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What to look for in a trailer

The right trailer, to the right spec, for the right job is crucial.

If your only experience of trailers is a battered, abused hire trailer or a rusty box trailer borrowed from a neighbour, then you may have a coloured view of the whole trailer industry. 

But, if you get it right, the right trailer, built to the correct standard of engineering, can be a trusty and very handy thing to have.

The best trailers are, of course, the ones that will handle the task you wish to use them for. That sounds pretty obvious, but trying to move a car on a trailer not designed for that use is asking for trouble. That said, sometimes a car trailer can be a pretty effective general trailer, but not vice-versa.

A car trailer, for instance, will be fitted with heavy-duty tie-down points, as well as a set of ramps to make loading possible. Without these fittings, you won’t be towing that dead car anywhere. 

Even detail stuff like a lower-deck height (to keep the centre of gravity lower) as well as low-profile mudguards (so you can still open the towed car’s doors when it’s on the trailer) make a world of difference and illustrate the attention to detail required. 

Car trailers almost always feature a double (or dual) axle layout to better spread the load. There are a few single axle car trailers, but most will carry only very small, light cars and may not be legal to do so in all states and territories. 

A trailer that looks like a car trailer but has just one axle is far more likely to be carting a gold-cart than an actual car.

Boat trailers obviously impose their own design requirements, but even a general trailer used for any number of tasks needs to be properly engineered. That includes having axles, suspension and tyres rated to the correct specifications. 

Car trailers almost always feature a double axle layout to better spread the load. Car trailers almost always feature a double axle layout to better spread the load.

The overall construction needs to be robust, too, and all welding generally needs to be by a qualified tradesman if the trailer is to be used on the public road. There are also physical dimensions within which a trailer must comply with before it can take to the highway.

That’s where specialist trailer manufacturers come into things. If you plan to buy a brand-new trailer, you can have it custom designed to suit your precise needs. 

That can be a basic as a trailer with a removable cage or hard top for containing garden waste, to a trailer with a hydraulic tipper or bin for farm or industrial use. 

By using a specialist trailer-maker, you’re also assured of getting a legal and safe product with all the necessary compliance plates and legal compliances to make registering the trailer easy.

Until now, building a trailer at home and getting a compliance plate has involved going through your state’s registration authorities. That hasn’t changed, but the process in some states is being tightened up right now. 

The overall construction of a trailer needs to be robust. The overall construction of a trailer needs to be robust.

From next year in Victoria, for instance, it will no longer be acceptable to simply apply for a VIN and attach that to the finished trailer yourself. 

It will still be possible to build a trailer at home, but getting it on the road won’t be as simple. Make sure you know the rules for your home state or territory as they can vary from place to place and are a moving target.

Some states have a limit on how many trailers you can build in a year before you’re considered a trailer manufacturer (in Victoria, it’s four) and most states also have a ruling on what’s a large (heavy) and small (light) trailer. 

Again, in Victoria, a light trailer is anything with an Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of less than 4.5 tonnes, and a heavy trailer is anything over that.

The classified adverts are usually full of trailers for sale, but it’s important that the one you choose covers all your needs and doesn’t place practical or legal restrictions on its use that you weren’t expecting. 

Brakes are a great example of the latter. While many people prefer a trailer with electric brakes (and they do make a difference) those brakes require the towing vehicle to be fitted with an actuator.

An Electric brake controller is a must have for towing. An Electric brake controller is a must have for towing.

A trailer with simple mechanical brakes, however, can be towed by any vehicle regardless of whether it’s thus equipped, as the purely mechanical system requires no electrical communication with the car doing the towing beyond powering the lights.

There’s also a theory that holds that trailers are like boats; the bigger the better. That’s not always the case, though, and you should always try to match the maximum mass of your trailer with the abilities of the car you plan to tow it with. 

Boat trailers obviously impose their own design requirements. Boat trailers obviously impose their own design requirements.

A big, spacious, heavy trailer might be easier to load and be more stable to tow, but if your car lacks the performance and mass (and brakes) to make it move efficiently and safely, then you may have more trailer than you can deal with.

Other options worth considering include LED lighting which is much more robust than conventional globes, will last longer and is less likely to be affected by moisture or vibration. 

And don’t be surprised if the trailer you buy brand-new actually comes on second-hand tyres. By a strange quirk of legislation, this is/was legal in some parts of Australia. Either way, tyres with a high load rating and strong sidewalls are the best option for towing anything heavy.

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