by Shari Sullivan

Sudden loud noises are usually a bad thing

One morning after a recent December Girl Camper event I planned to take Chester, my 1967 Fireball Meteor trailer, to the local village mechanic so he could put a new wheel cap on one of my tires. When I had new tires put on last spring I replaced one myself, but somewhere along the way it fell off. This time, I would have a professional do the job – someone who could it it harder than me so it would stay on. Two of my great-nephews were spending the day with me, so it seemed like going to a mechanic would be a fun activity for a 10 year old and a 6 year old boy.

The truck and camper were ready to go, so the boys and I buckled up. Walker, who is 6, wanted to bring my 6 month old puppy Mulligan along for the ride so of course I said yes. We headed down my long gravel driveway and out onto the main road. Everything was fine until we got to the stop sign where I would enter the main county road. When it was clear to go I pressed the accelerator and ‘BANG’! There was a loud noise and the trailer lurched.

Never doubt a 10 year old boy… well almost never!

“That’s strange” I said… “What was that?” shouted Walker from the back seat… “Sounds like your brakes!” said 10 year old Beckett. Beckett, I might add, is without a doubt the smartest boy when it comes to anything having to do with cars or trucks. I got out and checked my sway bar, thinking perhaps it was too tight. Then I pressed the accelerator again and this time there was a horrible screeching noise. “It banged again!” shouted Walker… “Definitely your brakes” said Beckett. Mulligan looked out the window and was just happy to be in the truck with us. He did not care if brakes break!

Sometimes there’s no turning back

At this point, I was over halfway to the mechanics shop which is only a mile and a half from my house. I should tell you that my little village has one grocery store, one BBQ restaurant (it’s Alabama, after all), one fire station, one pharmacy, one bank… and one mechanic! To reach the mechanic I had to go down a hill and back up again. When I entered the county road I was driving at a snails pace and screeching the entire time. There is no shoulder on this road, so I drove as close to the edge as I dared . I hoped that all of the drivers who were in a hurry or just trying to get away from the awful screeching sound would just go past me.

By the time we reached the stop light at the top of the hill, my camper was leaning so far to the left it seemed ready to tip over. “Please, please don’t tip over Chester” I said… “Aunt Shari your trailer’s crooked and Mulligan wants to go outside”.. said Walker. “It’s definitely your brakes!” said future mechanic Beckett.

Some things are obvious

At last the light turned green and we screeched into the parking lot of the mechanics shop. John, the friendly neighborhood mechanic, met us outside and said “Looks like you have a flat tire.” Um.. yes… yes I do, I thought. Beckett hops out and tells Mechanic John that he’s pretty sure there’s a problem with the brakes because, well, brakes break! Upon inspection of the tire, it’s easy to see that half of it is no longer there. As it turns out, the brakes on that side had locked up for some yet unknown reason, and the tire did not turn for the last 3/4 of a mile of our drive. I had never seen a tire that looked quite like that before, and thankfully the actual wheel rim had no damage.

A happy ending

All’s well that ends well. My small town mechanic is notoriously honest and while the boys and I drove to the tire shop to get a new tire, he disassembled the brakes and wheel assembly. He saved the parts to show me and explained that a spring had rusted through and snapped, shooting a piece of metal in between the brake drums, causing it to lock up. In other words, my brakes broke! The next morning he sent me to a shop across the river to pick up new brakes to bring back to him. I asked him to replace the brakes on both tires because it seemed to me that if it happened to one, it would surely happen to the other one. He gladly replaced them both and told me that the other one was ready to go too. My little trailer now has new brakes and is ready to roll into the 2024 camping season.

Err on the side of caution

As a side note, I had a trailer brake controller put in my truck when I bought it, and when my mechanic connected it they worked great, so the brakes were okay back then. That was five years ago, so in March of 2023, I got new tires at a local tire shop. I know now that when you have your tires replaced they don’t always inspect the brakes at the same time, and brakes break too. Now I know that I should pay closer attention to things like brakes. In my research into how to check on this I discovered that places like Les Schwab do free trailer brake inspections. There are probably local spots in your town that do that too! It could have been really bad as I just returned from a 450 mile camping trip that included some interstate driving. I’m very grateful that the big bang did not happen when I was entering or exiting the highway far away from home.

Do you have a checklist that you use when you’re getting your trailer, camper or RV ready for the camping season? I would love to see what’s on your list. This is my pre-camping checklist for my trailer, with the addition of checking the trailer brakes added. Be safe and be smart!

Pre-Season Camper Checklist

  • Check Battery
  • Propane Tanks Filled
  • Water lines flushed out – de-winterize
  • Clean outside of camper
  • Clean windows inside
  • Check Tires AND brakes, because brakes break!
  • Check jack, hitch and sway bar
  • Inventory kitchen items – cooking/dishes
  • Inventory exterior items – wheel chocks/stabilizers
  • Hoses, Extension cords/surge protector checked
  • Check lights, AC, outlets

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