Trailer Buyer's Guide
by Katharine Paljug
You can fit a lot in the back of a van or pickup truck, but there are still times when you might find yourself in need of more space for hauling or transporting. That's when a cargo trailer comes in very handy.
Trailers are designed to be towed by other vehicles. They can be hitched to the back of cars, SUVs or trucks, depending on their size and weight. There are various styles, but most are designed for hauling large, heavy cargo. Whether you need to transport livestock, move your boat, carry equipment for a business or haul furniture, there is a trailer out there designed to help you move your goods and equipment.
Whether you are planning to use it for business or recreation, a cargo trailer is a significant investment. Before making a purchase, spend time researching your options, understanding the price points of different trailers and finding the vendor that is right for you.
Types and Features of Trailers
Flatbed trailers are open trailers with a broad deck that allows cargo to be easily loaded on and off. Some flatbed trailers have no sides or gate. Others may have a gate at the back or small walls up to a couple feet high around the sides to keep cargo in place. Some models have folding steps or ramps at the back. Flatbed trailers come in a variety of lengths, from small flatbeds pulled by ATVs to extremely large trailers pulled by trucks. Depending on the size, a flatbed trailer may have one, two, four or six axles.
A tilt-bed or tilt-deck trailer is a flatbed trailer with no sides other than a lip of several inches. There is no gate or ramp on the back of a tilt bed trailer. Instead, the back has a sharp edge. These trailers are designed to tilt down at an angle so that this sharp edge is flush with the ground, allowing cargo to be easily loaded. Tilt-deck trailers are often used to transport small vehicles, such as ATVs or forklifts. The tilt allows these vehicles to be driven up onto the trailer with no lifting necessary.
An enclosed cargo trailer is a box-shaped trailer with four sides and a roof over the bed. These trailers are designed to transport cargo that needs protection from weather and other outdoor elements, or small goods that can shift around easily. Depending on the size, they usually have two, four or six axles.
Car haulers or auto trailers are a type of trailer designed to hold one or multiple cars. These usually have two or three axles, a steel bed, and a loading ramp on the back end. Some models tilt down to the ground to allow cars to be loaded, rather than having a ramp that folds down. Car haulers can come in a single, double or triple platform style, depending on how many cars they are designed to carry. They may be flatbed or enclosed. This type of trailer may also be designed to hold other vehicles, such as golf carts, ATVs or motorcycles. Racing trailers are enclosed car haulers made for race cars.
A landscape or utility trailer is a flatbed trailer with raised sides to keep the cargo in place. Utility trailers usually have a gate at the back as well to allow cargo to be easily loaded and unloaded. These trailers are not enclosed, though you can easily tie a tarp over the cargo to add some protection. Utility trailers are used for cargo, such as landscape equipment, that can stand up to a bit of weather and exposure. This type of trailer is often used for outdoor businesses, such as landscape design or construction. Utility trailers are available in a large variety of sizes. Small, lightweight utility trailers can be hitched to a Jeep or SUV; larger ones will need to be hitched to a truck.
ATV trailers are small trailers, usually flatbed utility trailers, designed to be pulled by an ATV rather than a car or truck. They are lightweight but can still hold a significant load. These trailers are useful on farms, at construction sites or in warehouses where smaller vehicles are used to move equipment over short distances. The name may also refer to a hauler designed for ATVs.
A snowmobile trailer is designed to transport snowmobiles. These can be flatbed or enclosed trailers. They can also be small utility or enclosed trailers designed to attach to snowmobiles and stand up to harsh weather conditions.
Dump trailers are semi-enclosed cargo trailers, usually with sides of several feet high and a gate at the back. Some have side gates as well. These trailers have a hydraulic mechanism at the front that lifts the bed at an angle, allowing the cargo to be dumped out the back. Dump trailers come in a variety of sizes, with the largest ones able to transport more than 20,000 pounds. Various factors impact how much a dump trailer can carry and how much it costs, including the number of hydraulic pistons and the configuration of the frame underneath the bed.
Livestock trailers, sometimes called just stock trailers, are enclosed trailers used to move livestock. There are many legal requirements for stock trailers, including open ventilation along the sides, vents along the bottom to allow the ammonia fumes from animal urine to escape, and solid floors to prevent feces from dropping onto road and highways. These trailers usually have non-skid floors to prevent animals from slipping and hurting themselves. Livestock trailers come in various sizes and interior configurations, depending on the type of animal that needs to be transported. These sizes are usually designated by law. A stock trailer for poultry, for example, will be a different size and shape from one designed for horses.
