Tips on Buying a New Snowmobile Trailer

Nov. 01, 2005 By Matthew Baynard

Buying a snowmobile trailer is one of the most important investments you can make. Other than buying Cisco stock five years ago. You'll own that trailer longer than the sled in most cases and its cargo is normally more expensive than the trailer. It's not uncommon to see $20K worth of snowmobile on a $700.00 USD 8' foot trailer and no cover (on sleds or trailer) doing 80 mph on the New York Thruway. Not for me. I actually spent more time looking at trailers than I did the sleds the last time I bought a trailer. After what I experienced looking for a good trailer, I considered it my civic duty to share my experience. I learned that most non-trailer-dedicated dealers knew little about the trailers they sold. The snowmobile dealers that carried trailers seemed to carry mostly inexpensive open steel trailers while trailer specific dealers mostly carried higher quality open and enclosed aluminum trailers. The sales pitch between the two dramatically different, but the trailer specific dealers were by far the most helpful and knowledgeable. Look for numbers, if the snowmobile dealer has two trailers in stock, he's probably not as knowledgeable or as competitive as the dealer with forty of multiple types.

I'm going to discuss two place trailers, but the same guidelines would also apply to a four-place trailer. The price is not going to be twice the two-place however, expect to pay 2? to 3 times more for the enclosed four-place. The old adage of, "You get what you pay for." applies in spades to your purchase of a new trailer.

Trailers are most commonly found in one of several popular design types. I'll briefly discuss each, and cover the general aspects of trailer selection and terms later.

1. Tilt. You drive on and then you drag off. This is the most common and least expensive, but can be the most difficult to unload if you don't have reverse or a strong back. Available in steel and aluminum.

2. Tilt with ramp-off. You drive on with the tilt than drive off the front with ramps. This design is the next best option in that you have the ability to drive off, but not the additional expense of a drive on drive off trailer. The front ramps are normally the salt shields that fold down to form a basic ramp. Available in steel and aluminum with aluminum being more common.

3. Drive on - drive off. You drive on via a ramp and drive off via a ramp. All four-place trailers are of this design. This is the most expensive type trailer, not due to additional materials, but that most manufacturers charge for the convenience. For a purpose built enclosed trailer, the doors on both ends form the ramps. On an open trailer, you'll have a common ramp that you move around or the front salt shields can double as a flip down ramp.

4. Enclosed and Enclosures. This includes both the add-on type that can added to just about any trailer and the fully enclosed purpose built trailers which are built from the ground up as an enclosed trailer. The variations are endless for both types and it pays to shop around to see what everyone offers. Available in steel and aluminum with a 50-50 split from the manufactures on purpose built trailers. The trailer weight difference is significant moving from steel to aluminum. For the enclosures, most are constructed of aluminum with a few made from plastics and fiberglass.

5. Special Load Carrying Devices. These are the systems that allow you to load one or two sleds in the bed of a pick-up via a lift and rail system. The rest of this article doesn't apply to them, but I wanted to mention them since I get inquiries about them frequently. I don't think that these systems apply to the vast majority of readers since the systems really shouldn't be used in anything less than a ?-ton pickup. The softer suspensions in the ?-ton trucks make for a tip and sway prone rig that is not recommended for safety's sake. If you drive a ?-ton dually, this can be a great way of adding the ability to carry two additional sleds. The systems are fairly expensive however.

With the various designs you will have choices of v-nose fronts, built-in ramps that do not need to be detached, tilt, and in-line models. I'll talk about in-lines at the end of the article since they offer some distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Select your trailer based on what you plan to use it for. I have a long tow to where I ride in upstate New York, so I wanted a trailer that would tow especially well. This brings up trailer specifications and terms that you should understand. Tongue weight, axle ratings, trailer capacity, GVWR, tire size and constructions materials are key here. First thing first and I know this will annoy everyone in the steel industry, nothing is better than a high quality aluminum trailer. It will not rust and over the years the additional cost up-front will be worth every penny. Let's cover the key terms of trailering and then I'll cover what to look for in a high quality trailer. The terms will help you understand the jargon that the dealer will be using and help you compare various models and features.

Tongue weight.

Tongue weight is the weight your trailer is exerting on your hitch. Your hitch will have a maximum tongue weight listed. On two place sleds, it is pretty hard to exceed this limit. On a Class IV hitch it is 500# and can be 750# or 1,000# depending on the hitch mount. Class III hitches are up to 250#. An excessive tongue weight will impact the drivability of your tow rig and can damage the rear suspension too. Overloading the hitch can cause a failure of the hitch that can result in dropping your trailer with $10K+ worth of sleds on it.

Axle Ratings and Trailer capacity.

The axle rating of your trailer is the single largest influencer on the total load carrying capability of your trailer. If the trailer frame is designed for a 5,000# load, but the trailer axle is rated at only 3,500#, you're limited to a load capacity of 3,500#. The axle rating will also dictate whether a braking system is needed. Depending on your states DOT regulations, you will most likely be required to have brakes if the trailer has a load capacity of 3,500# or more. Most manufacturers will use a heavier axle, 3,500# to 4,000#, but rate the trailer at 3,500# or less to avoid the requirement for electric brakes.

The axle rating on the trailer is as important as the GAWR or Gross Axle Weight Rating of the tow vehicle, which is the weight, expressed in pounds, each axle is capable of supporting. The load on each axle must never exceed the GAWR. This rating is normally displayed in the driver's door on your vehicle.

GCWR.

Gross Combination Weight Rating is the maximum possible weight, expressed in pounds, of the tow vehicle and trailer combination. The GCWR includes the driver, passengers, fuel, cargo in the tow vehicle and trailer, and anything else carried in the vehicle. A heavily loaded tow vehicle can significantly reduce the GCWR and tow rating overall.

