Though LED lights have reduced failures, trailer wiring still causes DIY boaters fits, especially when trying to fix a short at the launch ramp before leaving for home at dusk. With complete light and wiring kits selling for well less than $100 (even with LED lights), it makes sense to simply rewire the trailer and install new lights when it seems like you’re doing more fixing than towing. Here are six key tips to make your wiring job hold up over time.
Don’t rely on the coupler-to-ball connection for grounding. Instead, secure the white ground wire included with the trailer-plug connector onto the frame near the coupler with a bolt, nut and lock washer. If your trailer is painted, scrape away some paint to obtain a solid connection. Daub some liquid electrical tape over the exposed steel and wire connector.
At the coupler, provide some strain relief for the socket wire lead by securing it with a cable clamp and using enough length to reach the tow vehicle’s connector socket without the wire pulling tautly in tight turns or dragging on the ground. Tip: Use split loom, spiral wrap or braided sleeving to protect your trailer’s wiring.
Use heat-shrink tubing (the kind with the melting inner wall) or liquid electrical tape. On incandescent-bulb sockets, use dielectric grease to protect against water and eventual corrosion. Don’t use electrical tape to protect the wire leads; tape gets brittle and holds water in, corroding connections.
As you route the wire through the trailer’s frame, remember that if the plastic wire covering abrades and exposes the bare wire core, you’ll have a short to ground. Protect the wire as it passes through the frame by using grommets. On C-channel (open channel) frames, support the wire every couple of feet using trailer wire clips.
If your trailer is still equipped with old-school incandescent lights, get with the 21st century and install LED lights. They cost about twice as much, but they last nearly forever and are much brighter — so they’re safer. LED lights are available in every style and size possible.
Don’t forget your license plate; it must be securely mounted and visible. Most states require placing it right under the left-side rear brake light so it can be seen at night. Don’t use tie wraps; use quarter-inch stainless-steel bolts with locking nuts, or you could lose your plate on the road or in the water.