View Full Version : pros-cons: open vs. enclosed trailer

12-06-2002, 01:25 PM
looking at getting a one car bumper hitch Featherlite trailer. Besides cost, what are the pros and cons of an open vs enclosed hauler? TIA

12-06-2002, 02:12 PM
Open pros: Light weight, so it can be towed behind most larger vehicles/SUV's etc. Lower cost to buy, easier to sell when you get sick of it. Can be used for lumber etc. hauling when not in car-transport duties. Easy to hide in your back yard.

Open cons: Lack of storage space. If you're hauling a race car, it means that you probably have to immediately unload it when you get home. Lack of storage space. If you have an open car, or a race car with no windows (which is most of them these days...), you get a wet ass. Lack of storage space. Everyone wants to borrow it all the time.

Closed pros: Storage space for all your racer crap. Can be used as a garage when it's not at the track. All your stuff stays locked semi-securely inside, away from prying-thieving eyes. Doubles as a cabin/party center at the track. Storage space for all your racer crap. No wet ass at the track. Storage space. Nobody wants to borrow it, ever, 'cuz it's too freakin big and they don't have a vehicle big enough to haul it and backing it up scares the CRAP out of them.

Closed cons: Must have LARGE vehicle to tow. LARGE. You're not gonna tow a 22' enclosed with a Jeep Wagoneer, at least you won't if you want to live thru the experience. Does your budget include a LARGE tow vehicle ? Costs more to purchase an enclosed trailer (duh.). Harder to sell when you realize that you should have taken up bowling rather than racing, 'cuz people looking for enclosed trailers are generally more picky about options & config (ramp door ? beavertail ? length ? side door ? axle weight ? etc.). Your neighbors will be hacked if you leave it parked in your driveway all the time.

I currently own both an enclosed 24' and an open 18'. Both have their place in my fleet...different trailers for different tasks. Tell us what you want to do with it, what you're hauling and what you're hauling it WITH, and we'll give you more opinions, since we definitely have opinions.

12-06-2002, 02:55 PM
It will be used to haul a car (one of S4, 90q or Urq) to track events. And if the sickness really takes hold, to rally events. Tow vehicle is a Dodge 2500 HO Cummins turbo diesel with a GTW rating of 13,000 lbs.

Being in the northeast, the weather hits all the permutations. I see your point regarding the shelter benefits of an enclosed trailer. It sure would a nice place to hide gear and people from the elements. The idea of using it to store a car is great, especially if garage space is taken up by pieces of other cars. Fortunately, my house is not visible from the street so I don't get much grief from nosy neighbours.

With an enclosed, are some of the options like side doors really essential? Or is it cooler to drive the car into the trailer and get out of it Nascar style? How do you get a wrecked car back into an enclosed? Do you recommend sway control? Electric brakes on all axles and a break away system are must haves, I think.

My only towing experience thus far has been a 24' 6,000lb boat in the early nineties on a surge braked trailer. With it, I killed the posi diff and clutch on the Chevy Astro tow vehicle.

Your experiences and advice are much appreciated.

12-06-2002, 07:35 PM
If your going to track event. An open trailer is probably okay and what you want. If your going to a rally event, a closed trailer with room for spares, fuel tank, etc is something you should consider.

When I bought the rally car from Bruno. Included was a 24' enclosed Wells cargo trailer that used to be owned by Hoppen. It was pretty cool. Said ABT motorsports on the side. Bruno had it setup with mounts for extra tires in the front as well as a fuel drum. He had a powerfull wench bolted to the front of the trailer to pull in an injured car. The trailer had aluminum tire bolsters to keep the car centered and prevent it from rolling back and forth. It just made it a pain to get in and out. It was nice, but I cut the top off because I wanted a lighter trailer that was easier to pull and to get the car on and off. The cover was old and a bit rusty and needed paint so.. no loss. I think it looks hardcore homebuilt now.

