Buying a Pre-owned Horse Trailer
By Kevan Garecki
For most folks in the market to buy a horse trailer, the thought of signing a five figure cheque is terrifying. Buying pre-owned is one alternative, but there are many additional and important factors to consider when buying a used horse trailer that could affect your horse's safety.
If any of the cross-members or hitch components are sagging, cracked, or broken, walk away. Broken or cracked wall supports or roof bows can be welded, but ask yourself: “Why did they fail in the first place?” Surface rust can be controlled, but if the corrosion has eaten through a panel, I would scratch that unit off my list too. That rust hole is the one you can actually see – what’s underneath that you can’t see?
The costs to repair or replace dividers, doors or hatches, cracked window panes, and worn floor mats can mount up quickly. Note what must be replaced or repaired, add a secondary list of what should be replaced or repaired, and then price it out. A 15-year-old trailer can require double the purchase price to get into serviceable condition.
Pull up the mats and inspect the floor boards very carefully. Pay particular attention to the edges and ends of the floor, as this is most commonly where you’ll find waste matter and moisture that has collected over the years. If you find a board that appears soft or rotted, determine how deep the rot goes. “Surface” rot is just that – no more than the depth to which you could press the edge of your fingernail. Anything more than that means the board should be replaced. If you can tackle this sort of job yourself, count on spending up to $4 per linear foot for pressure treated two-by-six flooring. Labour at a shop can be almost triple that cost. I seldom recommend replacing just one or two boards in an older unit. If one is rotten, I would opt to rip them all out. Re-flooring a two-horse straight-haul can cost anywhere from $600 to $1200.
Tires can be a significant expenditure, with prices at anywhere from $135 to $280 per tire. This is one place where quality doesn’t cost, it pays. Get the best you can afford. Never use passenger car or light truck tires on a horse trailer. They are not designed to withstand the stresses placed on them by a trailer.
Older trailers are frequently plagued with inoperative braking systems. To completely refurbish the brakes usually requires bearings, brake shoes, drums, and hardware. This can run $350 or more per wheel. With taxes you can spend over $1500 just for brakes! It’s common for 12- to 15-year-old trailers to need this much work to be safely roadworthy.
Electrical issues can also short-circuit a budget. Burned out lights are not a problem, but ancient wiring can be. When in doubt, replace it. It’s no fun dragging your trailer home from a horse show at 10 pm with no marker lights, or stepping on the brakes only to find the trailer brake wiring just went up in smoke. I recently rewired an older two-horse straight-haul. After replacing the lights, wire and cables, break-away switch, battery, switches, and connectors, I spent just over $300. Taking the trailer to a shop to have all that work done would have cost double that amount.
Cosmetic work can be expensive, so unless the unit is already in good structural condition, you may elect to limit this to doing only what’s necessary to prevent further corrosion. The cost of stripping and repainting a three-horse angle-haul can range from $1200 to $4000, so this decision depends on your personal tastes and budget.
If it’s feasible to rebuild a used trailer, you can’t go wrong by doing it properly. You’ll have the peace of mind that your trailer is safe and comfortable for the horses, and enhance its resale value.
Main Article Photo: Buying used may seem like a more affordable option, but safely restoring an older trailer to roadworthiness can often cost more than double the purchase price.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Canadian Horse Journal as part of "Choosing a Horse Trailer."