailer has a 14,000 lb. GVWR, you have two 7,000 lb. axles. With a 7,000 lb. axle you also have two wheels that can only carry 3,500 lbs. each. You can only carry a maximum of 7,000 lbs. on each side of the trailer. All you need is to have the trailer loaded with more weight on one side and those wheels are over taxed. Pushing the limit of the trailer is not a good idea. You may also have more weight to the front or rear of the trailer and that can be just as bad. The tongue weight limit on a Prevost hitch with the upgraded hitch package is only 1,500 lbs. If you have a loaded trailer near or over the gross weight limit, I will promise you that the tongue weight has been exceeded. This can cause damage to your bus hitch and/or bus. I have seen a Prevost hitch crack and the trailer tongue break. These are the reasons bus and trailer leasing companies have lowered the maximum weight to 12,000 lbs. and some to even 10,000 lbs. Take the time to look at your bus hitch. It is part of the carriage that holds the engine. I don't really think anyone wants that to come apart. Overloading a trailer can and will cause damage to the bus. In the last few years, I have also seen a lot of transmission failures. The more weight you are carrying, the more wear on the engine and transmission.
If you have ever seen a trailer without the siding, you will find that they are constructed much like a bus. They are made to be flexible. The more weight on a trailer, the more it will flex with movement while being towed. Recently I had a complaint from a driver that a trailer of mine was leaking. The trailer weighed in excess of 14,000 lbs. The overloading was causing damage to the roof breaking apart at the seams and seals. If you experience water leaks in a trailer, it has at one time most likely been overloaded. You can do an easy repair on the road by using cans of spray bed liner.
Now, let’s revisit axles and tires. Trailer axles are made with an arch. They are not straight. Axles are bowed up and will flatten out when loaded. If one towed a trailer empty all the time it would wear out tires on the outside. Therefore, when you see the tires wearing out on the inside of the tread it is overloaded. Normal tread wear indicates proper weight loads. Too much weight will also cause the tire belts to come lose and show cupping out of the tires. Tire manufactures will tell you that tire pressure can expand as much as 50% with the load. Some time, take a look in the mirrors at how much your trailer bounces loaded and unloaded. As part of your daily pre-trip inspection, you should check your trailer tires and air pressure. Never exceed the maximum tire pressure! Too much is as bad as too little. A few extra minutes daily will save you a lot of headaches. Please don't accept this as a substitution for weighing the trailer!
Axle bearings: There are some easy ways to inspect your bearings to help avoid problems. All of us are typically still at the venue during load in most every day. While the trailer is unloaded, you can kick the tires to check for movement or a pop. If there is much movement at all or you hear that wheel make a noise you need to have the bearings inspected very soon. Here is another way to check bearings. Any time during your trip when you stop, walk back and lay the back of your hand on the wheel hubs. They will be warm. If they are hot, you have a bearing problem. I will credit Brian Craig for pointing out both of these common sense ways for drivers to keep an eye on bearings during a tour. Pre-trip trailer inspections, paying attention, and doing checks during the trip will cut down on a lot of breakdowns. Be Aware!
Pulling a trailer on a tour can be easy extra income or a total nightmare. A lot of it depends upon the driver. Many times drivers do not want to present the client with the bad news of an overloaded trailer. You are not doing the band, yourself or your company any favors by keeping quiet or ignoring this. When the trailer breaks down you need a rental truck, driver, extra nights in a hotel, and fuel for the truck not to mention the extra work on the Tour Manager or others involved. This can cost as much as $1,800.00 a day! Now we have to find another trailer while being in the middle of no where Montana and figure out how and who can bring it to you. You can easily add another 2K just to deliver it. Very seldom and only by a miracle can you get your trailer repaired in one day after a bearing failure.
Here is a fact and I challenge anyone to disagree: when you accept a trailer to pull, you are responsible for it. Drivers are in charge of safely operating and maintaining the vehicle. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, any time you deem the bus and/or trailer unsafe you are mandated to shut it down and get it repaired. All reputable bus and trailer leasing companies try their best to keep equipment in good operating condition. It is up to the driver to see that it stays that way or catch any problems that might be missed.
Stay Safe and Happy Trails to all of you!
Bearing failure (overweight)
Over the years, I have witnessed the dangers and safety violations with trailers behind buses and cars. I shall try to cover as many of these as possible.
The easiest way to hook to the trailer is when you back up using your back-up camera if your bus has one. It is still useful when backing up without a trailer. If it is not adjusted correctly, adjust it with a clear view of the ball. All bus trailers should have a 2 5/16” ball. A 2” ball is designed for a lighter trailer and not at all recommended when being pulled by a bus. On a Prevost, the draw bar with the ball should only have a 2” drop. Never use a 4” or 6” drop drawbar. I saw this occur a couple of years ago and the trailer kept popping off while entering the venue. Your trailer should set level with the tow vehicle. This keeps weight distributed evenly if loaded properly. You should keep the ball or trailer coupler greased. The ball and coupler is metal rubbing against metal! Grease will prolong the life of both components. Ever see the grease on a truck fifth wheel?
