Lorry maintenance: How to ensure your horsebox is fit for the road post-lockdown *H&H Plus*

  • Alex Robinson speaks to industry experts who advise on how to ensure your horsebox is fit for the road post-lockdown

    Your lorry has probably spent much of this year standing in the driveway with little to no use. But as competitions gather momentum, it’s vital to ensure your vehicle is in full working order so you don’t encounter any problems on your travels.

    Charles Oakley from Oakley Horseboxes recommends that all lorries have their mechanics and bodywork serviced, as many will have been left idle for the past six months.

    “Horseboxes have numerous moving parts, and over time with no use they can seize up,” says Charles. “But this can be rectified with a body service. We check everything from ramp and partition operations to horse area floor safety. We check all appliance operations such as electrical, heating and hot water systems, batteries and generator. If your box is made of a higher quality material – such as stainless steel, which doesn’t corrode – things might not have deteriorated as much as they might do on a more economical build.”

    Brian Burton from Essex Vehicle Inspection agrees that when a lorry has been left idle for a long period of time without maintenance, some of the parts can start to stick.

    “The main things to check are the tyres, tyre sidewalls for cracking, and brakes for binding,” says Brian. “Check the handbrake, too, as this can get sticky, though moving the vehicle every couple of weeks should stop this. If you are unable to move the box then run a trickle charge on the battery to stop it going flat.

    “When I go to inspect boxes, one thing I always find is that the gas appliances and pipe work have never been checked by a qualified gas engineer and have not been issued a safety certificate. Over a period of time the flexible pipes and joints can become leaky; a check is relatively inexpensive and will improve the safety of the box. The same goes for the hook-up system; I would also have this checked by an electrician who should issue a safety certificate.”

    Visible issues

    Chris Facer from Equine Rescue Services says that before any planned trip, the lorry needs to be checked for any visible issues. Chris calls these “walk around checks” and they involve both the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

    “Start by sitting in the driver’s seat and check the driving mirrors for damage,” advises Chris. “Check the windscreen wipers and washers operate correctly; the weather might be fine when you set off but conditions may change during your journey. Check the dashboard warning lights and gauges are operating correctly, particularly the fuel gauge, making sure you have sufficient fuel for your journey. If your lorry has air brakes, start the engine and make sure the air builds up correctly and there are no leaks. Check the service brake [handbrake] is not obstructed by anything loose in the cab.

    “On the outside, check all the fluid levels including engine oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and windscreen washer fluid, and top up where necessary. Ensure all the lights and indicators are working correctly and all the lenses are clean.

    “There should be no obvious oil, water or fuel leaks from under the lorry. Check your tyre pressures are set correctly and that there is sufficient tread. Look for any damage or splits on the sidewalls of your tyres, and if you carry a spare tyre ensure it is serviceable. Finally, check exterior body panels, lockers, doors, that ramps are secure and floors are structurally sound.”

    If any faults are found during the walk around check, they should be sorted before you leave the yard.

    “It could save you a lot time, trouble, expense and stress as well as keeping you and others safe,” says Chris. “By far the most common single cause of a breakdown is tyre failure. Often lorries are stood in one position for long periods, sometimes in mud, particularly during winter months, and this can cause flat spots on the tread and deterioration of the sidewalls.”

    Tom Janion from Equi-Trek says that horse owners should pay extra attention to the flooring in vehicles.

    “This is not so important where the floor is aluminium, but if they are made from wood they can easily rot and become damaged,” he explains. “One of the most common issues with a lorry is poor flooring, and the fact it has not been driven for a while is no excuse for not keeping a close eye on bodywork and general maintenance.

    “A professional service should include checks on the body, chassis, mechanics, the water system and gas. Professional checks, especially of the gas system, could mean the difference between life or death.”

    When it comes to upkeep of aesthetics, Tom says that a bit of TLC goes a long way to maintain a smart horsebox you can be proud of.

    “At Equi-Trek we have a team on hand to offer advice for refurbishment jobs,” he says. “But a few ideas to spruce up your lorry include new rubber flooring, new panels on the partitions, a good power wash in the horse area and polish of the windows makes a huge difference.

    “On the outside, touch up any damaged paintwork, and in the living area new upholstery and blinds will help to improve the overall look enormously.”

    Don’t put off the MOT

    Tom Janion of Equi-Trek recommends getting your lorry checked now. “The extensions granted to HGV plating tests will start to come to an end in September,” he explains. “There are currently very long lead times on appointments so act early to keep your truck legally on the road.”

    Charles Oakley of Oakley Horseboxes adds: “For the past six months, MOT stations have been closed. We see these next few quieter months as prime period in time to have your horsebox serviced ready for next year’s season.”

    Time for a new lorry

    A box is a big expense – how do you know when it’s really time to get a new one?

    “I can look at a 25-year-old box and there is nothing wrong with it, whereas I’ve seen eight-year-old boxes that have all sorts of problems,” says Brian Burton from Essex Vehicle Inspection. “Every vehicle is an individual. Most horseboxes are in their second life after being used as a commercial vehicle, so a high mileage isn’t something to worry about.”

    Chris Facer of Equine Rescue Services says: “You know it’s time [for a new lorry] when the current one becomes uneconomic to repair. If circumstances change, for example if you are now carrying larger horses which will take the lorry over its weight limit, it’s time for a change.”

    Equi-Trek’s Tom Janion warns that the maintenance costs for an older vehicle can rocket: “Once a vehicle reaches 100,000 miles it is time to consider looking at a new lorry. By then servicing and maintenance bills may have increased and it can be more cost-effective to purchase a new one.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 27 August 2020