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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited by Moderator)
Car trailers are what we use to move our pride and joy from point A to B. But what is our pride and joy really riding on?

You just paid mega bucks after 3 years of negotiating to get that one-of-a kind car. You’ve been looking for it for 10 yrs and finally have it. Your tow vehicle is that nice shiny new truck that’ll pull anything, anyway, anytime with the stereo blasting. Only thing is that auto trailer hooked to the back of it, looks like something out of the Twilight Zone that was last used to move across the USA during the 1930s depression.

Or maybe it’s nice and ready for this trip. Or just looks like it is???

If you’ve never owned or even towed a car hauler, then the first time can be a real learning experience. Hopefully ending on a positive note. If you’re that first time hauler because now your toy is just to radical for street driving, or just a pure trailer queen now making all the shows, or still in the construction stages, then listen up for some tips and pit falls for car haulers.

This is for the person who hauls a vehicle to shows, races, meetings or just once in a while. Not the 18 wheelers, professionals, or any type of commercial setups. They have their own high dollar, State and Federal regulated setups. They fall under totally different rules and requirements. CDLs for Classes involving Airbrakes, 5th wheel discs, HAZMATs, etc. DOT documents that have to be kept to the letter. That is not what I’m talking about here.

1. Your tow vehicle.
This is very important and often over looked. What is the vehicle that you’ll be doing your towing with? That 1990 Ranger 4 cyl isn’t going to haul that 18’, dual axle, trailer with a 3500 lb car on it. Plus the extra 1000 lbs of gear you just piled in the back of it. Even if you do get it rolling, how much do you think those wimpy 9” brakes are going to stop while driving at 65 MPH? Get ready to spend some time talking with your new friend and acquaintance that you just rear ended. Or quality time telling the Officer how your rig wouldn’t stop, when you slid through that stop sign.

You have to have a vehicle that is not only capable of pulling the load, but also capable of bringing it to a safe and swift stop. Many of the vehicles on the street now, have a trailer towing package with them. Check your vehicle manual for its max limits for towing. Just because it has one, doesn’t mean it can tow anything you hook up behind it. The bigger the towed setup, the bigger the tow vehicles requirements are.

Older vehicles from the 60 and 70s were capable of towing because of the bigger brakes and full frames underneath them. I myself used a 72 Ford LTD, 2dr, with a 460, C-6, posi 3.50, to tow a car hauler and 3500# car. But the suspension was modified for towing and it also had a Class 3 hitch welded to the frame. So, check out what you’ll be towing with, because you’ll need some type of braking activation system from the tow vehicle to the trailer. Electric brakes have sensors that are adjustable for load weight and driving conditions.

Hydraulic ones have some of the same setups, but electric are fast becoming the system on all trailers. Rentals still use a universal hydraulic surge brake system. Because this will work behind nearly any vehicle hooked up to. Many new vehicles with Trailer Towing Packages already have the electronics and plug ins for trailers. But always check your vehicle to see what it has and doesn’t have.

Inspect the tow vehicle. Brakes that are marginal and you’ve been putting off having them fixed, Fix them. Cooling system, summer heat is even worse when towing. Transmissions, that automatic need a better/bigger cooler for towing and change the fluid often because towing abuses it even more so. Differentials, gear oil needs special attention too. I change mine every 50K miles. Even the spare tire, and jack for the vehicle. If you’ve never changed a tire on your vehicle, do a walk through now. It’s much easier then out on the freeway in the dark and rain.

2. Class Hitches
Hitch Classes

There are 4 main classes of “trailer hitches”. This doesn’t include that one the goes through the hole in your factory bumper.

Classes 1 and 2 are light duty, 1 ¼” receiver opening, and use a 4 wire (lighting only) plug in. These are just what they say, light duty. Small single axle. Light trailer to haul 1 ATV, some trash to the dumpsite, or move a little furniture, etc. The trailers themselves usually will have no braking system, lights or required to be licensed. Individual states laws need to be checked. The smaller tires, 10” ones, are also not designed for long, hot trips. That smaller trailer tire will turn much faster then your vehicle’s will and the axle bearings will not take the stress for long. Motorcycle haulers are light duty, normally, but have the tires, lighting and suspension for the $30K Harley to have a nice safe trip with.

