Grading and excavation contractors have plenty to worry about. They need to make sure that they are bidding fairly on jobs, offering a solid price but not shorting themselves needed profit at the same time. They need to offer proper training to their crewmembers and make sure that they are equipping their job sites with the right vehicles and machinery. They need to keep construction deadlines in mind, and invest in new technology that helps them operate more efficiently.
It’s little surprise, then, that contractors sometimes take shortcuts when it’s time to purchase the trailers they need to haul their heavy equipment to and from job sites.
But despite how busy they are, contractors who put little thought into their purchase of trailers are only hurting their bottom lines. The manufacturers who make and distribute construction trailers say that contractors owe it to their businesses to put the same amount of thought into buying a trailer as they do into purchasing graders, dozers, and compactors.
“I think it is safe to say that some contractors consider buying a trailer as a necessary evil,” says Charlie Guest, manager of sales and special projects with BWS Trailers. “They need the trailer to move the equipment that they, in their mind, are making their money with. What they don’t sometimes realize is that if they choose the right trailer, it, too, can make them money.”
Here is what Guest means: Contractors might invest more in a higher-end trailer, spending maybe an extra $5,000 or $8,000 for it. That contractor might use the trailer to move its equipment to a road-construction project. Once the project is done, that same contractor can then use the same trailer to move equipment for a smaller contractor that hasn’t invested in its own trailer. That smaller contractor will pay a much-appreciated fee to the contractor who does have that higher-end trailer.
If the trailer is large enough, the contractor can move whatever equipment its new client needs transported, anything from a tractor to a combine. And the contractor can do this when it doesn’t have other jobs going on. It’s a way for the contractor to earn an extra bit of money from a trailer that might have cost more upfront but is versatile enough to generate an additional income stream.
To Guest and other manufacturers, purchasing the right trailer comes down to several key factors: Contractors need to consider what equipment they are hauling, where they are hauling this equipment to and from, and whether they need a trailer that is versatile enough to handle several different types of hauling jobs for them.
Several Factors to Consider
Finding the right trailer is, in many ways, about being organized. Rodney Crim, vice president of sales with XL Specialized Trailers in Manchester, IA, says that to find the right trailer, contractors need to know the weight and dimensions of all of their equipment. This way they can make sure that the trailer they do buy has a high enough overall capacity to handle the loads it will most often be carrying.
Contractors must also understand the road regulations in the states in which they will be hauling. Depending on the service area of a contractor, this can be a bit of a challenge. Contractors will have to do their research.
If they skip this? They could run afoul of state regulations, and that can come with hefty fines.
“Different states have different regulations,” says Crim. “Checking with the state’s Department of Transportation office is the best way to understand the rules in each state, and to make sure that the trailer can legally haul the needed shipment.”
Guest agrees that contractors who do this research will be rewarded when they invest in their trailers. They’ll end up with the trailers that best fit the needs of their business.
“If someone calls me directly asking about a trailer and wants a price, that contractor needs to first look at all the variations of loads and equipment the company will be carrying,” he explains.
“Versatility is key on a capital purchase like a trailer,” explains Guest. “Contractors have to look at their jurisdictions, too. Where will they be operating the equipment? There are different regulations when it comes to trailers from state to state. It’s different, too, if they are operating in Canada, than if they are operating in the states. Contractors need to be aware of these regulations when they purchase a trailer.”
For Dave Simpkins, southeastern territory manager for Globe Trailers, contractors need to take a long look at what equipment they are going to be hauling on a regular basis. “There are so many different models of trailers that fit everybody’s needs and equipment,” he says. “Some trailers are made for light equipment, and quick loading and off-loading. Then, there are trailers that are engineered and designed to handle the heavy loads. Some trailers have tall deck heights, and then there are trailers designed for the tall loads that have very low deck heights. You always need to spec your trailer to the biggest piece of equipment you tend to haul with it.”
Shane Zeppelin, marketing manager with Towmaster Inc., says that this research can prevent future problems. Some contractors, for instance, might only consider the size and weight of the equipment they plan to haul on a specific trailer.
But that’s not enough research. Contractors also need to consider what attachments they might be hauling with that equipment. “Without considering the entire payload, they could quite easily overload a trailer that was not designed to haul the weight capacity,” he warns.
For Zeppelin, there are five key questions that contractors need to ask when buying a trailer:
- What are they hauling?
- What is the payload or weight that they plan to haul?
- What is the vehicle that will be doing the towing?
- What type of hitch do contractors need?
- What type of brakes do they need?
“Those answers will determine the style of trailer and load capacity they require,” he explains. “Then, they can decide what type of ramp they need, if they want a stationary or tilt bed, and if they want other options like pallet fork holders or spare tire mounts.”
