Trailering Your Corvette

Written for the Vettenet.

by Mike "Doc" Cobine corvettedoc@geocities.com

There is always the struggle of whether to drive or tow your Corvette. This is not about the merits of either, but simply some information about towing that will be helpful so that you can tow safely. The primary purpose of a towing rig is to get your car and all of your gear to and from the place you are going. It is nice if it is comfortable, is pretty and attracts attention, and is nice with homey surroundings at the show or race, but all of this is a waste of time and money if you end up sitting on the side of a road halfway there or if the rig breaks and the trailer goes off into a ditch or into another car. Equally so, your trip is ruined if you find it stops about halfway inside the car in front of you. Read all of this carefully before you buy anything and consider that you are driving potentially anywhere from 8000 lb. to 15,000 lbs. down the highway at speeds of 65 mph. This is not like driving the Corvette or some 2500 lb. import car. This is serious business and should be approached that way.

Trailer

A Corvette is a heavy car. Never mind that it is fiberglass, most Corvettes weigh between 3000 pounds and 3600 lbs. As such, they must be handled the right way or your trailering experience can be very traumatic and expensive.

You need a trailer that is capable of hauling at least 4000 pounds. If you are racing or autocrossing, you may be hauling more than just the car. For example, tires and wheels, fuel jugs, and tools. You may wish to add air compressors and generators and that means more weight to haul. A single axle trailer is far too light and can be far too unstable to haul a Corvette on so consider only dual axle trailers, no matter how good the deal is on the single axle.

Terms you need to clarify when buying a trailer are trailer length, trailer weight, and trailer load. Usually, a trailer is described as 15 foot, 25 foot, and so on. This refers to the bed length, not the overall length. A 15 foot open trailer will have a bed that is 15 foot long and a tongue on front that adds from 3 to 4 feet, making the overall length 18 or 19 feet. This is important to know so you do not exceed length restrictions in some states and when you are checking the room for storage of the trailer. Many people advertising a used trailer will mistakenly use the overall length.

The trailer weight is the empty weight of the trailer. It is not the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). The GVWR is the maximum weight of the load and the trailer combined.

The load weight of the trailer is the amount of weight the trailer will hold. This is different from the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) which is the total of the load and the weight of the trailer combined. A trailer with a GVWR of 5000 lb. can hold a 3000 lb. load if the trailer empty weighs 2000 lb.

Open or enclosed

Open trailers have many advantage over enclosed trailers. The first is the ease at loading and tying the car down. You can get to the car from any angle to reach tie downs. Second, open trailers are lighter, and offer less drag when driving along at 65 mph on the highway. This means less strain on the tow vehicle and better gas mileage. Third, open trailers are more easily hidden in the back yard next to a fence or hedge than a big enclosed trailer, meaning it is less likely you have to find an separate storage area in which to keep the trailer.

Enclosed trailers have the advantages of being an extra garage. When you are not racing, showing or whatever with the car, you can leave it inside where it is protected from prying eyes, kid's tricycles, and the weather. It also offers this protection on the highway and at motels on the way. You also find that all extra gear and tools you take can be stored inside and not take valuable space inside your tow vehicle.

Tag Along or Fifth Wheel

Until recently, most trailers were what are now called tag-alongs. This is the standard hitch on the back of the tow vehicle near the bumper and the towing point is a few feet behind the rear axle. Some instability is inherent in this design but typically acceptable. With much larger trailers being used, the fifth wheel design has become very popular. The fifth wheel is similar to the tractor trailer method of attachment, where a section of the trailer hangs over the tow vehicle and rests on a ball that is mounted above the rear axle of the tow vehicle. This is the most stable method and provides better weight capacity. A drawback is that a pickup truck is required and usually one that is a 1 ton rating. With the ball in the center of the bed, the bed of the truck must remain empty of any load you might haul there. You cannot use a camper shell on the truck with a fifth wheel.

