What to look for when buying a trailer? - LotusTalk - The Lotus Cars Community
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post #1 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-02-2011, 12:50 PM Thread Starter
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What to look for when buying a trailer?

So I've been looking at trailers to tow my Exige and I end up with more questions the more I look - 3600/5400/7000 lb axles, torsion axles, extended tongues and beavertails.....

What should I look for and what should I stay away from when looking for an enclosed or open trailer? My first preference would be enclosed to keep out of the elements at the track, probably 8.5x24 to 28. I could give up some of the convenience of the enclosed trailer for an open if it was worth it, but it seems open trailers aren't that much less expensive than enclosed. Not wanting to spend over 6 or 7K - just basic safe transportation to/from the track and hauling some wheels, tools , etc.

Thanks for the help!

PS - I don't have a tow vehicle yet so don't need to stay under a weight limit there. Looking at something with at least 7000 lbs towing though.

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post #2 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-03-2011, 07:47 AM
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I wrote a really awesome long post and then a careless refresh destroyed it before posting.

To sum up.

Go open if at all possible for better fuel economy, easier towing, and less hassle. You can put a locking toolbox on front if needed.

If going enclosed, go far smaller than 24. 16 or 18" is fine for Lotus.

Spend for lightweight aluminum on open trailers. They hold their value and never need to be painted. Lower weight equals better mileage.

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post #3 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-03-2011, 08:20 AM
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You've seen my rig. I'm quite pleased with the Tundra/Featherlight combo. But if I were doing it again I would take a hard look at the Trailex opens. Lighter, more customizable.
Would be neat to be able to cover the car and your gear up completely at the track or wherever. And just leave your gear and spares in it all the time, not have to load/unload each event.
Car could be stored in it especially if there were some mechanical (or traumatic, as you know!) problem. And it's nice to shelter from hot or cold or rain. Can even overnight in it.

And you are 2 seconds faster on track if you know you have a way home other than your car

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post #4 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-03-2011, 08:34 AM
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The very first thing you need to look at regarding trailers is not the trailer. Look at your tow vehicle. What is it? What is the tow rating determined by the engine, transmission, axle combination? Your trailer options greatly vary if you have a mid-size SUV compared to a 3/4 or 1 ton diesel truck.

Second question is how much stuff to you bring to the track with you. Are you a Boy Scout and come prepared for anything or are you the type that says if something breaks I'll just go home?

Third question is what kind of trips are you doing? Short trips of just a few hours or long overnight trips.

EDIT: OOPS, didn't see the comment about tow vehicle being undecided!

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post #5 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-03-2011, 01:46 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the feedback - lots of good points. Most of the time I'll be driving around an hour to VIR, but depending on the LCUSA-East schedule I plan to have a few 10-12 hour trips and overnights. I was thinking 24' to give me room to balance the tongue weight some, not load stuff on the walls OVER the car, resale value, etc., but then just saw the empty weight of a 24' Haulmark enclosed is 5900 lbs! Add 2000 for the car and 400-500 for misc stuff and an SUV won't cut it. I'm going to look at some trailers this weekend and I think opens are moving up the preference list. If I can get 2 fuel jugs and a set (maybe 2) of wheels on it, that'd be perfect. Throw a tent/shelter in the back of whatever to get out of the elements as well as some tools and spare parts.

Bob, I do really like your Tundra setup with the hard tonneau cover and open trailer. The deals on the Tundras now are unreal!

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post #6 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-03-2011, 05:28 PM
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I have a Trailex - weighs 950 lbs....and great resale value.
Tow with a Mercedes GL450 and barely feel it behind me

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post #7 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-03-2011, 08:24 PM
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It sounds like you have a pretty minimal load out so for an enclosed trailer a 16' v-nose would work nicely. That is what I used to pull my Elise in before I bought the formula car. It didn't have a huge amount of room, but you could easily fit the Elise in, 4 jugs of fuel, 2 sets of tires, easy up awning, nitrogen tank or small air compressor, and a couple of plastic bins of miscellaneous stuff. A 16' flat nose would be pushing it a bit on storage so make sure it is a v-nose. A 20' enclosed probably would have a little bit better resale, but it will push the size of your tow vehicle up a bit. 24' is overkill and you can fit two Elise's in a 28'.

