Seal the Deal: Expert Trailer-Buying Guide
AAre you in the market for a new or used trailer? Don’t sign on the dotted line without our expert guide. Here, we’ll first take you through the criteria to make sure the trailer meets your needs. Then we’ll detail the legal requirements you’ll need to meet after the purchase, before using your trailer for the first time.
Here’s a handy list of criteria to keep in mind when trailer-shopping. • Construction. Some trailer-construction materials are hotter than others. Natural (nonpainted) aluminum makes great cookware, so imagine how it’ll heat up a trailer. Aluminum flooring, roofing, and single-layer sidewalls all can transfer heat into your trailer. • GVWR. Determine the trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. The GVWR relates to the axle and coupler rating/capacity and tells you how much the trailer can weigh and be safe to haul. Older, smaller, used trailers can have lower GVWRs, such as 5,000 lbs. It’s easy to exceed this limit. • Size. Will your horse fit in the trailer? Many horse owners have bought slantload-style trailers only to find that their warmbloods didn’t fit. Measure beforehand, and also make sure you can bring the trailer back if your horse doesn’t fit. • Color. That bright-red trailer may look snazzy, but red absorbs heat, as do all dark colors. Light colors reflect heat,
We take you through the trailer-buying process, from how to select a trailer to the legal requirements you’ll need to meet after you complete the sale. BY TOM SCHEVE AND NEVA KITTRELL SCHEVE
which is your goal to keep your equine friend from overheating in the trailer. • Ventilation and light. Does the trailer have good airflow and ventilation? Stocktype trailers offer these features. Windows are also key. Roof vents let hot air out as well as allowing airflow while traveling. • Floors. On a used trailer, pull the floor mats, and examine the flooring. If it’s wood, check for cracks and rotting. If it’s aluminum, look for corrosion. Crawl under the trailer and examine the frame structure and cross supports for rust or corrosion. • Wiring. Most older trailers will have wiring problems that may need some work. With a new trailer, ask whether the wiring is protected by grommets and a wiring loom. • Tires. Tires are rated to hold a certain amount of weight. All four tires together should add up to a rating that’s equal to or surpasses the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. With a new trailer, request tires that are rated a bit more than the GVWR. Check used tires for uneven wear, worn threads, and dry rot. • Tack area. Imagine yourself loading up for a trip. Will all your tack fit? Are there enough saddle racks? Are the racks large enough to keep your saddles from sliding off? • Emergency access. Consider potential disasters. Could you easily release your horse if he gets over the
breast bar? Could you quickly remove dividers if he gets under one? Will the horse-area doors withstand a kick without opening? • Gooseneck hitch. Make sure the trailer’s gooseneck hitch will clear the bed rails of your truck and still be level. It should be at least eight inches above the truck’s tailgate. Many used gooseneck trailers (those older than 2001) aren’t tall enough to clear the back of four-wheeldrive trucks that are 59” from the ground to the top of the tailgate. • Tag-along hitch. A long tongue on a tag-along (bumper-pull) trailer will give you better maneuverability when backing than a shorter one will. A short tongue will jackknife easily — right into the back of your tow vehicle.
• Warranties. Ask for specifics. Your warranty may not include peeling paint, window breakage, and other problems. On a used trailer, ask whether the warranty is transferable. • Titling and payment. Make sure there’s no lien on the trailer. Get a clear title and bill of sale. Get everything in writing. • Final negotiations. Make sure you can return or trade in the trailer if something is awry. You may not be able to resolve some issues until you actually load your horse into the trailer, Most dealers are more willing to make concessions before you pay rather than after, so handle this matter before you seal the deal. • Possible fraud. When buying online, don’t send any money until you’re sure the seller is legitimate. If he or she is anxious to have your money, but unwilling to let you see the trailer first, you can bet something isn’t right.
After the Purchase
You’ve signed the papers and written the check — the trailer is now yours. But before you hitch it up and hit the road, you’ll need to meet certain legal requirements. Here’s a rundown of what to do. • Pay the fees. Some dealers will take care of the tax, title, and registration fees; some don’t. If your dealer handles this for you, the fees will usually be added onto your final invoice total. If you’ve financed the trailer, the dealer will likely add this fee into the total before getting approval for the final financed amount. The dealer will then pay the taxes and title fees, and furnish you with the license plate. • Obtain the title. Since the title is issued by each state and takes some time, it may be mailed with the plate and registration, especially if you live in another state from where the trailer was purchased. In that case, the dealer should provide you with a 30-day temporary tag and registration. • Obtain the bill of sale. Your bill of sale will include the name and address of the seller and buyer, trailer make and model, vehicle identification number (VIN), and selling price. If a trade was used as part of the payment, the bill of sale will state the trade value. Sales tax will be based only on the sale’s cash portion. • Or, obtain the Certificate of Origin. Some manufacturers and dealers don’t collect tax, title, and registration fees. If the trailer is new, the dealer may instead provide you with a Manufacturers Certificate of Origin (called the CO or MSO) along with a bill of sale and a temporary tag. The CO looks and acts like a title. It’s issued by the manufacturer and contains all the information required for a state to issue a title to the first owner.
Take the CO and bill of sale to your local license bureau to pay the taxes and plate fees, and to obtain a license plate. The CO will be forwarded to the state and a title will be sent back to you within a few weeks. The license bureau will give you the tags right away. • Report trailer weight. Before paying for your tags, tell the licensing agent you’re pulling a horse trailer, and report the weight. Use the trailer’s GVWR. Your actual weight will vary, depending on how many horses and how much cargo you’ll carry, but it’ll always be less than the GVWR. The license bureau will register this weight on your registration and charge you accordingly. (Note that if you’re ever stopped, you’ll face a stiff fine if you’re caught pulling more than your registered weight.) • Obtain a license plate. Check your state’s license-plate requirements. Some states don’t require residents to register trailers of any kind. Others don’t require registering trailers under a certain (empty) weight. Still others don’t require a title to obtain plates. • Obtain a driver’s license. Check your state’s requirements as to what type of driver’s license you’ll need to legally pull your rig. The federal government has specific laws that govern all states under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for interstate travel. But many states have additional laws as to what type of licensing you’ll need. For example, North Carolina requires you to have a Class A license (commercial or noncommercial) if your trailer alone is rated 10,001 pounds GVWR or more. TTR
Tom Scheve and Neva Kittrell Scheve (877/5751771; www.equispirit.com) are the authors of the nationally recognized textbook, The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer. Neva also has two other horse trailer books to her credit, including Equine Emergencies On the Road with Jim Hamilton, DVM. The Scheves present clinics at equine expos and promote trailer safety through articles in national magazines. They’ve designed and developed the EquiSpirit, EquiBreeze, and ThoroSport lines of trailers.
When shopping for a new or used trailer, make sure the trailer’s gooseneck hitch will clear the bed rails of your truck and still be level. It should be at least eight inches above the truck’s tailgate.
Will your horse fit in the trailer? Many horse owners have bought a trailer only to find that their warmbloods didn’t fit. Measure beforehand, and also make sure you can bring the trailer back if your horse doesn’t fit.
As you trailer shop, imagine yourself loading up for a trip. Will all your tack fit? Are there enough saddle racks? Are the racks large enough to keep your saddles from sliding off?
That bright-red trailer may look snazzy, but dark colors absorb heat. White and other light colors reflect heat, which will help prevent your equine friend from overheating in the trailer.