It looks easy. Trailer design is not like building a rocket, but it’s also not as easy as putting a few pieces of metal together. Good trailer design includes meeting goals and ending up with something that will tow well, and perform to your needs.
We see sketches fairly often, perhaps on graph paper with a few items labeled. That’s a great 2nd step, for sure. And, people put a lot of thought into the sketches. I’ve done the same thing.
So What Is The First Step?
While we often do it almost without thinking, the first step in any design should be identifying the goals. Why are you doing it? And what will it accomplish?
If you’re planning a house, you should probably think about who is going to live in it, what size will work for each room, and even what kinds of weather it must withstand. For a house, the list of goals or requirements may get pretty long.
Hopefully it’s a little simpler for a trailer. But, for a tiny house trailer, the goals can be just as complex. (Here you can read about our goals in designing the tiny house trailers we offer.)
Starting with some goals and a list of requirements is a great way to stay on track as you explore possibilities in the trailer design. I like it as a formal process — which may change as you think about it more, but it’s a guide so it turns out right. Other people like it informal — almost “seat of the pants”. That can work too if you can keep all your thoughts together.
2nd Step In Trailer Design
Collecting ideas. Sometimes we do this at the same time in thinking about goals. It includes looking for ideas from others as well as thinking about how to apply the ideas in your own trailer design. Sketching, as above, is one good way to visualize ideas. Collecting a bunch of ideas to think about later is also good.
Trailer design also includes deciding on materials. Sometimes people ask about using this or that C-Channel or Tube or Angle for the various members. They may ask “Will it work?” IDK. It’s the right idea, but it’s usually best to determine the loading before choosing material. (See the links in the Details section below.)
No doubt the generalized layout is conceptually quite easy, the hard parts come in these areas:
- Creating geometry to best achieve the trailer design goals;
- Knowing what size or strength is required in each member;
- Deciding how things must brace, and where to reinforce;
- Bringing it all together so the final result will tow stable and true.
One way to study good design is to look at other publications. I wrote a much more thorough set of articles that are published on our parent company website. Check out the articles “What Makes Good Trailers Design“.
Getting Into The Details
There is nothing super fancy about most trailer frames as far as the generalized design concepts. Most have main rails running the length of the trailer bed, then some crossmembers spanning the space between. There are various ways for adding a tongue. It seems pretty easy. But good trailer design requires more than just putting some metal together.
There are some articles covering various important topics.
- Choosing Trailer Frame Materials — And why you to choose them. It also references the material shapes that work best for the various jobs in a trailer frame.
- Next, add in the Engineering and Beam Loading Analysis for the beam choices. This is a big piece (or should be) for trailer design. Short-cut this and you might just end up with a Weak Trailer.
- Where Does the Axle Go? — The article title really says it all. This article also includes equations so you can figure it out for your trailer design.
- Trailer Suspension Choices — A quick overview of axle and suspension styles talking about benefits for each.
- What Is The Right Trailer Tongue Length? — Again, with this article, the title tells the story.
- And, there are articles pointing to some goals that we often hear, but are perhaps more complex than first meet the eye — like the Value & Pitfalls Of Low Trailer Deck Height.
- Trailer Sway – A Video Review And Discussion — Reviewing a good video done by someone else, then adding some comments.
Of course, these are just scratching the surface. There is a so much more that goes into good trailer design — and then all the details that go into the build. We have articles for a lot of those topics. The best way to find them is to use the search box in the header.
Set your goals, and gather ideas. Make your list of requirements, and start sketching.
We applaud the initiative it takes to build your own trailer. It takes time and some skill. If you haven’t done it before, it can be quite a learning experience. Don’t let that stop you. Dive in and go for it!
Since it’s easy, I see trailer concepts pinned frequently as I browse the internet. That’s a great place to find a bunch of things where someone else has done all the searching. While it won’t all apply, some can, if you find the right place.
Trailer Design Already Done
If any of the above seems a little daunting, that’s OK. You don’t have to do it all, and you also don’t have to settle for what someone else did. You can find a balance by purchasing a trailer design that is already done, then Customize The Plans to meet your goals and your requirements.
At Mechanical Elements, we encourage customers to build it the way they want it. While we do sell trailer plans, we also give you a ton of free information — both about trailer design, and about building.
We want you to have the right trailer to meet your specific needs, so feel free to make some changes, add things, or modify some of the things we provide. After all is done, it’s your trailer, so make it the way you want it.
Go for it. Design away. Use one of our trailer plans for a base, or make it all yourself. Either way, we’re here with a bunch of info to help you — Make it Great !!
The final step is to build it — like in this Dump Trailer Build video. Good luck with your trailer design.