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Buying A Used Trailer – Surprise !!

People buy and sell used trailers all the time.  Look on Craigslist or other sites and you’ll see a lot of them.  The question, how good is the used trailer you’re thinking about buying?  Oh, and what are the sneaky little details you might not notice?

These photos came to me the other day with a question about the tongue.  After a quick, and limited look (limited because the photos don’t show many details), it is not the tongue that gave me concern.  The real question for me on this used trailer is about the axles.  Look at the photos above and below.  Do you know why?

Should You Buy A Used Trailer?

Hopefully you get it.  But, if I didn’t tell you to focus on the axles, would you understand?

A Real Life Used Trailer Example

Let’s start at the beginning.  This is the note with the question that started the discussion.

“Hi, I saw your article about trailer strength, and was wondering if you could look at the attached pictures and tell me if you ever saw a trailer tongue design like this?  It seems odd (to me) that the trailer tongue is lower than the main load support beams.  Does this seem like a dangerous design to you?”

When shopping, it’s good to notice things that are not like you expect, which goes for all parts of the trailer.  My answer about the tongue is:

“The tongue attachment is not out of the ordinary.  It’s not such a pretty way to do it, but it works.  If the welds are good and the beams are sufficient for the load, it will work great.”

I then responded about the axles.  (I’ll paraphrase rather than quoting.)

The thing that concerns me more is the mobile home axles, wheels and tires.  Trailers like this are usually cut from a scrap mobile home.  The frame is not bad, and getting materials from the scrap mobile home is a good thing.  Reuse, then recycle!  The concern is how much they keep from the old mobile home.

Listing Of Used Trailer For Sale

Should You Buy A Used Trailer?

The real underlying question here is “Should I buy THIS used Trailer?”  We’ll, I can’t really give an answer.  From what little I can see, it looks like the trailer is great.  You really need to look it over carefully, and decide if the axles are a show-stopper for you.  Please read “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” to see some things we found in a similar trailer.

Also, look for clues that indicate they knew what they were really doing when building it.  The spare tire, for instance, right out in the sun makes for a convenient access, but it will likely be dry rotted if you ever need it.  Read this post for more on trailer spare tires.

So, if I were shopping for a used trailer?  If this was the perfect size and I didn’t mind the high bed, the price would have to be low enough to justify ripping out the old axles and replacing them.  I had a trailer with a mobile home axle.  At one point I thought they were genius, but experience (some mine and some others) have taught me different.  Honestly, if it were me looking at something like this, I’d probably pass and keep looking.

Caution With Old Mobile Home Axles

Frequently, when creating utility trailers from scrap mobile homes, builders will keep and use the old mobile home axles, wheels and tires.  I don’t blame them, the axles are really strong and they are right there waiting to use.  However, they have special wheels that are terrible if not impossible to balance.  The tires are made for high load, but they’re usually hard as rocks and not really meant for highway travel like you might do with a utility trailer.  One service manager describes the mobile home axles as designed for one time use.  Furthermore, the tires are hard to get, and can be obnoxiously expensive.  Many places won’t deal with them because of the open rim.

If the wheels and tires are factory mounted and balanced, they’ll be fine (for a while), OR maybe not.  (These don’t balance well, so most are not.)  My bet, if you tow it up to freeway speeds, you will find a significant vibration somewhere between 40 and 60 mph.  I could be wrong, but that’s typical for a trailer like this.  The big hiccup with these axles comes when you need to replace the tires.

They look good, I’ll give you that.  And, they are plenty strong for many applications.  But what is the axle load rating?  If it’s not printed on the axle, then you don’t know, and there is no way to verify the real capacity.  So, how much weight can you put on it?

Put some “regular” axles under this instead and you might have a great trailer.  BUT, add some material near the axle mounting points as mentioned in this post.  Something to think about.  Also, for more info, check out the article Trailer Axles 101.

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