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Old 12-27-2011, 08:10 AM   #1 (permalink)
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DIY trailer building/mod discussions?

There's no easy way to just ask a question or two without explaining my situation a bit because there will probably be alot of other questions to follow and people will wonder why i'm exploring in so many directions. I posted here because it was a trailer and towing issue, and I hoped either people would have insights or might know of another forum or website I could post on if my post here is inappropriate. (mods can also move the post if it belongs in off topic for instance)

My current situation is somebody of very limited means that has a need to haul heavy things on the absolute lowest budget possible, both in terms of total cost for vehicles/trailers and for fuel. I want to haul things safe, not stupid, so this is a mental exploration that's probably going to jump around alot as I assess or consider different options and ways to do something. I'm NOT planning or asking for things like exceeding tire or axle ratings, or making safety compromises, but just an exploration of ways I can save $100 here or $500 there while still doing the job that needs to be done, because right now I can't even keep up with my minimum monthly bills and the longer i'm in my situation the more dangerous it gets.

There probably will be mention of things unpopular or that people may think is stupid, like hauling certain things with specially modified FWD vehicles simply because of either a cost of fuel or availability issue. (ie - I need a compact car to get to work, and want it to double as a small pickup for smaller loads) However the discussion will be limited to things i've seen others do safely before. (example - I know a guy who hauls a 3200lb braked snowmobile trailer through the rockies with a Saturn compact - it was specially modified with a custom CAD engineered weight distributing hitch which doesn't overstress the unibody and some modifications to cooling, brakes and for durability. He reports it the best tow vehicle he's EVER used even in winter over 60,000 miles of laden hauling so far, and more stable and better braking than less many educated people driving compact SUV's with trailers of similar weight who insisted it was unsafe because it's "not a truck".)

Basically put part of my need to haul is about opportunities. I'm stuck in a debt cycle I can't get out of, and not one caused by poor planning or indulgent living but things like deaths in the family and medical emergencies caused by others stupidity while having no health insurance. I've seen things available for free if I could just haul them myself, everything from a singlewide mobile home (to get out of the house payment) to a working farm tractor if I had a flatbed to move it, to 10 cords of firewood from land clearing but I had to haul them in one load because the economics of multiple trips would make it not work or others were going to come afterwards. So this is intended to be an exploration of exactly that, so that the next time an opportunity presents itself I can take advantage of it instead of having to pass it by, or be tempted by UNsafe exceeding of limits because something is just a little beyond rating and I don't know of a better way. This is an attempt to publically brainstorm and ask for insights and find those better ways before I need to apply them and seeing whether I can cobble up some road-safe hauling gear.

That being said i'll just jump forward to the two questions first on my mind which potentially influence all the rest...
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DIY HOMEBREW SURGE BRAKES: Has anyone made homebuilt trailers that have homebuilt brakes on them which work? Either surge brakes or modified for electric brakes without going with a normally manufactured trailer axle? This has applications in multiple areas, whether a DIY car dolly (saw a nice design using an FWD minivans rear axle from the junkyard) or something like a pickup bed trailer. Both those things DO have brakes, just hydraulic ones from the car not hooked up for trailer use. I would like to hook them up for trailer use - for instance some kind of sliding coupler with a spring on the hitch which would press a brake pedal lever on a master cylinder which is then hooked up to the axle. Adjust levers and fulcrums to have it brake at the right level of force increase. Or if there is some way to have an electric brake actuator to use the already existing hydraulic brakes for the purpose as a way of costing less than buying a braked trailer axle.

I'm aware axles dont' cost all that much and it's possible this is a dead end, but when you cant even make your bills every month a difference of even only $200 or so does add up if you have more time than money or a lack of job options to make the money otherwise. If the total cost is more or the amount of fabrication excessive then i'll probably abandon the project, but especially in a case potentially involving triple axle trailers, and multiple trailers built from scrap the differences add up to probably saving $1000 or more if I come up with a solution thats doable. The only reason to not do it would be if the fab is too difficult or the total cost over X miles for maintenance, brakes, tires and such of the homebrew costs the same or more. (and if I know for a fact i'll do that many miles. If I actually get odd jobs to haul things for others which pay I could then afford a better trailer, this is a stopgap until then.)