Heavier Loads on the Way
Buying the right trailer is all about anticipating future needs. Guest recommends that contractors not purchase a trailer that is already near capacity for the loads that these contractors plan on hauling. Instead, contractors should look at what they might be purchasing and hauling for the next 12–13 years.
Contractors need to remember, too, that basic grading and excavation equipment is continuing to get larger in size. Contractors, then, should consider buying a trailer that’s a bit larger than what they think they need today.
“Equipment will grow,” says Guest. “Whether you are looking at agriculture, mining, forestry, or road equipment, all equipment grows. Contractors need to keep that in mind when making a trailer purchase.”
As an example, Guest points to combines, which, whether manufactured by John Deere or Caterpillar, are steadily increasing in size.
Guest says, “Everything is getting larger, trailers need to be able to handle this larger equipment. They need to be able to transport equipment that is heavier, taller, and wider.”
Crim sums it up: “Basically, equipment keeps getting bigger, and trailers have to accommodate the larger sizes. To make these accommodations, we have not just had to make trailers stronger, but also more specialized.”
As an example, he points to his company’s Step Deck Expendables series of trailers. These trailers come with rear deck heights as low as 28 inches. XL also offers single-axle power boosters that can scale an adjustable amount of weight without forcing operators to change shim packs.
Other Factors to Consider
Once contractors know the size and capacity of the trailer that works best for their business, they can then consider the other factors that will help them find the ideal trailer for their business.
Contractors can start this process by considering the features that make hauling certain types of equipment easier. For example, some trailers are designed specifically with extra room in their rear decks and wheel areas for an excavator arm and bucket. This is important for contractors who need to use these tools in their daily business.
Other trailers have low-incline ramps in the back that fold and unfold hydraulically. This makes it easier to haul items like man lifts and forklifts.
Contractors must also factor in the conditions in which they are usually working and the distance that their trailers will travel from job to job. “The distance and terrain a trailer is going over can also dictate what trailer works best,” says Crim.
For instance, a hydraulic, detachable gooseneck-style trailer works well for companies that load and unload multiple times in one day. That’s because such trailer necks can be detached and reattached quickly. For contractors loading and unloading often, these quick-detaching necks can save a significant amount of time during jobs. This time can add up, and help contractors boost their bottom lines each year.
But what if a contractor will be moving its trailers through rough terrain on a regular basis? In such cases, contractors might consider a trailer that has special features to accommodate these more challenging work environments. Trailers that offer an easy alignment guide to help the neck hook up without problems would be appropriate for rough terrain.
Again, the easy alignment guide can save contractors a significant amount of time. And this can, in turn, save these same contractors a significant amount of money.
Considering all these factors might seem like a lot of work and time. And it’s true that contractors should put in the same amount of research when they are buying a trailer as they would when they are buying any other piece of construction equipment.
But those contractors who do the research will greatly boost the odds that they will end up with the right trailer for their company, one that helps them haul equipment and loads more efficiently and at the lowest daily cost.
In good news for contractors, the manufacturers of trailers are continually looking to new technology to make them safer and more versatile.
This new technology can help customers who today are dealing with heavier loads and larger pieces of equipment. “We’ve found that innovative design can overcome lots of our customers’ hauling challenges,” says Crim.
Technology has also made trailers less frustrating for contractors. He points to electrical systems as an example.
According to Crim, contractors today can easily tell what each electrical and hydraulic line on the trailer is, because XL installs these lines only after painting the trailer. XL also provides a seven-year warranty on the electrical harnesses that come with all of its trailers. That way, if something does go wrong with a trailer’s electrical components, contractors will be covered for a longer period of time.
XL also offers what Crim calls a plug-and-play light system. When a light goes out on a trailer under this system, it is easy for contractors to access and replace it.
“That makes changing out a light easy,” says Crim.
Changes such as these are appreciated by contractors. Simpkins says that in past years, electrical problems have always been a challenge for trailer operators. Weather conditions often meant that electrical parts quickly became corroded.
That is changing today. Companies such as Globe Trailers rely on sealed electrical wiring harnesses to protect wires from the elements. Globe also uses LED lights that are completely sealed, too.
“We definitely don’t see the frustration with electrical issues like we did in the past,” says Simpkins.
Paint is also an issue that has bedeviled operators in the past and continues to do so today. Weather and salt from roads take their toll on the paint and metal of trailers. That’s why companies such as Globe Trailers powder-coat all of their trailers.
Technicians first sandblast the metal of Globe trailers down to near-white to remove all the dirt and oil. They then powder-coat these trailers by applying a zinc-rich primer coat followed with a gloss top coat. This is a better approach then assembling the trailers first and then wet painting them. Under this more labor-intensive method, technicians coat the trailer and all its pieces separately, and then assemble them.
