Buyer’s Guide to Common Boler Trailer Problems
by Ian Giles www.Boler-Camping.com ©
With the high demand for these vintage trailers they sell quickly, the supply and demand limits the amount of price negotiations a buyer can offer, if you don’t buy it the next person probably will. I often get asked what to look for when buying a used Boler, there are a number of checklists available but my thoughts are “what good is a checklist if you don’t know what you are looking for”. A 30 to 40 year old trailer probably needs some work, you can try to use this information in your negotiations but most sellers probably won’t listen. I suggest the best use of this information is for you to understand what general condition the Boler is in and if you are ready and willing to take on a project that requires the work and expense needed. In other words I want you, the buyer, to know and understand what you are getting into.This Buyers Guide to Common Boler Trailer Problems describes in detail 10 key areas that are considered major problems and can be quite costly to repair.
- When first looking at a used Boler don’t be blinded by the “cute” factor, a shiny coat of paint can distract you to the point that you overlook problems, yet on the other hand a little dirt or black mold may discourage you from buying a little gem. At this point try to ignore the cosmetic look of the Boler, you will find that far lower on the list
- The Boler Body – can tell you a lot about the condition of the frame. Since the bodyshell is made from molded fiberglass it lasts a lifetime and can be repaired, but think of the body as a box, if you take it by the ends and twist it the shape will deform, we are looking for this and then what is causing the deformation. Small hairline cracks, often called spider cracks, are a common occurrence and do not cause structural concern or leaks, but deeper cracks into the underlying fiberglass or if there is a large concentration of surface cracks in a small area it is time to look more closely at some areas.Start by walking around the outside of the Boler looking closely at the body shell. A key area is the door opening, Boler doors are notorious for sagging and not fitting properly, A misaligned door can be a simple adjustment or hinge repair or it could be the sign of a bent or broken frame. Bring a carpenters rafter square with you to check the squareness of the door opening, it should look like the left picture in the following table. If the door opening looks like the center diagram or right picture further investigation on the condition of the frame is needed.
Continue walking around the outside of the trailer, if the door opening is suspect take a close look at the body especially on the left side just above and slightly behind the drivers side wheel. If you notice an inward dimple in the fiberglass in this area, about the size of a dinner plate, this also indicates problems with the frame.
Note any physical damage to the body caused by an accident, the actual fiberglass body, the same a most boats or even a Corvette, is easy to repair, even by the novice, but again how much work are you prepared to do?
3) The Frame – now is the time to take a closer look. The frame on a Boler is strong enough as designed, the main problem occurs when the bolts and screws holding the body to the frame get loose or break. When the body and frame are held securely together they function as one unit and support each other, when the bolts get loose the body and frame flex and twist separately and this is what causes the damage. It is important the the frame rails are straight, parallel and flat, any bend or twist will cause problems. There are 3 main area that often show damage, bends or cracks.
In the above diagram point “A” experiences very high stress loads due to the fact the frame is notched at this location to accommodate the doorway and the lowered kitchen floor. Crawl under the trailer and look closely for any reinforcements, patches, crack or broken welds.
Point “B” is the most common area for the frame to actually break, again check this area for reinforcements, patches, crack or broken welds. while under the trailer at this time try to look to see if the two frame rails (right & left) are level with each other. You are looking to see if the entire frame is twisted. A twisted frame is common when a frame is repaired and a patch is just welded on without making sure the frame is straight first.
This shows an excellent repair on the drivers side frame rail, but unfortunately the entire frame was twisted when this was welded, it caused major problems with the body.
The final area, point “C”, causes the most problems with the body. When the bolts that attach the frame to the body loosen or break the body will actually start to rock and move in relation to the frame, this rocking action puts very high loads on the back section of the drivers side frame rail, the result is this frame rail will actually start to bend down from the axle mount to the back bumper. When this rail bends it causes the body to twist which will cause the problems seen at the door opening and the dimple above the drivers side wheel arch. From the back of the trailer look down the frame rail and make sure it is not bent down
The above pictures show a frame rail that is bending, the earlier picture shows what will eventually happen to this frame also. It is critical to regularly check the frame to body bolt and keep them tight, this only happens when those bolts fail.
Finally check the frame for rust, surface rust is normal and usually not a concern, but any rust that has perforated the metal usually means the frame needs to be replaced. Severe rust on a frame is often caused by water being trapped inside the metal tubes which causes the rust to erode the metal from the inside out. Any suspicious areas can be tested by tapping with a hammer or striking with a screwdriver, soft spots will be quite noticeable.
4) The Axle – I can just about guarantee that the original axle on a Boler that is 30-40+ years old is worn out and needs replacing, but there are a couple of measurements you can take to confirm the condition of the axle.