CLASS 8 TRAILER MODS: Another thing i've noticed is that semi box trailers seem to go for unusually cheap, like under $1000 occasionally while still having a working set of brakes and tires on them normally. Thats way less than i've ever seen any trailer over 3500lb ratings go for used so far and availability is alot better as well. My explorations are for a couple possibilities:

- Flatbed conversion. Here i'd just tear off the trailer box, leaving the floor if I can, and use that for everything from a flatbed car hauler to a general utility trailer. I don't think the boxes give any structural support (they are very thin from casual inspection) but i'm not a trucker or trailer engineer so I don't know for certain. Here the simplest solution would be to haul it with a fifth wheel medium duty (the big fifth wheel type, not pickup sized) or possibly a converted schoolbus (adding a fifth wheel from the semi junkyard and chop the length) which had air brakes. This lets me use the existing tires and axles. I'm trying to avoid using a semi because insurance on someone who does not drive it 24/7 even for private usage only is apparently obscene (i'm told this, I haven't researched extensively because everyone insisted it was a dead end) plus repairs on old big trucks is alot harder and more expensive than a skoolie or medium. I can throw a big block in a skoolie if it breaks to get it back on the road but I can't do anything with a detroit diesel because I have no experience. Any reason this wouldn't work?

- Using just the frame. Here I abandon the air braked axles and use something else, to possibly include 3-4 1 ton pickup axles (if I can add brakes, see above) or biting the bullet and buying "proper" ebraked trailer axles and sticking those under there up to the weight capacity I need. I assume the frame weight would be massive overkill and have alot more tare weight than needed (i'm guessing pushing 8000lbs once I remove the box and move to smaller axles?) but it's just an exploration. If I only have to move mass flatbed weights a handful of times with a medium duty or super duty pickup and licensed the frame for Class C maximums (which I think are 26,000lbs) might it work? :-/ Hell it might be used so rarely if I had to get 'proper' axles i'd buy them for the smaller trailers, and physically rebolt them to the flatbed for the maybe 6-10 times I ever see having to use the thing. The money saved vs commercial haulers to move the load makes this trailer pay for itself.

- Mobile home frames. Not a class 8 but in this category and probably more sensible than semi trailer frames. I've heard of others doing this because the frames are already designed for weight in the range i'm looking to haul (an easy 9990 and super duty pickup ratings with some additional legal hassle) and set up for a ball hitch. The problem is that they are too wide and are not commonly available. Has anyone done this before or have suggestions if I pursue this route?
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Old 12-27-2011, 10:22 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I have done very little but some research into this issue and what I have come up with is this. For a car dolly or a teardrop you can use a minivan axle, I would have to search my documents to find out which one, ISTR it is from a chrysler of some kind. You can cut the axle and extend it with pipe because it happens to fit nicely.

For cargo you can use a gooseneck or fifth wheel camp trailer which has been converted, because their frames are conducive to conversion. SOME pull-behind camp trailers have enough meat to them to be a cargo trailer when stripped. A gooseneck type hitch is, from what I can tell, actually the cheapest kind to install. So if you're really trying to save money, that's what you should be looking for. Unfortunately, most big camp trailers are fifth wheel, which requires the most expensive kind of hitch

Virtually all trailers depend on the frame for structure and the frame of the trailer does nothing but hold itself up in high winds and while being towed etc., except one or two of the airstream-style trailers which were made true monocoque with a stub frame at the front for towing. However, virtually all camp trailers have a plywood floor, and usually not a very thick one either. You need to take the weight of any upgraded flooring into account.

