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Thread: Trailer wiring

  1. #1
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    Does anyone know of a durable way to set up a trailer electrical hookup? Seems like I've spent way too much of my life troubleshooting trailer wiring. I get it all perfect and as permanant as I can figure out how to do and the next time I need to use the trailer it's not working again. The insulation on the wires crack. The connections corrode. The connectors come loose. The tabs on the plug and the socket get corroded. The wires on the trailer get so they don't work (for whatever reasons). There must be some way to have the connections completly permanant and weather proof. At least as permanant as the rest of the vehicle's wiring.

    Does anyone have the secret to this? I've bought harnesses and kits and rewired the entire thing several times. I'm getting tired of it.

    Anyway, thanks for listening to my frustration. [img]smile.gif[/img]
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  2. #2
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    In general, solder the connections wherever possible, don't depend on Scotchloks (twister caps)or push on/friction fit connections. Put heat shrink tubing over any connections where shorting to ground is possible (Radio Shack). Use UF wire (direct burial) from Home Depot which won't crack. Use wire ties that are UV resistant to hold the wire.
    If the joints are soldered, water itself won't hurt them. Resistance of water is about 1 Meg Ohm and won't conduct 12 volts to any degree.
    Once you see the bandwagon, it's too late.
    www.goldfinch-acres.com

  3. #3
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    > Use UF wire (direct burial) from Home Depot which won't crack.

    What is it? Never heard of it? UF? Made for underground wires?
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  4. #4
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    Here's what has helped me.....

    1. I do not use the premade harness. I buy a spool of larger gauge, higher quality wire. The insulation seems to last longer.

    2. Run conduit down the frame and out to the lights. I even drill an hole in the light fixture and use electrial box connectors. I also use the non-metallic gray PVC as its faster and does not conduct.

    3. I don't use the trailer frame as the common. I run a seperate wire. For me the ground has gone bad fairly often.

    4. I use wire loom everywhere the wire is not encased in conduit and tape the heck out of it.

    5. Solder all connections and use shrink tubing.

    6. Never use those crimp together wire splicers. You know, the blue thingys. They blades are made of aluminum and will corrode in no time.

    Now if I could just find a decent, heavy duty light fixture. Those plastic ones suck.

  5. #5
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    UF = underground feed. Resists weather, soil. It's used for well runs, wherever you want bury wire. Sunlight doesn't seem to hurt it either.

    Comes in different gauges. Look for the "UF" on the box. Home Depot should be well-stocked.
    Once you see the bandwagon, it's too late.
    www.goldfinch-acres.com

  6. #6
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    as per the plug in connectors coat them with dielectric grease or any grease would probably work ok. and make sure the cover is always put back on when not being used to keep them from corroding.
    as per the vehicle wiring it is easier to install and more weather proof if you get the trailer connector that will plug into your existing harness if you must splice one in then soldering and heat shrink is the way to go and rtv silicone applied to the solder joint before shrinking the tubing will make it weather proof.

  7. #7
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    Wire loom?

    >They blades are made of aluminum and will corrode in no time.

    They certainly do.

    >I don't use the trailer frame as the common. I run a seperate wire.

    To each light? I'm thinking this is a good plan, but since the trailer is prewired and the wires are running, who knows where, it may be a bit of a job to figure out where to run them. I finally ran one from the battery on the vehicle directly to the ground wire on the harness. Ground does seem to be a very "common" (forgive the pun) problem.

    >Now if I could just find a decent, heavy duty light fixture. Those plastic ones suck.

    I have bought nice solid metal ones with good thick lenses, but not recently. The new plastic ones almost look disposable, like you wouldn't need to change the bulb, just throw away the light. [img]smile.gif[/img]
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  8. #8
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    Mr. Bush,

    We use what is called "environmental splices" on the aircraft. It is a hard plastic shrink tube with a plug in each end that melts when a heat gun is applied and seals the splice. The little tube softens and shrinks like other shrink does, but when it cools it is hard plastic again.

