For someone trying to choose their first trailer, the dazzling array of models currently on the market can be overwhelming, and sometimes it seems as if newer, bigger, and better models come out every day. The sheer number of choices you’ll have to make in order to narrow down the field can be dizzying, especially if you’re not exactly sure what it is you’re looking for. Should you buy new or used? Bumper pull, or fifth-wheel (gooseneck)? Buy for the number of animals you have now, or give yourself “room to grow?”
New or used may not be a simple as it sounds. In light of the number of communicable livestock diseases, some of which are extremely resistant to treatment, some people refuse to even contemplate purchasing a used trailer. However, a close inspection of any used trailer will tell you fairly quickly whether the previous owner cared for it properly, and, by extension, the animals it carried. Things to look for on any used trailer are rust spots, weakened welds, hastily repaired dents, etc., much as you would examine a used car before purchasing.
As far as size is concerned, I find the decision fairly easy to make. Especially in light of today’s high fuel prices, bigger is not necessarily better! The larger the trailer, the heavier-duty vehicle required to tow it, and the lower your fuel efficiency. For instance, my 3500 Duramax dually gets about 22 mpg (highway) when towing my 7’x12′ enclosed utility trailer. This drops to about 15 mpg (highway) when towing my 30′, 10,000lb custom Pace camper. Needless to say, unless we’re going to be staying at a show for several days, we don’t take the camper.
If you plan on raising a fairly small type of animal – such as sheep or goats – a six-horse fifth-wheel with living quarters may be a bit much for your needs if you only plan on going to one or two local shows a year. Even though it looks really good sitting on the lot, and has every convenience you could imagine – plus a few – the first time you spend over $400 on fuel alone for a one-day trip to the State Fair will hurt your feelings.
However, if you have large animals and plan on traveling a show circuit, you will need a correspondingly large trailer, and a model with living quarters can be a lifesaver. Most hotels are in areas where it is next to impossible to maneuver a large truck/trailer combo. Simply pull into a well-lit rest area, and nap until you’re ready to move on.
If you are just starting out, and have purchased neither truck nor trailer, my advice is to choose the trailer first, then pick out the vehicle best suited to your needs. For instance, if you decide to purchase a 5,000lb two-horse bumper pull, it really isn’t necessary to buy a Ford F-350 Super Duty to pull it. Granted, the F350 would do the job easily, but so would an F150.
For those who already own a truck, you need to be aware of your vehicle individual requirements – and limitations. The first time we pulled our Pace custom, we had a 2500 Suburban, and it was a nightmare. I don’t think the front wheels of the truck ever touched the ground from the time we hooked up the trailer, until we got back home. A week later, we brought home a 2002 3500 Silverado Duramax Dually, and it pulled without a problem.
When you start talking with a dealer about trailer specifications, you’ll hear them throw around several acronyms referring to weight ratings. The first of these is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which is the maximum allowable weight of a vehicle when fully loaded, including passengers, fuel, and payload. The Gross Trailer Weight Rating (GTWR) is a similar measurement, except it refers to the trailer. GVCWR, or Gross Vehicle Combined Weight Rating, is that of the trailer and tow vehicle combined when both are fully loaded. Finally, the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the maximum amount that each individual axle can handle; it is determined by a number of factors including the type and number of axles, type of tires, type of rims, etc.
While one of the most important ratings in terms of potential trailering problems, the GAWR is also the rating most likely to be ignored by trailer owners. The best way to avoid overloading an individual axle is to always be sure the load is balanced from front to back and side to side.
There are two main types of trailers: bumper-pull (tag-along), and fifth-wheel (gooseneck). The US Forestry Service breaks down the different types of hitches into five categories:
Class I: up to 2,000lbs (not suitable for livestock)
Class II: 2,000-4,000lbs (not suitable for livestock)
Class III: 4,000-6,000lbs (limited to a two-horse trailer; considered the bare minimum necessary)
Class IV: 6,000-10,000lbs
Class V: up to 12,000lbs
(Both Class IV and Class V hitches utilize weight-distributing mounting brackets that transfer the trailer’s weight to all of the truck’s wheels, making it easier for the truck to pull.)
A fifth-wheel hitch takes more of the trailer’s weight by centering the hitch over the truck’s rear axle. While fifth-wheels tend to have improved stability and a smaller turning radius, they typically have a higher profile than a bumper-pull, and can only be towed by a full-sized open bed pickup. Short-bed trucks and cross-over SUV’s such as the Explorer SporTrac or the Avalanche don’t have enough bed space to keep the leading edge of a fifth-wheel from hitting the back glass in a tight turn. The cost of a fifth-wheel is also usually significantly higher than that of a comparably sized bumper-pull.
As far as construction goes, today’s trailers are generally made of either aluminum, steel, or a combination of the two (steel frame with an aluminum skin). Aluminum trailers tend to last longer than steel, with better fuel efficiency, because they don’t rust, require less maintenance, and weigh about 25% less. However, while steel trailers require regular repainting, they can cost as little as half the price of an aluminum model, and have a correspondingly low insurance rate.
Combination trailers are usually a good compromise, as they fall between all-aluminum and all-steel models in price, and don’t require as much preventive maintenance as a steel trailer. However, they may have trouble with a kind of electrolysis where the steel frame is joined to the aluminum skin.
If you still aren’t sure exactly what kind of trailer would work best for you, visit your local feed store and strike up conversations with other farmers and ranchers in your area. Chances are, they’ve been through it all many times, and they can often be a gold mine of information. Best of all, it will be knowledge specific to your location and requirements.