How to make towing not suck? Get the right trailer.

Tim
By Tim Suddard
Sep 1, 2023 | Towing, trailer | Posted in Columns | From the Dec. 2006 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

Making the jump to towing to events is a major one. It adds another whole level of expense and complexity to this game that we play.

It’s not so much the towing itself that is so bad, but the fact that you now need another vehicle that will tow this trailer. This adds two more pieces of equipment that will need regular maintenance to your life. Plus you now need to find a place to store all this junk. 

[The Car Trailer Is a Key Piece of Racing Equipment That Never Sets a Tire on Track]

Nevermind that trailers only get flat tires, lose their lights, or need new wheel bearings 10 minutes before it’s time to leave for the national championships. That’s Murphy’s Law at work.

Over the many years I have been playing this game, I have had just about every type of trailer imaginable. From the spindly homemade ones to the fancy enclosed models, I have dragged them from our Florida home to all corners of the U.S. and beyond. I don’t know much, but after towing trailers for thousands of miles, I have paid my dues.

I started out with what we unaffectionately called the Worst Trailer in the World. It was a happy day when we unloaded that homemade, unsprung, poorly designed piece of crap. I can’t believe I towed my Datsun 240Z on that thing all the way to the Solo II Nationals in Salina, Kansas. Twice!

Yes, stay away from homemade trailers. Most feature fixed suspensions and are heavy and overbuilt. They might be fine for dragging construction equipment to local job sites, but I wouldn’t want to take one on the highway ever again.

From there, I went through a succession of enclosed trailers. One of my smartest moves was going from a 24-foot enclosed unit down to a 16-footer. We learned (the hard way) that an old motorhome like the one we had can tow a 24-foot trailer, but the trailer’s weight and drag will suck the life out of the engine. If you can get away with it, a smaller trailer is easier to manage on the highway, at the event site, and even in your backyard.

[What Can Go Wrong When Towing Improperly]

Enclosed trailers have a lot of advantages, but a few distinct disadvantages. On the plus side, they will protect your car from theft and weather both on the road and at the event. You can securely and safely carry tools and spares, too. You can even use an enclosed trailer as a garage when you get home. And from a sponsorship standpoint, there’s nothing like an enclosed trailer for promoting a brand name. (Unfortunately, broadcasting to the entire world that there’s a race car inside the trailer is also telling them that there’s stuff worth stealing, too.)

On the downside, an enclosed trailer is more expensive than an open one. It will also need a much stronger tow vehicle, and can be cumbersome to move around once it’s loaded.

The next trailer I owned wasn’t very good, but I loved it. It was actually a 12x7-foot utility trailer designed to carry lawn equipment. It had a single axle and no brakes. These are inherently bad features, but I picked this thing up locally for $700. (Although I bought the trailer brand-new, it came with used tires to keep the price down.)

I bought this small, simple trailer because I was racing a Formula Vee at the time. We made our own ramps for it, built a tire rack and mounted a spare tire. Until it got to be about 10 years old—and our Vee had been replaced by bigger and heavier cars—I saw this as a great trailer.

[A picture-perfect VW pairing]

My staff, however, didn’t like the way it flexed in the middle and swayed like crazy thanks to its single-axle design. The final straw was a particular trip involving our 2500-pound MINI Cooper S and two blow outs. So I sold it. 

Here’s the most beautiful thing about that trailer: After using it for 10 years, I sold it to a friend of a friend for more than what I paid for it. He was thrilled with it and still uses it today.

Today, we have arguably the best trailer in the world. We call it the Taj Mahal of open trailers. 

About two years ago, I called Trailer World and asked them to build us a decent trailer. What they came up with is the slickest, fanciest all-aluminum open trailer I have ever seen. While only 15 feet long, this trailer has everything, from a tire rack to a winch. We have hooked it behind our motorhome, our Honda Ridgeline and our Nissan Pathfinder, and it tows like a dream every time.

Looking back on all this, I have some specific recommendations if you’re shopping for a new trailer.

