Types of Trailers for Cars You Should Know About

According to MarketWatch, the average new car costs $40,000. Chances are, you don’t spend that much some something you don’t care about.

That’s why the prospect of transporting your car can be stressful. It’s reasonable to want to make the best decision. Nobody wants to move across state lines, only to discover that their car was damaged, or worse, en route. 

At the same time, you don’t want to over-spend on car transport. Fortunately, you can learn how to balance your budget while keeping your car(s) safe. 

Discover the differences between different types of trailers for cars. Then, learn which car transport methods are right for your vehicles. 

What is a Car Trailer?

A car trailer is an unpowered vehicle that carries cars or trucks. Since its unpowered, haulers must attach a trailer to a car or truck for transport.

Some trailers are enclosed containers. Semi-trucks pull these trailers.

Others are open. Flatbed cargo haulers pull open trailers.

Vehicle Securement

Haulers secure transported cars on a trailer to keep them safe during transport. Securement prevents jostling and damage at different traffic speeds, abrupt stops, and during loading and unloading. 

Car haulers use tie-downs that redistribute securement pressure while limiting movement. Typically, ratchet straps made of polyester webbing serve this purpose.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandates high safety standards. Professional car haulers must meet these standards when securing cars to appropriate trailers.

Engineers design enclosed trailers with different securement systems than open trailers. But, while different, both systems prevent vehicle damaged en route. 

Types of Trailers For Cars

You can categorize trailers for car transport in a few different ways. First, we’ll make a distinction between tow-dollies and flatbed trailers. 

Then, you can further divide flatbed trailers by attachment. These are the methods engineers develop to connect different types of trailers for to motorized vehicles.

Finally, you can group vehicle transport trailers by whether or not they’re enclosed or not. Both open and enclosed trailers can carry different-sized loads safely.

1. Two-Wheel Tow Dollies

A two-wheel tow dolly is a short, two-wheeled trailer. The FCMSA considers a tow dolly enhanced towing equipment. It encompasses two wheels, an axle, and a tongue.

With a ball hitch, a driver can attach a tow-dolly to any towing vehicle. But, for safety, the towing vehicle must weigh 750 lbs more than the vehicle cargo. 

To tow, the driver mounts the two front wheels of the car they intend to transport on the dolly. The cargo vehicle’s other two wheels roll along the ground. 

2. Tow-Dolly Risks and Limits

Tow-dollies pose more risks than trailers do. An improperly loaded dolly may whip. Whipping is a dangerous, uncontrollable sway. 

If you transport a car with a tow-dolly, you risk damaging the car. Specifically, dolly transport poses risks if the car you’re transporting has:

  • low-hanging underside equipment
  • a low or modified suspension
  • rear-wheel drive

This transport method can drag or expose these cars’ undersides. If you choose to use a tow-dolly, follow all instructions to secure and reinforce the vehicle cargo. 

Otherwise, choose a different method. In general, a tow-dolly is best over short distances. 

3. Flatbed Trailers (Haulers)

A flatbed trailer is the more common car hauler vehicle. A semi-trailer, hitched to a semi-truck, has two axels and dual-tire hubs. So, it has eight wheels.

But, a large tractor-trailer can have up to eighteen wheels. An eighteen-wheeler can haul multiple cars at once.  

Professional haulers classify trailers by hitch type. Each car trailer hitch uses a different design to connect to the tower. 

4. Receiver Hitch Trailer

You attach a receiver hitch by bolting it onto the underside of the towing vehicle. Typically, a hauler will attach the receiver hitch to the truck tractor’s chassis or a towbar.

The receiver hitch has a tube. A hauler may attach a ball mount to the tube. The receiver hitch’s tube varies in width depending on the hitch’s class.

A commercial cargo trailer can haul ten-ton loads. As such, receiver hitch tubes in this class are 2 – 2.5 in diameter. 

5. Weight-Distribution Hitch Trailer

A weight distribution hitch shifts the point where the towing vehicle takes on the weight of the trailer. This eliminates the risk of whipping or swaying.

