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Unread 04-08-2008, 08:40 PM   #1
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Default Car Trailer Basics 101, Part I

Car Trailer Basics 101, Part I
Many folks prefer to drive their cars to shows and wouldn't have a use for a trailer. But trailers do have a place and serve a purpose in the Corvette hobby, especially to the concours restoration market segment. If you use your car for shows, especially long-distance events where you will be traveling overnight, a trailer can make for safer transportation for your prized possession, as well as allow you to do the preparation at home rather than on the show field. Selecting a trailer and getting the right hitch setup can be almost as confusing as looking for a car lift. We have a few key considerations in selecting a trailer, as well as the setup.
I've owned an enclosed Renegade trailer for three years and use it for the long-distance shows. It really comes in handy when going to shows during the winter, as well as keeping the car safe for overnight stays on longer trips during the summer. While I drive the car for local shows and cruise nights, it's nice to do the prep work for a show at my leisure in the garage and not on the show field, at least for the longer distance shows. Open trailers are lighter and somewhat easier to maneuver, which makes towing easier and gives better fuel mileage, however, an enclosed unit has the advantage of being more secure, as well as keeping the car cleaner. Aluminum Versus SteelThe choice here depends on several considerations: towing capacity of the tow vehicle; amount of use; and how much money you want to spend. The main advantage of an aluminum trailer is the reduced weight. It can result in better fuel mileage and could make a difference in the type of tow vehicle you can use. The main downside is the initial cost.
Trailers come in many sizes, but a 20-foot to 22-foot box will hold most any Corvette and still give you enough room to carry other things. Going much larger is usually unnecessary, unless you have a lot of extra gear. The extra length adds to the towing weight, as well as making parking a bit more difficult. The enclosed trailer shown in the photo here has a 24-foot length box and is a "wide body" at 102-inches wide. It is called a 20-foot box; you gain the additional 4 feet of length in the wedge-shaped front without increasing the overall frame length. It has a "beavertail" rear ramp door and a side access door. With a wide-body trailer you shouldn't need the extra driver-side trailer door that some brands offer. This one has low interior wheelwells, which allow the car door to open all the way to the interior wall-important for getting in and out easily. It's an aluminum unit including the frame. The exterior wall panels are bonded so there are no screws, and it has a one-piece seamless roof. It is quite a bit lighter than a steel-framed trailer, and its wedge shape in front helps with stability, as well as wind resistance. It also has a front closet, which is great for storage. In the closet, wire bin shelves were installed on one side and a panel on the other with hangers for the tow straps and other tools (jack handles, wheel chocks, battery charger), which keep things organized and handy.
Many of today's trailers come with a beavertail-style pull-down rear door which also functions as the drive-up ramp. It has a torsion spring to help in lowering and raising the door. The beavertail also makes it a easier than ramps to go in and out because you don't have to worry about the position of the ramps. It also has a side-entry door at the front, which is a nice feature as you don't have to walk along the side of the car once it's loaded. Some trailers also have another door on the driver side as an option, which can allow you to open that door as well as your car's door to make it easier to get in and out, but that's not really necessary with the wide body. It would be especially important on the narrower (96-inch-wide) bodied trailers, but the wide-body units can eliminate the need for that on most cars. I do find the C1, with its thicker doors, and especially with a hardtop in place, requires a little more room than the C2. But it still has enough space, especially since the car door on this trailer will clear the inner trailer wheelwells. A friend of mine has a trailer that has higher wheelwells and his door hits the side of the wheelwell, which restricts how far he can open his car door. I installed a small pad on the trailer wall to keep from marring the car door.
There are two main styles of hitches: the bumper hitch and the fifth wheel or gooseneck style. Many of the major manufacturers offer either type. There are several well-known aluminum trailer manufacturers: FeatherLite, Exciss, Aluminum Trailer Company, Trailex, and Renegade. Several offer both aluminum and steel units.