“Powder-coating is an expensive way of painting a trailer, but it adds to the protection and gives the best overall finish,” says Simpkins.
Safety matters, too, of course, when it comes to trailers. After all, the most important resource that contractors have is their workers. Employees who are injured on the job cost contractors money.
That’s why manufacturers like BWS Trailers rely on air technology to boost the safety of their products. Air-powered trailers reduce the high risk of back injuries associated with manually operated ramps. As Guest says, 75% of workplace lost-time injuries are associated with back issues. If operators can rely on air to lift their trailers, they won’t have to worry about straining their backs with manually operated equipment.
Guest describes BWS’ air technology as “clean and green.” The company does offer standard hydraulic pumps in its models. But it also offers air-detached trailers that lift with air technology and place less of a strain on the environment.
“If you can go with air-detached, I always recommend that you choose that instead of going with hydraulics. It is easier and better for the environment,” says Guest.
BWS Trailers also offers trailer models with lower deck heights that weigh less. These features, too, reduce the risk that workers will suffer injuries that will keep them off work sites.
BWS isn’t the only manufacturer developing lighter trailers today. The weight of trailers has steadily changed over the years. Today’s trailers tend to weigh far less than their counterparts of just five years ago.
This is a benefit to customers, who, Simpkins says, always want trailers that are as light as possible but can still handle heavy loads. “We’ve been engineering and reengineering our trailers to meet these needs,” says Simpkins.
Globe Trailers invested in a Catia three-dimensional (3D) design software program that allows the company to run a finite element analysis, better known as an FEA. This predicts how a product will react to real-world forces such as vibration, heat, fluid flow, and other effects. The goal is to predict whether a product or part will break or wear out under these real-world forces or perform as designed.
“By having that ability, we are able to see where we over-engineered our trailers and also where we needed to strengthen our trailers,” says Simpkins.
The Importance of Maintenance
If contractors sometimes take trailers for granted when it comes to stocking their work sites, you can imagine that they often do the same when it comes to the preventative maintenance of these important pieces of equipment.
According to Guest, maintenance is of critical importance when it comes to trailers. Contractors who want their trailers to last for years, will regularly check the air pressure of their tires and perform routine checks of bearing fluid levels. Doing this will reduce the chances that trailers will lose a wheel or wheel bearing. The bearings will also be less likely to overheat.
Simpkins offers his own bit of simple advice to operators and owners: Don’t forget to inspect your trailers before you load them. “Just like you’re taught when applying for your CDL license, a pre-trip inspection can be critical,” says Simpkins.
Contractors should pay particular attention to the grease points of trailers. Some trailers will have more of these points than others. Pintle trailers, flat beds and step decks only have a few grease points. But RGN lowboys, hydraulic trailers, and sliding-axle trailers all come with several. This last group of trailers also comes with more moving parts and hydraulic cylinders. It’s important for operators to make sure that the pins on all trailers remain greased at all times.
Simpkins recommends that operators regularly inspect the steel and welds of their trailers to make sure that they don’t have any cracks or breaks. “Catching defects in the steel can be crucial,” he says. “A large break or crack that goes undetected could be catastrophic and could cause serious injuries and/or death while carrying equipment down the roads.”
And the most often overlooked inspection on a trailer? Simpkins points to tire pressure. “Having low pressure in the tires causes tire blowouts and bad tread wear,” he says.
Operators each day should perform a full-circle check of their trailer equipment. They should check trailers’ electrical systems for functionality. And, of course, they should give their trailers a regular washing. “Every piece of equipment, whether your personal car, agricultural equipment or a trailer needs a wash every once in a while,” says Guest. “That is always a good thing. By washing it and exposing everything, you might find something that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.”
Unfortunately, this fairly simple step is one that many contractors and operators neglect. It’s easy to see why: Contractors are busy, and so are their operators.
But keeping a trailer clean can extend the lifespan of trailers by years. “One simple tip many overlook is keeping the trailer clean,” says Crim. “The salt and chemicals from the road can be really tough on the paint and parts. A simple power wash every few weeks can help your trailer last longer.”
Crim, too, recommends that contractors put a preventative maintenance program in place for their trailers. This process should include monthly inspections to make sure the trailer and all of its parts and components are road ready.
Zeppelin adds that one of the most important maintenance steps that contractors can take is to make sure that they are loading their trailers properly and not forcing them to carry too much weight.
“Contractors can get the most life and longest service out of their trailers by simply taking the time to properly load their trailers and make sure the payload is evenly distributed over the suspension,” says Zeppelin. “They should never overload their trailers. They should make sure that the tire pressures are properly maintained and that the axle hubs are properly lubricated.”