Brakes

No matter which trailer you chose, you must have the proper safety equipment. Most today come with brakes. Brakes are required by law in most areas for any combination over 3000 lbs. Since the weight of the Corvette alone is 3000 lbs or more, you must have brakes on the trailer. You should have the safety break-away switch that activates the brakes should the trailer break away from the hitch. You must have safety chains that keep the trailer behind you should the hitch break.

Whether you chose electric brakes or hydraulic surge brakes will be a personal choice. Each have advantages. Surge brakes require no power from the car so can be hauled by different vehicles easily but only work going forward. If the car brakes fail, the surge brakes cannot be activated to slow you down. They must be pinned to prevent activation when backing the trailer uphill. Electric brakes will work like your regular brakes and can be used separately in the event of a brake failure on your car. They are more complicated and require an electric controller to be installed in the car. They also require a connection to the car wiring and they require a separate battery in the trailer to make the break-away system work.

Hitches

Most trailers will be heavy enough that you will need an equalizing hitch platform. These are made by Reese, Draw-Tite, Valley, Quality-S, and others. I will not go into the merits of any brand but I will say that one of my Quality-S weight bars broke on the second time I used it and they would not replace it. I later found out they had defects with that item and still would not replace it. My Draw-Tite and Reese systems have never had a problem. Friends using Valley report the same good service.

With an open trailer, you will need typically either the 500 lb or 750 lb bars. With an enclosed, you will need the 1000 lb bars. You may wish to use the sway prevention slider bars. These attach to the hitch and adjust the tension on a slide to keep the trailer tracking straight rather than swinging back and forth. Much sway is caused by too much weight is in the rear. Some sway is caused by tow rig combinations in that the length from the ball to the rear axle of the tow vehicle is very long and induces sway. Older Suburbans are typically known to have this problem.

The ball is very important as it is the only thing that keeps your trailer hooked to the car. Balls come in three main sizes of 1-7/8, 2, and 2-5/16 inch diameter. You need a 2 inch ball for most open trailers and the 2-5/16 ball for most enclosed trailers. A 1-7/8 ball is for utility and small boat trailers and will not handle the weight of a car trailer and car. The balls also come in various weight ratings. Be sure that you check the rating, stamped on the top of the ball, to be sure it is larger than the load and trailer weight. If not, the ball could break.

Axles

With a Corvette, there is no question that you must have dual axles because of the weight. If you are reading this because of concern for hauling other cars, then you must consider the weight of the car you are hauling. Single axles work well with light loads and light cars, such as formula race cars and some sprint cars. But they are less stable and more prone to fishtailing if the loading is not right. If the tongue is too light or heavy, handling is much more affected.

If you are hauling multiple cars, such as some very long trailers, the need for three axles is quickly evident in the weight that must be handled. Most trailers are manufactured today with these thoughts in mind and few will try to get by cheap with inadequate weight handling.

Weight Management, Or Balancing the Load

The worst mistake most people make is loading the weight in the wrong places and having the tongue either much too heavy or far too light. Either way is an invitation to an accident. We have already discussed equalizer bars but they are an aid, not a cure.

The big thing is having the weight where it should be to start with. With some trailers, you have enough room to move the car forward or backward to get the weight set. You want to have about 10 to 15 percent of the total weight on the tongue and hitch. Check with the trailer manufacturer or manuals to see what they recommend first. If that information is not available, use the 10 to 15 percent value.

With a Corvette on an open trailer for a total of 4500 lbs, you need 450 to 675 lbs on the tongue. With a Corvette in an enclosed trailer for a total of 6000 lbs, you need between 600 and 900 lbs on the tongue. You can also see this is not a job for a lightweight tow vehicle.

Too much weight can make the tow vehicle sway and lift the front wheels so that steering and braking are affected plus possibly straining the capacities of the hitch. Too little weight can make the trailer fishtail and cause severe handling problems at any speed over a crawl.

There are a few ways to determine how well you have the weight balanced.

First you must find a public scale and weight the trailer with everything inside that you normally haul. Then you have a total weight. After that, get a scale to read the tongue weight. You will have to disconnect the tow vehicle from the tongue and have the trailer level to read it accurately. Then move the car and equipment to where the tongue weight is in the 10 to 15 percent range. Mark where the car is located and hook the trailer back to the tow vehicle without the equalizer bars. Measure how high the hitch is from the ground with the trailer connected and this will be a good guide that you are close in future loading. Then use the equalizer bars to pull the trailer level again.