My current trailer is built by Rance Aluminum (Renegade), which has been around since 1988. Key factors in going with this brand: I have a local trailer dealer and, most of all, I really like the design, construction, interior finish, and components used. A few of those features are the wedge-shaped front, bonded aluminum side walls (no screws), low interior fenderwells, use of Dexter Easy Lube hubs (easy lubrication to both inner and outer bearings), and the options available. This one is approximately 2,800 pounds empty, so it's light while still being sturdy.
Prices for a new trailer will vary depending on the type, size, options, and type of construction. Some open trailers list for $2,500 for a steel unit to $7,000-plus for aluminum. Enclosed units can run from $6,000 to $20,000-plus. Dealers will usually negotiate their pricing and might be more flexible at the end of a season or for units in stock. There may be differences from one manufacturer to another on standard versus optional equipment, so be sure to compare prices based on all the features.
You may also find used units available. Trailers seem to hold their value well, but you may be able to find a good deal with a little searching, patience, and luck.
When looking for a trailer, it's pretty much like buying a new car or truck-lots of options to consider. Some of these really aren't options at all, but necessities. It's amazing how few standard equipment options come on certain models, unless there is some sort of package. The spare tire, for example, would seem like a no-brainer, but they aren't usually included. Neither is a hydraulic jack in case of a flat. Most trailers come with a crank-style tongue jack. On my trailer, I use a hydraulic-type jack (Hijacker), which works well. There are also electric units available.
You also have to make sure the trailer has sufficient capacity axles to carry the weight of the car, as well as any gear and the weight of the trailer. Look for axle ratings of 5-6,000 pounds per axle. The axles on this unit are made by Dexter and have an Easy-Lube design for easy greasing of the axle bearings. Some newer units offer no-lube bearings.If you have a choice of tires, go with those of a higher rating, such as the D- or E-rated tires. To help prevent cracking from the sun, it's a good idea to cover the tires when the trailer is stored. Mileage or tread depth won't always be good indicators of the condition of your tires, so check them often.
Some of the more useful options to consider: spare tire, hydraulic jack (3 ton or more), rear trailer stabilizer jacks (stabilizes the trailer making it possible to load or unload while unhooked), hydraulic or electric tongue jack, interior lights, front stone guard, break-away control and safety chains (both usually required by state law), tire chocks, hitch lock, four ratchet-type tie-down straps (10,000-pound capacity each), winch, tire covers (during storage), trailer vents (side wall or roof to reduce heat buildup), and good tow vehicle camper-style mirrors. You might also want to consider getting a vinyl floor inside to keep things cleaner; it's much less expensive than adding it later. On this trailer, indoor/outdoor carpeting was installed. The carpeting has much less weight and is warmer especially when strapping the car down in the cold weather. Car Tie-DownsTo tie the car down, I like the ratchet-type straps on all four corners. Some tie-down sets come with only two ratchets and two manually adjustable straps. With those you have to adjust the length of the front two straps, which can be a pain. The ones I use are from Snappin Turtle ( The ratchet-type strap lets you get the right tension easily on all four corners. It's best to mount the straps to suspension points (e.g., lower A frame), which allows the car to move on its suspension while not affecting the tension on the straps. I've also made pads to go over the straps to avoid any scratching that might happen where they go around the suspension. Straps which are rated at 10,000 capacity each are a good idea as it's not just the curb weight of the car but the weight in motion should you need to make a sudden stop.
Most trailers have at least four D-rings for attaching the tie-downs. I added four more to give more tie-down options. There is also a track style that will give you a lot of adjustment.
When loading the car, I've found that getting in the right position is made much easier by fastening a tire chock to the floor in front of the driver's front tire. It helps get the car in the same place each time both for balance and side-to-side positioning.
Aluminum Trailer Web Sites
- Aluminum Trailer Company
- Exciss
- FeatherLite
- Renegade (Rance Aluminum)
- Trailex
Steel Trailer Web Sites
- Haulmark
- H&H Trailers
- Pace
- U.S. Cargo
- Wells Cargo
I haven't listed every manufacturer, just a few to give you an idea of what's out there. An internet search will help you find many more.

Photo Gallery: Car Trailer Basics 101 - Choosing A Trailer - Corvette Fever Magazine

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