The type of enclosed trailer is something to consider also. You have your traditional full height box trailers and your low ceiling ones. The full height trailers can be more useful as they are a good way to get out of the weather and they are easier to load and unload as you aren't either on your hand and knees or having to walk hunch back. You can take advantage of the height for storing stuff on the walls. The draw back is the wind drag. You see all this talk about weight and towing capacities, but you see very little data about surface area when considering the towing ability of the vehicle doing the pulling. I have seen it referenced once in a towing guide from Ford so do some digging and see what you find. Full size trailers will have a significant effect on your gas mileage. My '01 F150 with the 5.4 engine was getting around 7-8 mpg pulling my 6,000 lbs loaded 16' v-nose. The low ceiling trailers can give you the piece of mind of an enclosed trailer with the benefits of better gas mileage at the expense of some functionality. Low ceiling enclosed trailers will be much harder to find than a standard full height enclosed. They will probably cost more too since they tend to be custom even though they use less material. Go look at a few full height trailers and see if that extra functionality is worth getting a little bit bigger tow vehicle and 1-3 MPG less.

Open trailers typically have two forms. You have the super inexpensive open floor trailers. They have just a simple wood or steel plank where the tires are and the rest of the floor is left open. Even with a steel one, the weight can be very minimal. A small tool/truck box can usually be mounted on the front for some extra storage, but unless you get a good one (i.e. $$$) 10 secs and a crow bar is all a thief needs to relieve you of your jack and other items. Full floor trailers will weight a bit more, but are a bit easier to load and unload as you won't find yourself missing some skin and blood when you miss your footing on an open floor trailer and rake your shin down a cross member. They can also help to protect the car a bit better from debris bounced up from the road by the tow vehicle. A nose guard on the front of the trailer is probably a good idea to help protect whatever is on the trailer. It also make a convenient area to store stuff behind it. Same issue above applies with the tool box. Open trailers are going to be the lightest and have the least drag so you get better gas mileage and need a smaller tow vehicle. Draw back is your advertising what your pulling. Not a big deal if you are just making short trips to the track and back. Once you start making overnight trips, the enclosed trailer can give you a bit more piece of mind when your stuck parking in the back unlit corner of a motel parking lot just off the interstate, especially with a trailer alarm system install.

There is one other class of trailer I consider more of a hybrid. They are basically an open trailer with a light weight hinged shell. The weight increase is fairly minimal compared to an open, but you get a little more piece of mind when doing those long trips. Depending on it's size, you might gain a little bit of storage space, but not nearly as much as either a low ceiling or full size enclosed. They also tend to be custom and will be harder to find and more expensive.

Aluminum trailers are pricey, but the resale on them is very good. It is very hard to find a used aluminum trailer because they are usually snatched up the second the hit the market. They can help on weight which can help your MPG some, but drag area has a bigger effect.

Pay attention to the ride height of the trailer. Some trailers both open and enclosed where built with with ATV's and dirt bikes in mind. They figured those trailers would get pulled down rutted dirt toads so the ground clearance is higher than a trailer that was built with a low slung sports/race car in mind. If the trailer is pretty low, consider getting a set of steel rollers installed on the back corners. This will save the trailer when you get caught on the occasionally steep drive way of a gas station. A beaver tail will also facilitate loading/unloading by helping to reduce the angle of your ramps. You probably won't find a beaver tail in a 16-20' trailer, but you can find them in 24' and up enclosed trailers. Make sure the trailer has torsion axles. The trailer will ride a bit better as each wheel is now independent.

A trailer's maximum total weight is determined by the capacity of the axles. Two 3500 lb axles gets you a gross weight of 7,000 lbs. Your cargo capacity is the gross weight minus the empty weight. When buying a trailer, NEVER EVER trust the empty weights in catalogs or from the salesmen. Catalog weights 99% of the time are from a bare bones trailer with no options and even then are probably low. Before signing on the dotted line ask to take the trailer to a truck stop and get an accurate weight on it. I have read some horror stories on the web about people loading up their trailer and running across the scales only to find themselves 1,000+ lbs over maximum weight because the trailer was much heavier than what the salesman told them. Problem is the empty weight was never listed in the sales contract so who do you think gets screwed.

If you can find the right one, definitely buy used instead of new. Not only do you take a hit on the depreciation of the trailer itself, all the accessories depreciate too, like cabinets, tire racks, winches, etc. Let someone else take that hit.

You will hear lots of opinions on what size tow vehicle you need for a given size trailer. Never trust the guy selling you the trailer on whether or not your tow vehicle is big enough. Go to any of the RV forums and you can read up on horror stories about someone buying a RV trailer that by the time it was fully loaded was 1k lbs or more over the limit of the vehicle.

Tow ratings are based on the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). The tow rating is the GCWR minus the weight of the truck. The weight of the truck is for a bare bones truck with no options and probably a 100 lb driver and a half tank of gas. That means every option you add to the truck has to be subtracted from the towing capacity. So those leather seats, towing package, trick sound system, passengers, luggage, pets, etc. etc. all add to the truck weight. Subtract this from the GCWR and you will find your true tow rating which is less and can be substantially less than the posted values in the chart. Read the fine print on the bottom of the towing guide for any vehicle you are considering. If your still in doubt, take the desired car to a truck stop or the dump and get it weighed. Your local dump will probably weigh the car for free since you aren't dumping anything.