Warren Wang
12-07-2002, 05:37 AM
Nice truck =) You can haul around anything from an open trailer (which is what I do) to a 20-22' tag along in the Dodge. You'll need an equalizer hitch if you're running something that big though, and it would be best if you had the long wheelbase (extended cab + long bed).

I have a friend that used to tug around a 22' behind his non-HO Cummins powered 2500. It did a good job, though you will feel it if you get buzzed by an 18 wheeler. He is sick though, and ditched it for a 3500 and bombed it out. It's got 940 lb/ft at the wheels... :0


12-07-2002, 10:10 AM
...or windshields, or more than 1 seat. So there :#)

Crashed/broken car into a closed trailer ? Make friends before you need them...

My enclosed trailer has a big honkin winch in the front for yanking stuff in, but I've only used it once and it's a PITA. It's easier to find 5-6 people and shove the car in. No matter what kind of enclosed car you have, you'll end up climbing out the window if you drive it in the trailer. The trailers with the street-side door for escaping driver give up too much structural rigidity, IMO. Forward curb-side door very important, as it allows access to storage without having to unload or climb over the car. I have a 48" wide curb-side door, as it allows me to load/unload the ATV first/last at the track thru the side door. Paddock transport is sometimes very important.

Ramp door, with extensions and a beaver-tail also critical if you ever contemplate a real race car, as wings/nose pieces/low suspension clearances make loading difficult otherwise. Even if this isn't in your plans, it may be in the plans of the person you will someday sell it not underestimate the value of that.

Sway control depends on the trailer and the tow vehicle, and you can add it later. You will want a load-equalizing hitch with an enclosed trailer, so plan on that for your truck hitch mount. You can't buy a new (legal) car hauler (open or closed) without brakes or breakaway anymore, so those aren't really options to decline. If you're getting an enclosed, make sure your braking system works perfectly all the time. Nothing sucks more than being pushed off a cliff by your trailer.

As you may have discovered, surge brakes suck. Try backing up a hill with surge brakes, if you don't know you have surge brakes. You have enough truck for probably up to a 22' or 24' enclosed. Most people try towing with too small a tow vehicle. They usually die young.

Towing year-round in the NE is an adventure. Make sure your tow rig is properly connected, tires properly inflated, brakes working, wheel bearings adjusted and lug nuts properly torqued before EVERY trip, and you'll save yourself a lot of grief.

Warren's just jealous that he doesn't have a Recaro race seat for the driver in his diesel tow vehicle. I've taught him everything he knows....I just haven't taught him everything I know....

12-08-2002, 03:47 PM

12-09-2002, 08:56 AM

12-09-2002, 10:08 AM
Hmm..and I originally started looking at open tag trailers.

Someone local has this for sale for under $7K:

26' Carmate, new tires, heat, air, observation deck, racer pkg, w/full wired lighting

Seems like way overkill for someone who is just starting down the garden path to ????? Probably needs a 3500 dually to pull safely.

To further demonstrate my ignorance, what's the difference between a ramp door with extension and a beavertail? I thought beavertails were the twin fold down ramps on open trailers, and a ramp door extension is that 2'-3' foot fold out thing at the end of the door/ramp to make it longer.

Warren, I tried to corner you at the Audi national event at Summit Point to pick your brain but you were constantly in and out of cars.

12-09-2002, 10:19 AM

12-09-2002, 11:53 AM
You can haul more crap around. Keep the crap you haul around out of the weather. A plain closed trailer attracts less unwanted attention than a bright yellow car with stickers and numbers on an open trailer. Also, I like racing in the rain, but I hate standing around in the rain.

Cons? Really it's price and storage. Oh, and that whole slippery slope thing with the options is true.

If I had a fleet of semi functioning vehicles, as John/TSR, I'd have one of each, 'cause sometimes it's just easier to throw a car on an open trailer and do a short trek with it.