Class 3 and 4 hitches are bolted or welded to the vehicle frame and have a 2” receiver opening. These are what you’ll want to hook that 18’ dual axle auto hauler up to. This type of setup will normally use either a 6 or 7 wire plug in. The 7 wire is usually for RV type setups but can provide for other setups, such as backup lights, etc. Electric brakes activated by the tow vehicle’s system and backup battery power for the brakes.

Never use a receiver adapter to pull a bigger trailer with a small receiver. Maybe to just move it around a little, but not for any serious hauling. You also have to match the ball hitch to the trailer tongue. They do come in various sizes and styles. The trailer tongue itself will have the ball size required, normally stamped on it. This is critical for proper hook up and grounding of the trailer to the vehicle’s ground for lighting and brake systems.

3. Trailers/Haulers
This is where personal preference plays a big part in what you have, rent or use. Some like the light weight aluminum trailers, weighing appx 1000-1500lbs.

Some prefer the good old traditional steel trailers

Or maybe the enclosed type is what you want/have, which are heavier and cost more.

An enclosed trailer does provide much more protection and security for what’s inside along with keeping it out of the weather. Also very nice for tools, spare parts and rainy days with lawn chairs watching everyone else run for cover.

Utility trailers take on all shapes and sizes, so you decide what you want or need.

But don’t get something that is to small for what you have in mind for it. This includes, load capacity and tire size.

4. Trailer maintenance
This is the evil thing we know we should do, but why bother, “it worked just fine last time I used it”.

A. Start with a simple walk around a look at the trailer. What do the tires look like, the hitch, lights, all the lugnuts there, flooring and metal frame work?

B. Ramps, if used? Shape and overall condition? Rusting, broken welds, bent trailer parts?

C. Check tire pressure and tread. Trailer tires are different from vehicle tires. Tread patterns, side wall construction and load ratings. DON’T use anything other then tires designed for trailers, on trailers. You might get away with it for a little while, but not for long. Especially on those hot, long hauls. Break down in the middle of Mudhole, USA and see how much fun you have.

Which also means carrying a spare tire and a jack that works on your
trailer. Trailer rims have different rim bolt patterns so make sure you
get the right one.

D. Lights
Do they work properly for turns, stops, flashing and tail lights? How about the side lights? Depending on the length of the trailer depends on how many side lights at proper intervals are required. Are the lenses the right colors? If you have a license plate, you have to have a light for it. Wires? Cracked, frayed, hanging loose or bad connections?

Trailer Lighting & Wiring Technical Information

E. Brakes
When was the last time you check the linings? How about the wiring or fluid levels. Connections and do they even work? Electric ones you can put power to them and hear them click. Jack up the wheel and roll it while someone touches the tow vehicle brake pedal. Stop lights and brakes should work together as one.

F. Wheel bearings
These do require maintenance and normal greasing like the older style wheel bearings. Seal replacement is the same to. Check your auto parts store and see if they do stock trailer axle seals. Keep a pair handy for those times when they can’t get them. Some bearing caps have zit fittings for a few strokes of grease once in a while. But don’t over do it or the seals will be damaged. If you own a boat trailer, wiring and bearings require closer inspects more often. Salt water is very corrosive.

G. Trailer tongue
Safety chains/cables, welds, wiring plug in, lift jack, back up battery for electric brakes. Emergency break away switch and cable? If you have electric brakes, most states and new trailers will have an emergency break away switch and battery mounted on the trailer just for that reason.

This is for when the hitch fails and the trailer breaks loose on its own. The battery should hold the brakes on, for appx 20 minutes. The battery requires some sort of charging system. I have an electric winch on my trailer that also powers the emergency brake system. The battery is recharged everytime I plug in to the trailer. The safety chains are to keep the trailer for rolling free of the hitch. Use only chains that are strong enough to hold the trailer. Cross them and don’t let them hang loose when securing them to your hitch.

Don’t let the chains get rusty or drag so as to get worn and weaken.
Safety and Hook Up Procedures - TrailersDirectOnline is your online source for Exiss Trailers,Cargo Trailers, Dump Trailers, Gooseneck trailers, equipment, flatbed utility Trailers, Enclosed Horse and Livestock trailers from CM, Wells Cargo and BigTe

By crossing of the chains makes it so the trailer’s tongue will fall into the chains and be held up off the road. This way it doesn’t dig into the road and have that “pole vault” effect.

H. Tie downs.
These need to be inspected and kept clean. Check for proper
ratchet action. Don’t let them set in the sun for long periods because they
deteriorate in strength from the sun exposure. Some states now, require
them to have a test date. Besides, these are what’s going to hold your
Pride and Joy on the trailer. Never shortcut the strength you need.

