Maintaining and Storing a Small Travel Trailer
Taking care of your trailer
When we bought our small travel trailer it was seven years old, but it could have passed for brand new. The previous owners took great care of it. We've now had it for over 3 years and it's still in as good of shape as when we bought it.
Maintaining your trailer is actually quite easy if you do it as you go along. I go through everything before each major trip (2-3 times per year). While we're traveling, I keep a "to do" list of things I discover that need to be addressed when we get back home.
The following are the key items I pay attention to. (Your trailer may not be equipped with everything listed.) Each spring I also review all the suggested maintenance in my Casita owner's manual to make sure I'm not overlooking anything.
Clean the Inside of the Trailer After Each Trip
This job is actually handled by Fay. She is obsessed with keeping everything in great condition.
Wash & Wax
When we return from a trip we always wash it before putting it into our storage area. Before leaving on a new trip, we always wash it so it looks it's best when we travel. I also try to wash and wax it twice a year. Be sure you do some research and pick products that are good for your type of trailer. Ours is fiberglass and I really like the Meguire's marine products.
Wheel Bearings & Brakes
A wheel bearing that fails can leave you stranded on the side of the road. I've heard all kinds of recommendations, but to absolutely minimize this risk, I replace our wheel bearings after about 10,000 miles of travel. So far that's been about once a year. If we start traveling less, I'll still try to replace them at least every two years. It's pretty inexpensive and helps avoid one of the worst scenarios I want to run into on the road. Years ago when we had a pop-up camper, our trips were rarely far from home and I would just inspect and repack the bearings myself. At this point, I pay to have it done by someone whose entire business is trailers, and have found it's usually no more expensive to have them replace the bearings then repack them.
Since the wheel hubs must be removed in order to replace the wheel bearings. This is the time to also check the condition of the brakes and service them if needed.
Everything you read says that trailer tires generally fail before the tread is worn out. In other words, don't depend upon a visual inspection of the tread like you do on your automobiles. The biggest causes of tire failure seem to be the following:
- Improper Inflation Be sure to check the pressure frequently when you are on the road. I check mine each day before we drive.
- Dry Rot This often results from deterioration by the sun. Keep your tires covered if they are exposed to the sun, and visually inspect them for signs of dry rotting.
- Heat Buildup from High Speed Trailer tires are normally rated for a maximum speed of 65mph. The faster you drive, the more heat will be build up. We generally drive back roads as much as we can and keep the speed down to around 60mph. It does take a bit longer, but we can usually afford the time and enjoy seeing the small towns. I guess in general we do all we can to avoid problems along the way.
How to read the data on a tire sidewall
The most significant item here is the date the tire was made. When you purchase new tires you should always check this date and make sure you are not purchasing tires that have been sitting around in a warehouse for a long time. Keep in mind that the tires can deteriorate with age and will often wear out from the inside without any visible signs on the outside. To be extra safe, a lot of people get new tires every 3 to 5 years whether they think they need them or not. Keep in mind however, that even a brand new tire can fail. Always have a good spare and be prepared to change it.
Fire Extinguisher, Smoke Detector Battery, Light Bulbs, General Lubrication (hinges, locks, stabilizers, etc.)
I try to check these items before each trip and address anything that needs attention. I also go through and lubricate everything when I wax the trailer in the spring.
Water Heater and Anode Rod
Having a good anode rod in your water heater is extremely important. The idea is for the anode to deteriorate instead of the inside of your water heater. How long one will last varies depending on a lot of variables. Be sure to check it at least once a year and replace it when it is worn out.
The photo above shows the difference between a new one and one that has done it's job and needs to be replaced. After every trip, I always remove the anode, drain the tank and flush out any sediment (using a water heater tank rinser wand) that exists from deterioration of the anode. I never leave the water heater sit unused, full of water. I've gone three years now on the same anode, and it's probably only half used up. The video will give you a good overview on anode rods.
When replacing the anode, wrap the threads with PTFE thread seal tape (available in the plumbing department at any hardware or big box home improvement store). This will make it much easier to remove. Also, I usually leave the anode out and stuff the end of a rag into the water tank hole between trips.
