The Trailer

After doing some research I decided to pickup a little utility trailer to help me with my rehab projects. With my first couple of houses I was borrowing/renting trucks when needed, or having to pay for the delivery of materials. While that method really wasn’t so bad, it was inconvenient and sometimes a little costly. I have a habit of filling up the fuel tank whenever I borrow someone’s vehicle. It just seems like a polite way to thank them. But when you have a 30 gallon fuel tank and almost $4/gallon gas, that can add up to an expensive¬†courtesy for the pleasure of hauling some carpet scraps to the dump.

I looked into getting my own truck. I could either sell my 30mpg sedan for a small reliable truck. Or just keep the car and get a slightly less-reliable truck that would only be used when needed. The idea of having to burn all that extra fuel driving around an unloaded truck doesn’t seem right. Though the idea of having to insure, register and maintain two vehicles didn’t seem like much fun either. And at around a minimum of $5k for a usable used truck, well, that would cover an awful lot of rental fees and filled gas tanks.

But then I see all these great deals on surplus building materials, tools and appliances on craigslist and I can’t jump on them because it’ll take me two days to arrange a vehicle and by then the ‘motivated seller’ has found someone else to deal with. So what to do?

Well it turns out my little 30mpg sedan has a 2,000 lb towing capacity. Who knew? So I hit the internet in search of a hitch. I found this little guy for about $130. ¬†It took me about 30-40 minutes to install the hitch in my driveway. It just amounted to attaching six large bolts to the frame of the car. A simple plug-in wire harness, that took another 20 minutes or so to install, provides power for the trailer’s lights.

Easy to Follow Instructions


Then I setup an RSS feed on craigslist for a utility trailer under $600 and waited like a hunter for his prey. A few days later an add popped up for a little 4×8 trailer that seemed to be in good shape and didn’t need any work. So I headed over and met this retired truck driver who rehabs trailers for a little side money. He does a little welding, painting, replaces any of the wood that needs to be replaced and rewires them with light and wiring kits he buys in bulk.

It was big enough to carry 4×8 sheets of plywood or drywall laid down flat (the biggest feature I was looking for, lots of trailers have wheel wells jutting up in the way). It felt sturdy, the guy was honest, and it looked pretty.

“You want $400?” I said, as I checked underneath for rust.

“Yeah, $400.”

I didn’t say anything. I was checking out the tires and thinking about how much easier this was going to be than renting trucks. But apparently my moment of silence was taken as a negotiating tactic.

“But I’d take $375.”

“That sounds very fair. Let’s do it.”

It rode home like a dream. It’s rated to carry 1,500 lbs. I’ll probably never get it up much past 600 at the worst and usually probably only a few hundred pounds.



With the hitch, trailer, insurance and registration I’m into the whole setup for right around $500. So I think it will quickly pay for itself in saved rental fees, gratuity fuel, and time-sensitive bargain items. Considering I paid $1,500 for the car over 2 years ago I’d say I’m doing pretty good. This is how you setup a property rental business with nice fat margins.


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  1. Matt
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I plan on doing what you are doing in reverse. I currently own a Silverado and have come to realize that I don’t use it the way that I planned on using it.

    I had dreams of boats, campers, and trailers of ATVs. Life got in the way and I become fixated on paying off debt.

    Now I have come to realize that those items I listed above are not critical to my enjoyment of life. While the truck still has significant life and I plan on driving it till it won’t take it anymore or gas climbs too high, I have come to realize the genius of the efficient car and trailer combo.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know you can’t really launch a medium sized boat with a car, but you sure as hell can haul a bunch of dry wall, refrigerators, and couches. Those are things that I do regularly for myself or other people.

  2. mike crosby
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I’ve read pretty much your whole blog. Got to tell you, you are a huge inspiration.

    I’d like to invest with you because I know that you’re going to be successful. Keep me in mind if you ever do want an investor. (Start small to build trust, that kind of thing.)

    Continued best wishes on your life’s path.

  3. Posted August 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Do you have to get a separate license plate and registration for the trailer?