Another method is to estimate the weights. You should know the weight of the car and the trailer empty so you can use a bathroom scale to weigh everything you put inside or on the trailer. Then you will know the approximate total weight. After that, use a lever and a bathroom scale to find out the weight on the tongue where the ball hooks up. The typical bathroom scale is 300 pounds capacity so a 3:1 lever can give you up to 900 pounds of tongue weight. A 4:1 lever gives you 1200 pounds to measure. After setting up the lever and scale, move things inside or on the trailer to get the weight to the 10 percent value.

If you do not have a scale, measure how high the tow vehicle hitch is from the ground. Hook the trailer to the tow vehicle without the equalizer bars. Measure how high the hitch is from the ground with the trailer connected. If it is more than a couple of inches lower than the empty height, move the load until the height is only about 2 inches lower. This will be a fair guide that you are close in future loading. Then use the equalizer bars to pull the trailer level again.

If after you use any of these methods, you experience any swaying of the trailer, first check that all tires, axles, and hitch connections are good on both the trailer and the tow vehicle. Then try moving the car forward or backward slightly on the trailer to eliminate the sway. When it is eliminated, mark that spot and use it in future loading.

The first method is by far the best.

Tires

Tires are a critical item on any trailer. If you buy a new commercially built trailer, most of these problems are solved for you. If you buy a used trailer or one built by a home or small builder, you need to be more concerned. Always keep them inflated to full values and never run them low to soften the ride. This creates severe heat and usually tread separation.

Tires come in various ratings. You should stick with a trailer rated tire of a heavy load range. These are designed to haul heavy loads on the open highway. Using passenger car tires is a poor practice and one that frequently finds the owner on the side of the road with a shredded tire. Be sure the load rating of each tire is the same as the weakest link in a chain still holds true. Also, be sure that the maximum load rating of all tires is much higher than the load you are hauling. For example, if you have a 1500 lb trailer and a 3000 lb Corvette, you have 4500 lb load. The tires must be 1200 lb rated each to handle it and they will be stressed almost 100% so tire failure is probable. It would be much better to have a 1500 lb tire rating as this is a 6000 lb capacity and gives you a good margin of safety as the tires are at only 75% of their maximum capacity.

Some older trailers used mobile home axles and tires. There is basically nothing wrong with this, as many have done so very successfully for many years, but you must keep the tires inflated to the full value and not run them low to soften the ride. This is true for any tire, actually. If you have problems with the Mobile Home tires, as indicated by the MH in the size, you can get a Load Range F Low Boy tire that fits those rims. This tire is designed for highway usage and long hauls and will hold up to the use on a car trailer much better.

Securing Your Car on the Trailer

Obviously, you can't just park the car on the trailer and haul it down the road, although some people treat it that way. You need quality tie downs to secure the car both front and rear so the car does not move. Most people do not use enough. Recently in an accident, I had one 3000 lb. tie down snap from the force. You should always use two from the rear and two from the front. Do not use 1 inch wide motorcycle straps found in discount stores to hold down a car. They may say they have a 2000 lb rating, but you need a 2 inch wide 3000 lb. rated strap on each corner to be safe with a Corvette. Most good quality 1 inch wide motorcycle straps are rated at 1000 lb. only. Remember you are considering saving $50 or so and jeopardizing your $20,000 or more Corvette. The straps one either end must exceed the total weight of the vehicle. Some experts recommend 1-1/2 times the weight of the car for the straps, so a 3000 lb. car times 1-1/2 = 4500 lbs. of straps minimum. If you have a 2000 lb. car, one 2 inch wide 3000 lb. strap is the minimum to use. It is better and safer to to use two for 6000 lbs. of holding power.