According to the Dexter engineers “Dexter would consider any Torflex arm that has moved more than ten degrees from the original build angle as weak or losing suspension”.
The first test is to jack up each side of the trailer and watch to see if the wheel moves down as weight is removed from that side, if on either side the wheel does not drop at least 1½” the axle needs replacing.
Second, measure the diameter of your tire (as an example ST175/80D13 trailer tires have a diameter of 24″) and divide this number by 2 (in this case 12″) to get the radius. Now with the trailer sitting on level ground measure the distance from the ground to the underside of the drivers side frame rail as close to the axle as you can, just behind the axle mounting brackets. Take the tire radius and subtract the frame to ground measurement, if the result is greater than 2½” your axle needs replacing (the above calculations are based on a fully loaded axle with an initial start angle of 0° to 10° up angle).
As an example: your trailer has ST175/80D13 tires which have a diameter of 24″, dividing the diameter by 2 gives you the radius of 12″.
The distance measured from the ground to the underside of the frame behind the axle mounting bracket measures 7″
12″-7″=5″ The axle arm has dropped more than 2″ and should be replaced
In this example R=12″; Frame to ground = 11″ (12″-11″=1″ axle is good)
5) Modifications – This to me is the greatest issue and reason to pause and look closely before buying are modifications done by a so-called handyman. Now that is not to say that all modifications are bad or poorly done, on the contrary, but any modification that have been done need to be looked at closely. The first and most important area to look is the body structure. On a Boler the closet to the left of the door, the 1”x1” steel tube fastened to the right of the door, and the metal support that runs between the lower and upper kitchen cabinets are all structural and support the roof and walls. If these are removed the walls will sag and the roof can collapse with snow load. Make sure these have not been removed or tampered with.
I have seen every type of modification, air conditioners mounted through the back window, bolts through the body to support a TV bracket, unvented heaters connected to the propane with a garden hose, holes through the floor for ice fishing, and even a full size RV AC unit on the roof where the roof was depressed over 8” because of the weight. Use your own judgement with any owner modification, buyer be ware.
The interior of this modified Boler looks great, but the floor to ceiling closet next to the door has been removed. The closet is structural and supports the wall and door opening, with it removed like this the walls will soon sag and there is the possibility the roof can collapse in a heavy snowfall. To repair this curved structural support needs to be installed by securely bonding to the fiberglass shell.
Another beautiful looking renovation with a custom kitchen cabinet, but the support bar between the lower and upper cabinet has been removed. This leaves only the rivets to support the upper cabinet which places a lot of stress on the rivet causing them to break and/or cracking to occur at the rivet holes in the fiberglass. Also excessive weight can cause the wall to bow out and contribute to the roof to collapse.
6) Water Damage – (window, vents, rivets, seals), in general water leaks are not a major concern in a fiberglass trailer, they are an annoyance and yes you want them fixed but they usually don’t cause much damage except for some years of Boler that had a wooden floor rather than the fiberglass encased floor. Walk around the floor checking for soft spots, look around the windows and roof vent for water stains or moisture. A soft floor requires a considerable amount of work to replace, not a job for the faint of heart. Leaks around windows and vents means you have to remove them, clean up the old butyl tape sealant, apply new butyl tape and reinstall, not a hard job but also not easy. If there is caulking around the windows or vent, especially if it is silicon you have extra work to clean that off. A leak can never be repaired with caulking, the window or vent must be removed and resealed properly.
Dirt and mold from water leaks can be cleaned from the fiberglass, wall insulation and floors, the only item that cannot be cleaned from mold are the cushions and fabrics.
7) Appliances & Propane – In general appliances either work or don’t work, simple way to find out is to test them, don’t believe the seller. A trick it to bring you barbeque propane tank with you when looking at a Boler, if the seller says the propane is empty you can hook up your tank to test them. Light the stove first, this will make sure the air is purged from the propane lines making lighting the fridge easier. You won’t be able to test the cooling of the fridge because an evaporative fridge take a long time to cool down, but if the pilot light on the fridge lights you are part way there. Finally test the furnace, be aware that the stove is the only standard appliance in early Boler’s, the fridge was an upgrade from the standard ice box and the furnace was a separate option. I would never decide not to buy a Boler because the appliances didn’t work but I would use that info in price negotiations.
Don’t worry too much about the condition of the propane tank, hoses or regulator, I would highly recommend you replace all those components. They are old and not that expensive considering your safety depends on their reliability
8) Tires & Wheel Bearings – Standard tire on a Boler are 175/80R13ST, car tires are not recommended. But like many items on a used trailer this age I would recommend replacing the tires and replacing and repacking the wheel bearing. These items are inexpensive when you consider the damage a blown tire can cause to the fiberglass body
9) Lights and Electrical – Check the tail lights and marker lights to make sure they work but I will be honest, most Boler owners change out the tail and marker lights for newer LED unit, they are much brighter, far more reliable and will last forever.
