Off Road Trailer Information

Buy or Build?

Buy or Build an Off Road Trailer?With the publication of FJC Magazines first review of the Manley Explore trailer in the April 2013 issue, the question once again comes up: is it better to buy a trailer ready to go, or to build one from a used military-style trailer?

To put the cart before the horse, the answer of course is that it depends on your situation. Time and money are the two main variables in this equation, but don’t forget about skill.

First, do you have the time to retrofit an older trailer into a useful ORT? By most calculations (and depending on your starting point) you can spend 40-60 hours to get a ‘decent condition’ military trailer ready for the trail. Usually you’ll want to replace/repair the axle, springs, and finish on the trailer. Once it’s cosmetically and functionally rolling, there is the task of building or buying a lid, rack system, and other upgrades that weren’t standard on those trailers. Once you do have it in a similar condition to that of a new trailer, it still is an ‘old’ trailer.

If time is money, and let’s say you spend 70 hours getting it ready for the trail. At $35/hour (plus parts), that’s roughly $2450. Add another $1000 or so in parts and you’re right around where an entry level trailer (like the Manley Original, Sierra 4x4 Gen 1, or Ruger C416) costs. Now, there is no doubt that you can build the equivalent to a $7000 trailer for much less than that if you have the time and money to throw at it. Do you have the skill required?

Building or retrofitting a trailer is no small task. Most times it requires welding (or expensive trips to your local fabricator), drilling, and even engineering to get everything to work together. Sure, you could take a welding class, borrow a welder, and spend hours in your garage working on your toy. For some people (I’m talking to the rock crawler crowd) building is most of the fun, for those folks I’m glad there are great DIY resources out there.

Many of us though have full time jobs (or 2 or 3), families, and other commitments. Sometime the time is worth more than the money, and it’s worth it to let our checkbooks talk. Plus we get a shiny new trailer to further modify, without worrying about the next ‘old’ part to break.

Photo courtesy of ralatkins on