Secure your trailer investment

In an effort to stay ahead of today's fluctuating business market, grounds-maintenance operators need to transport their equipment to many different locations. To accomplish this task, trailers are becoming a regular part of the equipment inventory.

When choosing a trailer, you first must determine your needs. Start by assessing the size and weight of the equipment you need to transport. Ask yourself if you'll carry walk-behind mowers, riding mowers or a combination of both? Will you need room for spin trimmers, edgers and blowers? Also consider alternative types of equipment, such as sweepers, trenchers and small tractors you may need to carry. Keep in mind alternative uses, such as hauling bulk mulch or plant material.

When purchasing a trailer, buy one that will more than adequately meet your needs. Nothing is worse than making an expensive purchase that you outgrow in a couple of seasons. The main factors to consider are weight, tires, electrical system, construction and the choice between open or enclosed trailers.

The issue of weight It is important to consider the weight of the equipment or the material your trailer will haul. Choose a trailer with a higher gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) than what you expect to carry. The GVWR is the weight of the trailer plus its payload capacity. To determine how much you can carry, deduct the trailer's weight from the GVWR. This will give you the maximum weight you can safely load. Total up the weight of all the equipment, tools and supplies you anticipate carrying. Don't forget to add in the weight of mulch, soil or green waste. Trailer manufacturers often build the units with a safety margin for overloading, although they don't recommend you take advantage of this on a daily basis. Higher-weight-capacity trailers often have tandem or triple axles to distribute and increase the hauling weight.

You also need to evaluate the vehicle that will tow your trailer. What is its maximum towing weight? You typically can find this in your owner's manual, or you can contact your local truck dealer. Optional towing packages are available on many vehicles if your's can't already handle a loaded trailer.

Don't just kick the tires Tires are significant in regards to weight, handling and smoothness of the ride. Generally, tire size comes in 6, 8 or 10 ply. Each of these types of trailer tires handles a particular weight limit. Be sure your tires are adequate for the load your trailer can handle. For top efficiency, ensure tires are inflated properly. Underinflation causes overheating and excessive wear, which could cause a blow out. Overinflation can give you a rougher ride, as well as put additional stress on your suspension system. As part of your regular preventive-maintenance schedule, check all tires for correct air pressure.

Ensure the electrical system is shielded Your trailer's electrical system should be neatly shielded from the elements. Doing so helps avoid unusual wear and possible failure. Make sure the wiring harness is properly secured while still being easily accessible for routine maintenance. Basically consisting of a 12-volt system, the wiring harness should not be so complicated that you can't replace burned-out bulbs or repair accidental damage.

Consider construction Trailer construction is as varied as the number of manufacturers making the units. For the most dependable trailer, look for heavy-gauge-steel construction in the major components. This includes the hitch assembly, frame, axles and suspension. A sign of good quality is the use of sturdy welds. A well-built trailer will handle day-to-day operations over many years with relatively trouble-free maintenance. A good indication of the manufacturer's integrity can often be found in the form of a multi-year warranty.

Decking materials can consist of plate steel, treated wood, steel mesh or polyethylene. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, you can easily replace wood and it's inexpensive, while polyethylene is rust-free, easy to clean and resists impact well.

Choosing an open vs. a closed trailer Most landscapers and grounds-care managers use open-style trailers. These come in a variety of sizes, from as small as 4 by 8 feet or 5 by 7 feet to as large as 30 feet long. Some trailers feature a 12- to 16-inch extruded or tubular steel rail surrounding the edge. Others offer post-slots along the sides instead. These rails help contain your equipment while in transit. Many of these trailers also offer tie downs, which enable you to strap down your equipment.

Depending on the size and GVWR of a trailer, open units come with pintle hitches or ball hitches. Your best choice is a ball hitch attached to the frame and bumper rather than simply a bumper alone. Keep in mind that heavier trailers require stronger hitches. This could not be more true when referring to gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailers. Make sure the hitch on these types of units is bolted to the truck bed or--better yet--the truck frame according to manufacturer's recommendations. Also, check that the hitch is installed forward of the rear axle to deliver equal weight distribution on the towing vehicle. Finally, locate the hitch on your vehicle so that the trailer bed remains level with the ground.

For easy loading and unloading, some smaller open trailers come with a tilt-bed that you can lift and lower by hand. On larger trailers, hand cranks or hydraulic cylinders do the lifting.

Other trailers have singular ramps or full-width ramps. A full-width ramp also can come as a split to ease in lifting. On these units, you only have to lift one half--side--at a time, which is much lighter and easier than trying to lift a ramp that is one piece. Keep in mind that a low-angle ramp is more beneficial for loading and unloading, too.

Manufacturers often design trailers so owners can adapt them. However, if you are uncomfortable making the modifications yourself, ask your sales/service representative if his or her firm can make the modifications for you. Some examples include: additional tie-downs, tool racks and storage boxes. When considering the addition of these types of extras, remember that tool racks and storage boxes are added to the front of a trailer. Thus, they use up an additional 2 feet minimum of space. You'll need to keep this in mind when calculating floor-space requirements. Also, don't forget the weight they add.

One of the main modifications you may want to consider is a hydraulic lift. This option can be quite beneficial when moving large quantities of mulch or soil.

The advantages of enclosed trailers The enclosed trailer has gained popularity in recent years. One of the primary reasons, of course, is due to security concerns. The ability to lock up your equipment and secure your investment is hard to beat. This benefit can also be time-saving during the busy part of the season. Enclosed trailers are also a great choice if you don't have the option of bringing your equipment and the trailer into a secure building each night. When locked properly, these units can act as a storage facility during the off-season too.

During transit, enclosed trailers offer the capability of containing your equipment if the load shifts. This benefit can help reduce damage to your or someone else's property. Even so, you still must remember to properly secure all equipment and material before transporting them, even inside an enclosed trailer.

Trailer sizes vary similarly to open-style units. Smaller enclosed trailers come in 5- by 8-foot sizes with a single axle, and units increase in size up to the 8- by 26-foot range with dual or triple axles. Just like the open trailer, ball or pintle hitches are available. Standard features include but aren't limited to dome roof vents, tie-downs, plywood floors and sides, and aluminum construction above the frame and ramp doors.

Once again, owners often are responsible for their own modifications. This generally consists of secure shelving for spare parts and materials you'd need on a daily basis.

Consult with your dealer for other options on the various models in which you're interested.

Advancements in trailer manufacture Improvements in trailer manufacturing over the past 10 or so years--while not obvious--are nevertheless an advantage to purchasing a trailer today. For example, weight capacity is up, while trailer weight is down. This important change has helped to maximize equipment volume and weight capacity. Another important advancement is the fact that parts for servicing your trailer are basically universal. This is important should you purchase your trailer out of state or away from your local market. After all, you've got to consider your ease in accessibility to service parts.

Do some research before you make a final decision when buying a trailer. Everyone wants the best value for their dollar when making a purchase. One way to help make that decision is to rent the type of trailer you intend to purchase. This gives you the opportunity to judge the performance before buying.

When you finally select a trailer, it is your responsibility to properly license and register it and make sure you are complying with federal, state and local regulations. Check with your state motor-vehicle agency on the proper procedures. Also at the time of purchase, make sure that proper lights and reflectors are in place before taking possession.

Lawrence H. Norton is an estimator for Laurel Oaks Garden Center (Marlton, N.J.). He formerly was horticulturist at Forsgate Country Club (Jamesburg, N.J.).

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