To Build or to Buy: Tire Trailers 101

“What!?! Buy a tire trailer??? I’ll never pay that! I can go get a utility trailer for $250 and make one myself!” –Random Internet-comment guy

Okay, we’ve all heard this before, and maybe even considered it. So what’s the truth here? What are the actual risks and challenges with building a home-made tire trailer? Let’s get into it!

First off, we at Leroy Engineering are fabricators, designers, and builders, and we love to see homemade projects! That’s part of what makes motorsport great: the creativity, diversity and ingenuity all used in the pursuit of speed! But the truth is, not everyone has the tools, skills, or time to build a trailer from scratch. The goal of this article is to help you decide if it’s something in your wheelhouse or not. And if you start building a project and need some tips along the way, feel free to ask—we are always happy to help out! We’re in this industry for the same reason you are—to get to play with cars!

Cost

So what’s the real cost anyway? Yes, it’s true that you can go to your local imported goods store and pick up a kit-trailer for around $250. This is a good starting point that gets you most of the suspension and frame pieces. But there are more parts that you’re going to need:

  • Lights and wiring (many of the import kits we’ve seen come with less than adequate wiring and lights)
  • Decking material
  • Storage box for tools
  • Method of strapping down tires
  • New, or modified, leaf springs

Unless you happen to have some of these materials already, the actual average cost for a complete system is around $600-$800 in total. And yes, this is still by far the cheapest option out there! So if you’re on a tight budget, we highly recommend a home-made trailer. And we’ve seen some nice ones out there.

One of the nicest setups we’ve seen was built by Jeremy Fischer. Not only was this a nice build, but he beautifully documented the entire process.

His total build cost just shy of $600. He continued to tweak and upgrade it for a couple years to get it just right. In the end, this is the nicest setup we’ve seen for the money!

Design Challenges

So let’s look at a couple of the design challenges that should be considered. While many of these next points are not required, they should at least be considered to give a smooth and safe ride.

Weight

ISSUE: Most utility trailers come with an advertised capacity of 1,000-4,000 lbs. (depending on size). In reality, the maximum amount of weight a set of tires and some tools will reach is about half of that, and for smaller car setups maybe only 300-400 lbs. So what’s the issue? Well, when using a leaf spring with no shock absorber, it’s important to match the load to the spring rate as close as possible. Too much spring and it’ll bounce and jump with every bump in the road; it will tend to act like an un-sprung trailer (think log splitter or empty boat trailer).

FIX: There are lighter springs that can be purchased, and sometimes just removing a leaf from the trailer is enough to correct the issue.

Tire mounting

ISSUE: Ideally, you want a method of mounting the tires that (a) doesn’t scratch them, and (b) is easy and fast to load and unload.

FIX: Depending on your tire sizes and widths, you’ll have to get creative here. We’ve seen everything from vertical posts that two wheels slide onto, to welded metal tire racks.

Weight distribution

ISSUE: To get a smooth ride without any trailer wag, you want between 10-15% of the trailer’s total weight as tongue weight. This can become especially tricky if you have loads with varying weights (such as when carrying full fuel jugs to the track and empty jugs home).

FIX: Either (a) do some math and figure out the best location for each item, or (b) load the trailer and then add weight either before or behind the axle to get the correct balance.

Wheels/wheel bearings

ISSUE: Most small utility trailers come with tires and wheel bearings that are only rated to 55mph. The concern is, at higher speeds the bearings will heat up, push out the grease, and then seize. A quick Google search can show you the result of this happening.

FIX: Larger trailer axles and wheels can be easily purchased online for a relatively low cost. Alternatively, you can help the OEM bearings to survive by re-greasing them often and keeping your speed below the supplied speed rating.

Frame rigidity

ISSUE: A small, over-sprung trailer going down the road suffers from a lot of vibrations. We have heard stories of frames literally rattling themselves apart. This is unsurprising considering that the trailer was designed to be gently towed around town carrying flowers, and was made overseas for next to nothing.

FIX: We recommend stripping the paint, welding the frame together, and re-painting. Or at the very least, use Loctite on every fastener and check the fasteners periodically.

How Does the Leroy Engineering Elemental Compare?

When we designed the Elemental, we designed it to be dimensionally as close to an imported trailer as possible, but with all the kinks worked out:

  • One-piece welded frame
  • Frame powder coated, not painted
  • Wiring run inside frame to protect it
  • Automotive bolt-in wheel bearings
  • Tire and tool storage locations to automatically distribute weight correctly and give the right tongue weight
  • 81mph-rated tires on 12” rims
  • LED lights
  • Fast and easy E-track strap system for loading and unloading tires

So should you Build or Buy?

Hopefully, this guide will help you make an informed decision. If you’ve got the skills and resources to build a trailer, go for it! Come and show us; we always enjoy seeing what our fellow motorsport enthusiasts are up to! Or if you want to buy an engineered, turn-key system, just give us a call. We would love to get you hooked up and on your way to the track!

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