Trailer Shopping? Do's and Don'ts


IMPORTANT! : Is the Trailer I'm considering Street Legal?

Did you know that it is Legal to Sell an Illegal Trailer??? Yes. A Dealer is legally able to sell you a Trailer that is illegal to tow on public streets. You'd be surprised how many Local Dealers sell Illegal Trailers. 

To stay safe and make sure you are Legal, ask the following questions...

Does that Trailer I'm looking at... "Does it have brakes for each axle (for every axle that has a wheel that touches the ground)?" (Required)

Does that Trailer I'm looking at... "If the Trailer is over 3000 Lbs. GVWR, does it have brakes on every wheel?" (Required)

Does that Trailer I'm looking at... "Does it have a Breakaway Safety System?"  (The Trailer Breakaway System is designed to bring a trailer to a safe stop by activating the electric brakes on the trailer, should the trailer be disconnected from the tow vehicle while driving. Every Trailer that requires brakes, must have a breakaway system.) 

Does that Trailer I'm looking at... "Does the breakaway system charge while it's plugged into the tow vehicle?" (The breakaway safety system must charge while plugged in to the truck.)

Does that Trailer I'm looking at... "Does it have New Tires?" (All New Trailers must have New Tires, not Used Tires or Retreads)

Does that Trailer I'm looking at... "Does it meet the necessary Weight Rating?" (The Entire Load AND the Weight of the Trailer AND transfer weight must be lower than the Trailer's GVWR) 

Does that Trailer I'm looking at... "Does my setup meet GVWR Requirements?" (if your axle rating is 6,000 pounds per axle, and you have two axles, the Trailer you are looking at could have a GVWR of 12,000 pounds. Some Dealers take that rating and add the trailer’s weight into the GVWR. If the capacity is rated at 12,000 pounds (determined by the axle capacities), and the trailer weighs 2,600 pounds, they could rate their trailer at 14,600 GVWR. Bottom Line, GAWR or Gross Axle Weight Rating is still only 12,000 pounds and you cannot exceed that capacity rating)

Does the Trailer I'm looking at, "Do ALL of the Components rate out to the GVWR?" (Every Component - Axles, Tires, Coupler, etc. - Must rate out to meet the GVWR)

Does my Towing Vehicle... Every Vehicle must have a Trailer Brake System and it must be reachable from the Driver's Seat.

trailersafetyTrailer Safety Basics

Indiana Trailer Brake Laws

A trailer or semitrailer that weighs at least 3,000 lbs. must be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and to hold the towing vehicle and trailer or semitrailer.

These brakes must be designed so that the driver of the towing vehicle can apply the brakes from the towing vehicle itself and adequately stop both the towing vehicle and the trailer or semitrailer.

Surge Brakes are only Legal on Rental and Marine Boat Trailers.

Indiana Trailer Dimension Laws

Total length: 65 feet; trailer length: 40 feet; width: 102 inches; height: 13 feet 6 inches. 

Indiana Trailer Hitch and Signal Laws

Double safety chain required for all trailers; type of hitch not specified. 

Indiana Trailer Lighting Laws

A motor vehicle, trailer, semitrailer, or any other vehicle that is pulled at the end of another vehicle must be equipped with at least 1 rear-mounted red taillight. This taillight must be plainly visible from a distance of 500 feet away. This vehicle must also be equipped with 2 or more rear-mounted white taillights. These taillights must be mounted between 20 inches and 72 inches from the ground. A separate white light must be placed on the vehicle so that it illuminates the rear plate and makes it clearly visible from a distance of 50 feet. All of these taillights must be properly wired so that when the headlights are illuminated, these lights are also illuminated.

Indiana Trailer Mirror Laws

A motor vehicle that is constructed or loaded in a manner that obstructs the Driver’s rear view must be equipped with a mirror located in place where it is able to reflect the Driver’s view of the highway for a distance of at least 200 feet. 

Indiana Trailer Speed Limit Laws

As posted.

Indiana Trailer Towing Laws

The maximum length of 2 or more vehicles together, including any cargo is 60 feet. The maximum length for 3 or more vehicles together, including a load, is 65 feet. The maximum load size in length is 3 feet beyond the front and 4 feet beyond the rear.  

* ALL Trailers Must Be Titled to Pull on the Road *


A Few Things To Consider . . .Things To Consider
. . . When Choosing A Trailer.

First Step:  Discover the Need:

Obviously the trailer must first meet your needs — how will it be used?  It’s not enough to say “I need a trailer to haul building supplies.

Is that  bricks?  . . .  10 Penny nails?  . . .  Or  . . .  2 x 6 x 20’s?

