Skid steers are the workaholics of every equipment fleet. Not just satisfied with dig-and-load operations, skid steers often find themselves doing double-duty on a daily basis. Running hundreds of different attachments gives these tool carriers great flexibility on a project, which is essential with today’s ever-demanding contracts and customers. One morning your skid steer is hauling dirt and gravel, the next afternoon it’s cold planing asphalt or trenching for utility lines. 

Being a do-it-all machine, skid steers are constantly on the road to the next jobsite. And it’s safe to say that the machine’s added flexibility means nothing if your crews can’t transport your skid steer safely and on time. That’s why towing and hauling best practices are so important when moving an important piece of equipment. Strapping down your loader, double-checking vehicle weight ratings, keeping up on trailer maintenance and driving like a professional will only add to the efficiency and production of your crews out in the field.

That’s why picking the perfect skid steer trailer is paramount to finding an efficient towing package. Selecting the right trailer for the job always begins with identifying the dimensions, weight and loading characteristics of the piece of equipment you will be hauling — in this case a skid steer. Today’s skid steers are classified into nine categories by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). They’re classified by rated operating capacity, which is 50 percent of the tipping load (tipping load is the capacity at which the rear wheels lift off level ground). Most skid steers fall into a wide range of operating capacities — from 600 to 3,700 lbs. But more important to your crews is the operating weight of the skid steer (the weight of the unit including tires, bucket, a full tank of gas and a 175-lb operator). Most skid steers fall between 4,000 and 9,900 lbs in operating weight.

So first off, you will need to figure out the operating weight of the skid steer you will be towing. Next, contemplate what other attachments or accessories you will be carrying on the trailer. Backpack blowers? Cold planer attachments? Shovels? Bags of mulch? Take a backhoe attachment for instance — most weigh about 2,000 lbs. That extra weight will need to be added into the trailer formula. After you’ve assessed your average weight requirements for towing, you will need to find a trailer with a corresponding GVWR.

 “All trailers have a GVWR, which is the gross vehicle weight rating,” explains Chad Blackmon — President at Trailer Baron of S.C., Inc. “Like our 6,000-lb axle weight package, it has two 6,000-lb axles, so the GVWR is 12,000 lbs. But then you have to subtract the weight of the trailer, which is around 2,300 lbs. That would give you the weight of what you could haul. So if you had a 12,000-lb GRWR trailer, then your skid steer could be 9,700 lbs or less. And if it’s over that, then you probably need to go up to a 7,000-lb package, which would be a 14,000-lb GVWR.”

Picking a GVWR that leaves about 1,500 lbs of excess payload is always a smart idea too. That allows your driver greater margins in safety and flexibility in what he or she is hauling that day. And it adds longer life for the components of the trailer (constant heavy loads will take their toll).

Along with choosing the best GVWR is making sure that the length and width of your trailer is suitable for your crew’s needs. Most skid steers range anywhere from 4 to 6 ft wide and 10 to 12 ft long, depending on the make and model, so size your trailer specs accordingly. Many machine owners go with 16-, 18- or 20-ft long trailer beds for their skid steer operations, always considering extra room for attachments. These trailers usually cost between $1,500 and $6,000 and that price tag gets even higher once options and hydraulic lifts are added. But before you buy, make sure you check out your truck hitch requirements.

“A lot of the people using skid steer trailers will use a 2-5/16 hitch,” says Jim Hughes, brand marketing manager at Case Construction Equipment. “There’s different classes based on the weight. There’s a Class 4, Class 5, etc. A lot of [contractors] if they’re hauling it with a dump truck use a Pintle — and that’s pretty secure. It basically has an eye and there’s a clamp that comes off the tow vehicle that goes into that eye — you’ll see it typically on dump trucks.”

When looking for the right hitch, your main concern is the weight of the trailer and its payload. You have two weights to be concerned about here — gross trailer weight (GTW) and tongue weight (TW). GTW is the trailer weight plus its contents. The TW is the amount of weight applied directly on the ball. Once you know these two weights, you can choose the appropriate hitch in the right class (typically Class 3, 4 and 5 when considering skid steer towing). Just make sure your towing vehicle can handle that weight rating too.

