The Economics of DIY Projects

“I want to build a new trailer.”  That’s an awesome thing to say, and it’s even better to do.  Yet, many such adventures don’t launch because of project economics?  What does it cost to build?  I’m not talking about big economics like they teach in school, rather I’m talking about the microeconomics of the personal pocket book.  (If you ask us about the cost to build one of our projects, we’ll refer you to this article.)

Many people think about DIY projects as a way to save money by building something yourself.  In general, that is valid, for sure, but sometimes the economics don’t work out the way we plan.  The real value in a DIY project goes way beyond saving money.

New Trailer Example

Let’s start with “I want to build a new trailer“.  I’m right there with you, so let’s use the personal experience of Right Now.  As you know, this website has a bunch of trailer plans for sale.  We price them cheap for the value they provide.  However, in this case, we’re engineering and building something different — an experiment with a few crazy new ideas.  (If it pans out, we’ll have an awesome new trailer, and you’ll get some cool new trailer plans.)

Example of a Small Car to Pull a TrailerThis started with a system idea for small cars to pull trailers of some significance.  As you know, most small cars won’t tow very much, but I don’t believe it has to be that way.  I was thinking and researching, then found this EcoModder Post about trailers that nailed it.  Why buy a pick-up truck when we rarely use the load carrying capability?  How about a slick little trailer for the run to get sheets of plywood or a cubic yard of mulch?

Note:  I’m not against trucks, on the contrary, they are awesome.  I have one, and I use it to carry machinery, tools, lumber, steel, trash, landscaping, etc. . . . frequently.

But, I also like trailers, and the idea that they can solve many carry needs.  Here’s a great small car trailer example.  Anyway, I need something a bit different, so I designed it.  Now it’s time to build it, and test it.

Project Economics For The Unique

Building a new trailer is not so expensive.  Sure, there is a cost to build for materials and tools, but overall, what you get for the price is outstanding.  (I’m including the pride of ownership, the customization for your lifestyle, and the lifetime of great service in there, too.)  However, things can get expensive when the project becomes truly unique.  (It’s one of the reasons we provide so many options to choose from.)

For example, this new system has 4 unique design areas.  Each of them tackle a “normal” situation with an improved way of doing things.  Unfortunately, 3 of these unique design areas require special parts — prototype parts — in order to build and test the concepts.  Have you priced CNC prototypes?  If not, get ready for sticker shock.

The project economics don’t come as a surprise here.  At Synthesis Engineering Services we deal with prototypes all the time — plastic, metal, 3D printing, etc..  It’s just the normal processes for us.  However, from a DIY perspective, most people are not willing to shell out $700 for 6 small metal parts to build something.  The cost to build prototypes is high, so we’ll do it for you, then bring the ideas to production so you can buy them much cheaper.

Cost Before Starting The Build

Once the design is complete, we send the drawings and CAD models out for quote.  Some part costs come back pretty high, so we sit down and discuss ways for reduction.  For this project, there are some conflicting goals — like weight and cost.  Originally we wanted to make it with Aluminum, but for testing ideas and to save money, we decided to build in steel, even if it’s heavier.  Steel is easier to modify and fabricate as we develop and hone the new features.

Reduce the Cost to Build with AnalysisNext, we looked at ways to reduce stress to eliminate high strength (high cost) materials.

And, finally, we took a long look at the purchase parts to see if there are ways to get them cheaper.  Honestly, we need a better hook-up source, but we’ll get into that more in a later post.

Part of saving money comes in being creative.  Sometimes it’s changing things — like Aluminum for Steel.  Or, sometimes it’s finding a better deal on parts (like this example).  Then, there’s the minor design modifications to take out or change the more expensive bits.

The Cost To Build

For the trailer frame itself, the cost to build is not bad.  For us, the real cost comes with the prototype sections, and that’s the issue of DIY project economics.  More on what those entail later.  For now the design is “done” once again, and prints are going out again for re-quote.  Check back occasionally and we’ll post more about how the project is going.  We’ll also talk later about the unique features and how the testing goes.

Starting a new project is always fun.  Perhaps these areas that have new and creative elements particularly, so I hope you’ll join us on the journey.


Project Updates:

As we make progress on this trailer project we’ll add links to this list below.  Enjoy.

1.  Project Progress – Materials and Trailer Build Start.
2.  How To Setup A Trailer Frame Build.  Mechanic’s tip, with this project trailer as the example.
3.  One of the new bits:  A Better Folding Trailer Tongue.

And, there’s more to come.  Stay tuned.

Comments

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View All Comments

We Found These For You . . .

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

Article
Applied Force vs Movement With Shop Tools
Is there anything more annoying (painful and frustrating) than busting a knuckle when working on things in the shop?  To many of us, blood sacrifices are just part of getting a project done, but it doesn’t have to be that…

Read The Article

Article
Example of DIY Trailer Construction Mistake
Learning good trailer construction by examining bad is a great way to focus on details.  This photo shows 4 points of “less that careful thought” in the way the trailer is built.  Can you pick them out?

Read The Article

Product
4x6 Utility Trailer Plans - View 1

Smaller size Trailer Plans for the DIY Builder.  This 4x6 Utility Trailer has a 2000# axle capacity and lots of options for customizing.  While it may be smallish, it’s tough and capable just the same.

Article
Do I Need A Trailer Spare Tire?
What about that trailer spare tire?  No, I don’t mean the one around my middle . . . for your trailer.  Do you really need one?  Some say yes, and we see them on many trailers, but they are rarely…

Read The Article

Article
Failure -- Trailer Hitch / Unhitch Crash
The trailer hitch and surrounding hardware are OH so important — with safety as the priority.  Here are examples illustrating one success and one horrific failure.

Read The Article

Article
How We Make The Plans
What goes into the engineering of Do It Yourself Plans?  How do we make them?  When you purchase and download project plans from Mechanical Elements, you get a TON of work and information, much more than first meets the eye.

Read The Article

Article
Harbor Freight Improvement
You’ve seen them, the inexpensive bolt-together Harbor Freight trailer kits.  While they pack a lot of function, they unfortunately are often something like a rattle trap.  (Not always, of course.)  While they have a cheap rap, they sell a lot

Read The Article

Article
The Car Parking Stop Solution!
Yeah, I know, most of the world doesn’t like or use the parking brake any more.  Yet, some of us still prefer a manual transmission for the driving experience — and rely on the parking brake.  So, what happens

Read The Article

Article
Low & Lean Trailer Suspension
A unique trailer suspension offering a low profile, tuning possibilities, and more. By design, the concept offers complete tandem axle load sharing via a common coil spring which is a big plus. Though different than a torsion axle suspension, this…

Read The Article