We've been hauling this year with borrowed-from-Stasis enclosed 24' trailer (yes, with a weight distributing hitch). When we went out to nationals (Calif-to-Kansas and most of the way back), we figured the truck and loaded trailer was 17,000 lbs. I guess we need to start paying attention to those road signs about maximum vehicle weight. We're towing all this with a Chevy 2500HD. Diesel, definitely get a diesel.

If you've not read the popular series, Corey and Sharon's Adventures in Towing (TM, of course), please do a search. Lots of things to learn from there. :-/

12-09-2002, 02:35 PM
A 26' with all that crap has got to be well over 5K empty. Muy gordo, senor. Does it have axles for over 12K ? If it's got 10K axles, walk's a lightweight, masquerading as a big boy. Heat and air ? tennis courts ??!?! Does it have 'living quarters' in the forward end ? Observation deck is popular with the circle track folks, but how much can you see from the paddock at most road courses ? Answer: not much. Lots of cushy options, but they won't make you any faster.

What do they consider a "racer package" ? Multiple tie downs fore and aft ? Horizontal and vertical E-trak, so you can move tire storage around as necessary ? Tie downs for nitrogen bottles ? Generator compartment ? Benches ? In-ground swimming pool ? That sounds like a lot of trailer, and probably more than you need. Try and balance your 'wants' with your 'needs'.

FYI - Beavertail - a slight drop angle to the rear section of the floor, beginning somewhere behind the axles. This allows vehicles with very low ground clearance to be rolled into the trailer without 'high-centering'. Ramp door is one of those rear doors that folds down to become the ramp for the trailer. You can have a beavertail trailer with a ramp door and ramp extensions (I do !). The longer the door and extentions and the longer the beavertail inside the trailer, the easier time you have loading really low crap inside. Also FYI - you can buy an open trailer with a beavertail (I have one of those, too).

If you're just getting started (and it sounds like you are), my advice is to find an open trailer - new or used - that meets your needs. Get a big enough one (18'-20') so you can build a tire rack on the front and add a BIG locking storage box to hold tools/parts/crud on the very front. Live with it for a while. If you decide you want an enclosed trailer, you can easily get rid of the open one. You probably won't have more than $2500 into the open trailer, even if you buy it new. The 'delta money' is better spent on cars, parts, entry fees, restaurants and bar bills. Storage space shouldn't be that big an issue at first, since your tow vehicle has lots of space. My rule of thumb: Tow vehicle and trailer can NEVER cost more than the race car. This should be an inviolate, universal rule but I see people show up at tracks with a $10K race car in/on a $60K rig. Hmmm...they've messed up their sybiotic balance - their kharmic dissonance - their etherial flatulence....they've messed up something - "Whoa baby...towing is just to get there, but it's not the destination".

I raced for years with an open trailer. Got snowed on, got rained on. So what ? I still occasionally run off to a race weekend with minimal crap and a car on an open trailer, just to simplify my life. Better mileage on the tow vehicle, and gets me back in touch with my racing roots as "rat-boy racer". I didn't buy an enclosed trailer until I had a race car with no roof/doors/windows, and I then went shopping for an enclosed with a well-sorted list of things I needed. I'm probably 1-2 years away from looking for something bigger than my current 24', but what will drive it isn't creature comforts but rather eliminating an aging trailer (mine is a '96 and does 30+K a year) and more capacity (i.e. 2 cars, either a stacker or a loooong goose-neck).

For the time being, I'll ignore Sharon's crack about my "fleet of semi functioning vehicles", posted above. Humfpf. 4 of the 5 race cars in the fleet are currently in running, and tech-legal racing condition. How's that Rabbit that you and Corey and Spandex-boy own, Sharon ??? I hope you can hear the razzberry from 3000 miles away !!!!!!!!

- Yet another short bit of advice from TSR Labs, where your reality is kinda strange, but not anywhere close to how strange OURS is....

