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Fixing rust and painting the most noticeable parts of the trailer is one thing, but what’s the point of expending so much effort, paying particular attention to the looks of a final product, if a part or parts, are just plain terrible to begin with? It would be like baking a nice cake, icing it and then finishing it off by sprinkling dirt over it.
By this stage, having completely dismantled and repainted everything, it became obvious that these little Easytrailer/Harbor Freight trailers are not exactly made to the best standard, or use quality parts. Rather they are made cheap, really cheap, down to the lowest possible cost and then sold at ridiculously cheap prices. This was evident in how many of the smaller parts, the other little bits and pieces which make up the trailer, had weathered or simply worn out over time.
A criterion was used to determine whether to repair or not, it was as follows: If a part was to go through a process of being refurbished would it look new or close to new once the refurbishing was finished? If the answer was no, this meant the part would be replaced with a new or equivalent item.
Some parts on the trailer could be repaired. For example, as detailed in part 2, the main steel ‘C’ sections were able to have the old and faded paint stripped off, then repainted and once fixed still look semi-decent. On the other hand, these smaller ticket items were beyond the point of repair and could not be fixed in any reasonable or cost-effective way. In fact, a vast majority of these smaller parts were in need of replacement, so bad was the condition of the parts.
Replacement parts fell into one of two categories: parts that could be bought off the shelf, and then parts that could be designed and special manufactured.
Parts that could be bought off the shelf is pretty self-explanatory, could I go online or to the local auto parts store and buy something cheaply and easily off the shelf? As there are plenty of specialty retailers dealing in spare parts for trailers, this proved to be the most regular option when getting new parts.
On occasions, parts needed to be specially manufactured. This was due to lead times on replacement parts being too long or wanting to alter the original design slightly. In this case, I would design the replacement based on the original parts design. The only way to do this properly was to, painstakingly, measure every part in detail, taking note of every dimension and feature, then transfer those numbers onto the appropriate drawing program.
Parts were drawn on the computer using either with AutoCAD or Fusion360. I have been using these respective drafting and modelling programs for a number of years now and are my go-to for when I need something drawn up.
Once the design had been drawing up, it had to be turned from a drawing or model on the computer screen into a tangible part that could be used on the trailer. Depending on the characteristics of the part and the material it was to be made from, determined the manufacturing process that was to be used. If it was to be made of metal, either steel or aluminium, it was sent off to be laser cut. If it was something plastic, I would print it myself on one of the 3D printers I have laying around the workshop.
One part at a time, each broken and worn-out piece was replaced, either by something of my own design, or a simple new for old replacement with store bought parts. Either way, there was no point of putting tired parts back onto what was becoming an almost new trailer.
Nuts and Bolts
As mentioned in part 2 of this project, I made the decision to completely dismantle the various sub-assemblies of the trailer in order to properly fix the rust situation, painting each component individually. What this meant was there ended up being a box full of 3/8 nuts and bolts.
Unfortunately, these fixings were not in the best condition with a majority of the nuts and bolts having also been damaged by the epic amount of rust and corrosion, some so bad they were seized tight and could only be removed with an angle grinder.
Replacing all the nuts and bolts on the trailer would require around a hundred, or there abouts, replacement fittings. The intention, therefore, was to try and save as many of the 3/8 nuts and bolts and reuse for when the time came to reassemble all the various parts of the trailer.
To reuse the original nuts and bolts, they would need to be cleaned of the rust. To clean effectively, a rust killing solvent would be required, something that could be poured into a container, have all these bits and pieces dunked in and left overnight to eat away all the rust.
There were nasty chemicals available from my local spare parts store which would do such a job, however the smallest amount available was 10 litres. That was a huge amount of chemical cleaner for something relatively small as the nuts and bolts. It would get the job done, but then there would be 9.5 litres of the stuff sitting in the workshop and would most likely sit there until the end of time. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but the big bottle of rust solvent was not cheap and for what new nuts and bolts cost to buy, it was about the same price. With that in mind, it made more sense to get new nuts and bolts. This had the added advantage of no soaking in chemicals, no scrubbing or further cleaning and then no having to store the dangerous chemicals.
