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Trailer 101 - Trailer Anatomy

What To Look For In Your Next Trailer

Jason Thompson
Jul 1, 2009
Photographers: Courtesy of General Motors, Courtesy of Ford, Jason Thompson
Photo 2/8   |   trailer 101 towing A Trailer
So you're in the market for a new trailer? A trailer has the ability to transport freight, animals, automobiles, medium-size houses--basically anything not securely fastened to the ground--thousands of miles when hitched to a diesel truck. Diesel Power described in the January '09 article "Towing Basics: A Beginner's Guide to Trucks and Trailers" how to tow. In this article we're going to discuss the different types of trailers so you'll know what to look for when buying, or making one. We'll also explain the various trailer designs to prepare you to potentially pull any trailer--anywhere.
What Kind of Trailer Do You Need?
1. Car or Boat Hauler: The first rule in selecting a trailer is buy one with the most versatility. Unfortunately we have to throw this out the window when it comes to hauling boats and cars, since they require trailers that are so purpose built.
2. JunkYard Parts Hauler: This type of trailer is the exact opposite of a single-purpose trailer. We would select an open flatbed with dual axles. A wood floor would keep greasy parts from sliding around. We would make sure it had a winch and a lifting hoist to assist in the loading of heavy parts and crippled vehicles.
3. Heavy Equipment: When it comes to towing heavy equipment, the closer the load is to the ground, the better. This setup is good because it is easier to load and you'll have a lower center of gravity going down the highway. The other thing you want is generous section height (distance up and down) in the trailer's framerails to reduce flexing under heavy loads. Check out HeavyEquipmentForums.com. It has a ton of information, cool pictures, and knowledgeable members.
4. Enclosed Trailer: This type of trailer has many benefits, including complete protection from the elements, security from the masses, and less resistance from the wind. The downside is they take more planning to load and unload. Plus, they tend to be less durable compared to a simple flatbed trailer.
Choosing the Right Trailer Material
WOOD: Won't rust and is easily replaced if it breaks or rots away.
STEEL: Steel trailers are durable and strong.
ALUMINUM: Aluminum trailers are very lightweight and will not rust.
FIBERGLASS: This is what many enclosed trailers are built with.
Different Hitch Types
Gooseneck Ball: This type of hitch uses a 2 5/16-inch receiver ball mounted flush with the bed. You will appreciate this setup if you travel across uneven terrain, since the ball and socket allow for more unrestricted movement. The downside is they tend to make the tow vehicle's ride quality jerkier compared to a fifth-wheel hitch setup, and some models require you to step up into the bed during hookup. Just like a fifth-wheel hitch, they turn tighter compared to a bumper-mounted trailer hitch setup.
Bumper Receiver: This type of hitch is easy to hook up, since you don't have to step into the bed. The downside is that the amount of weight you can safely tow is limited to around 10,000 pounds.
Fifth-Wheel Hitch: This system is reminiscent of those found on tractor-trailers. It consists of a large steel plate that supports the trailer's weight and a coupler, which opens and closes around the trailer's hitch pin. This setup offers the smoothest ride while going down the highway. Many setups offer cushioned connecting points so there is no metal-to-metal contact. Side-to-side movement is limited by the hitch to only a few degrees. The rest of the trailer's movement is controlled by the tow vehicle's suspension.
The Perfect Trailer
Here is a list of what we would include:
- Cooler: To store food and drinks at the track.
- Electric Winch: To load and unload broken vehicles.
- Storage Container: To lock straps, tools, and spare parts in.
- Disc Brakes: You can never have too much trailer braking power.
- Ramps: Should be light and rated for more weight than the trailer.
- Heavy-Duty Jack: The standard trailer jacks always seem to fail.
- Tire Pressure Sensors: So we don't have an unexpected tire failure.
- Made From Aluminum: To save weight and give us more load capacity.
- Backup Camera: So we can monitor the load, trailer tires, and blindspots.
- LED Lights: Vibration proof, waterproof, and draw less current than conventional bulbs.
- Torsion Bar Suspension: For a lower trailer, less overall trailer height, and more load control.
- LoJack Security: Our ideal trailer will be a target for thieves, and too costly for us to allow it to get stolen.
- Made Locally: So the people who build it understand the type of roads and environment the trailer will be used in.
- Insulated & Protected Trailer Wiring: The seven most problematic wires in the automotive world are the ones on the trailer.
- Aluminum Wheels: Less trailer weight means more load capacity. Ideally, the trailer wheels and tires match the tow vehicle's, so you always have a spare.

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