I. Safety Equipment
Fire extinguisher, reflective vest and reflective road markers. Just in
case. Changing a tire or other emergency at night, you’ll be hard to see.
So be a safe as possible. Even a few blocks of wood to block the trailer’s
wheels. This way if I do have to unhook it, it wouldn’t roll anywhere.

J. Accessories
A few other extras I take along, jack stands to support the tail end of the trailer while loading and off loading. This stabilizes the trailer from pushing down in the back and raising the front, pulling hard against the tongue and trailer hitch. I also have a utility box, bolted on the front of the trailer that makes for storage for trailer equipment. I keep extra light bulbs, tie down straps, wooden blocks, wire connectors, etc in there.

K. Reflective tape
This is also something you might want to put around your trailer sides. Anything that helps to make it easier to see at night. I also wired my trailer lighting with backup lights. These hook to the back up lights on the tow vehicle through a 7 plug RV connector to run the trailer’s backup lights. Much easier to see where you’re backing into and hand signals from your guide.

L. License plates and insurance
Most states require all trailers over a certain weight to be licensed. Besides it’s easier to track it if stolen and if you do go state to state, you’ll need plates on it. Insurance is cheap for trailers and most regular car insurance doesn’t cover your trailer or what’s on it. So check with your insurance company.

The actual loading of your trailer is mostly by personal preference. Some use a winch or just drive on to it. If you drive on and off with someone guiding you, make sure the guide never stands in front of or directly in back of the vehicle. Easy way to get crushed or run over. Make sure the weight is evenly distributed on the trailer and properly applying the load on the trailer hitch. To far forward and it stresses the hitch. Headlights pointing up.

To far back and the trailer tongue is trying to pull out of the hitch ball. Headlights pointing down. You just have to find that spot that works for your setup due to the weight distribution. “X” cross the tie downs so as to provide maximum holding strength. Whenever possible, hook your tie downs to the frame of the vehicle and not suspension parts. This pulls the loaded vehicle down more secure and keeps the suspension from bouncing all the time. This can cause the trailer to become unstable because of the load shifting. That’s why the factory tie downs, installed on new vehicles, are on the frame.

My procedure is to: position the car using the foot brake to keep it positioned, and then evenly tightening both ends until tight and car is held in place without the brake on. Apply loaded vehicle’s parking brake, and then put it in gear or park. This way the straps are holding it in place and it doesn’t stress the Trans or parking brake. But they’ll help hold it in place for added safety.

Then always check the strap tightness when ever you stop.

Towing Safety

Rentals, make sure you understand everything about the trailer before you drive off the lot. Most have hydraulic surge brakes. These work when the trailer tongue pushes against the tow bar. So sudden stops should be avoided if possible. They also have an emergency brake lever and cable. This will activate the brake the same as an electric system when the trailer breaks away. Always check the fluid level in this brake system. Tires, tie downs and lighting before you drive off with.
You can be ticketed for and unsafe trailer, and in some cases, the Officer will require it to be towed and not by you either. This will be very costly.
If you take your trailer across the border, check the laws first, before you get there. With HAZMAT, that includes gas cans, extra oil, etc., they may not let it across.
So this should be of some help for you and hopefully make your next trip much less hassle free.

This article is supplied by myself and another contributing member, who is a Retired Navy Engineering Chief Petty Officer, with 20+ yrs. Owned and operated his own car trailer for over 15 years. Done maintenance on everything from small car dollies to heavy equipment trailers, and has a CDL for the transportation of HAZMAT.

Preparation for Summer Road Trips



153 Posts
How would you go about making a car having the ability to tow. Like a '68 Fairlane towing a uhaul trailer?

Just curious.

Premium Member
461 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
How would you go about making a car having the ability to tow. Like a '68 Fairlane towing a uhaul trailer?

Just curious.
Depends on how big a trailer you're talking about. Anything requiring a Class 3 or above hitch is ify. Find a htich even if a class 3 you can bolt to the frame in front of the rear bumper. The bumper type hitches are very weak, as is the bumper mounts. So class 1 or 2 only for a bumper type tow hitch.
Otherwise the frame is where you have to bolt up or weld up to.

Premium Member
461 Posts
Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
This is the new storage box I installed on it. Keeps the battery for the winch and all the extra "stuff" locked up. Got it at Lowe's (and I hate JJ). Light weight aluminum and probably weighs about 30 lbs.


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