I did, however, attempt a little experiment to try and clean the rust off using a rather unconventional method. There has always been those rumours and urban legends about how effective coke is at cleaning rust off metal. Willing to try anything at this point, the nuts and bolts were placed in a small container of coke overnight, to see if there is any truth to these stories. Believe it or not, there was actually a noticeable difference on the parts after a 24 hours soak in the soft drink bath. Some of the rust could be rubbed off with relative ease using a rag and other previously stuck-on dirt and grime was cleaned off by the fizz drink. While there was some improvement, I wouldn’t call it a massive improvement. The steel was still stained in some areas and on the worst affected surfaces, it didn’t put a dent in the rust. It was worth a try regardless and all it cost was two cans of coke. In a second attempt, the experiment was repeated, only on this occasion using coke zero. The results were pretty much the same, using normal or sugar free coke doesn’t really make much difference.
With the coke experimentation done and dusted, I bit the bullet and bought a big box of shiny, new, zinc plated bolts. As I’m not a huge fan of imperial standard of measurement, these new fixings were all metric. Anything on the trailer that was originally 3/8 was replaced by an equivalent M10, with the original spring washers being swapped in favour of flat washers with nyloc nuts. By replacing all the imperial bolts with metrics, it meant 95% of the fixings on the trailer was now M10, being held securely in place with the nyloc nuts.
It should come as no surprise, the hinge brackets on a folding trailer are an important component in terms of enabling its folding functionality.
On this trailer, in place of real hinges, there are two pieces of 2.5mm steel acting as swivel plates. One plate sits atop of the other, these are then held in place with a nut and bolt going through the centre to create a pivoting point. There is one of these setups on either side of the frame, bolted to the sides, one half on the front frame and the other on the rear.
The existing hinge brackets, where not in too bad of a condition visually, they had a small amount of surface rust but on the whole the zinc plated finish of the brackets had held up well and stood the test of time. Although while fine to look at, these brackets were not in a good way, as they had gone out of shape over the years.
The main issue was the bolt hole acting as the central pivot point. What were once nice round holes had, over a lifetime of being folded and unfolded, had been turn into ovals, great for footy and easter eggs, but not so much here. Because of the holes getting out of shape, what resulted was movement in the rear frame section, moving in ways that it should not be moving in. While being folded or unfolded, it was loose and sloppy. Worse still, when the tray was folded out flat and bolted into position, there was an amount of free play and movement at these hinging points in the middle of the trailer. Instead of having one, unified, flat surface of the trailer, the rear section would move up and down constantly over bumps and rough surfaces.
As the brackets were going to need replacing to fix this unwanted movement, it was logical to draw them up on AutoCAD and then have laser cut from fresh steel. Measurements were taken directly off the original part/s, as the design itself is so simple it only took the best part of 15 minutes to draft everything with AutoCAD.
My interpretation of the bracket that ended up being designed was slightly different to the factory version in two ways. Firstly) it is slightly narrower, I found the factory bracket was maybe a bit too excessive in its use of steel. Slimming down the profile would not require as much material to be used. Despite bring slimmer in profile, all the bolt holes remained in the same positions and bolted up directly to the trailer frame; Secondly) two of the four factory brackets were not flat, rather they had a folded offset to allow for the clearance required for the pivoting motion. While this feature could have also been adopted into my design and manufactured accordingly, it was a much simpler and cleaner design to just include a spacer, with the spacer to placed in-between the frame and hinge bracket on the front section of the trailer. This alternate take on the design, using spacers, still gives the same functionality as the folded set of the standard part.
The new parts were laser cut from 3mm mild steel, a low-grade mild steel (250G to be exact) but at least it would have round holes as opposed to ovals like on the parts that came with the trailer. Particular effort and attention was paid making sure the thickness and profile was correct, as to ensure it would fit onto the trailer correctly and operate as intended. Which I’m happy to say it did.
As these parts were semi-prototypes, and as I knew there was a revision to the design coming up in the not-too-distant future meaning the need to be laser cut once again, there was no real point in using a higher-grade steel for the purpose. For the subsequent revision, a higher grade of steel, such as Hardox, will be the material of choice. Hardox is typically used in tip trucks bodies because of its low wearing nature, it won’t deform or wear anywhere as much as regular mild steel will. Additionally for the next revision, the spacers will be 4mm steel as opposed to 3mm to allow for a washer to be placed in between the hinge brackets and allow for that extra piece of wear protection.
