Whether it’s a small tractor, ATV, UTV, garden tractor, towing vehicle, or trailer, there’s a good chance that your equipment needs a little work and maintenance after sitting idle for several months. If this is the case, then get started with this handy list of tips.
Even though you may only use your horse trailer a handful of times during the year, it’s still important to make sure it’s safe and well-maintained. Here are some of the main points to check.
Tires: Odds are the cold temperatures of winter (and the weeks of sitting unused) have caused the air pressure in your horse trailer tires to drop considerably, so a basic check of the PSI of each one is in order. Consult your trailer’s manual or information labels for the exact PSI settings required, and then use an air compressor or inflator to top off each tire. While you’re at it, visually inspect each tire for cracks and general wear. Even if your horse trailer doesn’t get a lot of mileage each year, the very act of sitting unused can cause sidewall cracking; this is especially true if the trailer sits in direct sunlight. Also check tread depth to make sure the tires still have proper traction.
Lights: Brake lights, turn signals, running lights—all of these need to be checked and in working order long before you leave the driveway, with any non-working lights replaced. Now is also a good a time to double-check the wiring that connects your trailer to the tow vehicle. And don’t forget about those handy little interior lights that make working after dark so much easier.
Brakes: Horse trailers are heavy—especially when filled with several thousand pounds of horses! Therefore, working trailer brakes are a safety essential, since the brakes on the towing vehicle aren’t sufficient for such a large load. If you’re unsure of how to check brakes, have a professional inspect them.
Breakaway chains: In the unlikely event that your horse trailer was to come loose from the hitch, the breakaway chains ensure that the trailer remains connected to the frame of the vehicle. Needless to say, keeping these chains in good condition is very important, so give the chains and their connections a once-over prior to hitting the road.
Breakaway battery: In the very unlikely event that both your trailer hitch and the breakaway chains were to fail simultaneously, the breakaway battery would instantly activate the trailer’s built-in brakes. However, breakaway batteries need maintenance, too, so follow the instructions in your trailer’s manual.
Floor boards: Before hitting the road for a busy season of hauling to shows or trail rides, pull the rubber mats off the trailer floor and give the floorboards a thorough inspection for wear or cracks. Boards need to be sturdy and free of rot to support a horse’s weight. This is also a great time to clean under the mats.
License plate: If your trailer hasn’t been in use for a while, the license plate (or sticker) might be expired, so check before driving anywhere.
Clean up: Even if you put the trailer away clean, odds are that bits of leaves and debris have cluttered up the trailer over the winter, so pulling it out into the sunshine for a wash is probably a good idea. You can also wax the trailer to help protect it from rust.
Tractors, Lawn Tractors, ATVs, and UTVs
Small machines might seem simple, but there are a surprising number of maintenance points that need to be checked before these machines are ready to go for the year. Luckily, most of these tasks are pretty simple and within the range of the average DIYer.
Battery: If the winter was long and cold and you left the battery in the machine, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t have enough power to start the engine. No worries—throwing it on a charger for a few hours should get it ready to go.
Fuel filters: No matter how careful you are during refueling, sediments still slowly find a way into your machine’s fuel system where they can build up in fuel lines or carburetors. The engine’s fuel filter helps prevent this, but it needs replacing now and then; spring is a good time.
Air filters: Farm and stable work can be dusty, but your tractor’s engine needs plenty of clean air to do its job properly; the air filters help catch contaminants before they can reach the engine. Your air filter may need to be cleaned or changed several times throughout the year, depending on the environmental conditions it’s used in, but starting off with a fresh filter in the spring is a good idea. ATVs and UTVs are particularly prone to dust problems due to the types of environments they often run in.
Spark plugs: Is your small machine difficult to start? Does it backfire occasionally? Then try swapping out those old spark plugs for a fresh set—it’s inexpensive, easy to do, and in many cases a simple fix for this common problem.
Lubrication: Nothing dries up grease fittings on a machine like an idle winter season in the shed. Greasing all necessary fittings is a prime springtime task.
Coolant: These machines work hard, and they get hot doing it. Be sure to check (and possibly change) the coolant in your engine before doing any jobs.
Engine oil: Admit it—you didn’t change the oil last year before putting the machine away, did you? No problem—just be sure to do this critical task now before the busy season starts. Put on a new oil filter as well, and then follow the timeline given in your machine’s manual for checking and changing the oil throughout the year.
Hydraulic/transmission oil: Check your machine’s manual to see if changing these oils (they’re likely the same thing) is an annual task. If so, go ahead and do it now. Otherwise, just perform a check to be sure that the level is at the right mark.
Lawnmower blades: Mowing is essential for keeping the stable areas and property looking great, so make sure to sharpen the lawnmower blades in the spring so that the cut is smooth and even.
ATV/UTV drive chains or belts: Check the chain or belt for wear and replace if needed, and for ATV users, keep the chain properly lubricated throughout the year.
Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know (Voyageur Press, 2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh Cob, and Mati and Amos, both Welsh Mountain Ponies. You can view Dan’s photography work at www.foxhillphoto.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!