The truth is, if your situation is like most, the trailer will also be used for a lot of other things like moving furniture, hauling leaves, rocks and other equipment.

Take some time and think through your needs and all the possibilities   —  like your friends needs, your wife’s needs, and your wife’s friends needs.  —  Yes, I’ve been there.  Knowing how the trailer will be used is the first big step in your decisions toward the best trailer for you.

Consider the following questions about how the trailer will be used:

  • How big should it be?
  • Width: 4′?  5′?  6′?  8′?  (What are the legal limitations in your state or province?)
  • Length:  8′?  10′?  20′?  (Where will it be stored?)
  • What load Capacity is required?  1000#?  2000#?  3500#?  6000#?  More?
  • Is the bed height a factor?  (How will you be getting things on and off?)
  • Does it need Sides?
  • What about a Top?
  • Does it need Ramps?
  • How about a Tailgate?

Step 2:  Towing:

Is Your Trailer Hitch This Good?

Is Your Trailer Hitch This Good 

The second factor to consider is how the trailer will be towed.

  • Will it be towed by a truck or other large vehicle?  Or is the trailer to serve as a truck replacement?
  • Will it be towed by the family car?  Maybe a mini-van?  Or an SUV?
  • Is the trailer to augment the capacity of your truck?  Or haul specific equipment?
  • How far and how fast will the trailer travel?
  • Are strong winds common in your area?  Are mountains or sustained hills common?
  • Is fuel economy important?

These questions are a good guide for choosing the right trailer size.  Each vehicle has a towing capacity.  Check the owners manual to see that your needs can be met with the vehicle you have in mind. The trailer must meet the needs, but it must also be sized for the vehicle that will pull it.  If your vehicle does not have a receiver (ball to hitch the trailer to) make sure you can mount one.  There are lots of places that specialize in hitches. or are good places to start.

Here are some more questions to think about with respect to towing:

  • What vehicle(s) will tow the trailer?
  • What is the towing capacity of the tow vehicle(s)?
  • Can a trailer hitch be mounted to the vehicle?
  • What is the height of the hitch point?
  • Will the trailer need brakes?  Hydraulic?  Electric?

If a certain trailer width is not required (like for a certain piece of equipment), then it is usually best to make the trailer the same width, or only slightly wider than the tow vehicle.  Going longer instead of wider helps with visibility, maneuvering, and reduces wind drag (better fuel economy).

Additionally, trailers that are significantly taller than the tow vehicle have much more wind drag.  This can be costly in fuel, and can also cause trouble in cross winds on the highway.

Step 3 –  Storage:

A consideration which is often overlooked — Where will the trailer be stored?  The answers to these questions will help determine your needs for trailer finish and shelter.  They may also impact your decisions on trailer size.

A trailer stored out under a tree.
  • Will the trailer be stored in a garage?  (or other indoor facility?)
  • If in a garage, will it be tipped on it’s side or end to make room for a car?
  • Will it be stored outside?
  • If outside, what shelter from the wind, moisture and sun are available?
  • How much space is available for storage?
  • Is the access convenient and easy?  Or will it make the trailer difficult to access?

Whether you choose to build a trailer, or purchase something new, the investment is well worth protecting.  On the other hand, if you can scrounge a cheap trailer to fill your need, shelter or protection may not be worth so much.

Check your neighborhood covenants too.  Some places won’t allow trailers to be stored outside — and your wife might be really upset if you put the car outside so the trailer can be in the garage!  That is worth checking out.

Step 4  –  To Build, or to Buy?
To Build, or to Buy
Build A Trailer From Plans.

This is a classic question, and the answer is:  That depends.

From the information above, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want or need.  Next, find out if you can accomplish that with a purchased trailer.  If not, consider building one.

I have designed a lot of custom trailers, and built a few too.  I love building, and I love seeing other great projects.  That being said, In my mind, there are only a few good reasons to build your own trailer:

  • Do you want something special in the construction?  Maybe a really strong or stiff frame?
  • Or do you want a special feature or function?
  • Do you want to add unique options or other customization?
  • Perhaps you just love building stuff, and you want a cool project to be really proud of?

It is not usually cheaper to build one yourself — that is, for a standard style utility trailer.  Factories have economies of scale when purchasing big quantities of raw materials and components.  They also have special jigs to build them quickly and efficiently. However, you get what they have and what they can design.

If you need something special, or want something custom, it can be probably be built to specification or you can have a fab shop modify a trailer for you.  But, if you have the skills, and if you have the reason, build it yourself!  It’s an awesome project, and when you’re finished, you’ll have reason to be super proud.


More Trailer Towing Info 

New Trailers