Keeping in the style of all the other auxiliary parts on the trailer, the newly cut brackets were painted in a simple gloss black. Black was a deliberate choice as it does not draw attention to itself, as opposed to brighter, eye catching, colours, such as silver or a zinc coating.
As I want parts likes these not to be beautiful but functional and generally not noticed, they will only be painted in a plain and boring black. This is my attempt to hide functional parts from view while still being in plain sight.
It is impressive, even on such a small and seemingly insignificant part, the massive aesthetic improvement it has made when compared to the original, weathered bracket. The deep black brackets against the vibrant red of the trailer frame and then pops of striking silver of the bolts holding everything in place really looks the part.
Drawbar Gusset Plates
There are two drawbar gussets, as was the original design of the trailer. The top gusset had a small length of rectangular hollow section (RHS) welded to the top surface of the 6mm mild steel. This RHS was the point where the coupler for connection to the tow vehicle was attached. On the opposing gusset, there is no RHS, and is manufactured from thinner 3mm mild steel. This bottom gusset is slimmer in its profile and uses four of the available bolt holes as opposed to six, like is used on the top gusset. The bottom piece is purely for strengthening of the drawbar assembly and holding the two channels in place. There are no other components attached to this part and, unlike the top, which was painted, the bottom was zinc plated.
Condition of both the gussets were average, the top being the worse of the two. Rust had destroyed the paint to a level which could not be saved, it was also present on the internal surfaces of the RHS which made treating for rust difficult, and next to impossible. While I had wanted to rescue as many parts and components as possible, these gussets were not going to be worth the effort to recover.
As the profile of the parts was simple enough, I drew it up with AutoCAD after accurately measuring all the essential dimensions including hole spacings and diameters. From this I took it to my preferred laser cutting joint where a replacement was made up. For the small amount these cost to have manufactured, there was no point at expending the effort to try save these existing parts.
An issue that became obvious was the fact that when the trailer was hitched to the towbar of the Hilux, it would have a noticeable rake. As the Hilux is lowered by 2 inches and then lowered even further as a result of tools and equipment in the back, the tow ball sits relatively low to the road.
What this resulted in was the front of the trailer sitting low and the rear up in the air. While not a massive issue, it’s preferable to level out the flat bed for the purposes of ensuring a level load.
Being able to design a new gusset of my own specifications, meant being able to correct this issue of rake. The trailers coupler was bolted to the top of the RHS, raising the connection point. However, because of this higher connection point, when connected to the tow vehicle, it lowers the front of the trailer further than necessary, creating the rake. By designing and making my own gusset, the RHS could be left off, meaning a lower point of connection and as a result the trailer sitting level when its connected to the tow vehicle.
Another detail I wanted to change was the point of attachment for the safety chains. On the existing gusset there were two chains coming off the top gusset, but these two chains had a common point of attachment, so in reality, it was actually one chain but ‘folded’ in half, going to two points on the tow vehicle. For the purposes of safety and security, I wanted to have two independent chains, as opposed to what was currently there, that being two chains on a common point of attachment. This feature was designed into the replacement part, two elongated holes were placed on either side of where the coupler was to be attached, these holes allowed for a removable chain link to be threaded through and then have the required safety chains attached. By having one on either side, it meant there was now truly two independent safety chains attaching the trailer to the car, as opposed to just one pretending to be twoBy removing the RHS from the existing gusset and doubling the safety chains, it made towing safer overall. From making changes to just this one part, it effected not only the way the trailer sits while being towed, but also how much securities are in place should the worst happen.
Wiring on a trailer is simple to begin with, there are only a handful of electrical components which hang off the loom so when there are joints and splices and dodgy joins there really isn’t anywhere to hide with how crap a wiring job there could potentially be. This was the condition of the wiring on this trailer, hacked and taped.
Being an older trainer, many previous owners have had goes at fixing the wiring. As a result, there are twisted joins, bodgy connections, layers of electrical tape and cable ties all throughout. Usually this isn’t an issue when these fixes are here and there. But when the loom is seemingly comprised only of these half arsed repairs, it truly becomes unacceptable. Or maybe that’s just the electrician in me.