    The main problem civilians would have would be the fact that the insulation on the wire has to be hight temp too, or it will simply melt when you try to melt the splice tube.

    Also...... "6. Never use those crimp together wire splicers. You know, the blue thingys. They blades are made of aluminum and will corrode in no time." I am not exactly sure if what I am about to tell you applies here, but here it is anyway:
    Any time you put dissimilar metals (aluminum touching steel, for example) electrolysis is set up and corrosion is not only assured, but hastened.

    I am going to PM you. Give me a shout, please sir.

    Also...... the connector boxes that are sold and made to go inside your turn signal well will help.

    [size="1"][ June 08, 2006, 10:31 AM: Message edited by: Sharkey ][/size]

  9. #9
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    <Sharkey>
    Any time you put dissimilar metals (aluminum touching steel, for example) electrolysis is set up and corrosion is not only assured, but hastened.

    This is not true absent an electrolyte. In any form of electrolysis an electrolyte is a required condition. Sharkey is describing galvanic corrosion. The purpose of dielectric grease is to keep the electrolyte out of the connection. Use dielectric grease. Also, just because it doesn't get wet doesn't mean there isn't an elecrolyte present. The moisture in the air counts.

    Then there is the exceptions. I hate using dielectric grease in the connector at the truck bumper because it will pick up a big payload of dust and dirt.

    I also wouldn't necessarily advocate soldering every joint. I believe that a good crimp joint made with a good ratchet crimper using well designed crimp connectors is a better joint for most mechanical conditions of vehicle related wiring. Particularly the high vibration environment of, say, general aviation aircraft. It has to be a joint that swages the connector into the wire, not just bend it flat together.

    I also believe that a bad solder joint will outperform a bad crimp joint and that this is the reason most mechanic (auto) shops advocate soldering. And besides, this is used most of the time for splicing in runs that are not under tension and can absorb vibration.

    Buy aircraft wire. Find your local chapter of EAA and then find the local electrical guru in that group. He/She probably has bulk spools of good wire. (And they love the challenge you present, taboot.)

    Use grommets when passing through holes in metal.
    JohnF INTP

  10. #10
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    Hi John,

    Since moisture is everywhere, I sort of just left out that part. Didn't think it was important since it about a 99.9% given (the electrolyte, that is) [img]smile.gif[/img]

    Also, that is a very good point about solder v. crimp. Vibration plays a VERY big part as to what sort of connection needs to be made. A PROPERLY made solder connection is still the best, but what make a PROPER solder connection is a class in itself. [img]smile.gif[/img] In order to withstand the vibration, it certainly cannot be a "cold solder joint", the wire to be soldered should be "tinned" as well as whatever it is being soldered TO, and the angle of the connection has to be correct as well as a "maitainence loop" of some sort, not to mention proper "strain relief" which actually has nothing to do with the soldering, just what is done with it all AFTER the soldering is done.

    [size="1"][ June 08, 2006, 11:43 AM: Message edited by: Sharkey ][/size]

  11. #11
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    Hi Sharkey,

    [...99.9% given...] Very true. I wasn't meaning to counter what you said, because it's true, but rather show how important the dielectric grease is.

    I help many folks work out the electrical problems on their boats. My basic advice is that if water can get in then you should just go ahead and schedule the time when you will be doing this again.

    I forgot to mention strain. You have to allow for strain at corners and bends. Don't go thinking that you need to save that extra 1/2 inch of wire and make the corner/bend tight. It won't save you wire in the long run.

    another addendum:
    Here's a link to a guru's review of an article that suggested soldering everything...

    http://www.aeroelectric.com/articles/rules/review.html
    JohnF INTP

  12. #12
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    Hey!

    You edited it while I was out getting my link.

    Now it looks like I read your post before I added the strain and the link, but I promise I didn't.

    Good timing with the link on my part... [img]smile.gif[/img]

    As for the crimp vs. solder wars, read the article at the link, I'll let my teacher talk.
    JohnF INTP

  13. #13
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    Wow, JohnF !

    That was a very interesting article. Lots of things to think about. Guess it just goes back to the old saying, more than one way to skin that cat !!