12-09-2002, 03:29 PM

12-09-2002, 04:13 PM
Yes, it is apparent that I am just starting out. Thanks for the reality check.

Aluminium or otherwise? I've been keeping an eye for ads over the past few weeks, most car haulers listed have been either the enclosed racer package version or the I-beam/angle iron with oak deck monstrosities. Dry weight on these things is probably more than the car. Most seem to have dual 3500lb axles, the heavier the trailer, the less the payload capacity.

New Featherlite open trailers start at ~$4K with no options. Trailex's are even more. And they don't have beavertails.

Am I looking in the wrong places?

Corey S
12-09-2002, 04:45 PM

Corey S
12-09-2002, 04:58 PM
To be honest with you, I haven't seen a single aluminum open trailer that I thought would last more than 2 or 3 years with frequent use. I checked 'em out quite a bit (yes, they do look flashy and nice), but the more I learned, the less I wanted one.

A friend we frequently caravan with, used one for the trip to Topeka last year, and I was less than impressed. It was one of the "nice" Featherlite open trailers, no beavertail, but rear pull-out ramps. He had his E46 M3 on there, and just the weight of the car made the decking of the trailer bow enough that you could see it. If you start loading up things like a tire rack and storage box, I don't think the welds would hold up very long! Not to mention if you tie down anywhere other than the 4 designated tow hooks, you bend the crap out of the rails.

They are definitely way overpriced.

If I were feeling rich, and spending $4k on an open trailer, I'd get one of those steel tilt-bed or kwik-load types. They are also a little overly expensive, but are nice if you have a really low car.

<a href="">Jim-Glo tilt-bed</a>
<a href="">Kwik-Load</a>

If you can find a decent used steel trailer, even with wood decking for $1500 or less, probably worth it just to get used to it. You won't lose a lot if you get rid of it in a couple years when you decide what you really want.

12-10-2002, 07:28 AM
Are you looking in the wrong places ? Yes.

Everyone here in the northeast seems to have "Econo" brand trailers, built by Dively. I bought mine years ago, but I know they're still around and have a big dealer network. There are other manufacturers with similar trailers, too.

Mine is an 18' open deck (no wood decking, just steel ramp sections). It has a beavertail, fairly long pull out loading ramps (not those stupid 'ladder-style' loading ramps), 7000 lb. Dexter axles...a really solid open trailer. It weighs around 1500 lbs. empty, so that leaves you 5500 lb. load capacity before you start to push it. It pulls straight and comfy, been from Canada to Florida to Maine to Missouri etc. with it, and never had a problem. They're still available new for around $1800, IIANAAP. 15's are a little cheaper.

Aluminum ? You're not worried about GVCRWRCVWRWetc., since you've already got a diesel tow vehicle. How much money will you spend to save 700 lbs. trailer weight ? If you ding it or want to mod it, you've got to find somebody with a TIG welder. With a steel trailer, you can fix it yourself with a cheap 'tombstone' stick welder or a MIG. Aluminum is great for beer cans and airplanes, but not my preferred material for car haulers.

12-10-2002, 09:04 AM
I have paid my dues...I had to rebuilt TWO BMW engines...and am spending a bunch on the Miata...AND I own an open trailer..a tow vehicle...AND I don't wear spandex anymore....

"raspberry right back at ya"

12-12-2002, 06:03 AM
How bout them hydraulic tilt bed trailers versus a beavertail non-tilt flat bed? Which one is easier to load and unload a vehicle (operating or dysfunctional)?

With ramps, assuming a 20"-22" deck height, what minimum length ramps are needed for a low enough approach angle for low riders?

Thanks again.

Warren Wang
12-12-2002, 06:54 AM
I have 4 foot ramps. I hate them. I have to extend them with 2x10's. Don't try this in the snow w/ Hoosiers...