Because the wiring loom is so simple, and not comprising of that much hardware, it was much of a muchness to just replace everything for brand new. This included the 7 core backbone itself which runs the entire length of the trailer, new LED lighting, tail and side indicators (more on these shortly), and of course new trailer plug. When listed like this it becomes obvious how little there is to actually replace and why trying to rescue the exist loom wasn’t worth the hassle. For around $150 dollar bucks all the hardware and wiring can be replaced for new, and for a few hours of labour the loom will be in and wired.
A noted issue (just one of many) on the tear down was how the wiring loom was run though the frame, particularly at the hinge points where the trailer folded on itself. Not only are these places potential pinch points, but the way the wiring was run there was zero allowance for these folding points, there was no slack in the cable to allow for unstrained movement of folding parts. It seemed almost as if the trailer had not been folded for years and the loom was adapted for a fixed bed trailer. Trying to fold the trailer up into its storage position caused strain on the wiring as there was no slack and was cable tied to terrible fixing points. As it was, unless all these cable ties were cut off there was no way to actually fold the frame.
The chopped and taped loom was removed from the trailer as one whole item, still with tail light attached. As I mentioned before, there was no point it trying to save this loom as thought-out its lifetime of various owners each having a go at fixing it, the condition was not good at all. This loom, its lights and plug were all sent for a permanent holiday to the garbage.
As soon as the old loom was gone, the new 7 core cable was run in its place. This time, there was allowances for all the hinge points and enough slack on the cable so as not to cause the strain. By allowing just a bit of extra cable here and there, the loom will last longer as there is no unnecessary forces pulling the cable out of position and out of shape.
To secure the loom in place, sticky back cable fixings were used. These little squares have an adhesive backing and then holes on the top surface to allow a cable tie to be fed through and tied around a cable. In my career as an electrician, these are the default choice for securing small sized wiring and cabling into position to be held into place. On the trailer, this meant holding them in position along the insides of ‘C’ sections and out of harms way.
A problem that came up after having gone to the effort of running the cable, was the fact some of the sticky backs did not have good adhesive strength and were falling off in places, despite having cleaned the surface before sticking them into place. There could have been a few reasons for this, maybe the new red rust proofing paint didn’t have good surface adhesion properties, or maybe it was the double-sided tape that was being used on the sticky backs themselves not being of a good quality. It could have been a combination of factors but either way, half of the fixing squares fell off after the first usage. All that could be done at this point was to keep sticking them back on when they feel off. This is not a permanent solution at all and will need to be addressed in the near future.
One other feature of the new loom was the use of corrugated conduit throughout its entire length. The use of conduit on the loom is to add a layer of mechanical protection against damage, after considering the condition of the old loom, the new cable needed all the protection it could get. When the new cabling was first run in, only areas around the pinch points had conduit put on, this was purely because of time constrains, if there was more time available the entire length would have been put into the conduit. Subsequently this is the case, the entirety of the loom is now mechanically protected by a layer of the flexible, plastic tubing. While it’s not the strongest of material, it may stop a nick or gouge being made into the insulation of the cable, and if it prolongs it’s life simply for this reason then it would have been worth it. Unlike previous joins and connections which were simply twist and tape, on the new loom all are soldered in place with a layer of heat shrink over the top. This method of joining and splicing extra low voltage wiring is the most tried and tested means and is most permanent. Twisting and taping does still work but won’t last anywhere near the same amount of time as a good solder join will. Soldering can be tricky and can be done incorrectly if the person doing the soldering does not have a great deal of experience. As I am in an industry where a soldering iron is used on a semi frequent basis, doing all the joins in this manner was fairly easy. While it did take longer to complete all the joins along the length of the loom, it was worth it as there will be a longevity along with added reliability to what has been done.
