2015 Carry-On 3.5X5LSHS Trailer


The trailer before modification…

I like small trailers and opted for Carry-On Trailer’s 3.5x5LSHS, a 3.5×5-foot trailer with 16-inch tall mesh sides. My wife quickly labelled it the “baby trailer.” The 3.5x5LSHS is usually available at Lowe’s Home Improvement. It’s great for taking stuff to the dump or transporting dirty items that I don’t want inside my car. It’s like having a part-time pickup truck that gets >30 mpg. It’s also very popular among Jeep owners who are looking for a trailer to convert for off-road use. It’s a good trailer right off the lot, but I made substantial changes to make it even better. First mods included Yakima TopLoaders so I could mount my Yakima rack, a set of lighted guide posts to help when backing, and a ½” wooden floor since I knew the steel mesh floor would warp under load without support.

I had been nervous about carrying my bikes because the trailer would bounce violently over small bumps. The factory 1000-lb leaf springs and skinny 90-psi tires give very little road compliance for a trailer that weighs less than 500 lbs most of the time. I replaced the leaf springs with 500-lb replacements. They worked well when my loads were strictly light. However, I eventually had to remove the springs after one slipped out of place due to a combination of overloading and my oversized wheels/tires, shown below. I still need to occasionally carry heavier loads. I switched back to a 1000-lb spring, but chose one with four leafs that rides smoother with light loads and still supports heavy loads. This photo shows the difference between a 500-lb spring, the factory 1000-lb spring, and my new 4-leaf spring.

Next, I replaced the factory steel fenders with large plastic fenders to make room for larger wheels and tires. I had custom adapters made so I could mount a set of 15-inch Volkswagen wheels with 195/65R15 passenger tires. They ride really well, especially at just 25 psi. Best of all, I don’t need to carry a spare trailer tire since the GTI’s spare tire fits, if needed. Not only have I added speed-rated tires, but the larger tire circumference also means that the wheel’s rotation rate is lower than the factory trailer wheels, which gives me a huge safety margin at my usual towing speeds of ~70 mph. It should also reduce wear to the wheel bearings, which I upgraded to XTP Ultra-Packs when the trailer was two years old. Annual hub maintenance is a breeze!

In my opinion, a trailer on the road with malfunctioning lights depicts owner as either lazy or inept. I don’t want to be “that guy.” I like my trailer lighting bright and functioning perfectly. Knowing that the factory lighting is cheap and subject to failure from vibration, I quickly upgraded to submersible LED lighting. Also, the stock license plate bracket held the license plate low enough to take a beating, especially if I back up to a curb. My state allows motorcycle plates on trailers, so I inverted the bracket and provided the plate with its own LED lighting.  I think the package looks sharp!  🙂

I’ve always wanted weatherproof cargo hauling without committing to a large cargo trailer. Adding ¾” plywood sides and a lid accomplished several things: 1) weatherproofing for the cargo (“rain-resistant,” but not watertight); 2) durable protection for the mesh siding; 3) mounting options for more tie down rings; and 4) more stability since the plywood adds about 180 lbs to the ride. With nearly every part of the trailer now being heavier, there’s less vibration or rattling; plus, the suspension is pre-loaded for a better empty ride. The only possible drawback is the need for extra paint each spring. Two coats of Herculiner bed liner in 2018 may have made the bed and fenders much more durable.

The only possible negative I can think of about my trailer is its tendency to rust. Many Carry-On trailers have rust on them before they even leave the store. Nearly any steel trailer at this price will see rust in its future. The paint on the front of the trailer and fenders is especially prone to chipping/rusting due to debris being kicked up by the tow vehicle. To combat rust, I started by choosing the specimen with the least amount of visible rust. I immediately spot-sprayed with a rust-converting spray paint and then a topcoat of gloss black enamel. The plastic replacement fenders eliminate a usual home for rust, too. Routine spray paint touch-ups are cheap insurance against rust. Additionally, I’m hoping to see the super-thick Herculiner finish hold up to plenty of abuse and perhaps reduce my need for regular repainting.

That’s it, the details of my “baby trailer.” Most of the functional items have been upgraded to suit my wants. It carries bikes and cargo without the wind noise, mounting hassles, overhead lifting, head knocking, or marred paint of a roof rack while providing much of the versatility and positives of owning a small pickup truck. It’s perfect for vacations, dump runs, or as a mini-workhorse (a pony? 00-winky) for a stubborn guy who won’t buy a pickup truck.  00-biggrin See more photos below. Oh, it’s also pretty versatile in parking situations, especially with my employment of “stunt parking.” See this entry for more details about my trailer-witchcraft.  😉

Who Needs a Truck?


15 Responses to 2015 Carry-On 3.5X5LSHS Trailer

  1. Alex says:

    For the custom wheel adapters what options did you choose? Thickness? Did you go with the standard 12×1.50 studs?


