Spring opener

Am I Ready The Spring Opener

Early spring brings a lot of optimism and opportunities as our imaginations move through the upcoming year and all the places we plan to visit.
Will this be the year that you plan your spring opener properly and prepare yourself for all situations?
The May long weekend is usually when a number of campers break out from the winter doldrums and strike across the country to their favorite retreats. Let’s be more than optimistic by implementing all the checks and balances we need to minimize breakdowns on the road.
Here is a short checklist I would follow to make my spring opener a great experience.

Questions and Reminders
Does the vehicle have the capacity to tow the assigned load?
This will include all amenities, food and gear that are added to the camper or boat. Many drivers do not know what a safe towing vehicle actually is. They often think that their new vehicle has ample power to pull and manoeuvre their travel trailer or boats. Be aware that the salesperson might not be as truthful as he or she claimed and do your research before putting yourself and others at risk. Vehicles made for towing have lower gear ratios, added engine cooling capacity, better braking ability and transmissions that can be subjected to heavy loads. As well, today’s vehicles are made lighter to improve fuel economy. A lighter vehicle can easily be over powered or pushed by a heavier trailer on grades or in the wind.

Was the tow vehicle serviced and all fluid levels checked? Today’s vehicles can be put on a diagnostic machine that will tell you when or if you are about to incur engine or transmission problems or require servicing. This diagnostic check is well worth the cost but there is no substitute for a personal visual inspection. This includes fluid levels, oil and water leaks or stains, electrical wiring and electrical plugs, hitch and hitch components.

Have you had the tires checked for tread wear, balance and air pressure? Are your tires rated for the load being applied?  Worn tires, tire load rating or tires wear from bent axles or improper inflation are easy repairs. Most tire shops can press an axle straight and definitely advise you on tire wear, tire load rating and air pressure issues.
Many people do not understand tire load range ratings and how it applies to the load weight applied to the tow vehicle or the load being pulled. Ask your tire shop or mechanic to explain the ratings of P, C, D, and E for example. You might find the tread looks fine but the tires are not rated for the load you are about to tow.

Have you checked the spare tire on the tow vehicle and the trailer?  Many people assume the spare is okay until they put it to use. This is a vital piece of the puzzle should your trip be impacted with a flat or blown tire. Air pressure should be checked regularly for any spare tires.

Have you had the trailer bearings checked for wear and or replaced?
Does your unit have trailer brakes?  Are the brake settings correct to assist the tow vehicle when stopping?
Many people forget how often a brake is applied. The wear on the brake pads affects the setting of both the tow vehicle and the trailer. Both should be checked and set up to work in tandem. Many trailer brakes are never reset or checked until after the owner has experienced a breakdown or an accident. If your trailer does not have brakes, you will be adding a lot more pressure on the tow vehicle brakes to stop the vehicle. Always look far ahead and prepare for hard braking well in advance of your stop. Vehicles brakes can be over matched if travelling at speed and having to overcome the weight of the tow vehicle and the trailer.
Does your tow vehicle have emergency warning flares or roadside reflectors?
There is nothing more dangerous than having to stop on the side of a road or highway and not have some method of signalling the oncoming traffic. It will be your responsibility to have proper night and day roadside warning devices.  See my tips and tactics column for more on this topic.
Do you carry an additional hydraulic jack and wood blocks? These are invaluable when you have to get under an axle to change a tire. If you look around, the jack is worth $15.00 – $25.00 dollars and the wood comes from your garage. Hardly too expensive considering what you have invested in the tow vehicle and the trailer.  Wood dunnage is extremely important when you have to lift an axle on a vehicle to change a tire or work on an axle bearing as examples. The wood blocks will help prevent your jack from sinking in soft ground or allowing the jack to tip over because the base is not level or prevent the unit from rolling while being lifted.  Extra wood blocks can be positioned under a load so the jack can be removed.  So many instances where a few pieces of scrap dimensional lumber come in handy.
Do you have the correct insurance?
We often get complacent about insurance policies. Often as not, the invoice comes in and the cheque is sent away. I always ask my insurer to explain to me exactly what my policy covers and what changes have occurred and what the restrictions are. This way I can customize my policy to my needs and not just assume coverage. Someday you may have to leave your trailer stranded. When this occurs, you disconnect the tow vehicle from your trailer. Your trailer is now technically uninsured. Just think of the problems you can incur if someone hits your trailer and is injured, steals from your trailer or vandalizes the trailer.

These are just common sense reminders that often overlooked in our haste to get to our spot on the lake or campsite. The only thing I do in addition to this list is carry a complete set of wheel bearings, tools, grease, towels and the hand cleaner, light bulbs, fuses and flashlight on my trailer in case of an emergency. If ever you see my boat trailer for example; there will be a small box mounted to the tongue that carries all these components. See my Tips and Tactics column.

Do enjoy the spring opener and the balance of the year. Fill in the gaps as you consider the list and add confidence to your enthusiasm and eagerness to get away from it all.
Remember Murphy’s Law– what can happen- will happen.
You just don’t know when!

Sep 20, 2006