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 labeled 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. The 3.5x5LSHS 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 changes to make it even better. First mods included Yakima TopLoaders so I could mount my Yakima 1A Raingutter 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 bicycles 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 light. However, I eventually had to remove them after one slipped out of its retainer due to a combination of overloading and my oversized wheels/tires, shown below. I switched back to 1000-lb springs since I still need to carry heavier loads on occasion. I chose a set 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 2-leaf 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 upgraded the factory 12-inch wheels/tires to 13-inch trailer wheels with ST175/80D13 load range B tires. The speed rated M tires operate at 35 psi (instead of 90 psi) and are 17% larger than stock, which gives me slower hub speeds and should also reduce wear to the wheel bearings. Speaking of wheel bearings, I upgraded to a galvanized Dexter axle with galvanized hubs in 2019. Annual hub maintenance should be 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 plastic license plate bracket held the license plate low enough to take a beating, especially if I backed up to a curb. My state allows motorcycle plates on trailers, so I inverted a metal bracket and provided the plate with its own LED lighting. My last addition was a pair of steel protective housings, just in case I misjudge when backing. 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) weather-proofing for the cargo (“rain-proof,” 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 200 lbs to the ride. With nearly every part of the trailer being heavier, there’s less vibration or rattling; plus, the suspension is pre-loaded for a better empty ride. Two coats of Herculiner bed liner appear to be quite durable, even with rocks and shovels abusing it.
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, the super-thick Herculiner finish withstands plenty of abuse and appears to have reduced my need for regular repainting.
There came a point when I needed to load a heavy roller tool cabinet. Sure a couple of strong people could probably get it up the ramps and into the trailer. But I’d rather make loading and unloading such an expensive and heavy item a slow and controlled process. Adding a Dutton-Lainson 2000-lb hand winch with 20-ft nylon strap did the trick. I use a cordless drill to make quicker work of loading/unloading. Just when it seemed the winch would be an infrequent need, I discovered that it’s actually quite useful for strapping large items to the trailer. It’s been great to have it, even on my tiny trailer.
My most versatile upgrade has been the addition of Yakima’s Outdoorsman 300 rack and a medium OffGrid cargo basket with 18-inch extension. The new platform was a game-changer during my support of a large bicycling event. The two ice chests that usually ride inside the car were able to ride on the OffGrid, instead. I was glad to have space in the car for other things. I don’t place more than 150 lbs on the OffGrid. The basket is more for bulky items than heavy. The OffGrid also has crossbars that are compatible with bicycle mounts.
You may have noticed a variety of spare tire configurations, especially in the photo album below. I like the trailer to be light and easy to maneuver when empty. The tongue was too heavy for my liking any time the spare tire was mounted forward of the axle. Sure, I could still move the trailer easily enough. But I wanted the tongue to be even lighter when the trailer is empty. On top of that, I felt the spare was intrusive on such a small trailer, especially since I’ve had just one flat tire in over 20 years of towing. As a result, I decided to mount the tire in what is easily the least-convenient place to access in the event of a flat: Under the trailer. Clearance is tight, especially for a full-sized spare. So, I did a crazy thing by mounting a 4.80-12. It’s just small enough to fit between the frame crossmembers and gives almost two inches of additional clearance over the ground. It’s just a “limp-home” spare tire. That’s okay since I’d replace both tires immediately.
That’s it, the details of my “baby trailer.” I’ve upgraded most of the functional items to suit my wants. I can carry 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 compact crew-cab pickup truck. It’s perfect for vacations, dump runs, or as a mini-workhorse (a pony? ) for a stubborn guy who won’t buy a pickup truck. See more photos below. Oh, it’s also versatile in parking situations, especially with my practice of “stunt parking.” See this entry for more details about my trailer-witchcraft. 😉
Ironically, I added a cargo trailer to my garage in 2018. I prefer to use the baby trailer for filthy or wet loads… it’s also more aerodynamic than a cargo trailer. But the cargo trailer is great for moving items that I need to keep dry. See a list of specifications below the photo album.
Who Needs a Truck?
Here are the specs, mostly so I don’t have to dig so much to find them again. Since this trailer has undergone changes, I’ve listed my upgrades in bold with the factory specs lined-out in parentheses:
- Empty Weight: 500 lbs, including the lid
- Payload Capacity: 1,500 lbs
- Overall Length: 94″
- Overall Width: 60″
- Deck Length: 59″ without Rear Gate
- Deck Width: 40.5″
- 2″ x 3″ Straight Tube Tongue
- 1.5″ x 1.5″ Angle Main Frame
- 2″ x 2″ x 1/8″ Angle Top Rail
- 1-7/8″ Straight Coupler with Safety Chains
- 4-Leaf Springs
- 13″ Galvanized Wheels with 175/80D13 Tires
(12″ Wheels with 4.80×12 Tires)
- 31″ Black Plastic Fenders
(24″ Jeep Style Fenders)
- 2,200-lb Galvanized Dexter Axle
- Swivel-Up Tongue Jack
- 1-7/8″ Ball Coupler
- LED Taillights with Steel Protective Housings
- 1/2″ Wood Floor
- 16″ Mesh High Sides with 18″ High 3/4″ Plywood Inserts
- 16″ Removable Rear Gate with 3/4″ Plywood Insert
- 3/4″ Exterior Grade Plywood Lid
- Herculiner Finish
- Dutton-Lainson 2000-lb hand winch with 20-ft nylon strap
- Under-Frame Spare Tire and Mount
- Yakima Outdoorsman 300 Rack with OffGrid Basket