Car Trailer Basics 101, Part I

What you need to know when buying a trailer

Rich Lagasse Apr 8, 2008 0 Comment(s)
Corp_0606_04_z Car_trailers Open_trailer 2/6

Maybe all you need is an open trailer.

Prices for a new trailer will vary depending on the type, size, options, and type of construction. Some open trailers list for $2,500 for a steel unit to $7,000-plus for aluminum. Enclosed units can run from $6,000 to $20,000-plus. Dealers will usually negotiate their pricing and might be more flexible at the end of a season or for units in stock. There may be differences from one manufacturer to another on standard versus optional equipment, so be sure to compare prices based on all the features.

You may also find used units available. Trailers seem to hold their value well, but you may be able to find a good deal with a little searching, patience, and luck.

When looking for a trailer, it's pretty much like buying a new car or truck-lots of options to consider. Some of these really aren't options at all, but necessities. It's amazing how few standard equipment options come on certain models, unless there is some sort of package. The spare tire, for example, would seem like a no-brainer, but they aren't usually included. Neither is a hydraulic jack in case of a flat. Most trailers come with a crank-style tongue jack. On my trailer, I use a hydraulic-type jack (Hijacker), which works well. There are also electric units available.

You also have to make sure the trailer has sufficient capacity axles to carry the weight of the car, as well as any gear and the weight of the trailer. Look for axle ratings of 5-6,000 pounds per axle. The axles on this unit are made by Dexter and have an Easy-Lube design for easy greasing of the axle bearings. Some newer units offer no-lube bearings.If you have a choice of tires, go with those of a higher rating, such as the D- or E-rated tires. To help prevent cracking from the sun, it's a good idea to cover the tires when the trailer is stored. Mileage or tread depth won't always be good indicators of the condition of your tires, so check them often.

Corp_0606_05_z Car_trailers Rear_stabilizer_jacks 3/6

Rear stabilizer jacks are an option that many trailer buyers choose.

Some of the more useful options to consider: spare tire, hydraulic jack (3 ton or more), rear trailer stabilizer jacks (stabilizes the trailer making it possible to load or unload while unhooked), hydraulic or electric tongue jack, interior lights, front stone guard, break-away control and safety chains (both usually required by state law), tire chocks, hitch lock, four ratchet-type tie-down straps (10,000-pound capacity each), winch, tire covers (during storage), trailer vents (side wall or roof to reduce heat buildup), and good tow vehicle camper-style mirrors. You might also want to consider getting a vinyl floor inside to keep things cleaner; it's much less expensive than adding it later. On this trailer, indoor/outdoor carpeting was installed. The carpeting has much less weight and is warmer especially when strapping the car down in the cold weather. Car Tie-DownsTo tie the car down, I like the ratchet-type straps on all four corners. Some tie-down sets come with only two ratchets and two manually adjustable straps. With those you have to adjust the length of the front two straps, which can be a pain. The ones I use are from Snappin Turtle ( The ratchet-type strap lets you get the right tension easily on all four corners. It's best to mount the straps to suspension points (e.g., lower A frame), which allows the car to move on its suspension while not affecting the tension on the straps. I've also made pads to go over the straps to avoid any scratching that might happen where they go around the suspension. Straps which are rated at 10,000 capacity each are a good idea as it's not just the curb weight of the car but the weight in motion should you need to make a sudden stop.

Most trailers have at least four D-rings for attaching the tie-downs. I added four more to give more tie-down options. There is also a track style that will give you a lot of adjustment.

When loading the car, I've found that getting in the right position is made much easier by fastening a tire chock to the floor in front of the driver's front tire. It helps get the car in the same place each time both for balance and side-to-side positioning.

Aluminum Trailer Web Sites
- Aluminum Trailer Company
- Exciss
- FeatherLite
- Renegade (Rance Aluminum)
- Trailex

Steel Trailer Web Sites
- Haulmark
- H&H Trailers
- Pace
- U.S. Cargo
- Wells Cargo

I haven't listed every manufacturer, just a few to give you an idea of what's out there. An internet search will help you find many more.


Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print