12-12-2002, 12:22 PM
No. You don't want one of those tilt-bed trailers. You'll have the same loading issue with it, but in the other direction (i.e. no high-center, but you'll take your air dam off). They're a lot more expensive, too.

I've put everything in my race fleet, with the exception of the ultra-low ground clearance sports racer that's only 2.75" ground to frame rails / 1" ground to front fibreglass skirt, on a beavertail open trailer. I need 6' boards to get it into my enclosed trailer, even with a 6' ramp door and beavertail. I know people who load ultra-low clearance formula cars and low sports racers on open trailers, with and without beavertail. They simply have to have a couple of 2x10 planks that are 6-8' long, and maybe crank the tongue jack up a few turns to reduce the angle. Let's see...that's about $10 at Home Depot.

You unload your vehicle once per event. You load it once per event. Total elapsed time for both these functions is about 5 minutes, including tie-downs and a beer break. What is it you're trying to avoid doing ? I've got a friend in Trans-Am who has to use wood planks to get his T/A car onto the lift-gate of his semi hauler at every race. Plain old pine...not even hardwood.

Don't over-think this.

12-12-2002, 01:40 PM
Gotcha and agree, keep it simple, less to break or go wrong. Just wanted to make sure I don't shoot myself in the kneecap by getting something that other people have discovered is a pain in the grass. Thanks.

- Felix

Corey S
12-13-2002, 08:09 AM
That's exactly what I hate. I hate having to setup more than two pieces to get the car off a trailer. Left ramp, right ramp, that's it. Less would be even better. One thing I learned on our first trailer (a loaner from my dad), was that using the steel ramps plus a couple long 2 x 10's was a total pain in the arse. And it was even worse when the weather was less than ideal. Then you gotta find a place to tie-down those darn planks when you're on the road...

Plus, if anyone else needs to borrow the trailer (or whatever), they'll never figure out how to do it right without doing some damage first.

Easy-access tie-downs are also important. For example, I like the fact that Steve's little open trailer is really low, and has a decent beavertail, but the front tie-downs are located such that the ratchet ends up underneath the car. It makes it a pain to tighten under a low car.

All of this still makes a good argument in favor of an econo trailer. Get an inexpensive one that's reasonably low, with a beavertail, then spend a little extra money to have a few custom things done to it (or do it yourself).

Ok, there's my last $0.02. :-P

12-13-2002, 08:25 AM
Corey - you need 'ratchet reducers' -;Store_Code=RW&amp;Product_Code =GF-D1058&amp;Category_Code=Trailer+%26+Towing

I've got'em on all my straps (3 sets of 4 !) and it solves that problem.

Tie-down points or mounting rings are never in the right place. That's why a steel trailer is better...'cuz you can just blitz a new mounting point on where ever you want one.

My ramp extenders live on the tongue of my open trailer, crosswise, in the tool box that's mounted up there. Either do that, or weld a couple of pieces of channel in the center, between the diamond plate, and drill them for hitch pins. Then drop your boards on the channels and drop/clip the hitch pins in.

Ain't towing fun ?<ul><li><a href="">Racer Wholesale - look under towing stuff for ratchet reducers</a></li></ul>

Corey S
12-13-2002, 12:12 PM
Pretty nifty. Wouldn't help on Steve's little open trailer (only a 16' bed), and we don't need 'em in the 24' enclosed. Those would probably make someone's life easier.

I just wanted to give a couple more examples of what to look for in a trailer. I guess I'm pickier than you! :-P

But yes, all this says that steel is a better way to go than aluminum!!

12-13-2002, 01:14 PM
Is that a really big pickup truck in your sig, or is that one of the special "Clown Car" Audi's made specially for the circus clown market ? And does it come with a big red rubber nose ?

12-13-2002, 02:05 PM
yes, that's our tow rig.

Corey S
12-13-2002, 02:11 PM
I didn't check the box for the "red rubber nose" option, tho. Hehe.

Are you getting ready for some ice racing yet?