GVWR.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, expressed in pounds, is the maximum amount a tow vehicle may weight. Everything that contributes to the weight of the tow vehicle in added to this rating. As in the GCWR, the driver, passengers, fuel, and cargo in the tow vehicle add to this number. The tongue weight of the trailer is also included in this rating.

Maximum Trailer Weight.

The maximum weight of the trailer for any given tow vehicle is obtained by subtracting the vehicle weight from the GCWR. For example, if your tow vehicle weights 4,350#, and you have a GCWR of 8,000#, your maximum trailer weight would be 8,000 minus 4,350 or 3650#. If you stay within the maximum trailer weight, your tow vehicles standard brakes, transmission, cooling system, and suspension will not be put to extreme stresses.

Tire Selections.

This may be considered a matter of opinion, but the larger the better for several reasons. The larger tire dissipates heat better at highway speeds. The larger tire is less likely to blow during a long tow since it dissipates heat better. The larger tire will produce a better tow ride for the trailer and contents. The small donut style tires are the most prone to blowout and are the most common tire on snowmobile trailers. The larger donuts are just fine and do handle the highway heat issues better. I've seen the real small donuts steaming in rest stops on the way North from the excessive heat buildup.

Constructions materials.

This can be covered very quickly in the recommendation to buy a trailer that is framed, sided, and covered with ALUMINUM. Many manufactures offer a steel trailer for slightly less money, but you should be aware that steel does has a few significant limitations. The two most important being that steel trailers rust, the rust can't be totally prevented either, and the overall weight of a steel trailer. You can keep a steel trailer in good shape for many years, but it will require more maintenance effort and expense over aluminum. The overall weight of the steel trailer may be more important than the fact that steel rusts. Enclosed 4-place steel trailers can weigh twice that of an enclosed 4-place aluminum. For the money, aluminum is the best material for snowmobile trailers since it won't rust, will look better longer, and weighs less.

Trailer covers and enclosed trailer options.

Many snowmobiler's start with an open trailer and upgrade to after-market covers and enclosures at a later time. This has several advantage and disadvantages but in most cases, more advantages than disadvantages. There are no less than twenty enclosure manufactures that produce high quality enclosures for 10', 12' and 14' trailers. I know of a few that even make enclosures for 24' and 26' open trailers. The construction materials range from a nylon fabric, which is not worth buying, to high quality aluminum and fiberglass. The aluminum enclosures are the most common, and offer the greatest variety on the market. In the last five years, the smooth aluminum skin is the trend and adds a very sleek appearance. The fiberglass shells are the latest rage, but they are also the most expensive and can be very heavy units. The fiberglass can be difficult to repair if you back into a tree limb or garage opening also.

Inline Trailers. Inline trailers have been getting more popular as of late, but they do offer a few pluses and minuses that are fairly obvious, but often overlooked. The advantage of this trailer is it's width, you can tow it will a small vehicle and see around it. No mirrors needed and you have a better view as to what's around you. The disadvantage is it's a long rig to tow and can be heavier than a similar side-by-side model. The length can also make them difficult to gain access to some trail unloading areas. A standard two-place inline is about 26' to 30' long. That poses storage issues too. The length is very similar to the four-place trailer, but the width is the significant difference. My recommendation is to select a standard trailer and buy add-on mirrors.

Recommendations and what to look for in trailer quality.

Your trailer will be more than just basic transportation; it will be the protector of your precious sled up the highway and to the trailhead. A poorly constructed trailer that breaks on a snowmobiling trip can ruin your weekend or season. A sled coming off the trailer on the highway can be amusing looking to everyone but the owner.

If money is not an issue, buy the top of the line enclosed aluminum trailer with all the bells and whistles. The cost will most likely be in the $5,000 plus range and can be more. This is not the norm however, so realistically, a compromise of quality and features has to be reached. If you want a quality open aluminum trailer you can buy a extremely high quality trailer for under $2,000. Several manufacturers offer open trailers with enclosures for under $3,000 that are excellent alternatives to the purpose built enclosed trailer.

Once you've selected the type and model of trailer the construction materials and features need to be looked at very closely. On any open or enclosed trailer, several components should be closely studied. The trailer deck should be high quality marine grade plywood. The marine grade is more expensive and is one area that a manufacturer can cut corners. Standard grades that are painted are not equal to marine grade plywood nor are they are moisture and rot resistant. Look at the suspension of the trailer. Leaf springs on a small trailer are not a good as a rubber torsion bar suspension. The ride is smoother with this suspension and has fewer components to rust out. The tire selection was covered earlier, but if a tire upgrade is offered, its well worth the extra expense.

If the trailer is enclosed, examine the door hinges and latches for quality materials and construction. I had a Load-Rite trailer that was enclosed and loved the model, but the door latches would freeze solid during the tow north. If the locks had better protection, this wouldn't happen. Not nice when the trailer was locked and the key locks are frozen along with the latch. If the trailer has a ramp, examine how the ramp attaches to the trailer and how it's stored. Is the design going to be a bear to use when it's cold and dark outside? Is a tongue jack part of the deal? How about a spare tire? If it's not included, buy one; a blow out on a trip can be a real headache. In general take a close look at the entire trailer. Does the construction look sloppy, are screws and bolts installed properly, is the paint job poor. These are the kinds of things that are good overall indications of quality.

Take the time to closely look at what you're buying and make the decision well, since you are going to live with the trailer for longer than you'll be living with the sleds it hauls.

Thanks for the bandwidth.

 

 

 

Contact the author, Snowmobile Online Section Editor Matthew Baynard at baynardm@off-road.com

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