On the Trail of the Right Trailer
By Tim Nephew
A good hauler will handle your heavy stuff with ease, on rough terrain as well as smooth.
Most projects on our rural property require hauling something from one point to another. Trailers are invaluable in my day-to-day work, whether I’m hauling cut logs out of the woodlot, or moving equipment, implements, or gravel.
Trailers come in many sizes, styles, and price ranges. Some have been built for a specific type of hauling, while others can handle a variety of payloads and applications. Finding the right trailer to fit your needs — and your price range — requires considering your current and future trailering needs, and the type of work you’ll be using the trailer for. Here are descriptions of the most common trailer types.
A catch-all workhorse for rural landowners, the utility trailer comes in many different lengths and widths, with drive-on ramps, multiple loading locations, and other options. A good starting size for a utility trailer is about 5 by 8 feet. These trailers are designed for lighter hauling and have a payload — the amount of weight a trailer is rated to carry — of about 1,600 pounds. This size will allow you to haul a garden tractor, a load of bagged feed, lumber, or a small load of fill. You can find smaller utility trailers, but they’ll have limited practicality on a rural property.
The landscape utility trailer falls on the larger end of this category. This type starts at 6 by 14 feet, and can be as long as 18 feet. These trailers are normally tandem-wheeled, allowing for a heavier load capacity of 5,000 to 6,000 pounds. Landscape trailers can be a terrific multitasking tool for rural landowners, as they may be used to move equipment or haul bricks, blocks, cement, implements, and other heavy items. I own a compact utility tractor that weighs about 2,000 pounds. A 6-by-16-foot trailer accommodates my tractor along with the front-end loader and an attached rear implement, and still has several thousand pounds of spare load capacity. Being able to haul your subcompact or compact utility tractor to another property, or to the dealer for maintenance, can be a big benefit. Renting a trailer capable of hauling heavy equipment can run from $80 to $100 for an eight-hour day, which makes buying your own trailer a good investment.
Image Polaris/Joshua Schave
Some trailers are specifically designed to allow loading of ATV, UTV, and garden tractors; they have a swing-down gate at the rear of the trailer. Others feature an additional loading option from the forward side of the trailer, allowing you to efficiently carry multiple pieces of equipment. Racks may be mounted to the trailers for securing chainsaws, grass trimmers, and other tools.
A good ballpark figure for a standard 5-by-8-foot trailer starts around $800. Expect to pay up to $3,000 for a 6-by-16-foot landscape utility trailer.
Getting a standard trailer to some places on our property is virtually impossible. Crossing rough terrain and using narrow trails or roads usually requires an ATV or tractor. Working in woodlots or on fence lines in hilly pastures requires a trailer that can get you there while still being capable of carrying fencing equipment in or a heavy load of logs out. An off-road trailer shines in these situations.
Image Polaris/Joshua Schave
These all-purpose trailers are usually constructed of either polyethylene (heavy plastic) or powder-coated steel, and are equipped with large flotation tires for driving over rough terrain. They come in single- and double-axle versions and can haul up to 2,000 pounds. Some all-purpose trailers are outfitted with electric brakes to help control large loads, and the ability to dump the load by either a manual lever, a winch, or electrical power. These trailers are stable on rough terrain because many use a lawn-mower-type axle that allows the wheels to articulate (move up and down individually). This keeps the load stable when you’re moving slowly over rocks and logs.
Trailers with a 1,200-pound payload that can handle 22 cubic feet of material typically cost about $800. Off-road trailers that can manage over 2,000 pounds can cost $1,500 to $2,000 and up.
Utility Dump Trailers
The utility dump trailer is an invaluable tool on rural acreage, especially if you’ll be moving a lot of sand, gravel, rock, soil, and manure at slow speeds around your property. These trailers are made of heavy-duty angle iron and structural steel, and most use high flotation tires with tandem wheels to handle rough terrain. As their name implies, these trailers are able to “dump” loads weighing 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. They use a hydraulic cylinder and electric motor to lift the trailer to a 60-degree angle, thereby eliminating the backbreaking work of manually emptying the load — but note that the trailers are usually shipped without the hydraulics.
Utility dump trailers suited to smaller applications are 4 by 8 feet and have a load capacity of 4,000 pounds. Prices start at about $1,100 without the hydraulic cylinder and motor. You’ll pay an additional $250 to $500 for a kit that contains the hydraulic cylinder, fluid holding tank, and 12-volt battery to operate the trailer remotely. Larger trailers capable of 5,000-pound payloads or more start at $5,500, but may have the hydraulics already installed.
Those of us who own livestock occasionally need to use a stock trailer to move animals. If you own horses, for example, you may want to travel to riding opportunities and competitions. Most trailer dealers recommend you think about how you’re going to use a stock trailer before you purchase one.
Consider the kind of animal you plan to haul, and how often and how far you’ll be taking them. What road conditions can you expect? Does your area have the potential for hot, cold, or stormy weather when you’re transporting animals? How many animals will you be hauling — only one or two, or will you be moving multiple cattle from one pasture to another? All of these considerations come into play when choosing a stock trailer. If you foresee only one or two trips a year, borrowing or renting a trailer could be the better option.
Prices begin at about $5,000 for a basic one- or two-animal unit, and soar up to $60,000 and higher for a stock trailer with room for feed, tack, and living quarters. Seek advice from someone with a lot of experience using these trailers. Ask them to accompany you to examine the trailer, whether you’re purchasing new or secondhand, because trailer failure can be disastrous to the animals.
Vehicle Towing Requirements
Ensure your vehicle has towing capability for your chosen trailer and is outfitted with the proper equipment to tow safely. First, determine the vehicle’s maximum towing capacity, known as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). In most cases, this information can be found in the operator’s manual or online. Second, know the Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR); this is the weight your fully loaded trailer is rated for. To learn how much you can safely haul, make sure the loaded weight of your trailer combined with the weight of your loaded vehicle doesn’t exceed the GVWR of the vehicle, or you’ll risk damage to the engine, transmission, and axles.
Image Polaris/Joshua Schave
The best way to ensure your vehicle has trailer-towing capability is to have a factory- installed towing package. Most towing packages are designed to safely and reliably handle the added weight and strain on the engine and transmission. Even if your vehicle didn’t come with a towing package, in most cases, one can be retrofitted by an automotive dealer or independent shop.
Standard towing packages usually include the following:
- Hitch platform and trailer-towing electrical wiring harness.
- Upgraded electrical system with better transmission and engine cooling capabilities.
- Enhanced shocks/struts and braking system.
- Computer module towing upgrade.
- Differential gearing towing upgrades.
You’ll also need a receiver hitch to attach to your vehicle’s frame; the right size of ball to fit the trailer coupler; and the correct wiring harness for the trailer’s wiring. Here are a few other items that may also come in handy:
- Adjustable ball mount to adjust the height of the ball to match the trailer.
- Electronic brake controller.
- Spare tire and tire carrier.
- Heavy-duty bottle jack or high-lift jack for road repairs to the trailer.
- Safety markers to place behind the trailer during roadside emergencies.
Tim Nephew writes regularly for Grit about equipment. He owns and maintains 80 acres of wildlife habitat in rural Minnesota.
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For in-depth details on hauling machines, animals, and bulk materials, see “Stock Trailers, Flatbed Trailers, Utility Trailers, and More.”
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