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Transporting an ATV safely is essential whether you’re headed to the trails, races, or a new off-road destination. Ensuring it arrives in tip-top condition is crucial for the machine’s longevity and your safety. In this guide, let’s explore the different trailers for ATV hauling alongside processes and tips that’ll get the job done.
Transporting your quad safely entails selecting a trailer (flatbed, open, or enclosed) with the correct weight rating, securing the ATV using proper equipment and accessories, having a matching towing vehicle, and abiding by state and local regulations and licensing.
While trailers aren’t the only means to haul your ATV, they’re considered the best way to do so due to their durability, safety, and capacity to transport multiple machines. Sure, there are ATV racks and bed extenders that you can use. However, not every enthusiast drives a truck with a cargo bed.
If you’re beginning to treat off-roading more as a lifestyle and a sport, investing in a good ATV hauler — and refreshing your knowledge on the process — will be worthwhile!
Different Types of Trailers for ATV Hauling
Fundamental to knowing how best to transport your quad is exploring your options. There are many kinds of ATV haulers available in the market to choose from — let’s break them down into the below categories:
With their open design and multiple tie-down points, open trailers ensure safe vehicle transportation and excel in shorter-distance hauling requirements. They maintain a lightweight structure that proves advantageous when hauling multiple quads or using smaller towing vehicles. To add, they’re considered by many as the best trailers for ATV hauling.
They can range in weight from around 500 lbs. for a lightweight utility trailer to over 2,000+ lbs. Cost-wise, they’re notably more affordable than other trailer types. They also offer convenient storage when not in use.
On the downside, these trailers fall short of providing protection. Quads hauled using this trailer are exposed to weather, theft, and road debris, potentially leading to security risks and premature wear of the machine.
A flatbed trailer is a versatile platform for hauling various types of cargo not limited to ATVs. It weighs 500—2,500 lbs. and uses ramps or an equivalent system to load cargo onto its flat deck and tie-down straps (view on Amazon) to secure the machine.
Hauling ATVs on this trailer is relatively easy due to its open, no-frills design. However, it lacks the enclosure to protect its load from potential damage and the elements.
Open Sideload Trailers
This loading solution is a sub-type of open trailers and makes for convenient ATV hauling. Its design eliminates the need for backing up during loading and unloading, adding to user convenience. Moreover, it’s easier for ATV owners to check on their four-wheelers during transportation since the latter can be visually inspected from various angles.
Its sideloading feature is particularly beneficial for enthusiasts looking to transport two or more quads efficiently. It’s also roughly as heavy as standard open trailers. However, it shares the same disadvantages — exposure to the elements and security concerns — as the latter.
Deckover trailers, typically 16—18 feet long and 2,000—5,000 lbs. heavy, enable versatile loading from both the side and the rear. Among their most distinct features is the entire deck extending over the trailer’s wheels — creating a broader and more accessible loading area.
Their overall design makes them suitable for transporting multiple ATVs, SxS vehicles, or UTVs and an excellent choice for a fleet of oversized quads. However, it’s worth noting that due to their higher deck height, they may present challenges when loading heavy equipment or vehicles.
These trailers feature complete coverage on all sides, typically equipped with a roof and a door or large ramp to access the cargo area. This structure offers enhanced protection for the quad, shielding it from adverse weather conditions and the elements.
Enclosed trailers often serve as auxiliary storage spaces or portable garages, offering a versatile solution for various needs. Furthermore, they are highly customizable, allowing for variations in width, height, features, colors, and graphics to suit individual preferences. This flexibility and the additional materials used in its construction explain why they can weigh between 1,500 and 5,000 lbs.
This trailer type is particularly well-suited for longer trips, providing added security and protection for the cargo inside. However, they’re typically heavier and more expensive than open trailers. Plus, loading and unloading may prove less convenient — given that the doors are the only access point to its loading area.