This hitch type reduces the wear and tear on the towing vehicle. It also reduces the ratio of the gross trailer weight (GTW) to tongue weight (TW). Reducing this ratio increases total capacity. 

A weight-distribution hitch uses spring bars, frame brackets, and a shank that slides into the trailer hitch. It attaches to a receiver hitch.   

6. Pintle Hitch Trailer

A pintle hitch connects the trailer to the truck tractor with a tow ring. The tow-ring latches a hook or secures a ball combination.

Pintle hitches are industrial strength. A high-grade commercial hauler may use a pintle hitch. 

7. Gooseneck Trailer

Open trailers often use gooseneck hitches. This strong hitch has a long, arched “neck” component on its front end. A gooseneck hitch is a popular option for a livestock flatbed trailer.

A gooseneck hitch secures the attachment with a ball and coupler. A hauler can mount a gooseneck hitch either under or over the bed. With these mounts, the ball doesn’t obstruct the cargo space when the trailer is in transit. 

8. Fifth-Wheel Trailer

A fifth-wheel hitch uses a “u”-shaped attachment mechanism. It couples with a kingpin to secure the trailer to the towing vehicle. 

Fifth-wheel trailers primarily attach to pickup trucks. These trailers rest their payload on the pickup truck’s bed. So, the truck carries the load as if it’s an extra wheel rather than towing the load. 

These trailers are strong. Most can bear up to 30,000 lbs. But, they have limited utility without a pickup truck. 

Enclosed vs. Open Car Haulers

Enclosed trailers and open trailers can both carry vehicles. Enclosed trailers keep cargo safer from the elements. But, an open car trailer costs less. 

Consider a few tips to determine what works for you. Each option offers nuanced pros and cons. 

Open Auto-Transport: Overview

In the United States, open trailers are standard for hauling vehicles. Multi-vehicle open trailers are by far the most common.

Open trailers can transport cars safely and efficiently. Cars are secured to the trailer bed. Their sides are exposed.

Highway debris and weather may pose a risk to exposed cars. So, some commercial haulers cover cars with tarps. 

Typically, transporters categorize open trailer options by how many cars the trailer carries. So, you may choose from three trailer styles. 

1. Single-Vehicle Open Trailer

Some haulers call single-vehicle open trailers “hotshot trailers.” Most hotshot trailers use a gooseneck hitch. Typically, they only carry cars a short distance. 

That said, a flatbed trailer with a high load capacity can transport a single car. In this case, it’s critical to secure the vehicle completely. It’s also vital to ensure the towing vehicle weighs at least 750 lbs more than the trailer. 

2. Single-Level Multi-Car Trailer

Many professional car-hauling services use these trailers. A single-level multi-car hauler loads cars single-file. It requires a semi-tractor pull.

Most single-level trailers carry up to six cars. Or, they pull up to two small RVs. These trailers often use gooseneck or weight-distribution hitches. 

3. Multi-Level Car Carriers

A multi-level car carrier is a pintle hitch trailer. These carriers load cars on multiple decks. Haulers access the second level with in-built specialty ramps.

Typically, using an open, multi-level car trailer is the most cost-effective transport option.

Enclosed Auto-Transport: Overview

Enclosed car carriers are a luxury option. They completely cover a car during transport.

This protects the car from dirt, debris, and inclement weather. Unlike tarp-protected cars, enclosed trailers cannot come loose and expose cars to the elements. 

This total coverage is expensive. So, it’s typically only worthwhile for truly high-end cars. 

Many enclosed car carriers use trailers with built-in securement systems. In the United States, E-track and L-track are both popular securement systems for enclosed car haulers. E-track is more industrial, while L-track has greater versatility.

Hard-Sided vs. Soft-Sided

A soft-sided enclosed trailer does not have metal sides. Instead, the sides are polyurethane-vinyl curtains. Typically, these curtains are accordion style. 