A boat trailer is a V-shaped trailer, usually with one axle, designed to tow, launch or stow boats. Commercial boat trailers, which are usually used by marinas or boat yards, use hydraulics to launch boats into the water. These trailers are generally not used for storage. Noncommercial boat trailers are usually used by individual boat owners. These are designed for storing, towing and launching private boats, and come in one of two styles. Roll-on boat trailers use polyurethane or rubber rollers for launching boats. Float-on, or glide-path, boat trailers allow boats to float after the trailer has been backed into the water and partially submerged.
Living-quarters trailers are enclosed trailers designed both to transport and to provide living space. The cargo space may be designed to hold race cars, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles or horses. The living space usually includes a sleeping space, kitchenette, dining space and bathroom. Living-quarters trailers designed for camping are known as campers or travel trailers.
Specialty trailers, which are designed for special functions, are usually enclosed trailers with unique features. Some common types of specialty trailers are those used in food service, such as mobile kitchens or concession stands; mobile offices; restrooms; fiber optics services; movie set trailers, such as those for hair and makeup, wardrobe, production equipment, and the cast; and event-specific trailers. Some specialty trailers are custom designed by businesses with specific needs, while others are sold off the lot.
The cost of a cargo trailer varies based on the type, size and material. A single-axle trailer can usually be purchased for $1,000 to $4,000. A larger, double-axle trailer will likely cost $3,000 to $15,000. Large enclosed cargo trailers or multi-vehicle car haulers can cost $20,000 or more.
Depending on the type of trailer you purchase and how you plan to use it, you may also have to pay for additional equipment. Some trailers need extended side-view mirrors, which can be clamped onto the existing mirrors or permanently installed. Temporary mirrors usually cost under $50; permanent mirrors can be found for $150 to $450.
Another common extra cost is a trailer hitch. A standard ball trailer hitch can cost $250 to $500 for a tow vehicle. A more expensive gooseneck trailer hitch may cost as much as $800. You can also purchase a breakaway system in case your trailer detaches from your vehicle. These include a battery, switch and wiring, and they can be purchased from trailer dealers or Amazon for $10 to $40. Other equipment may include spare tires ($20 to $500) or detachable ramps ($100 to $500).
If you only need a trailer for occasional or one-time use, you may want to rent rather than make an expensive purchase. Many moving and car rental companies also offer rental for enclosed trailers, and local farm equipment sellers may offer rentals for livestock or flatbed trailers. Renting trailers can range from $20 per day to $2,000 per month, depending on the type of trailer, its size and how long you need it for.
To find a good option for renting a cargo trailer, look for local places to buy trailers, then ask them if they have rental options available as well. Websites like RentalYard can help you find local rental options for the type of trailer you need.
Choosing a trailer
Choosing a cargo trailer
Once you know what type of trailer you need, there are still several factors to consider before making your final decision.
Material: Trailers are usually made of aluminum, steel, galvanized steel, wood or a combination of the three materials. Some may have rubber or polyurethane components as well. The material affects the durability, price and weight of the trailer. Aluminum is lightweight and often less expensive, but more likely to be dented or damaged. Steel is heavier, more durable and more expensive.
The maintenance of different material also varies. Steel and galvanized steel trailers need to be inspected for rust and corrosion. Aluminum trailers may need to be oiled or washed, but they are unlikely to rust.
Size: Every type of trailer comes in multiple sizes to accommodate different cargo amounts and weights. Your vendor should be able to offer advice on the correct trailer size for your needs. If you are buying an enclosed trailer, you will want to ask about the width of the paneling on the walls and roof. This impacts the trailer's durability, especially on hot days. Trailers with thin paneling are more likely to sustain damage or warp in response to high temperatures.
Tires: Most trailers are sold with bias-ply tires with an option to upgrade to radial tires. It is less expensive to stick with the bias-ply tires and then replace them with your preference when the first set wears out. However, radial tires have better longevity and durability, along with providing a smoother ride, which makes them popular for industrial and commercial use.
Suspension: Smooth suspension protects your trailer, your cargo and the vehicle towing them from shock and damage. If you plan to tow often or as part of a business, you will want to invest in high-performance suspension.
Leaf springs are a traditional suspension model that is less expensive but produces more friction and noise, resulting in a bumpier ride. Rubber torsion suspension is more expensive, but it cushions against bumps and rough spots on the road, providing a smoother ride.
Legal requirements: Some trailers, like livestock trailers, have legal requirements regarding size, ventilation, or what you can and cannot load onto them. Especially if you are using a trailer for a business, you will want to check any legal requirements before you make a purchase.
