Although I’m a firm believer that you can learn from every experience and definitely every mistake, there are some lessons I would have rather learned the easy way—by reading about them. Unfortunately, that’s not always how life works. In early January, we learned a few valuable lessons about the maintenance and well-being of our trailer axles.Our Story
We have a 43-foot class A motorhome with which we pull our 24-fout trailer that houses some of our additional belongings, as well as the necessities for our mobile store. We were about an hour into a five-hour drive to check out some new inventory we were considering when a fellow driver began honking his horn and flashing his lights at us. “Flat tire?” I suggested. Even with our back-up camera and side mirrors, we can’t always see everything that is going on with the trailer and it wouldn’t be the first time we discovered we had a flat in this manner.We pulled over on an off-ramp and the helpful driver jumped out of his car. All I heard was something about a loud noise and shooting sparks and that the back passenger-side tire was leaning at a 45-degree angle. With few options, we slowly drove to the nearest parking lot and called a local mechanic.
Generally-speaking, torsion axles are well galvanized and don't have as many moving parts as spring-based ones. They are, however more expensive and in our case difficult to find. Upon inspection, the spindle on our wheel had been worn down to half its size, and the replacement, which was out of production, had to be manufactured. Ultimately, our mechanic had to commission a spindle to be ground down to the correct diameter at a local machinist to fit our trailer.
In all, we had an unexpected detour for five weeks while this was being addressed.Prevention is the Best Policy
Our trailer has seen many miles over the last eight years from Florida to North Dakota and Minnesota to the Pacific Northwest, and it was used when we bought it. Over time, dirt and salt from the treated, winter roads had gotten into the wheel causing the abrasive surface that wore the spindle down. This could have been avoided by thoroughly rinsing the trailer’s undercarriage of after driving across snow and ice-covered roads, paying close attention to the hubs. Although we regularly clean the front, sides, and back, this had literally never been done.Do Thorough Inspections
Periodically—and especially before long trips—the welds where the spindles are joined to the axle tubes should be checked for cracks or rust. This is the first sign that an axle needs to be repaired.
If you're unfamiliar with the parts, take your trailer for an assessment by a professional at a shop that services trailers. They can check the spindles, axle, and brakes, as well. You don’t want to be found driving without functioning trailer brakes. This is not only dangerous, but it’s also illegal in most states.
We were lucky that a fellow traveler immediately alerted us to our situation and that we were merely a very short drive to an adequate parking lot. In fact, the mechanic’s lot was within walking distance of where we parked, which was a good thing. As they pulled the trailer into the lot, the wheel actually fell off. This is why it’s a good idea to invest in an RV insurance that provides roadside assistance for your trailer, as well. RV clubs like Good Sam Club offer coverage and if you frequently tow your trailer, it is well worth the additional fees. Five weeks and over 1000-dollars later, we are back on the road with our lessons learned.