When the curtains are raised, the hauler has more room to secure each vehicle. This lets loading and unloading go smoothly.

However, hard-sided enclosures are thoroughly sealed. This completely protects cargo from dirt and debris. 

1. Enclosed Single-Level Multi-Vehicle 

Enclosed single-vehicle trailers are few and far between. So, in most regions, a single-level multi-vehicle trailer is the least expensive enclosed option.

Now, you do not need to supply all cars in a multi-vehicle trailer. A cargo hauler may accept shipments from multiple locations. 

A hauler loads vehicles into the enclosed trailer one at a time. They are stored in a single file. There is no second level in this trailer.

2. Enclosed Multi-Level Multi-Vehicle

The final option is an enclosed, multi-level, multi-vehicle trailer. In the United States, these trailers are also loaded single file. 

Some multi-level trailers utilize deck ramps. But, currently, most of these trailers use hydraulic lifts. These lifts raise the vehicle so the driver can load it into the first or second level.

Car Trailer Considerations

Once you know what type of trailer you want to haul your car, consider other elements. Ramps, trailer size, and materials all affect how a car shipper carriers your vehicle. 

Tilt Trailer vs. Ramp

A tilt car trailer has a slanted bed. This makes it easier for a hauler to load or unload a car gradually. This is particularly useful for low-clearance vehicles.

Flatbed trailers solve this problem with ramps. Today, most professional-grade car haulers have built-in ramps.

Many ramps use hydraulic power to extend and retract. This gives cars an incline when loading and unloading. Yet, a hauler can secure the car to the flat trailer surface for transport. 

What’s the Best Car Trailer Size?

The best car trailer size can carry your vehicle safely. Classic cars typically weigh more than contemporary vehicles–although not always. 

Weight Specifications

To determine the best car trailer size for you, keep track of a few specs. Then, you can compare across trailers. The details to know are:

  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)
  • Gross Trailer Weight (GTW)
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
  • Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR)
  • Maximum Payload Capacity

The GVRW is the maximum load heaviness a trailer is capable of carrying. To find a trailer’s maximum payload capacity, subtract the trailer’s weight from the GVRW.

Make sure the car you want to transport doesn’t exceed this capacity. This is particularly critical for a single-car trailer.

When using a multi-car trailer, each transported car should not weigh more than the payload capacity divided by the total number of cars. 

Size Options

The length x width of the car trailer is essential. Trailers that are too long can be hard to tow. Long trailers risk whipping.

But short, narrow trailers make loading and unloading cars challenging. Even a small car hauler requires a buffer. Without a space buffer, a hauler may scratch or ding vehicles in this process.

A small car trailer may be 8’x16′. But, many are larger.

A multi-level trailer and an enclosed trailer also rate height. Often, an enclosed car trailer’s interior will be six feet high. 

Choose a car transport service with a size range that works for your cars. 

Steel vs. Aluminum Car Trailer

Engineers have designer car trailers out of aluminum and steel. An aluminum car trailer weighs much less than a steel one. So, it’s often a better choice to stay within the legal and functional weight limit. 

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) prohibits vehicles with a gross weight of over 80,000 lbs. And, no cargo hauler may set over 34,000 lbs on a single axel group.

Low-weight aluminum trailers help haulers stay legal–and safe. Moreover, aluminum lasts longer than steel, as it doesn’t rust.

But, steel trailers cost less than aluminum ones. For a single-car trailer, aluminum may be a better bet.

Interestingly, steel and aluminum trailers are equally strong.

Pure steel is more robust than pure aluminum. But, aluminum car trailers are technically an alloy of aluminum and other trace metals. This blend offsets aluminum’s comparative weakness. 

How Many Cars Fit on a Car Carrier?

A typical car carrier service transports five to nine cars at once. This is in the United States, of course. In China, double-decker car haulers carry up to twenty-four cars.

Get Car-Shipping Quotes Today

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Then, we search car-shippers across the country in real-time. This way, you find the rates you want in seconds. Ready? Get quotes now