Hitch: Most trailers can hook to a standard rear receiver hitch, but gooseneck and fifth-wheel trailers have a long neck extending out the front and curved to go over the back of a pickup truck. These designs are common in livestock, living-quarters, flatbed, utility, car hauler, and other commercial or industrial trailers. They require a fifth-wheel or gooseneck hitch attachment that goes over the rear axle in the bed of a pickup truck. Other hitch attachments that you can purchase for non-gooseneck trailers include the weight-distribution hitch, bumper hitch and front-mount hitch.
Towing and handling: How easily a trailer tows, what size of vehicle you need to hitch it to, and whether it can handle conditions like off-road hauling or severe weather can impact the work you do and the price you pay. Check safety features, manufacturer recommendations and customer reviews to make sure you are selecting a trailer that can safely stand up to the work you intend to use it for.
Price: The price of trailers varies significantly by the size, design and construction materials. For example, a dump trailer made with a channel frame will be significantly less expensive than one made with a tubular frame, but it will also be weaker and less able to manage large loads. Talk with the manufacturer to find a good balance between price and other features.
Warranty and maintenance: A trailer is a substantial investment, especially for a business, and if you use it frequently, it's going to go through a lot of wear and tear. Ask the vendor you purchase from about its warranty and maintenance options, including what is included, how long your purchase is covered and whether the trailer can be repaired locally.
Dealer/manufacturer: There are many manufacturers of cargo trailers worldwide. Some sell directly to customers, while others work through licensed dealers. It's a good idea to shop around to compare price, warranty, selection and other features before you make a purchase. Most manufacturers offer specific warranty or parts plans; some dealers may offer additional coverage. You'll want to choose a trailer from a reliable manufacturer with a solid history of designing and producing the type of trailer you need. Local dealers are easiest to work with, as cargo trailers are expensive to ship after purchase and you may want the dealer nearby for maintenance.
You can read more about some top cargo trailer manufacturers below to start your search and find a nearby dealer that sells the trailer you need.
Cargo trailer manufacturers
Look Trailers: Founded in 2010, Look Trailers began producing trailers in Indiana and Georgia. Over the next six years, the company acquired multiple existing trailer brands. Through its various brands, Look offers a wide variety of trailers, from a 4-foot enclosed cargo trailer to 53-foot custom-designed haulers.
- Cargo Express makes a variety of enclosed cargo trailers, including car, racing, motorcycle, stacker, concession and vending trailers. The company has manufacturing locations in Utah, Indiana, Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, and dealers throughout the United States and Canada.
- Pace American has been in business for more than 25 years and primarily manufactures enclosed trailers. Its models include cargo, auto, snowmobile, racing, ATV, motorcycle and mobile-office enclosed trailers. Pace trailers are sold at dealers in the United States and Canada.
- Prestige Trailers makes a variety of enclosed cargo trailers, including cargo, auto, snowmobile, racing, ATV, motorcycle and mobile-office enclosed trailers. Prestige trailers are sold at dealers in the United States and Canada.
Kaufman Trailers: Kaufman Trailers began as a small business in North Carolina in 1987. The company sells factory-direct to customers, and trailers can be picked up at one of its two centers or delivered via Trailer Delivery Service for an additional charge. Kaufman manufactures flatbed, utility, landscape, car hauler, tilt-bed and dump trailers, as well as custom trailer orders.
Universal Trailer: Founded in 2001, with headquarters in Florida, Universal Trailer Corporation owns multiple trailer brands, some of which have been in business for more than 60 years.
- Featherlite produces aluminum horse, livestock, car, ATV, motorcycle, snowmobile, cargo and utility trailers. It also sells race car transporters, event marketing trailers and custom-designed specialty trailers.
- Exiss has been making livestock trailers since 1994, including horse trailers, livestock trailers and living-quarters trailers. Exiss trailers are sold at more than 120 locations in the United States, Canada and a few other international locations.
- Sooner primarily produces livestock and horse trailers and has been in business for more than 40 years. It sells both standard and custom-designed stock trailers and living-quarters livestock trailers, as well as custom-built car haulers.
American Cargo Group: Part of Universal Trailer was acquired by Kaufman Trailers, and they combined to form American Cargo Group Inc. in 2018. American Cargo Group includes multiple brands specializing in different trailers.
- American Hauler primarily produces enclosed cargo trailers, including car haulers, ATV, snowmobile and race car trailers. It also sells models of dump trailers, utility trailers and open car haulers. American Hauler trailers can be purchased throughout the United States and Canada, as well as online.
- Wells Cargo manufactures cargo, auto, landscape, racing, motorcycle, snowmobile and ATV trailers. It also has specialty trailers designed for emergency response and fiber optics businesses. Wells Cargo trailers are sold by dealers throughout the continental United States and Canada.