Straps should be tight and connected so they do not pop off from the car bouncing. Pull them tight enough to pull the suspension slightly tight. You should have a strap at each corner of the car, connected to something solid such as the frame down to a solid mount on the trailer such as a crossmember or a properly installed tie down ring. The strap should be between 30 and 60 degrees angle to the floor. Do not tie the car straight down as you need to support the car from forces forward and backwards. Each strap should go from a point on the car outward to the trailer, so that they are 15 to 45 degrees to the axis of the car. These angles are not hard and fast rules but general enough that the main concern is not to have straps straight down or straight back.

Some tie down companies are making tie downs that strap over the tires and to the trailer. These are very good for light, delicate vehicles like Model T Fords or Formula Fords and Continentals, where connecting to the frame of the car and pulling tight is hard to do or would damage the frame.

Insurance

Most auto insurance policies do not cover trailers if they are larger than a single axle utility trailer or boat trailer. Check your policy carefully. If you need a rider or your policy does cover it, the policy usually covers it only with liability insurance, meaning the insurance will pay for what your trailer damages of other people's property, but not what it damages of yours. If you want coverage for the trailer and the contents inside, there are some insurance specialty companies that are offering contents and trailer coverage.

Tow Vehicle

The tow vehicle is one of the most misunderstood vehicles around. It must be strong enough to handle the load, powerful enough to move the load at normal speeds, and stable enough to do this safely. While there are some people who will hook a 30 foot long travel trailer to an old Datsun pickup truck, this is not a wise thing to do. Some of the questions below will help you decide what you need. Most of this is in response to questions about hauling a Formula Ford race car, but the principles still apply to those hauling Corvettes. With a Corvette, remember that you must handle 3000 to 3500 lbs of car and from 1500 to 3000 lbs of trailer, depending on what you have. This dictates a truck with adequate engine power and suspension weight ratings. You can't tow a Corvette with an Integra. I've seen Corvettes towing Corvettes, but in my opinion, that is not very wise either due to braking and weight handling needs.

- I wondering if I can pull a Formula Ford on a trailer with my - 1988 Integra? The car has about 115 HP, I suppose.

Maybe. As a previous message said, check what the manufacturer's recommended towing rating is and how much they advise. For a FF, you should have a very light trailer and FF (no need for the 3 axle 10,000 lb construction trailer). Still other things to consider, how many miles are on your car, the condition of it (brakes, transmission, radiator, engine, shocks, springs, etc). All of these get strained a bit more by towing than normal driving.

See below about trucks and rentals to figure out if you want to even bother.

- Should I replace the shocks on the Integra first? (Never replaced in - 80,000 miles.) Should I install stiffer springs in the rear?

Yes. Helper springs probably, too. Of course, the Integra is probably too light to haul anything anyway.

- FF weighs about around 850 lbs., I think. Don't know what a trailer would - weigh. Add some for tires and tools. All this wouldn't be over 2000 lbs., would it?

It depends on what you haul, but just the FF could go on a fairly light trailer, single axle, and maybe around 1000 lbs. This brings the weight to 1850 lb. A tire rack and a tool box all adds weight, and unfortunately, in the wrong spot as typically these are added on, not designed into, the trailer and thus there is extra tongue weight which is weight that pushes your bumper into the pavement, and the front wheels of the car off the ground. Some compensate by having the car as far back as possible, but you must maintain about 20% to 30% of light trailers weight on the tongue or the trailer will be very unstable to pull (wanders). And aluminum trailers are not lighter. The Ryder aluminum trailer is 1760 lbs. The U-Haul steel version is 1650 lbs, the last time I checked these.

- Would two axles on the trailer be necessary?

Not if the axle is rated at least 2000 lbs or more for a total trailer load of 2000 lbs such as the light trailer and Formula Ford. Typical 3" axles are 3000 lbs. Also check the rating of the tires. You do not want to exceed or even be close to the max rating. If you have a 1100 lb tire on each side, a 2000 lb trailer load is close and can cause premature tire failure, especially in summer. Better to replace the tires with a 1500 lb rating. If you are hauling a big car, like a Mustang, Camaro, or Corvette, you definitely need a dual axle trailer.

- Would brakes on the trailer be necessary?