“First of all, you want to make darn sure you’ve got a sufficient trailer ball to tow your skid steers,” says Bill Sauber, skid steer product specialist for Volvo Construction. “You’re not going to be hooking up a trailer with a 1 7/8- or 2-in. ball. You need the larger 2 5/16-in. balls to have the strength to hook up the trailer. Secondly, you have to make sure you’ve got safety chains and that you’ve got them hooked up. And you’re better off to cross those chains, going underneath the tongue of the trailer diagonally so that if anything does happen to the hitch, when the hitch drops, it catches on those crossed chains rather than digging into the ground.”

Those crossed chains will be hooked up to your tow vehicle, which for many skid steer owners today is just a higher-end pickup truck. The three-quarter ton, 1 ton and smaller dumps and duallies are pretty popular. Many entrepreneurial crews are even hauling with their half-ton F150s or Chevy1500s.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys pulling with just half tons,” says Sauber. “That’s the limit there, but for short hauls and relatively flat areas, they’re going to work OK. You need to stay within the rating of the truck manufacturer, but a three-quarter ton is better and 1 ton with a little flatbed just gives you that added flexibility.”

Yet the right size truck is still a hazardous towing vehicle without a knowledgeable and professional driver — many times the same veteran operating your skid steer loader. Driving with caution, maintaining your trailer and loading correctly and carefully are just as important as picking the safest GVWR for your trailer. When loading, most skid steer manufacturers recommend backing the loader onto the trailer bed, but use caution and common sense. Sometimes loading facing forward might be an option.

“It really depends on where you’ve got your load, and this is where it really comes down to trailering tactics,” says Hughes. “What you don’t want to do is to have too much weight of the machine too far forward. When you put too much tongue weight on the tow vehicle, it’s going to be very difficult to control when you’re riding down the road. Typically for a skid steer, you’re going to have a tandem axle trailer, and you’re going to want 60 percent of the load in front of the axles and 40 percent behind it, maintaining around a 10 percent tongue weight. If you’ve got an attachment on the skid steer that’s real heavy, and you’re front-end heavy, then you want to back it on. If you’ve got a skid steer with a bucket on it, you probably could just drive on forward.”

If you need, use a spotter to get up on the trailer. You don’t want to drive a 7,000-lb skid steer off the side of your new trailer — that’s a tough drop from 3 ft above the ground.

Once your skid steer is properly parked (based on where the axles are on the trailer), make sure your parking brake is locked and your loader arms are lowered onto the bed. Using four different chains (we recommend four over two, and yes chains not nylon straps), secure the skid steer to the trailer using the four metal hooks welded to the bottom of your machine (most every skid steer unit today has them). Make sure to strap in any extra attachments and accessories as well. After everything is secure, check tires, brake lights and turn signals. Make extra sure you have the proper electrical hook up for the trailer brakes and that your chains are crossed.

Once your trailer payload is secure, drive to your jobsite with caution and vigilance. Watch your speed — the slower the better. You will need to make sure you swing wide on your turns, pass with caution, avoid sudden starts and stops and basically don’t panic.

“You always gotta remember there’s a trailer behind you,” says Blackmon. “You want to give yourself a little bit more stopping distance even though you have brakes on your trailer. And you want to make sure your brake control is not on too high. You want to make sure there’s a medium there, where your truck and trailer are stopping together. As far as following, you want to give a half or an extra car length then what you would normally give.”

And keep in mind it’s the driver’s responsibility for anything that comes off of that trailer. Your company is liable for any damage caused by an airborne attachment or flying debris. If you’ve been operating in mud for instance, you may want to clean that machine off before towing.

It may have been wet when you loaded it, but as you drive down the road, the air rushing by dries the mud and drops it onto the trailer and into the road. Soon you’re replacing some elderly women’s windshield and fielding calls from her lawyer. Having your machine clean is not just a matter of housekeeping; it’s a matter of safety and money.

Along with proper towing etiquette come the legal responsibilities of your drivers. When it comes to bigger size skid steers (say those 9,000-lb heavy lift loaders), your driver will need a commercial driver’s license, or CDL. CDLs vary from state to state, but generally if you have a total GVWR — between the tow vehicle, trailer and the load in the trailer — that’s 26,001 lbs or more you need to have a CDL.

And if your trailer has a GVWR of 10,001 lbs or more you need a CDL. So say you’re hauling a 9,000-lb skid steer and you’ve got a 4,000-lb rated double axle trailer, sorry but you need a driver with a CDL. Check your department of transportation and bureau of motor vehicles for local
regulations and details.

Article by Keith Gribbins – Compact Equipment

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