Always make sure the coupler latch is in the up/open position with the safety clip in place to hold it open. When getting close to the trailer raise your tag axle. This will lower the rear of the bus and hitch and save you from cranking so much on the trailer. Also when you unhook the trailer just do it, reverse order. This will save you time and the trailer will be at the right jack stand height the next time! Now you are ready to back under the coupler. As long as the top of the ball is under the coupler it will lower onto the ball. You can now lift the tag axle and pick up on the trailer. Next go back to the trailer and crank the trailer down. Once, the coupler is secure on the ball, check that it is all the way down onto the ball. It may look good but only sitting on top of the ball. This occurs more often when there is no grease between the two. It can often happen when just lowering the tongue and not using the tag axle. The coupler should not be any higher than 1" of the bottom of the ball showing. Now pull the jack stand lever and raise the jack stand foot all the way up. Not doing this will drag the jack stand foot and cause damage. Next, close and push down the safety latch. You can reach under the coupler with your fingers and feel the metal lip under the ball. Another way to make sure it is secure is wind the jack down. If it starts to pick up the rear of the bus, you know you have it on correct. A minute of extra effort will save from finding your trailer in a ditch or even worse. Now you may insert the safety clip pin. Leave the safety clip open for now.
Next attach the break-away cable to the BUS. Notice I said BUS and not the safety chains. If you attach the cable to the chain, and the trailer were to come off, the chain may break above where you clipped it. The brakes will not activate. During a DOT inspection you will be cited for attaching to, wrapping the cable through or wrapping around the chains. The cable must be independent of the chains in order for the break-away switch to work. Next, attach your light plug. If you have excess break–away cable or light cable, place it inside of your safety clip. This will keep it from catching or breaking under the coupler.
Now hook up the chains crossing them. If the chains are too long and may drag, twist them and shorten them. When you drag the chains bouncing up and down on the road you are grinding them down and weakening them. Ever see your buddy’s safety chains occasionally throwing sparks at night? Chains always break at the weakest link. The reason you cross the chains is in case the trailer comes off the chains will cradle the trailer tongue. It is also DOT regulation. A lot of regulations pertaining to trailers will not be within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Guide. It is the DOT guidelines pertaining to trailers. There is a difference. The DOT (Federal) regulates any vehicle, trailer, and manufacturer deemed for the road. Now, carefully double check everything you have done. DO NOT LET SOMEONE TALK TO YOU WHILE YOU ARE HOOKING UP THE TRAILER! Nor do you need help. Remember it is the drivers responsibly and job. Your buddy is doing you no favor by helping you if you miss something or incorrectly hook the trailer up. It can happen and I have seen it. Another helpful hint: Heaven forbid you experience a trailer coming off. If it does, do not panic and hit the brakes! Take your time slowing down (Jake Brake) to avoid the trailer colliding with the bus. Bumpers and rear bus doors are very expensive.
One of the dumbest statements I have ever heard a bus driver make was “I am not responsible for anything on that trailer”. My second favorite is “I don’t want to know what is in it or what it weighs.” People who say that are only fooling themselves. If you are inspected or have an accident be sure to try that with the DOT officer. For a moment let’s imagine a car pulls out in front of you, it’s not your fault but someone is injured or killed. You had better be prepared. The DOT will do a thorough inspection on you, the bus, and trailer. Any bets on whether they weigh the bus and trailer when you couldn’t stop? While you are at the hospital donating blood and you will regardless if you want to or not, you can bet the farm that the inspection process has started back at the accident and will continue over a pit in a shop. Ask someone who has been through it.
Every day while doing your bus Pre-Trip inspection you are required to also include the trailer. Let’s start with all the lights going from the front of the bus and around the back of the trailer and back to the front. While you are checking lights, let’s look at wheels and tires. Check for tread wear. It is a good idea to have a four way wrench to check the trailer lug nuts. Look for grease around the wheel hubs. Refer to the weight section to learn how to check wheel bearings. Information relating to trailer weight can also be found there.
Now we want to go between the bus and trailer. At night you should always use a flash light while doing the inspection. Check to see that your coupler is still latched and the safety pin is in place. Look for the break-away cable and make sure it is not broken or gone. Also look for the break-away pin going into the switch. NEVER pull a trailer with the pin missing! It will burn up the brakes and could cause a fire. If it is missing, call your shop and they can help you. If you find a broken cable or missing switch pin, it must be replaced immediately. These are safety violations. Often when I pick up trailers to take to my shop, I find the break-away cable broken and tied to the chain. That is not going to do any good and if you are lucky the inspecting DOT officer at the scale house will be blind.
Check your safety chains. Make sure they are not hanging too low and are secure. Make sure your light plug is also secure. Look at the jack stand to see if it is all the way up and the foot is pulled up completely. Last but not least, make sure the guy on the bus that is always in a hurry for his pizza remembered to close the ramp door. Yes, I have had that one happen. If you take that extra couple of minutes, it can save you hours on the side of the road. One other thing you should always check for is the annual DOT inspection sticker. Make sure it is still valid. They are mandatory on all trailers pulled by commercial vehicles. Oh, and by the way….. U Haul does not have DOT annual inspection stickers. I wouldn’t think of pulling one with a bus these days.