Depending on the tow vehicle. A single axle and FF behind your car needs brakes, considering you add 2000 lbs to a 2500 lb vehicle and your brakes now have to stop 4500 lbs, far above what they were designed for. If you tow it behind a 3/4 ton vehicle, with a empty weight of 4500 lbs and a GVWR of 7500 lbs, you now have a 6500 lb vehicle with a 1000 lbs to spare, so brakes wouldn't be needed. If you are towing any trailer that the combined load and trailer weights exceed 3000 lbs, many states require the brakes by law.

- Should I just sell the Integra and buy or rent a pickup truck?

If the tow vehicle is too light for the load or marginally close, it can make towing a real pain and take all the enjoyment out of racing. Probably your best bet is to forget the Integra as a tow vehicle unless you decide to tow karts, and go to a vehicle designed for towing.

Unfortunately, CompuServe's format does not lend itself to going back and seeing messages that are months or years old, as there was a long discussion of all the pro's and con's of this about a year ago there.

Many are stuck with vehicle restrictions due to apartment rules, parking limitations, etc. and so they have a daily car and can't have a tow vehicle. Most daily cars today are extremely poor as tow vehicles, unless you use a Suburban as a daily driver.

The best bets are to get a separate tow vehicle, one set up to handle the load of the trailer (even as light as this FF will be) and also handle the chores of hauling your tools, spares, and race gear. It sounds simple at first, just hauling a race car to the track, but as time goes on, you add spare parts, tires, rain tires, gas jugs, tool boxes, bigger tool boxes, lawn chairs, awnings, car covers, jacks, stands, and so on.

This brings you to things like older full size station wagons (no new ones built anymore), SUVs, vans, pickup trucks, motor homes, and such. What you get depends on your needs and budgets.

Typically, people get SUVs to use as daily driver and occasional tows. The SUV will work on a light car like the formula cars and even on some light sedans like IT race cars, but on larger cars, like a Camaro or Corvette, the typical SUV is not built heavy duty enough.

Vans

Vans have lots of storage and buying an older one can be had cheap. They provide inside protection of gear at motels and at the track from rain, weather, and prying eyes and fingers. They also provide the "poor man's motorhome" for camping at the track. Available in 1/2, 3/4, and 1 ton ratings, they can easily tow a lightweight FF and can tow heavier vehicles, depending on the size of the van. Basically, you can use a 1/2 ton for light cars and light trailers, 3/4 ton for heavy cars and open trailers, and 1 ton for enclosed trailers. I have seen older Dodge Maxi Vans (the extended ones) modified to have the FF inside the van, so there was no trailer.

The custom vans with bay windows and extended roofs are typically poor tow vehicles except for light loads, since the custom interiors are quite heavy and use most of the load rating capacity of the van. One should work fine with a FF and light trailer, but would be more strained with a dual axle and an A/S Camaro or a stock Corvette. Most suffer from lack of interior room to store large items like tires, tool boxes, and spare parts. the extended roof versions do make a nice area to spend the night and give room to easily change in and out of a drivers suit. with addition of helper springs, these can tow a Corvette on an open trailer, but they should be avoided if attempting to tow an enclosed trailer unless they are ordered new to do just that.

Cube vans - typical known as commercial vans and delivery trucks. These have lots of room and can be set up as a permanent storage and shop for the tools, gear, and even the FF. Problem in some neighborhoods as they look commercial. They can eliminate the need for the trailer, tough. Typically these have at least 1 ton ratings and are geared to haul heavy loads.

Sport Utility Vehicles - SUV

Most SUVs seem to be good with nice interiors, 4wd, etc, but typically they are sprung light for a nice ride so the load of a trailer makes the back sink low. Typically, they are with small engines for gas mileage and have a hard time hauling the weight. Exceptions are older (full size) Blazers, Broncos, Ram Chargers, and Suburbans. Suburbans are confusing in that their 1500 series (1/2 ton) is actually a 3/4 ton truck chassis and the 2500 series (3/4 ton) is actually a 1 ton truck chassis so they are capable of hauling heavy loads.

