Landscape trailers

Landscape trailers. They're a familiar sight. Almost everyone in commercial landscaping owns one - it would be hard to conduct business without one. However, while many of them look alike, features can vary in important ways.

Open or closed? One of the most basic features of landscape trailers is whether they're open or enclosed. The obvious advantage of enclosed trailers is that they reduce the opportunity for theft. The most obvious disadvantage is that they cost more. Marsha Rowe is general manager of TrailerSource (Marietta, Ga.), which sells several trailer brands. Rowe has found that open trailers are the more typical choice of newcomers to grounds care because they are less expensive. However, due to the constant threat of equipment theft, "People quickly find a way to afford enclosed types," says Rowe.

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Weighty matters How much hauling capacity do you need? Of course, that depends on what you need to haul. That's where customers must do their homework. As Rowe explains, "The most experienced trailer expert around does not know what a mower weighs. That's something the customer needs to determine." Therefore, don't expect your dealer to be able to tell you how much capacity you need.

Rowe estimates that a typical 6 x 12 single-axle open trailer may hold 2,000 pounds or more. However, you can't simply correlate size with hauling capacity. That same trailer with a tandem axle might exceed 6,000 pounds capacity, so you need to discuss specific weight ratings with the dealer and match the trailer to your needs.

A point to keep in mind is that enclosed types are heavier. All else being equal, an enclosed trailer will have slightly less capacity than an open type.

Landscape trailers typically range in width from 6 to 8 feet or more. However, the relatively wide-open trailers may require a higher deck - over the wheels rather than between - which then creates the need for longer or steeper ramps. Trailer lengths vary up to 20 feet, but 12 to 16 feet is the typical range.

Another feature affected by trailer capacity is brakes. Rowe notes that federal Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations stipulate that any trailer exceeding 3,000 pounds in gross vehicle weight (GVW) must be equipped with its own brakes (either surge or electric, though some states do not permit surge brakes).

The towing vehicle is another part of the equation. At a minimum, a half-ton truck equipped rated for towing is required for most landscape-trailer applications, though considerably more towing power may be necessary depending on what you haul.

Adequate engine horsepower and torque are, of course, important. So is wheelbase. A short wheelbase vehicle - a Jeep, for example - would create a case of, as Rowe puts it, "the tail wagging the dog." That's one reason why pickups, with their longer wheelbases, are much better suited for towing.

Other features Some open trailers feature steel decks. However, the majority use wood. Wood is lighter, which allows a higher cargo capacity. It also is easier and less expensive to replace. These seem to be important factors to landscapers because, according to Rowe, "99 percent of the trailers we sell have wood floors."

Many trailer vendors offer optional accessory racks. These are important features for landscapers. Keeping smaller equipment secured can save them from damage during transport and make loading and unloading much less complicated. In open trailers, they also are important anti-theft devices, beca use most racks can be locked.

Ramps are another feature to look at. Most satisfy the need for basic functionality. However, some models can be fitted with springs. "This makes it a lot easier to lift the ramps when guys are tired at the end of a long day," says Rowe.

Side rails are fairly standard on open trailers. Not only do they keep equipment from rolling off; they also make good tie-down anchors. If you choose a closed trailer, make sure adequate tie-down points exist.

Paint quality can vary considerably. Not surprisingly, less-expensive trailers tend to come with less-expensive paint jobs. More costly models often are given extra primer and, perhaps, even an undercoating.

The value of more expensive paint or coatings is debatable. Certainly, they will prevent rust in some spots. However, landscape trailers usually take quite a beating during normal use with everyday wear and tear, and no coating will prevent the inevitable scratches and scrapes that open the door for rust. One thing to note about closed trailers: their enclosures typically are constructed of aluminum, which doesn't rust.

Many trailer vendors offer several options for trailers. These range from spare tires to tool racks to lighting to building-in extra hauling capacity, perhaps by adding an extra axle. Talk with your supplier about what's available, but also talk to other contractors to see which features they find most valuable.

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