Buying A Used Trailer – Surprise !!

People buy and sell used trailers all the time.  Craigslist and other sites have a lot of them.  The question:  How good is the used trailer you’re looking at?  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 the 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 will 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 an old 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 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.  It might not work as the best utility trailer.  One service manager says mobile home axles are for one time use.  Furthermore, the tires are hard to get, and can be obnoxiously expensive.  And, 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 usually very strong.  But, what is the axle load rating?  If it’s not printed on the axle (rarely is), then you don’t know, and there is no way to verify the real capacity.  So, how much weight can you put on it?  Best to know the trailer capacity before loading 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.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment Cancel reply

We Found These For You . . .

Product
5' x 10' - 3500# Torsion Axle Utility Trailer

A classic size!  This is the Torsion Axle version 5' x 10' - 3500# utility trailer.  It’s a nice size with good capacity for all sorts of hauling chores.  With lots of options, it’s ready to work.

Article
What Are Your Essential Tools
We’ve been asked many times about “What are the most essential tools for your shop?” Well, that’s a hard question, because frustration and wailing are the result when the right tools are not available.

Read The Article

Product
32' Tiny House Trailer Plans For DIY

With options for length, these blueprints address the unique needs of a Tiny House Trailer.  Low 8.5’ x 30’ or 32’ top deck height.  Up to 18,000 lbs total capacity.  Fully Engineered.

Article
Spiraling the DIY Project Plans Back Online
January 7, 2016.  Mechanical Elements is back online with a new look, a new logo, new functionality, and a better shopping experience. — With — an expanded offering of the Same Great DIY Project Plans and so much more.

Read The Article

Article
Engineered Trailer Plans Are Not Free Plans
It’s a big dilemma.  Why buy trailer plans (or crane plans or whatever) when you can get free plans?  Some websites have free plans, other places charge.  So what’s the big deal? 

Read The Article

Article
Good Trailer Design Article Updates
The most popular pages on Synthesis about Trailer Design now have a fresh revision.  May, 2017.  They include more content, more pictures, and a mobile friendly web design.

Read The Article

Article
Trailer Lights and Wires Feature
On new trailer builds, and on existing rigs, the trailer lights and wires must all function.  Here are some tips on the subject so if you find the electrical a little confusing or intimidating, read on.

Read The Article

Product
4' x 8' - 3500# Torsion Axle Trailer

Fully Engineered Blueprints are just the start with these Torsion Axle Utility Trailer Plans.  With the deck a little larger than tradition, you can put true 4' x 8' cargo inside!  Up to 3500 lbs.

Article
Gussets At Beam Intersections On A Trailer Frame
I have a great trailer, but it feels a bit flexy, maybe even rickety . . . How can I strengthen a trailer frame?  How can I stiffen it?

Read The Article

Article
Analysis with Trailer Frame Materials and Design With Safety Factors
This post is a question from an engineering student wondering about trailer frame materials selection and safety factor.  His analysis shows a material thickness that “does the job” is much less than his welder associates recommend.  Wondering about why, he…

Read The Article

Article
There's More To Just Mounting Trailer Axle Springs
As with many things, there’s a lot more to mounting trailer axle springs than first meets the eye.  Here are 2 tips to make your trailer frame stronger.

Read The Article

Article
Plans In Metric
Virtually everything on the internet is by definition “World Wide”.   Even though Mechanical Elements (Synthesis Engineering Services) is physically located in the USA, we have a world audience, so it’s a fair question

Read The Article

Article
Clamps and Drills Access and Storage Solution
Storage space is a high priority in my shop.  Maybe in yours too?  It’s not that there is not enough space, it’s the prime space where tools are super accessible for any moment

Read The Article

Product
5x8 Trailer Plans, 3500# Capacity

Start building your own utility trailer with these 5x8 Trailer Plans.  Blueprints are fully engineered and include options for various needs.  These plans are a perfect map for a great project.

Product
Water Storage Barrels

Store water for emergencies in a system that’s easy to use, and more important, easy to replenish the water -- so it’s always fresh when you need it.  Uses plastic 55 gallon barrels for an easy build.

Product
6'x12'-6000 lbs Trailer Blueprints

DIY Blueprints for a beefy 6 x 12 single axle Utility Trailer.  This is a heavy duty version of our 6' wide trailer that has a lot of options - including a 6000 lb or 7000 lb Axle capacity choice.

Article
DIY Creative Solutions
Do you believe the old saying  “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”?  Well, I have a need, but I don’t need an invention, just a quick solution.  So, maybe Necessity is really the Mother of Creative Solutions! 

Read The Article

Product
Canoe Trailer Plans

Specialty trailer for carrying up to12 full size canoes or kayaks.  Designed originally for a Boy Scout Canoe Base, so it includes easy on/off, and options for on-board life jacket and paddle storage.

Article
A Story Of The Right Tools
Fun side story about finding the right tools for a do-it-yourself (with a friend) in automotive repair. This story is not about building great new Do It Yourself projects, but it illustrates the need to have (borrow, or rent) the…

Read The Article

Article
What is the right trailer tongue length?
How long should a trailer tongue be?  Is there a standard or is it totally arbitrary?  Let’s get some answers on this fun trailer tongue length topic.

Read The Article