Breakaway Switch for the Brakes
If your trailer has brakes, you should have a breakaway switch. This switch activates your trailer brakes should the trailer ever separate from your tow vehicle while you are driving. There is a small cable of which one end is attached to your tow vehicle hitch, and the other end connects to a pin that goes into the switch on your trailer frame. If your trailer ever separates from your tow vehicle, the pin will be yanked out of the switch and the trailer brakes should activate (assuming the battery is charged and connected).
You should test this breakaway switch periodically. I'm not sure if this works on all trailers, but here's the easiest way I've found on ours. Have one person hold a compass beside each wheel while another person removes the pin. The electromagnet that works the brakes in each wheel will cause the compass to move when it is activated.
Check the coupler to make sure it snugs up against your hitch ball when attached. The video gives you a good presentation on how to do so.
Sanitize Fresh Water System
You should sanitize your fresh water system periodically, and also whenever water has been left in it for a period of time, any time you have smelly water, and after you have winterized using RV antifreeze. If you purchase a used trailer, I'd also sanitize it before you use it. If you have an owner's guide, refer to it for specific instructions. Here's the steps I use which should work pretty well for most trailers.
- Drain the fresh water tank. It may be impossible to get it completely empty, but do the best you can.
- Fill your fresh water tank completely with a mix of 1 oz of household bleach to every 8 gallons of water. The easiest way to do this is to determine how much bleach you are going to need, add it to a pitcher, then fill the pitcher with fresh water. Pour it into your fresh water tank then completely fill the tank with fresh water.
- Turn on the water pump then open one of the faucets which is furthest away from your fresh water tank. When you smell bleach, close the faucet and open the one next to it (ie. cold then hot). Continue this process of opening one faucet until you smell bleach, closing it, and opening the next one until you have run the water through all of the faucets in your trailer.
- Wait 15 minutes, allowing the sanitizing solution to set in your tank and throughout the plumbing system.
- Open the drain on the fresh water tank until it is empty.
- Completely fill the tank back up with fresh water.
- Open all the faucets and turn on the water pump. Run it until all the water has been drained.
- If necessary, repeat the process of refilling with fresh water and draining until you are no longer smelling any significant bleach. How many refills you will need varies from trailer to trailer, mostly depending upon the size of the fresh water tank and the amount of plumbing being sanitized.
Storing your trailer
You should take care to prepare your trailer for storage if you are not going to be using it for an extended period of time. For me, I consider anything over three months an extended period. Here's the few things I do in preparation.
Leaving weight sitting on your tires for an extended period of time can create flat spots in them. Fill your tires with air to the maximum pressure, then put your trailer on jack stands to take the weight off the wheels. You also need to keep your tires out of the sun. If your trailer is not covered or in a shaded spot, cover your tires. Some people even remove the wheels and keep them inside while they have the trailer stored for an extended time.
Try to keep you battery fully charged at all times. When in storage, you should remove the battery and keep it connected to an automatic trickle charger (such as a Battery Tender Junior). Otherwise, you can connect it to the trailer system and charge it for one day each month.
*** WARNING ***
Leaving the battery connected continually and charging via the trailer can over charge and destroy it!
Be sure to check the electrolyte level in your battery monthly and refill with distilled water when needed. Clean the terminals if they have any corrosion. Here's an article that will give you a good overview of how to take care of your battery: Polk's Top 7 Tips for Saving your RV Batteries
You don't want to get ready for your next camping trip to find your trailer full of bugs! Be sure to prepare and treat it properly for wherever you live. For us, it's a matter of spraying everything that touches the ground with good insect killer, and also put screen over all vents and any other openings. I try to go back and respray everything monthly.
Humidity is a big problem in Florida. I keep a container full of DampRid inside the trailer anytime it's stored even for short times, then check it on a regular basis. Within a month or two, the container will be full of water and needs to be replaced.
This site is all about our personal experience with small travel trailers. I'm working to make it as complete as possible, but we do live in Florida. As a result, we don't winterize our trailer. I'm not going to give you information about something I have no experience with, but everything I've read indicates that this is a necessity if you live where you could experience cold weather and freezing. Sorry I don't live up north and have some information for you here. (Actually I just lied! I'm really glad that we live in Florida.)