Some people like to pull right at the limit of the vehicle others like to have some wiggle room. I generally like to be 1K to 2K under the limit of the vehicle or even more. The wear on gears, bearings, etc. is to the 3rd power of the load. This means that every time you double the load you decrease the life expectancy by 8 times! So running everything right at the limit or a bit over can have a dramatic effect on it's life expectency.

Wheel base is another factor. The longer the wheel base the more stable the overall package. The longer wheelbase makes it harder for the tail to wag the dog. Make sure the vehicle has a tow package which should include a transmission cooler. Heat is the biggest killer of auto transmissions when towing.

I'm sure I can probably think of more, but this is probably too much to read as it is. Once you get it narrowed down to a a couple of trailers and vehicles you are considering post your choices if you want some opinions.
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post #8 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-03-2011, 11:16 PM
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love the info! clipped for future reference.

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post #9 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-04-2011, 04:53 AM Thread Starter
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Wow, awesome info that is deserves to be pulled out into a sticky here! *

I didn't realize that the extra weight and drag had that much of an effect on mpg. *Just a 5 mpg difference would be about $120 additional in fuel to njmp. *Good to know too about the advertised weights.

I have one or maybe two dealers I plan to check out this weekend to get an idea of the different types, styles, build quality, etc., then can post here, get some feedback and decide on the route to take. *As much as I was initially leaning toward the enclosed, I'm feel I'm moving more toward the open route now.

Thanks!

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post #10 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-04-2011, 05:08 AM
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Sometimes I see a 35 % decrease in mileage even with my light rig. Mostly depends on how fast I drive, whether I keep up with traffic or get casual on uphills. Air conditioning makes a noticeable difference as well.

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post #11 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-04-2011, 05:47 AM
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Although I run enclosed now, I don't think you'll regret the open. The far lower weight and frontal area = far better mileage and ease of towing. 53mph is the crossover where frontal area affects mileage more than weight. Weight really hits you on the hills. I would spend the extra bucks and get the Trailex open and just keep it forever. My buddy has a standing offer from me on his trailex....

I also run a tundra. I would recommend this instead of a hard cover.

Lorado Tonneau Cover by Access

It is still lockable and if someone is determined hard tops are about as easy to break into. The advantage here is that it rolls out of the way in seconds, is cheaper than a hard cover, and when open takes up very little room behind the cab.

Lastly, on the Tundra, get the 5.7L it is more efficient than the 4.7 and has good towing power. Also, I wish I would have gotten the CrewMax vs. double cab for extra inside space.


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post #12 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-04-2011, 03:15 PM
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This aluminum open trailer just got posted. I would be surprised if this trailer doesn't get snatched in 5 days or less.

https://www.lotustalk.com/forums/f95/...railer-104262/

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post #13 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-04-2011, 03:25 PM
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Although I run enclosed now, I don't think you'll regret the open. The far lower weight and frontal area = far better mileage and ease of towing. 53mph is the crossover where frontal area affects mileage more than weight.
That is good info Fred. I now tow with a 3/4 ton Dodge Megacab with the 5.9 Cummins and it is awesome. Set cruise at 65 in overdrive and it never waivers even on the rolling hill heading down to Georgia or up to VIR. My gas F150 had to tow out of overdrive and you had to floor it on many of the hills to even try to hold 65. The diesel gets 13 mpg towing my 6,000 lbs loaded V-nose enclosed trailer. Compared to the 7.5-8 MPG for the F150 was a huge improvement. A couple of times I have been running a bit late and pushed it up to 70 mph and that 13 MPG dropped to 11 MPG. That extra 5 MPH was a 16% drop in MPG! Drop to 55 MPH and it gets much better, but you start really impeding traffic and risk getting run over.

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post #14 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-05-2011, 04:42 PM
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I've done both a prefer the open trailer.

2 years ago I borrowed a friend's 24' enclosed trailer for a couple of 800 mile weekends. What a pain in the a$$! Too big to turn, back, park or store. You can't see around it. Rush hour on 84 in Hartford CT is an experience I will not soon forget. 30-40% of the gas stations in the Northeast are off-limits because you don't fit or you take up half the pumps because your overall length is about 50 feet. It gets blown all over the road by cross-winds and semis. It was absolutely nerve-wracking to drive. Did I mention the 40% hit in gas mileage? Re-fueling every 200 miles gets old.

I'll admit that my V8 Tundra was overmatched, even though I was 500 lbs below the tow and GVWR ratings. That brings up another point: You almost can't have too much tow vehicle. I wouldn't tow more than 80% of the rated max. Your tow vehicle just works too hard, and you run out of "margin" to accelerate & brake (even with trailer brakes and a good controller).

