The exciting part of the process of owning a Featherlite specialty trailer begins after you take delivery. You start interacting with prospective customers at events or trade shows. You increase your work efficiencies. You have a new space with more storage to work on your race cars. No matter the function, you’ll be ready to start using your trailer. But first, there are a few things to keep in mind as you get ready to deploy your new trailer.
What do you need to tow your trailer and who can drive it? The answer depends on your trailer.
If your trailer is a 53 ft semi trailer, you’ll need a full size semi tractor to pull it, something with at least a 400 hp diesel engine. In most states, drivers are required to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to operate one on public roads. Your local heavy truck dealer can help you specify one that will suit your needs. A critical dimension for selecting a tractor is the back of cab to king pin dimension, called swing radius. At Featherlite, you get a special drawing showing this dimension.
If you have a gooseneck trailer or bumper pull trailer, you’ll likely get by with a smaller tow vehicle, but the maximum rated towing capacity of the tow vehicle must be at least as much as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the trailer. The GVWR, which Featherlite provides you, is the total weight of the trailer plus the maximum amount of payload it can safely carry without overloading critical weight bearing components like axles, tires and frame. The tow vehicle manufacturer determines the towing capacity of the tow vehicle. They will also provide a maximum combined GVWR for the tow vehicle and the trailer (GCVWR). These will usually be found in the owner’s manual as well as a manufacturer’s website.
Medium duty trucks bridge the gap between pickups and semi tractors. Your local truck dealer can advise you once they know your trailer GVWR.
In most states, a CDL is required if the combined GVWR of the tow vehicle and trailer (i.e., GCVWR) is 26,000 lbs. or more.
Registration and License Plates
A new trailer is registered in its home state. The MCO is surrendered in exchange for its first title. License plates can be purchased from the state of registration. Typically there is no sales tax on semi trailers like there is on your car. However, most states have a diesel fuel tax. In addition to paying the fuel tax in your home state, a fuel tax permit must be obtained whenever crossing the border into another state. But, if less than 25% of the miles driven are outside of the state of registration, you can apply for an apportioned license, in which the tax is paid to the home state, which then shares it with other states. Additional fuel permits are not needed with apportioned license plates, but drivers need to keep mileage records.
Everything flexes a little, including your trailer. For that reason, trailers need be leveled for stationary use, especially if you have slide-out expansions, large doors, canopies or stages.
Leveling is the very first thing that should be done after unhitching the trailer. It will be important to include leveling legs in your design. Leveling systems come in automatic and manual versions. The automatic systems are computer operated, automatically activating the hydraulic leveling legs until the trailer is level. They also have a manual override in case you want to bring your own four foot level and do a little fine tuning. Manual operation systems are similar but without the computer. You have push button control of each leg, but you need to decide when it’s level.
Caution: Leveling legs are not landing legs. Landing legs are two heavy duty legs with pads that crank down mechanically to support the front end of the trailer when it is not resting on the tractor. When a driver backs up to the trailer to hook up, he’ll move the tractor slowly backward until the king pin hits the end of the slot in the coupler on the tractor. Sometimes the impact can move the trailer back a few inches. Landing legs are designed to withstand that. Leveling legs are not. They are designed to go up and down but not to withstand sliding horizontally, i.e., forward, backward or sideways, with the weight of the trailer on them. That’s a good recipe for bending the hydraulic cylinders and incurring an expensive repair bill. Coupling and uncoupling the trailer should only be done when the trailer is resting on the landing legs, not the leveling legs.
Another caution: Uncouple the tractor before leveling, even if the tractor is not moved. The hydraulic cylinder in the leveling legs can exert a lot of force, enough to lift the trailer as well as the rear of the tractor. If the driver does not uncouple the hitch before leveling, and the leveling legs travel significantly to level the front of the trailer, the trailer king pin will also be lifting up the rear of the tractor along with it. This will result in the rear of the tractor partially hanging from the king pin, with its weight suspended from the front of the trailer. It only takes a few seconds to pull the lever to release the king pin, even if you don’t move the tractor.
If you have plumbing in your trailer, or anything that will be damaged if it freezes, you’ll need to watch out for cold weather. Before going into freezing weather it’s important to drain all the water from the plumbing system. If you have a gen set, remember to check the coolant for cold weather, and if you plan to run it in cold weather, use a winter blend fuel if it has a diesel engine. You might also consider lighter weight engine oil for winter use.
Batteries and Storage
Vehicle batteries are most commonly the sealed lead acid type (SLA). It’s the nature of new SLA batteries to gradually discharge about 5% per month if left unused/uncharged, even if nothing is connected to them. This is called the self discharge rate. The self discharge rate will likely be higher if the batteries are left connected, even if everything is turned off. If you plan to store the trailer over the winter, it’s a good idea to disconnect the batteries but also be prepared to recharge them, if necessary, when you want to use the trailer again. If your trailer is equipped with a charger powered by 120 volt power, you can plug it in ahead of time to let the battery(ies) charge.
Service & Maintenance
It’s a good idea to have your trailer in for annual maintenance and inspection. Here are some key items in general to keep in mind:
- Service generator
- Check air conditioning
- Check plumbing
- Service lifts/liftgate
- Check brakes
- Check bearings
- Check suspension
- DOT inspection
- Check all under structure
- Check shocks
- Check roof
- Check batteries
- Check all power converters
- Check all lights – 12 volt and 110 volt