It’s the nightmare of every driver who urgently needs to transport another car on a trailer in the dark. You attach the trailer, throw over the rope, connect the plug, check the lights – and nothing, absolutely nothing lights up there at the back. You jiggle the plug, switch everything off and back on again, and use contact spray. Nothing. All the lights at the rear of the trailer stay dark. I can’t drive like that, without brake lights or indicators, not even when it’s light, and not even for a short distance. So, muttering under my breath, I detach the double-axle colossus again that I just rented for quite a bit of money, take my car to the nearest independent garage, and ask them if they can quickly check what the problem is. Yes, they can. But I need to help them out …

You can’t really blame a socket, regardless of whether it has seven pins or thirteen. It leads a mainly unnoticed existence under the rear of the car, is exposed to the elements with its open contacts, and is roundly abused by splash water, dirt and salt. Wires and plugs won’t put up with that for long, and they will simply rust away. That’s not a huge problem in new cars, particularly because attentive mechanics check, clean and grease these sockets during inspections. In older vehicles it’s easily forgotten. Or it isn’t considered necessary because you only pull a trailer once a year anyway. Caravan people will have a go themselves, but I’m not one of those people. The garage has a new socket but no time right now. They ask whether it would be OK if I tried myself, and if needed they’d give me help and advice. Because of a lack of alternatives I agree and wheel the old station wagon backwards onto two ramps. I’ve got my own tools so here I go.

OK … the socket is screwed onto a fold-out metal bracket and is seriously askew. Someone seems to have had an encounter with a rock when reverse parking. After loosening the screws the plastic cap falls apart into three pieces, exposing a rusty tangle of cables on an equally rusty and bent carrier plate. There are no rubber seals anymore. Wow … fortunately it’s not rocket science, so I pull out all the strands and trim off three corroded centimeters which exposes fresh copper. Following the old socket pattern, I screw the color-coded wires in the right terminals and put everything back together. A new seal, a little anti-corrosive grease, and it looks as good as new again. A mechanic comes out with a multimeter, connects it and confirms that all contacts are in perfect working order. All that took about an hour and cost as much as a pizza and a bottle of red wine. But how stressful was that? Could I have avoided it?

Yes, I could have. If you regularly take a look under your car, you can prevent serious problems. You’ll see if the socket’s carrier plate is bent, you can clean off any dirt, and give it a spray of oil from time to time. Unfortunately, I know many people who don’t do that, and then don’t even try to resolve the issue, but instead simply drive off with the trailer. No one’s going to notice anyway, will they? Tut tut. As I’m driving home in the rain and dark on the A7 highway with the trailer in tow and an old car on top, I’m relieved that everything is properly illuminated. If despite a fully functional socket the lamps on the trailer are broken, you know where to get new ones. On that note – get down on one knee and take a look underneath. There’s sure to be a next trip.

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