    • Scott says:

      Alex – Because my VW wheels have a 49mm offset and trailer wheels are zero, I chose an adapter thickness of two inches. I also chose 14×1.50 studs since they are closer to the proper size for VW wheels. Thanks for visiting. -Scott


  2. Matt Heller says:

    Hi Scott- May I ask why you swapped your 16″ Mambo wheels with 205/55/16 tires on your trailer for the black steelies/smaller tires? Fitment issue?



    • Scott says:

      Matt – There was no fitment problem with the Mambos. I originally mounted the Mambos as a match to the ones on my Mk6 Jetta. Once I turned in the Mk6 for the GTI, I decided to go with the black steelies as a wheel that would “match” well enough with any other VW I might subsequently own. Later, I bought another Mk6 for my daughter and decided to put the spare Mambos on her car. I then took her steelies and saved them for use on my other trailer. Thanks for visiting! -Scott


  3. Matt says:

    Thanks for the reply. I’m planning to do the same trailer also with the 16″ wheel, 205/55 tires- except for a Subaru.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christopher says:

    Hello Scott, I too make my car “work” first my 1996 Golf and its replacement a 2017 GTI. But I worry that my nice sports car is being beaten up. Love the ideas you’ve put forward! Can you describe what looks like a lid or top on your trailer? Is it lockable? Would you be willing to provide a cost breakout for the trailer and upgrades? Thanks so much for sharing!


    • Scott says:

      Christopher – I don’t recall a total cost breakdown. The trailer itself is the most expensive part. It currently retails for $400. I got mine on sale for $300. The leaf springs were ~$20, the wheel adapters were ~$160, the fenders were ~$80, the LED lighting was ~$50, and the wheels/tires were take-offs from various VW’s that I’ve owned (I’m a bit of a “wheel whore”). The wooden sides and lid were ~$60. The trick with the wood is that the trailer is not square. So I had to cut the wood to un-square dimensions to get everything to align. The lid does not lock. Most of the time, I just use ratcheting straps to hold it in place. But I can use wood screws to screw it shut for additional security (only a deterrent, really). I’d like to re-do the floor and sides in metal, but that’s more expensive and heavier, plus rust control and paint. Worst case is I may need to replace the wood from time to time as the wood rots. Wood is cheap, so it’s not a big deal. I think that covers everything. Let me know if you have more questions. Thanks for visiting! -Scott


  5. Joseph says:

    Scott I’m struggling to find the right leaf springs. Do you remember the dimensions and brand for the 500 lbs leaf springs you purchased? Unfortunately the link in the article is out of date.
    Thank you! -Joseph


    • Scott says:

      Joseph – Thanks for pointing out the outdated link on my page. I’ve seen the suppliers for these springs change a few times over the years. I’ve updated the article with this spring, https://www.etrailer.com/Trailer-Suspension/Universal-Group/SP-177275.html, which is essentially the same part. Keep in mind that your capacity will cut in half. I’ve considered moving up to a 750-lb spring, also available at etrailer, just so I can carry up to 1500 lbs. But I’m still good. BTW, the 500-lb springs are flat when the trailer has about 1000 lbs of cargo, for a total weight of 1300 lbs. My trailer’s fenders rub if I load more than that. Just a point of reference. 🙂 Thanks for visiting! -Scott


  6. Johan Gamblepudding..... says:

    Thanks for your previous reply regarding the wheel size and fender clearance. I’m also going to look into the wheel adapters to get the offset and to be able to use 16 inch tires which match the tow vehicle.

    Now, please talk about the numerous tie downs that you have on the trailer. I am building something similar and would like to add many of these too. However, everything I’ve seen has been too big or over engineered ie machine hooks. Where did you find them? Thanks


    • Scott says:

      Johan – The anchors I used were by Keeper, model #5652. They appear to be unavailable. Keeper has a chrome version that can probably be painted black. My black ones have been repainted over the years. See the item at https://amzn.to/2RhnlwS. I do not use the supplied anchor or the 3/8″ bolt. Instead, I removed the bolt and replaced it with a 1/2″ long replacement hex bolt. I use a small stack of washers to take up the slack. Good Luck! -Scott


  7. Tom Budai says:

    On the Road trailers in Warren, Maine will custom make a 4 x 6 utility trailer with a wood floor and wood sides and larger tires and it tilts for loading or dumping. $1400 This company makes all the trailers for the lobster men (for hauling traps between their homes and their boats) in mid coast Maine so you know they are done right. I’ve been using mine for three years now hauling personal items back and forth between Maine and New Jersey – no problems. It works great doing all those other jobs around the house (moving leaves, trash, etc.).


    • Scott says:

      Tom – Thanks for your note! My first trailer was a 4×8 dumper. I used it for nearly 20 years. The dumping capability was good, but also annoying in a way. With the axle centered along the trailer, I had to focus on loading further forward to manage the tongue weight. Otherwise, it would rattle a bit as the trailer rocked fore/aft during transit. I’m not sure if I explained that well enough. Anyway, I noticed something about most of my loads. See this photo: https://stealthgti.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/oldtrailer.jpg. The thing these loads all have in common is I very seldom used the last two feet of the trailer. So I decided to buy one that simply didn’t have that last foot. HAHA! It’s been working great! Thanks for visiting! -Scott


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