While the debate over open versus enclosed trailer may continue, contractors agree on a few points: trailers last a long time if well cared for, and they are one of the least expensive pieces of equipment in the budget.
Sam Bobbitt, operations manager at Morris Nursery & Landscapes, a fully operational retail nursery offering grounds and landscape services in Jackson, Tennessee, has about nine trailers and uses open trailers to haul heavy equipment such as skid-steers, excavators and tractors.
Bobbitt will also use them to haul bulk material like pallets of stone and sod. They vary in size from 16 to 20 feet. He also has two smaller 5 by 8, two-wheel trailers.
Bobbitt prefers open trailers for the needs of his company but overall doesn’t favor trailers, due to the challenges they pose with backing up and keeping the taillights in working order.
“I really try to avoid using a trailer alltogether,” he says. “They’re a necessary evil.”
Like Bobbitt, Ben Stabler, fleet manager for Saluda Hill Landscaping, which has 83 employees in Lexington, South Carolina, uses the trailers to haul large equipment that will not fit in enclosed trailers. Stabler uses 20 open trailers ranging from 16 to 28 feet in length.
“With the way all our rigs are set up, an enclosed trailer would be much less efficient than an open trailer because of the hassle of the walls and the roof,” he says.
A Case for Enclosed.
Dan Thill, owner and president of Bladecutters Lawn & Landscaping has been using enclosed trailers for about 15 years.
“I was stolen from numerous times because you leave stuff on your trailer, so I eventually got into the cargo for the anti-theft,” he says.
Bladecutters Lawn & Landscaping is a full-service landscape company primarily serving HOAs based in Queen Creek, Arizona. The company has three employees and an annual revenue of $440,000.
Thill has three enclosed trailers, each 24-feet long. They are built to haul racecars but Thilll uses them to house all of his equipment, including larger items like a skid-steer and riding mowers.
“It’s just like a broom closet in your home. You have everything,” he says.
Thill hires a welding company to install custom interior organization racks for small tools such as weed eaters. Tie downs are used to keep large items like riding mowers from moving while in transit.
“Get rid of the open trailers because it’s peace of mind,” he says. “You spend a lot of money on your stuff and you want to keep it. You don’t want it getting stolen. Yeah, you have insurance, but it’s so much nicer to lock it up at the end of the day and not have to put things in and out of the garage.”
Security Measures Ease Minds.
At Morris Nursery & Landscapes, equipment is removed from trailers at the end of the day to take stress off the trailer.
The company serves both residential and commercial customers and employs 35 people with an annual revenue of $2.2 million.
Trailers are stored on company property in a fenced in lot, Bobbitt says.
“We’ll lock the equipment up if we leave it on the jobsite and typically, we will always bring the trailer back with us to the yard,” he says. “If we do happen to leave the trailer on the site, then we’ll block the front of the trailer with a piece of equipment.”
Saluda Hill Landscaping’s machines and trucks all have GPS units on them, so Stabler says theft is not a concern.
“There’s always somebody around, and it’s not like you’re sitting there out in the middle of the field and you can drive by and take it off,” Stabler says, adding that trailers are stored outside in a fenced in area with videotape surveillance.
For security, Thill uses padlocks on the trailers and wheel locks when the trailers are unhooked from the truck.
Because of their relatively low cost new, Stabler says he purchases trailers with cash.
“It’s not like buying a $50,000 piece of equipment; you’re buying a $5,000 trailer,” he says.
Most trailers used by Morris Nursery & Landscapes run between $1,500 and $8,000. And like Stabler, Bobbitt says he usually pays cash for open trailers because of their low price point.
Thill says his enclosed trailers typically cost a bit more at about $10,000. A smaller 14-foot enclosed trailer runs about $5,000, he says.
“I try to save for my retirement, so I usually live on credit and pay a monthly payment on a lot of things that I do own because you can usually write that off for business purposes,” he says.
Thill says he finances the trailers with a low or no interest rate through credit unions.
A long lifespan.
Once purchased or paid off following financing, trailers tend to last much longer than other equipment, contractors say.
“I still have my original trailer from 15 years ago if that tells you anything,” Thill says. “We don’t have the inclement weather that other folks have with the salt and the snow and ice. In Arizona, it’s a little different.”
Thill thinks his oldest enclosed trailer could last as long as another 10 years if well cared for.
Bobbitt says he hasn’t kept detailed track of how long the trailers last, but in general he says 15 years is expected.
Usually the trailer is overloaded over time, leading to a thin axle. Stabler says any part of the open trailer that can be fixed or rebuilt will be before calling it quits.
“We keep ours until they’re worn out. If the deck goes bad, we redo them. If the axles go bad, I’ll put new ones in. Unless we actually destroy a trailer, we don’t really ever get rid of them,” he says, adding that his oldest trailer is at least two decades old.
Maintenance extends life.
Whether open or closed, maintenance is key to keeping trailers for a long time, contractors say.
“Every Saturday, we walk through the trailers. We check tires, lug nuts, hub oil and hub grease, and just a general overlook of the trailer, smashed lights, things like that,” Stabler says. “Make sure you don’t have any cracks in your frame.”
It’s up to crews whether to wash the trailers or not, but with no road salt, washing isn’t vital, Stabler says. he spends about $10,000 per year to maintain the company’s fleet of 20 trailers.
“You’re going to have tires. You’re going to have some brakes. You’re going to have some lights. You’re going to do some welding. There’s always something. Boards have to be replaced,” he says.
Bobbitt says he has one employee that works as a mechanic and will tend to the trailers.
“He’ll get the trailers out and go through them and fix all the lights, grease the wheel bearings, replace the brakes on there and check the tires.
Take it and put new tires on it. Check the springs, the hangers,” he says, adding that is done about twice a year unless there is a major repair.
Thill says maintenance costs for the enclosed trailers is minimal. He may spend $1,500 annually, mostly on tires, wheel bearings, brakes and electrical wiring.