It’s buyer beware when you’re shopping for a used trailer, so be alert for any potential problems.
It’s time for you and your horse to hit the road, literally. You’ve saved up and decided that a trailer is in your future. To fit into your budget, however, it has to be a used trailer.
There are lots of great used trailers out there, and buying used can be a much more affordable option. But you have to heed the “buyer beware” mantra, so it’s best to be armed with a checklist of items to inspect.
Trailers aren’t like cars; they don’t have engines or transmissions and lots of moving parts to evaluate. So used trailers can be just as reliable and safe as new ones.
“They’re pretty much a box on wheels, and if you maintain them correctly, they can be 40 years old and still be great trailers,” said Frank DiBella of Frank DiBella Used Horse Vans Inc., a trailer dealership and repair shop in Pottstown, Pa.
When you’ve figured out what kind of trailer will fit your tow vehicle and your needs, it’s time to hit the Internet and the pavement. Searching online is a great first step to used trailer shopping, but there are other avenues, too.
“Sometimes the best place to buy a good used trailer is at your own boarding barn. Someone says, ‘I want to sell my trailer,’ and you know the people and the trailer and what kind of care it’s had,” said George Yered of Yered Trailer Sales and Service in Medfield, Mass.
The horse world is small, so word of mouth might be your most effective “trailer-wanted” advertisement. Just put the word out that you’re looking, and the perfect trailer might pop up.
There are also trailer dealers who have an inventory of used trailers. “It’s a good idea to buy a used trailer from a reputable dealer, someone you’ve dealt with before, or a dealer someone you know has referred you to. You might pay a little more, but you’re going to get more,” said Yered. “You need to consider the dealer’s reputation, and if they’ve been around a while, they’re usually good. If you’re not sure where to go, ask everybody in the barn where they bought their trailers.”
Trailer dealerships have inspected and repaired the used trailers on their lots and might even provide some kind of warranty. Frequently, the dealer sold that trailer as a new trailer, and it’s come back in as a trade-in, so they’ll know the service history. Buying from a dealer can take a lot of the guesswork out of evaluating a trailer’s condition.
But what if you found just what you want sitting in someone’s back yard? How can you know if it’s a good buy? Since the basic mechanics of a trailer are simple, you can tell a lot about a trailer yourself.
If the basics check out OK, it’s a good idea to ask permission to tow the trailer to a trailer repair shop or state inspection station to get a mechanic to check it out. Or, have a mechanically inclined friend look more closely.
“The best thing that anyone can do is the same thing they do when they’re buying a horse—get it evaluated by a professional, like a pre-purchase vetting,” said DiBella. “They should have someone, whether it’s a mechanic at a service station that’s a state inspection location or a trailer dealer with a repair shop, check the trailer to make sure it’s safe. We do safety inspections for people who are buying trailers all the time, even if they’re buying from somewhere else.”
“The biggest thing you want to think about, whether a trailer is new or used, is safety,” Yered said.
Here are the basics of what you need to know.
At first glance, does the trailer seem well maintained? Yered has some sage advice about looking at trailers from individual sellers.
“If you go look at a used trailer at someone’s farm, go look at their barn and see how they’ve maintained their barn. If the place is a dump—dirty, with fencing falling down—it’s a good clue that they’re not meticulous with trailer maintenance,” Yered said.
Go over the trailer’s exterior, making sure all the doors and windows open and close smoothly and easily. If sellers have attended to the small details like oiling hinges, there’s a good chance they’ve taken care of the whole trailer well.
Stand in the trailer stalls and see if the trailer feels comfortable, or if it makes you claustrophobic. Adequate ventilation is key to ensuring your horse is comfortable, so make sure all the windows and vents work. Check that the ramp lowers and raises easily.
Surface rust on the body of the trailer, as long as it doesn’t create a hole or threaten a weld, is more of a cosmetic issue than a problem.
The frame of the trailer is the metal structure underneath that supports the floor and box of the trailer, and it’s the first thing dealers inspect on a used trailer.
“You have to get underneath the trailer and look at the undercarriage to make sure the frame is structurally sound,” DiBella said. “Usually, it’s obvious to the eye if there is rust on a steel frame or corrosion on an aluminum one.”
Rust forms on steel, while aluminum corrodes by pitting, or small holes, in the metal’s surface. Any sign of rust or corrosion on the frame is a problem.
Checking the undercarriage of the trailer is especially important in regions that have severe winter weather; the salt used to treat the roads can accelerate corrosion.
It’s not enough just to check a trailer’s tires for a sufficient amount of tread, though that should be your first step.
Bald tires are of course not acceptable, but even a tire that looks new and roadworthy might be suffering from dry rot, especially if it’s been sitting on grass for an extended period of time.