For many tradies, the work trailer is one of the more expensive tools they will buy and should stand up to the job for many years. It is absolutely not worth cutting corners or compromising on key design elements. And while you may strike it very lucky by finding a used trailer that precisely meets your needs, the reality is that you will almost certainly have to buy a brand new one.
Buying a custom built work trailer
This also means you can have your trailer custom built to suit your specific needs. Traps await the unwary. Let me share a personal story. I once ordered a large trailer - the only one I had ever bought - and specified that it must be big enough to hold a large ride-on mower. I didn't have the dimensions of the mower because I hadn't yet chosen the brand.
I then proceeded to make perhaps the silliest single purchase of my entire life. And, no, I will not name the brand of ride-on I so ill-advisedly bought. I fronted up at the mower shop with my brand new trailer and got ready to drive the mower on. And here is where the first problem struck. The mower could not climb the ramp, which was, as you would expect, just the lowered tailgate of the trailer. The slope was too steep. So two or three fellows were persuaded to help me. It was pushed up the ramp, while I steered. The mower was of a strange long-wheelbase design and it scarped its brand new underside heavily as it crossed into the body of the trailer. By this stage, I was worrying whether it would even fit. Well, it did, with about 12 cm to spare.
The trailer went back to the trailer man, who added an articulated extension to the tailgate, and the problem was solved.
There are morals to this story. Before buying the mower I should have checked that it would (a) climb into the trailer and (b) fit in the available space. Most readers would never make such a silly mistake.
Do your research and ask around
Before buying any trailer, it makes sense to speak to other people in your line of work to learn about their experiences. You might well buy a trailer exactly like one you see and from the same manufacturer, or you may think laterally and go elsewhere. Because some trailer manufacturers specialise, they have a strong flow of customers. But a rival might be keen to do a better job at a comparable price.
When it comes to work trailers, almost invariably bigger is better. And you will almost certainly be well advised to make sure your rig has electric brakes. This is a comparatively inexpensive item and it can make a huge difference.
Check your car's rated towing capacity
Before completing the purchase of a trailer, be sure you know what your car's rated towing capacity is. Surprises lurk, especially when it comes to older cars. A rule of thumb is that the towball weight (the load bearing directly downwards onto the towball) is 10 per cent of the towing capacity. So if your car can tow a 1500 kg braked trailer, the ball weight should be 150 kg, but I know of cases where the manufacturer rates the towball weight at more like five per cent. Do your homework.
Sockets, lights and power
It is also a good idea when getting a power socket fitted to your tow car to make sure the plug clicks in convincingly. Mine never did, even though it never fell out. It just did not feel like a happy union between plug and socket. You can be fined for driving around without the trailer lights and indicators working but, more importantly, it is actually quite a hazard to other road users. Check every couple of days that the power is still making its way to the rearmost extremity of your articulated vehicle, which is indeed longer than many small trucks. Bulbs can fail quite often, especially if the trailer is towed on bad surfaces.
The paint job
Cheaper trailers often receive a cheap paint job. Unless it is garaged, your rig can look quite ancient by the time it is just three or four years of age. It makes more sense, then, to choose a quality manufacturer who provides a longer lasting paint job. Make sure you get a can of touch-up paint when you take delivery of your new trailer.
More questions to ask your trailer maker
Will you be using the rig on unmade or corrugated roads? A bolt came off one of the leaf springs on my trailer, which was not a good look. The maker had never intended it to be used on rough roads. Ask these questions before you buy.
Buy best quality for a long-term bargain
It is easy to spend several thousand dollars on a work trailer. But if you amortise this cost over the years you intend to use it, then the cost is not so high. Almost invariably, it is sensible to spend 10 or 15 per cent more to get the best quality. The long-term savings in repairs and the satisfaction of owning a robust and well made trailer can mean that dearer is actually cheaper in the medium to long term.