I've since purchased an 18' aluminum open car hauler. I find it so much easier to deal with. Mileage went from 10mpg with the enclosed up to 15mpg. I can see all around it. I can back into a parking space within inches. With the enclosed trailer, you either need a spotter or use the Braille method. The lighter, smaller rig is easier to deal with in almost every aspect.
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post #15 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-12-2011, 10:51 PM
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I did the same research and I ended up getting an opened trailer.

I started with just the Elise and now, about $12000 later, I have the towing vehicle and the trailer.
Just to be sure, I went to the trailer vendor and I looked mostly at enclosed ones. They only had 20" ones (8.5" wide) which the dude recommended since it would allow more space inside to fasten the car and all that. While they were nice and not too expensive ($5000), I felt overwhelmed just looking at them. My initial reaction was that it would be daunting to pull one of those.

Obviously, there are pros to enclosed trailers, such as safety, weather protection, shade for the car, so on so forth. But in the end, I just didn't see myself tow something that big and be comfortable doing it. But it's just me and I know that tons of people are fine with this.

I talked to the guy and I bought a 16ft open trailer. It's steel and not aluminum, so it's porky. The floor is made of wood, which is exposed to the weather and bird crap (which happens to deteriorate stuff quickly). It's supposed to weight 1600lbs, and it does feel like it.

Fortunately, my truck is equipped with a Class IV hitch, which means that the tongue weight can go up to 1200lbs. I bought a tongue weight scale and it showed that, with the car on top, I was at a tad over 750lbs and moving the car back almost two feet decreased that weight by less than 200lbs (I was at over 950lbs initially).

I got some D-rings which I use to fasten the car and they were quite easy to install since the floor is made of wood.

I went to Sear Point last Monday and it turns out that I did about 14MPG, which is not bad considering that the first few miles are going up a decent sized hill. I'm going to put some truck bed liner on the wood so that it won't be exposed to elements and last a lot longer.

I even have picture (I didn't buy the truck in that trim on purpose, I swear).
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post #16 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-27-2011, 07:40 PM Thread Starter
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Over the past couple of weeks I finally decided on an open aluminum trailer (though docjay's 24' enclosed with A/C felt pretty damn good in the heat this past week!). I still need to see what the tongue weight with the car loaded is and figure out the optimal placement.

Here's a pic of the new setup - aero dam and tire rack on order. I also needed something to tow with and wrestled with the ideas of a truck vs SUV and drove several of each, then found a nice '06 V8 Explorer with the factory towing pkg a few miles from me for a great price. Book says 7200 lbs towing and it pulled the Lotus without a problem.

Next stop - NJMP!

Thanks for everyone's help.
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post #17 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-27-2011, 08:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TenaciousX View Post
Over the past couple of weeks I finally decided on an open aluminum trailer (though docjay's 24' enclosed with A/C felt pretty damn good in the heat this past week!). I still need to see what the tongue weight with the car loaded is and figure out the optimal placement.

Here's a pic of the new setup - aero dam and tire rack on order. I also needed something to tow with and wrestled with the ideas of a truck vs SUV and drove several of each, then found a nice '06 V8 Explorer with the factory towing pkg a few miles from me for a great price. Book says 7200 lbs towing and it pulled the Lotus without a problem.

Next stop - NJMP!

Thanks for everyone's help.
Good going!

Are you sure the dam and tire rack are compatible? I bought each from Featherlight and they were not. The rack could not be mounted full forward over the dam. I tried it mounted at the car's front wheels for a while then sold it for a loss and tried to carry tires in the truckbed

And a tool box up front is very useful.

Can't quite tell, how long is your trailer?

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post #18 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-28-2011, 09:22 AM Thread Starter
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Good going!

Are you sure the dam and tire rack are compatible? I bought each from Featherlight and they were not. The rack could not be mounted full forward over the dam. I tried it mounted at the car's front wheels for a while then sold it for a loss and tried to carry tires in the truckbed

And a tool box up front is very useful.

Can't quite tell, how long is your trailer?
Thanks, Bob! Interesting note on the compatibility of the tire rack and air dam. The dealer included installation so I'll leave it up to them to figure it out or refund one. I don't like the idea of the tire rack behind the airdam either.

It's a 17.5' trailer. The tool box is a great idea - I started thinking about that once I had straps, ball mount hitch, etc that was just trailer specific.

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post #19 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-31-2011, 01:19 PM
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If you want to do it quickly (getting the tongue weight) get one of those: Sherline Trailer Tongue Weight Scales

I got one on e-bay for $125. Granted that I used it just a few times, it's kind of expensive but I'd rather pay $125 rather than thousands if the hitch breaks off or something.
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post #20 of 28 (permalink) Old 08-31-2011, 02:24 PM
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I measure it the redneck way. Pick up the tongue. If I can do it easily there is too little. If I strain it is just right.
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