Original Boler’s did not have a battery, the interior lights on the ends of the upper kitchen cabinet are powered through the trailer wiring from your car. Kind of a useless feature but a battery can be installed to provide power for lights, etc.. The undercounter fluorescent light is powered through the 120V power cord
Don’t let the wiring scare you, an original Boler has a total of 4 circuits, left brake/signal, right brake/signal. marker/tail, and ground, the tail/marker light circuit feeds the kitchen lights. Even if the wiring has to be completely replaced the cost will not be excessive
10) Crooked or Saggy Door – If the frame is in good shape then a crooked door is usually caused by two simple problems. The hinge on a Boler is called a self aligning hinge, it allows the door to open is an arch which is needed because of the curved door. These hinges use a brass ball and a bolt with a spring to allow the hinge to move or align. It is common for the brass ball to wear and also the hinges can move in relation to the body, because both the body and the door are curved even a slight misalignment of the door can cause a considerable gap at the bottom of the door, by installing new hinge pivot balls, bolt and spring followed by loosening the hinge bolts and adjusting the hinge position the door can be aligned. Hinge rebuild kits are readily available and hinge repair is easy. The only other cause of large door gap at the bottom is if the metal support on the inside of the body (hinge side) has broken loose this will allow the body to sag, lifting on the roof and reattaching this support securely to the body usually solves the problem
The left picture show a new hinge with the brass ball and spring all in good condition. The right picture shows a hinge where the brass ball is completely worn, the spring is missing, With the bolt overtightened you can see the hinge is binding and causing cracks in the fiberglass
11) Everything else – This section contains many of the “but what about …”
Front and Back Windows – These windows are made from 3/16″ thick acrylic (Plexiglas), with age and improper care they will get hazy and form small cracks. Also with age the rubber seal will harden and shrink often causing a leak. These windows are not special and most glass shops can custom cut the acrylic and supply new rubber molding (always replace the molding when replacing the windows).
Side Jalousie Windows – The classic Jalousie side windows of a Boler, in my mind, are the best RV window made. They open fully to allow maximum ventilation, they can also be opens when raining. These windows can be disassembled and repaired, parts are still available. If you are considering changing these side windows to the more modern radius corner windows please note that this is not an easy swap. Because the radius windows use a different opening you will need to fiberglass the corners in of the original opening to accommodate the radius corner
Coupler – The original Boler coupler (the part that connects to the tow ball on your vehicle) is only 1 7/8″ and is often quite worn. Any trailer or welding shop can easily replace this with an upgraded 2″ coupler. Do note that the Boler tongue angle is a narrow 30º (often used on boat trailers) rather than the more common 50º found on most RV’s.
Exterior paint – The original exterior finish of a Boler is fiberglass gel coat similar to the hull on a fiberglass boat. It is a tough durable surface that can be cleaned, polished and waxed, making a 30+ year old Boler look almost like new. If the exterior needs painting because of damage, or you just don’t like the color, the best paints to use are marine topside paints which are specifically designed for use on fiberglass, or automotive finishes. Avoid using home products like latex paints, rustoleum, or similar, they may look good initially but won’t stand up to long term wear and tear.
Interior Paint and Seam Tape – The interior wall covering and insulation is actually a state of the art, high tech product designed by NASA (in the late 1960’s). The vinyl covered ensolite is a closed cell foam which will not absorb moisture, and is extremely tough. You can clean with strong household cleaning solutions but if you want to brighten it up it can be painted with either a paint specifically designed for coating vinyl or by using a high adhesive primer followed by a high quality latex paint.
Originally the seams between the ensolite panels were covered with a special tape which is probably falling off on most Boler’s. You can buy replacement tape through Scamp Trailers or 3M but I have never had luck with it sticking for any length of time. The preferred method for filling the seams is to use a paintable latex caulking (NOT silicon), this hides the seams and can even be textured to blend right in.
What does it cost?
Just like having your car repaired the cost is comprised of the parts needed and the labour. The cost for repairs depends on a number of factors which include:
– Your skills and abilities (are you able to do the work or do you have to pay someone)
– The quality of the repair (Do you want everything new and shiny or is used OK)
Because I do all my own work the following list is my best guestimate at some of the costs including shop labour, if you have first had experience please send me a note
– Frame $1000 – $2000+
– Tires $250
– Bearing replacement & repack $50 – $150
– Front & back windows (includes new seal) $200 ea
– Professional Paint Job $2000 – $4000+
I appreciate your comments