Pickup trucks, including Crewcabs and Duallies

Pickups - about the same as vans if a cover is used, but not as secure. Prices vary but can be found cheap. There are a multitude of options available in pickups. You can get them in 1/2, 3/4, and 1 ton versions, with 2 wheel or 4 wheel drive, with club or extended cabs, in crew cabs (2 seats, 4 doors), and with dual rear tires and you can get them in combinations of these options. The 1 ton Crewcab Duallies are superior tow vehicles and can use a fifth wheel for gooseneck trailers for very stable towing. These are typically what you see towing 30 foot to 45 foot trailers with two cars in them and some living quarters in the front of the trailer.

Motorhomes

Motorhomes. Great to have for eating, sleeping, and so on, but notoriously slow at hauling down the road and costs are much more. If you think the economy of a truck with a 6000 lb. load is poor, try a 4 mpg motorhome pulling that same load. Still, you have no motel bills and you have your home with you all day long at the track or show. And anyone who has ever made an all-night tow to some show or track can appreciate stretching out on a bed rather that huddle against a pillow on a door while another driver drives down the road. At the show or track, you can nap in comfort while others seek non-existent shade. Typically, motorhomes have generators to provide electricity for air conditioning, tools, air compressors, fans, microwave, and more.

Engine Choices

Towing a car and trailer requires more than the econo, high mileage EFI 4 cylinder. You have easily added 2000 lbs. of weight with a FF and single axle trailer and you have added 4500 lbs. easily or more if you are hauling a Corvette on an open trailer. If you go to an enclosed trailer, you will find that loading tools, gear, spares, and more will bring you quickly to the 8000 lb. area of weight. You must have an engine capable of producing some torque.

The first choice is easy, you need a V8. Under the right conditions and the right vehicles, you can get away with a V6 but you are limiting yourself in many ways. The next choice is size. If you plan on driving this vehicle daily or even often, a 350 cid is not a bad choice. It can haul a large trailer and still do so reasonably. If you are only into long hauls across the country, and you are not into driving this vehicle every day, then move up to the 454 or 460 as they will be more at home on the long highway hauls. You can also consider the diesel engine options. They offer lots of power and good economy, which is not part of the 454/460 option. They are sluggish and don't have the snap most are used to with a gas engine, but they do have advantages of long life, good economy (relative to hauling trailers) and very good power. Opinions of fellow racers are that the new Dodge Cummings diesel is perhaps the best with Ford second. The GM/Chevy diesel is considered a poor third.

Modifications and Additional Equipment

If you are buying your tow vehicle new, consider ordering any towing packages that are available. typically these offer lower rear axle ratios, heavier duty radiators, transmission coolers, oil coolers, stiffer springs, heavier shocks, and sometimes a factory wiring harness to the trailer.

If you buy used, as most racers do, check for this equipment on any prospective vehicles you examine. If it is not on the vehicle, consider adding a transmission cooler, oil cooler, helper springs, airbag springs,, heavier alternator, and heavy duty flashers. If the radiator is marginal, consider replacing it with a new or a slightly larger (if factory available) size as towing and fighting overheating engines can ruin any trip.

Renting a truck

Renting is a very viable option, which most do not explore. U-Haul has pickups in some areas they rent for roughly $19 a day. These will easily haul that FF and trailer and have room to haul gear. Consider a 3 day weekend per race times 5 races per year and you have $300 per year. Can you buy a truck for that amount, considering insurance, maintenance, etc? Also, these are new trucks, with PS, PB, AC, and the works, typically. Nice and comfortable so wives/girlfriends will be more likely to join you than if you bought an old truck with taped vinyl seats, no air, and a lot of rattles.

Bigger U-Haul/Ryder/Hertz/etc trucks. Depending on what you find, many will handle a FF inside, so you don't even need the trailer if you figure out a ramp system. They provide all the shelter and room for tools, storage, etc. About double the pickup, but still roughly only $600 per year.

A lot to consider and one that only you can decide.

Remember, the one purpose of a tow rig is to get you, the race car, and gear to the track and back. If you have to worry about it doing that, it isn't right. If it fails to do that, it isn't good.


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