Your best option for a cargo conversion is probably a timber-framed trailer, because you will be removing the most weight. The aluminum trailers carry all their weight in the frame.

I think your best bet is to go with a camp trailer that needs tearing down, because you will be able to get one for free. You will have to deal with disposal of the materials, but some of it is recyclable (any and all metal, or anything you break down into metal) and some of it may even be worth something, for example if you have a working ammonia fridge someone will probably give you a few bucks for it, people want them not just for RV restorations but also off-grid living. This will also get you working brakes et cetera.
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Old 12-31-2011, 09:25 AM   #3 (permalink)
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If u want heavy duty Ive seen class 6-7 (same as a bus) dump trucks from the 1970s go for $1500 -$3000.
I wouldnt take a box off of a box trailer, theres no real frame under there, just the side sills, unless its one of those container chassis.
I made a 7000 lb trailer for free. A guy wanted a camper gone, so i took it home and removed the camper. I hauled 2 tons on it already and it worked good.
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Old 01-03-2012, 09:47 PM   #4 (permalink)
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]I've been going from my home in ND to the mountains WY, MT, ID for the last 9 yrs 1-2 trips a year and it is something to be taken very seriously. Flat ground and summer driving are a lot more forgiving. It takes good tires, brakes, transmission cooling, and tow vehicle to load ratio. I've been in some bad situations and been glad my tow vehicle outweighed my load and I had good tires and brakes. Enough of that.

IMO and many will disagree but surge brakes are a poor system they rely on the tow vehicle stopping and pushing back to actuate the surge system. On flat dry ground with a good vehicle to load ratio it works great. I prefer a electric or electric actuating a hydraulic system so when you press the pedal you are guaranteed the system will engage. Also you can engage the trailer brakes only if you go into a sway on icy roads in the winter. A lot of this comes from my experience going west sledding, hauling heavy loads in the winter, and driving class 8 trucks hauling grain. I've pulled boat trailers with surge brakes and no problems but I could have stopped without the trailer brakes. The one time I pulled a friends snowmobile trailer with surge brakes I swore at it the whole time.

As far as the Class 8 storage trailers. Most van bodies do actually get some of there strength from the side walls as odd as it sounds and the other limitation is they usually are more of a dispersed load trailer compared to a point load trailer. On the other hand it sounds like what you are planning to use it for is far below its capacities as your looking at a trailer that can haul some were in the 50k to 55k# range. The biggest problems are going to be your dealing with a trailer that weighs close to 10,000#s depending on length and such. The axles aren't really reusable because they use air brakes which requires a specialized system. As far as getting into a Class 8 truck your friends are right its a whole new ball game. The liability insurance is really expensive, most states require you to get a fuel stamp, there is a yearly DOT inspection which most of the cheaper trucks you see aren't going to pass, medical card, and of course a Class 8 license.

I know several farmers that have made bale trailers out of trailer house frames but they are using tractors to pull them not sure on the empty weight and at low speeds. I know when our trailer house was delivered they carried twice as many spare tires as the trailer had on it and quite a few looked flat so I'm guessing they are overloaded.

Sorry I don't want to be negative just trying to be informative. I think like said above a camper frame might be a good option also older horse trailers might also work good they go fairly cheap around here. Most campers and horse trailers already have electric brakes and really a brake controller is easy to add to any vehicle just need power, ground, and access to the brake wire the switch your pedal activates to turn the brake lights on. Just make sure your not getting yourself into something will cost more to maintain then you can afford.

Last edited by ndmtnsledder; 01-03-2012 at 09:56 PM.
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Old 01-04-2012, 01:11 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Just as a reference-I see old construction tag alongs for sale around here alot in the $1000 range-find a lighter one with electric brakes and you've got a super start ona really heavy duty trailer...probably need to pack bearings/service brakes and rewire and relamp but that'd be my route onthe cheap!
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