By Russ and Tiña De Maris
When we were new to the RVing-with-a-trailer set, we bought an older fifth wheel that had been sitting about on its tires for some time. Lots of tread left, sure, but the tires themselves had been exposed to plenty of UV radiation. Our RVing mentors “learned us” quickly that just because there’s plenty of tread left doesn’t mean it’s a safe tire. We soon took our “new” rig to what we thought was a reputable tire shop and got new treads all around.
More things to learn soon followed: The tire guy had us park the rig out back, and he set to work pulling the old tires off, replacing them with new. Some months later, and a few (emphasis on “few”) thousand miles later, those “new” tires weren’t looking so sharp. Odd tread-wear patterns began to appear on a couple of them, while the others looked pretty good. We replaced them, while head scratching.
Running into another season of snowbirding with our experienced friends, we got some seasoned advice: Best to take the trailer to an alignment shop experienced in RV work. It was a 90-mile tow to the shop, and they found our problem was a bent axle. Where did it come from? Road damage, possibly – hit a pothole, a big rock, what-have-you. But another bent axle possibility – improper jacking. Did the tire store flunky jack the trailer by the axle? Memory (though dulled by age) suggests that he might have.
Regardless of cause, ever after we’ve been extremely careful when tire work is done – hanging around and watching shop workers. More than once we’ve had to intervene when the tire guy has tried to set the jack under the axle.
So how does one safely jack a trailer?
First, do your utmost to do your lifting operations on solid, level ground. Thick gravel can cause a jack to slip, which could end up in injury or damage. If you’re stuck on a gravel road, see if you can “dig down” to solid ground to seat the jack.
Second, chock the wheels on the side opposite you’ll be raising up. This means a chock against the forward tire, and a chock against the rear tire. Don’t think about lifting your rig with it unchocked.
Finally, always set the jack under the trailer frame. In some instances this may mean you’ll need to block up the jack. Don’t try and throw blocking between the top of the jack and the frame: You’re asking for trouble. Rather, set solid “two-by” lumber under the jack, large enough the jack base will fit on a single board, not shoving two or more chunks together side-by-side.
While you have the trailer jacked up, it’s not a bad idea to spin the tire around through a rotation or two. Listen closely: Grinding noises or rough travel could indicate a wheel bearing in need of replacement. If you’re suspicious, don’t waste any time getting the bearing inspected – a trailer wheel rolling off into oncoming traffic is a sight you won’t soon forget.
Jack the frame, not the axle, and you’ll spend a lot less on alignments or tire replacements.