  • First, get a decent one. Your enjoyment and your life may depend on it. A trailer purchase is not a good place to skimp. It is amazing how lovely a nice and light aluminum trailer tows. Everyone who has towed our new trailer makes a point of telling us how wonderful it is.
  • Two, the extra-long aluminum ramps are a joy. The extra length means we never bottom out a low race car. When we’re on the road, the ramps store nicely inside the trailer’s base. Removable fenders also make loading and unloading a low car and servicing the trailer a breeze.
  • Three, a winch is a blessing, especially if your race car has an on-off clutch or you like to drag junk cars out of the woods. 
  • Four, brakes are essential. We went with surge brakes, which are not highly recommended, but our only choice because we tow this trailer with a lot of different vehicles that are not always set up for electric brakes.
  • Five, a dual-axle trailer makes all the difference. It is so much more stable on the road. 
  • Six, we love our tire rack, too. Splurge for one.

You don’t need the fancy alloy wheels and all the doodads that drove the price of our trailer well north of $5000, but if you do bite the bullet and get a really nice one, you will wonder why you dragged around junk for so many years. 

Overall, towing sucks. But I can assure you that it sucks a lot less with the right equipment.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Towing and trailer articles.
Comments
CAinCA
CAinCA GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/20/22 7:04 p.m.

Not one picture of the best trailer in the world? Really? Damn! I really want to see it. 

smiley

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
7/20/22 9:23 p.m.

I love my single axle trailer but I only tow small light cars.

WillG80
WillG80 GRM+ Memberand Reader
7/20/22 10:36 p.m.
Tom1200 said:

I love my single axle trailer but I only tow small light cars.

This. My light, single axle trailer was the nicest I've ever towed. Now I'm stuck with only a 12k equipment trailer and it's terrible, especially when empty. 

kevinatfms
kevinatfms GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/21/22 9:47 a.m.

Id kill for a 16' trailer for the Champ Car and my Fiesta. Just enough to hold the car and have a small rack up front for some wheels/tires. 

But they all seem to be $4000+ for a basic steel one without the tire rack.

APEowner
APEowner GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
7/21/22 11:40 a.m.

I think that it's more like "The right trailer, properly loaded attached to the right tow vehicle can make towing not suck."  Admittedly not the greatest title but the whole combination being matched is the real trick for eliminating towing suckage.

My 24 foot enclosed weighs about 10k lbs with the heaver race car in it and I can tow it at 80 MPH comfortably with my RAM 3500.  In contrast, last year I passed someone towing a Formula Ford on a small open single axle trailer with a 1/2 ton Chevy who couldn't go over 45 MPH because it was improperly loaded and would dance the back of the truck around violently whenever he tried.  If he's simply loaded the car backwards it would have towed easily.

 

 

 

chaparral
chaparral Dork
7/21/22 11:49 a.m.

My trailer is just about ideal. Single jet-ski trailer, with a deck and upper frame, to haul one kart behind a VW GTI. 

 

Now, if I could only get rid of the 55 MPH California towing speed limit, I might get less than 31 MPG...

APEowner
APEowner GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
7/21/22 1:27 p.m.
chaparral said:

My trailer is just about ideal. Single jet-ski trailer, with a deck and upper frame, to haul one kart behind a VW GTI. 

 

Now, if I could only get rid of the 55 MPH California towing speed limit, I might get less than 31 MPG...

I hate the California 55 MPH towing limit.  After hauling through NM and AZ at 75 to 80 MPH it feels like you're just about stopped when you hit the CA boarder.

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
7/21/22 8:54 p.m.

Single axle trailers are great... until you blow out a tire. That scenario may have cost me what little hair I had left. 

Cactus
Cactus HalfDork
7/21/22 9:00 p.m.

In reply to APEowner :

That's mostly why I tow with a dually. It has a lot more tolerance to bad loading. Way too much tongue weight? You'll hardly notice. Not enough? It's gotta be a pretty gross error for the tail to wag that dog.

frenchyd
frenchyd MegaDork
7/21/22 9:19 p.m.
kevinatfms said:

Id kill for a 16' trailer for the Champ Car and my Fiesta. Just enough to hold the car and have a small rack up front for some wheels/tires. 

But they all seem to be $4000+ for a basic steel one without the tire rack.

Unless you build it yourself.  The cost of doing so is less than half of that.  

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners
eJltdShldlqixm0POODW7XycPEVLzEcb9UrFeiORRQVlcWEqO72oZ1G8lQRUI03q