- Haulmark makes racing, ATV, motorcycle, snowmobile, stacker and enclosed cargo trailers. It also manufactures specialty trailers for concession and food services. The company has more than 460 dealers in the United States.
American Trailer Works: ATW was founded in 1992 in Texas and is still headquartered there. In 2016, ATW merged with Big Tex Trailers, and the company now owns multiple trailer and trailer parts brands, some of which are sold as ATW brands and some as Big Tex.
- RC Trailers manufactures open utility, sport vehicle, enclosed cargo, race and custom trailers. It also manufactures specialty trailers for concession and food services. RC trailers are sold by independent dealers throughout North America.
- PJ Trailers was founded in 1991 and manufactures flatbed, tilt, car hauler, dump and utility trailers. PJ trailers are sold at more than 300 locations in the United States and Canada.
- Carry-On Trailer produces utility, dump, car hauler, cargo and specialty trailers. CO Trailers are sold by retailers in the United States and Canada, including Lowe's and Dick's Sporting Goods.
- Big Tex Trailers was founded in 1982. The company manufactures open utility, livestock, horse, equipment and cargo trailers that are sold throughout the United States and Canada, including Hawaii and Alaska.
- CM Trailers, and its affiliate S&H Trailers, was acquired by Big Tex in 2007 before the ATW merger. CM sells a variety of stock, horse, utility and cargo trailers through Big Tex dealers in the United States and Canada.
Legend Premium Trailers: Founded in 2003, Legend produces a variety of enclosed and open trailers, including sport vehicle, snowmobile, utility and car hauler trailers. Its trailers can be purchased from dealers throughout North America.
Car Mate Trailers: Founded in 1974, Car Mate Trailers was originally known as Pennstyle Campers. The name was changed in 1996 when the original owner sold the company. Car Mate produces cargo and enclosed car trailers, as well as open utility and equipment trailers, that are sold through dealers in the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada.
PROLine Products LLC: A family-owned and -operated trailer dealer and manufacturer in New Hampshire, PROLine sells a variety of trailers, including motorcycle, car hauler, snowmobile, cargo and open utility trailers. It also offers custom-made designs. It sells factory-direct to consumers and does not work with dealers.
United Trailers: Founded in 1989 and formerly known as United Expressline, United Trailers sells steel-framed cargo trailers, including car hauler, racing, enclosed and motorcycle trailers. It also offers custom design elements and specialty trailers. United Trailers products are sold through independent dealers in the United States and Canada.
Delta Trailers: A family-owned company in Arkansas, Delta has been manufacturing stock and horse trailers since 1971. It also produces enclosed cargo, utility, flatbed, dump and tilt-bed trailers. Delta trailers are sold by more than 300 dealers in the United States, Canada and Australia.
Delco Trailers: A Texas company founded in 2006, Delco primarily makes livestock trailers, along with flatbed trailers. Delco trailers are sold in 18 states, primarily in the Southern, Central and Midwestern United States, along with Florida, California and Montana.
ATC Trailers: ATC is a small business located in Indiana that sells a variety of car hauler, stacker, motorsport, open utility and enclosed cargo trailers. It also manufactures specialty industrial trailers, such as concession and mobile office, as well as custom trailers. ATC trailers are sold by dealers in the United States.
Carson Trailer: Carson was founded in 1991 and is located in California, though it sells trailers at dealers in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Utah as well. Carson manufactures enclosed cargo trailers, as well as landscape, dump, ATV, utility, flatbed and car hauler trailers.
Cimarron Trailers: Cimarron specializes in horse, livestock, living-quarters and custom-designed trailers. It also sells trailer parts and stock boxes for hauling small animals in the back of a pickup truck. Cimarron trailers are sold through dealers in the United States (not including Hawaii or Alaska) and in Canada.
Forest River: Founded in 1996, Forest River began as a manufacturer of recreational vehicles (RVs) and campers. The company now makes campers, RVs, buses, pontoon boats and cargo trailers. It has also acquired many other brands that produce cargo trailers.
- AmeraLite makes lightweight aluminum-frame trailers. Its models include enclosed cargo, snowmobile, vehicle hauler and specialty trailers. AmeraLite trailers are sold by independent dealers in the United States and Canada, though not in Hawaii or Alaska.
- Haulin Trailers manufactures its products in Indiana, including enclosed cargo, car hauler, motorcycle, snowmobile and concession trailers. Its products are sold by independent dealers in the United States and Canada, though not in Hawaii or Alaska.
