Drivesmart column: Spring cleaning for surge brakes

Experience has taught me that “spring cleaning” seldom includes the trailer’s surge brake.

By Tim Schewe

Spring has sprung and trailers that have slumbered through the winter are being dragged out of storage and dusted off for use. Check the air in the tires. Light up the lights. Yes, we’re good to go for another season!

Experience has taught me that “spring cleaning” seldom includes the trailer’s surge brake. I would set up at a brake check and start waving in anything pulling a utility or boat trailer for inspection. It did not take long before I found a trailer with serious problems or even no functioning brakes at all.

The first sign of trouble was the breakaway brake cable. This was often frayed, broken or missing. This is not optional equipment. If it isn’t in good condition and long enough to attach to the tow vehicle the trailer must not carry a load that requires brakes.

Next I would hand my adjustable wrench to the driver and ask them to remove the cap on the master cylinder for me. The amount of force employed was a good indication of whether the brake fluid level was checked before this voyage began. Occasionally the driver destroyed the cap trying to remove it.

Brake fluid is a clear pale yellow liquid that must fill at least half of the reservoir. Ideally, the level should be about 3/8” or 9 mm below full. If it’s rust coloured or not there at all, again, the trailer must not carry a load that requires brakes.

If the breakaway brake cable and brake fluid quality and amount looked serviceable, the final check was to ask the driver to apply the breakaway brake and try to roll ahead. Of course, the trailer should resist being moved.

Where the actuator roller is visible it should not travel more than an inch or 2.5 cm when the breakaway brake is applied. If it does, this is a sign that the brakes are out of adjustment.

One surge brake owner’s manual that I read suggested a field test of the system before the trailer is connected to the tow vehicle. The trailer is parked on level ground and the safety chains are attached to each other in a loop under the hitch. A length of 2×4 lumber or other suitable prying tool is inserted into the chain loop and used to lever against the front of the coupler.

The coupler should move to the rear and apply the brake. This will prevent the trailer from rolling away from you as you continue to push.

Choosing to tow a load that requires trailer brakes when the brakes don’t work is inviting disaster and police will likely treat it as such. The trailer could be towed or removed from the highway until the load is reduced or repairs are completed. Fines and inspection orders are also an almost certainty.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

Just Posted

Duncan Minds in Motion program has space available

Minds in Motion runs on five Monday afternoons beginning on May 27

Anticipation building for trip to D-Day anniversary for Chemainus students

Experience of being there promises to be a memorable one

Retired teacher’s generosity provides huge opportunity for two Chemainus Secondary students

Blitterswyk and Brown looking forward to being at Juno Beach for 75th anniversary of D-Day

Breakers battle into girls soccer provincials

Kelsey takes aim at top-eight finish

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

Raptors beat Bucks 120-102 to even series at 2-2

Lowry pours in 25 as Toronto moves within two games of NBA Finals

Body of missing snowmobiler recovered from Great Slave Lake

Police confirm the body is that of one of three missing snowmobilers

Christmas morning burglar sentenced on Vancouver Island

Justin Redmond Feusse, 20, sentenced to 240 days in jail for Dec. 25 break-and-enter

So, do you know ‘Dave from Vancouver Island’?

Ontario man searching for fellow he travelled with in Europe 50 years ago

Toddler seriously injured after falling from Okanagan balcony

RCMP are investigating after a two-year-old boy fell from the balcony of an apartment in Kelowna

Cost jumps 35% for Trans-Canada Highway widening in B.C.

Revelstoke-area stretch first awarded under new union deal

Is vegan food a human right? Ontario firefighter battling B.C. blaze argues it is

Adam Knauff says he had to go hungry some days because there was no vegan food

Winds helping in battle against fire threatening northern Alberta town

Nearly 5,000 people have cleared out of High Level and nearby First Nation

Most Read