Spec’ing a trailer

Max Kvidera | September 01, 2010

Reduce cost per mile and increase payload by choosing lightweight materials that don’t compromise durability. And don’t forget features that will help at resale.


Factors like maintenance expenses, longevity and handling ease play vital roles in getting what you want in a trailer. You won’t realize low cost-per-mile if your trailer breaks down, is expensive to maintain or can’t handle your type of loads well.

The heavy-duty aluminum floor reduces weight in this plywood-lined Utility 4000D dry van. The floor carries a 16,000-lb. fork truck rating.

Knowing definitively what you intend to transport, where you plan to work and how long you intend to keep the equipment will help you balance price with projected maintenance costs. Smart choices will keep your operating costs low and your resale value high.


Know your application

At spec’ing’s core is understanding your application, says Jerry Richardson, product specialist at Wabash National. For example:

• Hauling heavy-footprint products, like paper rolls, requires higher floor ratings.

• Applications with additional equipment, like automotive racks, require interior designs that protect the trailer from damage during loading and unloading.

• Loading cycles can vary greatly – from weekly to multiple daily loads. The greater the frequency, the faster the equipment wears.

Dan Giles, director of engineering for Fontaine Trailer Co., recommends you consider your trailer’s versatility, spec’ing the size, model, style and axle and suspension configuration so you can run the trailer in several states, as well as in Canada.

For example, if you intend to haul in California, you should be aware of laws that involve trailers. California is the only state that has an axle spacing law that requires a distance from the king pin to the rear axle be 40 feet or less. In other states, 43 feet is typical. “We and other manufacturers build a 53-foot trailer with a 40-foot axle setting,” Giles says.

Or you may want to consider spec’ing a sliding axle, Giles says. That will give your trailer the versatility to meet standards in California and other states.


Minimize maintenance

Spec premium quality for components, such as long-life brake linings, wide brakes, long-life wheel ends and seals, recommends Brian Buckham, program manager for Hendrickson Trailer Suspension Systems. “They tend to last longer and they don’t break early,” he says. Many operators “don’t want to make the initial investment, but it usually pays off in reduced downtime.”

Hendrickson’s Intraax suspension integrates the trailer axle into the beam, reducing the number of parts that can wear out.

Controlling corrosion will also reduce maintenance worries. You’re reducing cost per mile and maintenance costs by spec’ing special coatings that protect trailer parts, Buckham says. For example, some trailer manufacturers offer galvanizing to protect door frames, hinges and the entire sub-frame.

Spec’ing any system that eliminates wearable parts will minimize maintenance. Buckham gives the example of an early model air ride suspension that had a separate axle that was welded and attached with a U-bolt. Today, Hendrickson’s Intraax suspension integrates the axle into the beam with no wearable parts on the axle connections.