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Inspection pointers for hopper-bottom grain trailers

Shopping for used grain trailers, like searching for semi trucks, presents its own set of challenges in determining not only the past use of the trailer but also condition of the trailer. This is why Dick Phelps of US Auctioneers is adamant that when looking at a used trailer, it’s crucial you determine the following:

  • The overall condition of the trailer.
  • The record of past maintenance and repairs.
  • Whether that trailer has been assigned a salvage or a rebuilt title.
  • Why the seller is selling the trailer.

Here are specific areas you’ll want to inspect on any trailer you are considering.

  • Frame. Get under the trailer with a flashlight and examine the undercarriage. Pay attention to side rails and cross members (shown above). Look for excessive rust, dents, cracking, and twisting. Surface rust can often be easily handled with proper care and maintenance. Structural rust, on the other hand, could mean a shorter service life for the trailer or major maintenance further down the road. Make sure the slider rails are welded to the cross members, checking for cracks, irregular formations, and fresh welds that may indicate a major repair.
  • Hoppers. Inspect hoppers to see if they are dented or damaged. “Look at the slopes to see if someone has been pounding on them,” Phelps says. “Look for cracks on hopper sides and frames. Operate the doors to see if they freely open and close.”
  • Tires. Examine every tire for wear and damage. Buying a trailer that needs new rubber can set you back an average of $3,500 to $4,000 (based on the average cost of two of the most common tire sizes on grain trailers). During your inspection, check tread depth. Tires showing less than 1/16 inch of tread are prohibited on trailers in many states. Also, look for tread separation (on recapped tires) and for sidewall splitting or cracking. 
  • Roll tarp. Operate the roll tarp manually (if the trailer has one). See if the tarp mechanism operates smoothly or has damaged or missing parts. Examine the tarp for cuts and tears. A replacement tarp can cost up to $2,000.
  • Lights. Make sure all lights, including brake lights and signals are operational. 
  • Electrical connections. Look at connections and wires throughout the trailer for fraying or other wear and tear.
  • Check the brakes. Inspect brake drums and linings for unusual wear and tear. Make sure that the ABS system is working and its wires are not frayed or cut. 
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