    Maybe between the two of us, Mr. Bush will get his trailer wired.

    [size="1"][ June 08, 2006, 12:49 PM: Message edited by: Sharkey ][/size]

  14. #14
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    Michael...... Wire loom is the plastic ribbed sheathing that encases the wire. It is split on one side so you can slip the wire harness in and then place a few bands of electical tape down the run. This protects the wire from abrasion.

    Winter road salt makes a pretty good electolite.

    http://www.wiringproducts.com/?rel="nofollow" target=dept_90.html

    Aircraft wire is overkill IMO. But if you have the $$$ what the heck.

    After wiring like I described I have no problems other than impact on those cheap arse lights!

  15. #15
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    I forgot....... Use grommets in every hole you drill or stock holes the wire runs through (even if the wire in in a loom)

    http://www.wiringproducts.com/?rel="nofollow" target=dept_90.html

  16. #16
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    Pulling the trailer last night. Went from one tailight to running lights during the trip (don't you love it when something fixes itself?). Don't know if the turn signals were working or not. In spite of a separate ground wire from the battery to the receptacle, it looks like a bad ground to me. What do the rest of you think? Maybe it's where the ground is connected to the trailer frame (which I haven't found yet).
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  17. #17
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    You can test this theory.

    </font>
    • Back to the trailer but do not hitch it to the truck.</font>
    • Hook up the electrical. If the ground was weak through the hitch then you'll see that nothing works now.</font>
    • Using your jumper cables, connect the frame of the truck to the frame if the trailer.</font>

    Of course this all assumes that the ground you were getting was through the hitch ball which often times shows itself with symptoms you've described. If the connection from a ground wire is intermittant then you can sometimes get it to act up by shaking the wires at the point they go into the trailer.

    &lt;Sundance&gt;
    Aircraft wire is overkill IMO.

    You know what? I agree. I answered the question like an engineer with an arms-length idea of the requirements.

    I never did say what I would do. So:

    I usually use the wire that is already there, even on boat trailers (see submersion often). I also usually tape the whole thing into a harnass. The problems I've most often seen are chaffing, corrosion, and terrible crimps.

    I hate the cheap terminals sold by most discount autopart stores. When I use these I usually rip off the crappy hard plastic they come with and replace it with heat shrink tubing.

    I love those splices Sharkey mentioned but they can be tough to use with cheap automotive style wire. You'll burn the insulation.

    In Michael's situation, I would look for a screw that is terribly corroded, sand the area, replace the screw, probably crim a new ring terminal on, and use dielectric grease liberally. Remember where it is, it will happen again.

    If I need to rewire a trailer completely or it is my trailer [img]smile.gif[/img] I will run a ground wire to every appliance. Actually, it is a single ground wire with droppers to each appliance. The main ground wire is usually one size larger (gauge number smaller) than the rest.

    I only use shrink tube that has heat activated adhesive/sealant.
    JohnF INTP

  18. #18
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    Oh, and I like Sundance's idea of running conduit. Most of the time I've fixed this sort of thing it has been on a boat ramp away from home. But given what I've been through to pull and then repull the wire in a trailer, this conduit idea is awesome.

    In fact, if I were at home, I would probably not reuse the wire in the trailer (Can sometimes be a bear to pull out). Just cut the old off at every hole in the trailer, pull new stuff through the conduit, and then repair this for the life of the trailer.

    [In edit]

    In fact, boat trailer should be done this way!

    [size="1"][ June 09, 2006, 10:43 AM: Message edited by: John F ][/size]
    JohnF INTP

  19. #19
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    Michael........ You were the classic victim of frame as ground syndrome. When useing the frame there are multiple exposed points affected by environmental conditions.

    By switching to seperate wires (a pain to run initially for sure) that problem disappeared for me.

  20. #20
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    I recall having a ball and a hitch one time that were dirty and rusted, and seemed to cause some problems with the electrical system on the trailer.
    Nobody ruins my day without my permission, and I refuse to grant it...

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