  4. Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    backing up a trailer is a skill I’ve never had the occasion to master. of even try.

    nice looking car for $1500.

  5. Posted August 11, 2012 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    @matt Sometimes I just count the trucks on the highway and try to figure out the ratio of empty trucks to trucks actually being used to carry stuff. It’s usually somewhere between 50:1 and 100:1. They seem to be one of those things people buy when they allow the <5% of transport needs in their life dictate the vehicle they buy, rather than thinking about the 95% of the time when you’re mostly just moving passengers.

    Seems to be similar with houses. Lots of people are all concerned about having an extra bed room for guests, when they might have people over a couple of times a year, but they overlook the poorly designed kitchen and living spaces with thoughtless layouts that give little consideration to the things that impact their quality of life every single day (like the location of natural light throughout the day, solar gain/climate control issues, ease of maintenance).

    @mike Thanks for the kinds words and the offer. You never know, I may try taking on investment money at some point. The banks don’t look too kindly on people with anything other than W2 income when it comes to mortgages and HELOCs.

    @executioner Of course you do, this is the land of the free, you think they’re gonna let you pull a trailer without state approval?

    @jcollinsnh It comes natural to me, I used to drive with them a lot as a teenager. I seem to have an automatic visualization of the angles at play. I think of it almost like setting up a billiards shot.

    A few years back I borrowed a large large trailer from my uncle to pick up a car I bought on ebay. I was returning it to him at his garage when some guy came out and told me to just leave it alongside the building rather than trying to put it back in its spot down a narrow lane between a bunch of vehicles about 4 cars deep, where I got it from. “You’ll never get that in there,” he told me. “You think? Well I’ll just take one quick stab at it.” Boom, right in, first try.

  6. Joy
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    LOL! your reply to executioner. :)

    Your tales of trailer skills remind me
    of my husband’s. :)

  7. Matt
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    What you describe is certainly what happened in buying the truck. It was also a learning experience from many angles.

    The situation that you described about home buying is one that I certainly have recently experienced. We just bought our first home and split hairs over the house we truly liked because it “only” had two bedrooms. We looked at 20 other homes and found one that we sort of liked and had ample space, but a terrible floor plan.

    We wound up buying the 2 bedroom, because my significant other looked at me and said, “How many overnight visitor’s have we had in the last 2 years at the apartment? We aren’t opening a hotel.”

  8. Jo
    Posted August 20, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  9. Posted August 22, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    that’s great work :) funny, I expect people to put a little gas in the tank if they borrow my car, I was disappointed when a friend of mine borrowed my car to go to Ikea and gave me a pack of timtams as thanks! :P I was hoping for some fresh diesel in the tank!

  10. Posted August 22, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    just realised you won’t know what Timtams are (its an Aussie distributed product I believe) …. chocolate biscuits…

  11. Posted August 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    You know, I used my Prius to haul pretty much all the tools and supplies for my house rehab, with the one exception of 4×8 sheets – I always had to borrow a friend’s truck for that, and I’m sure you know the phenomenon of truck owners getting irritated by everyone wanting to borrow them all the time.

    It never even occurred to me that I could just put a trailer hitch on my Prius. Awesome.

  12. Dr. Z
    Posted October 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Mike, just wanted to say you have an incredible blog here, one of the very best FI related ones out there. I really like your trailer idea, seems like a real smart solution to the problem of extra capacity. I was just wondering how you know your ford focus can tow 2,000 lbs? I’d like to do the same thing with my civic but the manual says not to tow trailers…

  13. Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Dr. Z!

    I just googled it and found some spec sheets for my make and model year.

    I just googled the civic and found some discussions on forums of people talking about the manual advising against towing and that it could even void a warranty. Sheesh!

    If you go to and look up your car they’ll show you available hitches and the capacity of your particular car. You’ll likely want a 1-7/8″ hitch ball since that’s what small trailers will need. And for wiring kits, look for a t-connector type kit, no splicing of wires or anything needed, just find some connectors in the trunk, unplug ‘em, and plug the trailer connector in.

    I’ve had the trailer just under 2 months now and I think I’ve probably used 7 or 8 times already.