Tail Lights and Indicators
It is hard to reverse with a trailer, even harder the smaller the trailer is. While the Easytrailer is not the smallest of trailers, at a tad over 3 meters in length it’s not the longest or largest either. Judging by it, a previous owner has had trouble backing up this little trailer, reversed into a pole or a fence or a small child or whatever and broken one of the taillights. Shit happens, people reverse into things by accident, I’m not one to judge what was obviously a simple accident. What was no accident was the attempt to fix the damage caused from this prang. Instead of just going out and buying a new light/s to replace the smashed one, which are not that expensive when you think about it, it seemed it was just easier to use a heap of electrical tape to hold what remained of the light together. This would have been a brilliant plan if not for a few minor issues, one: the tape covered half of the light itself, meaning the brake light was also covered, making it difficult to see the lights when they came on and two: it wasn’t exactly watertight or sealed from the elements, as a result the tail light ended up filling with water each time it rained, becoming a small mobile fish tank each time there was a bit of precipitation.
As there was no way to save or repair the original trail light and not wanting to be a hypocrite, the only solution was to replace the existing, filament bulbed, taillights with shiny and brand new LED lights. It wasn’t going to be a case of replacing only the damaged one, after all taillights come in pairs and it would look odd to have a brand-new LED light on one side and then an old and clapped-out light on the other, plus the legality of having such a mis-matched light set up also would also be in question.
There are many different shapes and styles to choose from when it comes to aftermarket LED tail lights. Some are super simple, and other more extravagant. The chosen style were a basic design, that being a simple pair of rectangular LED lights with tail, brake and indicator lights and also featuring a reflective centre. These new lights were physically larger than the standard lights, at 150mm x 80mm they would be more visible and clearer to make out when on the trailer. However, being bigger in size, the original tail light brackets proved to be too small for these new lights to fit, with the centre to centre hole spacing being almost 50mm too short. There was two possible solutions to the problem, the first being to have a new bracket made up from steel, longer in length allowing for the increased size of the new lights. This would probably have been the preferable option but, as was the underlying theme of this project, there wasn’t a great deal of time to spare and getting something specially manufactured can often take weeks. This left me to opt for the alternative solution, 3D print an adaptor. I always say, most of lives problems can be solved with 3D printing and this was a practical example.
To come up with a functional design, it was simply a case of measuring every dimension on the new LED taillights along with every dimension of the mounting bracket and then entering all that information into the computer to create a three-dimensional model that could then be 3D printed. For modelling the adaptor, I used Fusion 360 and then printed the part on my Tevo Tarantula. Originally, the plan was to print in black PLA (polylactic acid) plastic, unfortunately stock of black PLA had only just recently run out. The next choice of colour was red, to match the trailer. It didn’t look out of place at all, going nicely with the colour theme which is predominantly red. The best thing about these adaptors was that they meant no drilling of extra holes, no making modifications to the existing brackets or to the new LED lights, it was a straight drop in and bolt everything in place part.
The design of the adaptor was simple and effective, it matched the profile of the new taillight having holes for the bolts, as well as the wiring, to be poked though. Only one of the bolts on the new light could be attached to the original mounting bracket, the other bolt being secured in place by the PLA adaptor. The whole light assembly is then held in place with a slotted channel that conforms to the profile of the existing taillight bracket. What was originally the second bolt hole for the original taillights was instead repurposed to route the multi-core cabling with the positioning of this second hole being perfect for this purpose.
Measurements and dimensioning were spot on and it mated up to the new parts perfectly, The LED lights fitted perfectly to the adaptor and the adaptor fitted perfectly to the mounting bracket. What usually will happen, when designing adaptors of this nature, is some measurements might be out by 1 or 2 millimetres out, or the profile may be a bit too big or too small. On this occasion they fit perfectly and looked like a factory part. Unless explicitly pointed out, nobody would have guessed that these parts were something that I designed and made for the purpose.
Side indicators were also changed over for new LED equivalents. The existing side indicators, while still working, used the same “old fashioned” filament style globes and the light itself had a bulky and chunky look to them. These were replaced on both sides by smaller sealed units, being mounted in the same locations on the left and right sides, towards the front, of the trailer. As these new LED indicators were so much smaller in size than what was existing, there was no way to use the existing mounting points and holes for attachment. The wiring could still be run through the same cable penetration as was originally, but two new holes needed to be drilled and then tapped with an M4 thread. This way the new lights were screwed directly into the steel of the trailer, not requiring a nut on the opposite side. Once drilled and tapped and then wired up to the loom, the lights were installed into place.LED lighting adds to the overall look of the trailer. The original filament lights, both tail and indicators, were old, dull and the plastics had started fading and falling to bits. The new lights are bright and vibrant, they add extra depth to the reconditioned look of the overall build. By the very nature of LED lighting, these new lights not only bring added safety but also a level of modernisation and a feeling of ‘new’ to the complete package.
