The latest project that I got myself into is building a Utility Trailer and I am finding that there are a lot of things that you need to do and know before you get started.
I thought I would share some tips to help other people that are thinking of building a Utility Trailer that they purchase from Harbor Freight or Northern Tools or any other kit type trailers that require assembly.
The first thing about building a trailer is that these haulers need to comply with Federal and Local regulations. For the most part this is just Department of Transportation requirements but if you extend your trailer into something else like a food cart or a small camper then you will probably come under other regulations that you need to comply with.
As for DOT regulations the kit manufacturers pretty much have you covered. The kits come with road ready tires and wheels and also come with a light kit. This should get you through your initial inspection.
Unfortunately the very basics that come with the kit aren’t enough to get you down the road with a load. To do that you need to add a number of other items to your trailer and maybe the vehicle that will be towing it.
What you need to buy with your Utility Trailer to make it road worthy
The first and most important thing that you need to do when you purchase one of these kits is repack the wheel bearings with high temperature heavy duty grease.
This type of grease is rated for farm vehicles and heavy equipment that does not see normal conditions or regular maintenance.
The grease that comes with your trailer may or may not be either packing grease just good enough to stop rust while in transport or storage or it might be light duty grease. Whichever it is almost mandatory that you change this grease out with a higher quality grease or you will shorten the life of your wheel bearings.
You will need to pickup at least one tube of heavy duty grease and one or two cans of brake cleaner to clean the old grease out of the wheel bearings before you repack them. I cleaned mine with gasoline in a coffee can then a finish wash with brake cleaner.
Bed and Stake Walls
The second most important thing you need to plan for is what type of decking you will put on your trailer bed. If you are hauling a small boat, jetski or other specialty item then you might not put a normal plywood bed on it, you might build something custom.
If you are using your trailer for general hauling the manufacturers suggest 3/4 inch plywood. They do not specify Laminated vs OSB plywood and 3/4″ plywood is normally only available in an interior tongue and grove decking product. Two layers of 1/2″ exterior grade pressure treated plywood probably will not fit if you have a folding trailer. Wood board decking is also an option
Your trailer will also come with stake bed mounts that accept 2×4 stud lumber. If you don’t buy pressure treated you will at least need to paint these boards and you will need to supply your own mounting solution. Lag bolts may work if you don’t expect to fold and remove for storage. if not you will need to use some type of insert that can accept a screw/bolt.
Another option if you have a welder is to install steel wire for the bed and surround. It will require a custom retaining frame but it may be good to reduce weight and maintenance of the wood bed.
Whatever solution you want you will need to provide it.
You may need to upgrade your conventional tail and side marker light kit to a LED kit if your trailer electrical connection does not have a direct connection to your battery
Painting your Trailer
Although you might want to grab a couple cans of spray paint at the store and change the color of your trailer I would not do it until after you have it inspected. In the description of your title and registration will be the original manufacturer’s color. Your trailer will come with a Vin Number Plate just like a car. Modification of this type before you obtain the first title could result in hangups at the DMV.
After your inspection and at your second registration you will need to tell them about the color change.
A way around this is to notify your DMV and request suggestion about how to do this and Make Sure you get the name of the title clerk you talk to on the phone and ask to see them when you make your first visit for your title.
Bolts may not be the ones you should use
All of the bolts on your trailer should be rated category 8 and will have markings on them to indicate their strength. Because the manufacturer sends you a large bag of bolts they are used to fit many different connections. Although this will work you may find problems and clearance issues.
For instance the leaf spring retaining bold on my trailer passes through a nylon bushing in the eye of the spring. Unfortunately about a half inch of the threads on the bolt are within the nylon bushing while the rest of the bushing rests on straight wall unthreaded bolt.. it would be best if no threads were inside the bushing but this would require a specialty bolt that I may find and replace.
You will also need bolts for the plywood bed and the side rails. So expect to buy about 20 bed bolts and maybe washers to tie your bed down. A tube of construction adhesive may also provide support and tie the whole trailer together.
What you need for your car’s hitch
If you have a hitch and your vehicle is wired you will only run into one problem the connection point. Some manufacturers use a blade or flat connector while others use a round connector. If you have a mismatch then you will need an adapter.
If you are not wired up you will need a wiring kit. I suggest you spend a little extra money and time and get the self powered kit that runs a line with a fuse directly to your cars battery. It is not easy to install without a car lift but its important for the extra amperage needed to run your electrical system.
If you have a truck or large sized vehicle you will easily be able to install a trailer hitch. The kits come designed to mount to bolt holes on your car’s frame and take about an hour or two to install depending on the condition of your vehicle and if you need to remove the bumper.
On smaller vehicles you will have a harder time finding a hitch and it will be more difficult to install. There are many options out there if you look hard enough and you should realize that every car no matter its size can haul a trailer … if a motorcycle can haul a small trailer then a car can. Its just not easy and you can’t tow a lot of weight.
Read your trailer’s manual online before you make the purchase and then prepare your car with a hitch and wire kit if needed before you buy your trailer.
Expect to add a lot of stuff to a trailer kit. You will need everything optional to make your kit work right for you and that can add up so look for sales and ways to keep things cheap.