- Continental Cargo's inventory includes enclosed cargo trailers, car haulers, motorcycle, living-quarters, snowmobile and open trailers, as well as custom models. Continental Cargo trailers are manufactured and sold in Indiana, Georgia, Oregon and Texas. They are also sold at independent dealers in the United States.
- Rance Aluminum Trailers manufactures lightweight trailers for various uses, including landscaping, ATV, snowmobile, motorcycle, auto and general enclosed cargo trailers. Rance trailers are sold by independent dealers in the United States and Canada, though not in Hawaii or Alaska.
- Cargo Mate has manufactured trailers since 1996, and its current models include enclosed cargo, car hauler, snowmobile, living-quarters, motorcycle and open utility trailers. Cargo Mate trailers are manufactured and sold in Indiana, Georgia, Oregon and Texas. They are also sold at independent dealers in the United States.
- Lightning Trailers manufactures lightweight, all-aluminum trailers for business and recreational use. Its products include snowmobile, car hauler, enclosed cargo and open utility trailers. You can buy Lightning trailers from dealers in the United States and Canada, though none are currently sold in Alaska or Hawaii.
- US Cargo has been making trailers for personal, farm, professional and sport use since 1994. It produces car hauler, motorcycle, ATV, snowmobile, enclosed cargo and specialty trailers. US Cargo trailers carry a factory warranty and are serviced through a national network of servicing dealers. They are sold through independent dealers in the United States and Canada, though not in Alaska or Hawaii.
MAXXD Trailers: Formerly known as Maxey Trailers Manufacturing Inc., MAXXD is a Texas-based company that has been in business since 1999. It produces flatbed, tilt-bed, dump and various specialty open utility trailers such as pipe haulers. MAXXD trailers are sold by independent dealers throughout the United States and Canada.
Novae Corp: Founded in 1995, Novae Corp started as a tool-manufacturing company. It has since acquired multiple trailer brands. Novae Corp trailers are manufactured in eight facilities in Indiana and Iowa and sold through independent dealers, as well as at I-69 Trailer Center, its flagship trailer showroom and dealer in northeast Indiana. Models from all its brands are sold at I-69 Trailer Center.
- H&H Trailers manufactures utility, flatbed, tilt-bed and dump open trailers, as well as several models of enclosed cargo trailers and parts for repair and maintenance. Its models include both steel and aluminum trailers. H&H products are made in the United States and sold through dealers in both the U.S. and Canada.
- CAM Superline produces dump, open utility equipment hauler, flatbed, car hauler and tilt-bed trailers, as well as dump inserts for pickup trucks. Its products are manufactured in the United States and sold by dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
- Sure-Trac trailers include dump, landscape, open utility, car hauler, open equipment and enclosed cargo trailers. Products come with a factory warranty, though maintenance is done through authorized dealers. Sure-Trac trailers are sold by independent dealers in the United States and Canada.
Millennium Trailers: Founded in 1999, Millennium Trailers produces and sells a variety of enclosed cargo, car and race car trailers, with the option for customers to custom-design their model. The Millennium Trailers sales lot is located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Products are sold off the lot or shipped factory-direct to consumers in all 50 United States.
Sundowner Trailers: In business for more than 40 years, Sundowner produces horse, livestock, living-quarters, enclosed cargo, open utility, motorsport and hauler trailers. Its designs are primarily aluminum trailers. Sundowner trailers are sold by dealers in Australia, Mexico, Canada and the United States.
Towmaster Trailers: Originally part of Palm Industries, Towmaster Trailers became a separate brand in 1994. The company produces open utility, tilt-deck and dump trailers in multiple models, with custom options such as gooseneck hitches and hydraulic ramps. Towmaster is committed to green manufacturing practices in its facilities. Its trailers are sold by an in-house sales team at its Litchfield, Minnesota facility, as well as regionally in the Midwestern, Western, Great Lakes, Southeastern and Northeastern United States.
TrailersPlus: Founded more than 20 years ago, TrailersPlus sells factory-direct trailers, parts and accessories. Its models are made in the United States and include enclosed cargo, open utility, dump, snowmobile, ATV, equipment, car hauler and custom trailers. TrailersPlus is the largest factory-owned dealership network in the United States, with more than 60 locations in 26 states.
Wilson Trailer: Originally opened in the 1890s, Wilson manufactures livestock, flatbed, conveyor belt and enclosed grain trailers. Wilson Trailer has sales and service centers in Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas where it provides parts and maintenance. New trailers are sold at these centers, as well as through authorized dealers in the United States, Canada, Australia and Chile. It also has more than 12 locations that sell used models at a discount.