When the trailer is in the folded-up position, it is moved around on four little castor wheels. If you can imagine a shopping trolley with wonky wheels this is what it handles like, except now imagine that shopping trolley weighing 110kg’s. Suddenly those little castor wheels don’t seem to cut the mustard.
The existing castor wheels could have been left on the trailer as they weren’t in too bad condition and still functioned enough to move the trailer around. The old castors were however getting towards the end of their lifespan with some of the bearings in the wheels feeling as though they’d given up and on one of the wheels the bearing had failed all together causing the trailer the sit 10mm lower on that corner.
All four were eventually replaced during the build as a set of replacement wheels were opportunistically found while at the spare parts supplier. While I wasn’t planning on or budgeting to replacing the castors, when I caught a glimpse of what would be perfect replacements castor wheels, I didn’t think twice and grabbed them while the chance presented itself.
As an added bonus, these new castors also had M10 threads, this fits in nicely with replacing imperial fixings with metric as has been a running build philosophy during the project.
Swapping out the existing castors was straight forward, unbolt a single nut from the back of the castor and remove, then put the new one in its place. As with any nut replaced on the trailer up to this point, nylocs nuts were used on the castors just for a bit more piece of mind.
While there was no intention to replace them, in retrospect, I’m glad I did. The improvement it makes to the handling while moving the folded-up trailer around is huge, the difference chalk and cheese. The new castors are significantly better quality than the cheap crap that came from the factory. This is evident because of the fact there is hardly any rolling resistance, they are nice and quiet, and it doesn’t feel like the trailer is being constantly pushed over gravel like with the old castors. Such a little change has made a huge difference to the overall feel and practicality of the trailer.
The jockey wheel was overlooked and not replaced until the last minute. When the trailer was being wheeled around, I was in the habit of lifting it up from the drawbar and manoeuvring it around on its wheels, when it wasn’t being wheeled around the trailer would just sit there on the wheel in a stationary position and when it was hooked onto the tow ball the jockey wheel was folded up out of the way. No wonder it was missed until the last minute!
Excuses aside, I eventually did notice that the wheel itself had collapsed, with the centre bearing coming away from the body of the wheel itself. While it could still sort of roll around, it still wasn’t good at all.
As the fitted jockey wheel was a el-cheap-o branded one, available from the local auto parts store, they stocked spares of the suitable replacement wheel. There was plenty on the shelf so didn’t have to wait for a special order to come in, as I feared it possibly could have. One I had the new wheel, it was swapped out with the old, dilapidated wheel. This took all of 5 minutes to undo the one bolt holding it in place and swapping them over then bolting everything back into place.
With this new wheel in place, the trailer could be moved around with much less effort than before, this was especially handy while still doing works on the trailer in the workshop as I would still need to move it here and there fairly frequently. When repeating a process over and over again, it’s good practise to make sure that repeatable process has the least amount of resistance as possible, with the new jockey wheel in place, this is what I had managed to achieve for manoeuvring it around my own workspace.
While this was one of the simplest replacements that was carried out on the trailer, there is a satisfaction that goes along with improving a little part of the whole thing, each little part adding up to making something much better than it was originally.
It was just an unfortunate state that the trailer was in, it had been neglected and not well maintained for many years and as a result all these various parts were starting to deteriorate. As the bones of the trailer had now all been repainted and were looking good, it wouldn’t have felt right to throw the old and tired parts back on. In this case, by taking the time and making an effort to either source new parts or design and make my own, it improved the standard and lifted the quality overall, something that had otherwise been lacking up to this point. While the Easytrailer is by no means perfect, it is still a substantial improvement over what was. By replacing everything, one component at a time, it has become greater than the sum total of its parts.
With all parts now either cleaned, repainted or brand new, now came time to start putting everything back together. There was a huge pile of parts in the workshop that by themselves didn’t serve much useful purpose, but when bolted together made something handy and practical. Now was the time to start putting everything in place and bring this Easytrailer back to life and back onto the road.