Other ATV trailers
Hybrid, tilt-bed, custom-built, and utility trailers (view on Amazon) branch off from these main types. Furthermore, trailers can also be categorized based on the material they’re constructed from, like steel, aluminum, composite materials, and fiberglass. All these variables play an important role when determining how to transport your quad and selecting the best trailer for the job.
Trailer Features and Considerations
Now that you’ve zeroed in on your trailer of choice, it’s time for further scrutiny — to ensure that your selection is indeed suitable for your hauling needs. Let’s talk about key things you need to consider:
Typically, full-size ATVs measure between 72″—84″ long. Hence, trailer manufacturers often recommend opting for at least a 10-foot trailer model to ensure sufficient space for items like coolers and other off-roading equipment.
If you plan to haul two quads in a bumper-to-bumper layout, consider a 14-foot single axle or a 16-foot tandem axle utility trailer. The 14-foot single axle model (equipped with loading ramps) proves highly suitable for sideloading an ATV at the front — with the second one behind it. But if you’re ever in doubt about which would fit better, always go with the longer trailer. TP Trailers Inc. also has a great guide extensively discussing trailer sizes.
As for width, most full-size ATVs measure 40″—48″ wide and can perfectly fit in a 60″ wide utility trailer. This size is also the best ATV hauler if your route consists of narrow trails. However, if your trailer is intended as a multi-purpose hauler, a 72-inch wide variant would offer versatility for various hauling needs.
Choosing the right-sized trailer isn’t enough. You also need to ensure that it can safely carry the weight of your haul. You’ll need to do further research in this regard since an ATV’s size isn’t always proportional to its weight and can significantly vary based on its construction and engine size. For instance, the average mid-size quad weighs approximately 272 Kg (600 lbs). But for a Can-Am Outlander Max 6×6 DPS 450, its dry weight of 454 Kg (1,000 lbs.) is almost double that figure.
As underscored by many experts and online publications, “The weight of the load you are towing is the single largest determining factor” in deciding on a trailer.
Some trailer manufacturers like PJ Trailers have unique tie-down systems that allow their trailer to haul your ATV by making the trailer frame uprights serve as tie-down points (with specially designed D-rings). Systems like this eliminate the challenge of locating tie-down points that’ll hold your quad securely in place.
ATVs with trailing or A-arms typically have at least two tie-down points each on the front and back. These should work perfectly with the tie-down points on an open or sideload trailer.
As for enclosed trailers, their anchor points are typically found in interior walls, floor, ceiling, E-tracks, and D-rings. They could also folded down or recessed, so inspect your trailer beforehand to avoid getting frazzled during transport.
Loading Ramps and Tilting Platforms
The choice between a front or sideload ramp would depend on the trailer layout, followed by the number of machines you’re hauling. Front loading ramps (view on Amazon) are great, but a sideload ramp is more versatile (they can even be used to load a dirt bike or pallets from the side with a forklift).
Relative to this, there are trailer options with tilt-beds or tilting platforms that automatically incline — allowing access to the trailer’s loading area without the need for a loading ramp. This feature isn’t really a standard in trailers and is only typically found in high-end, specialized trailers or custom builds.
Check out my post on the best loading ramps for your ATV.
Another factor to consider in choosing an ATV trailer is whether it’s within the towing capacity of your vehicle. All automobiles, including smart cars, are capable of towing. However, not all have a towing capacity to accommodate a quad (or quads) and a trailer.
Information on your vehicle’s towing capacity can be found in the owner’s manual. You can go about calculating it in several ways. Whichever route you take, the main thing to account for is that the total weight of your ATV and the trailer should be within the vehicle’s towing limits. This ‘total weight’ should also be within the towing vehicle’s Gross Combination Weight Rating or GCWR.
Side note — Aluminum trailers are 30% lighter than steel trailers and among the lightest options available. Opting for this trailer type means a reduced payload and getting away with ATV hauling using a smaller towing vehicle.
Tire and Axle Configuration
ATV trailers come in various tire and axle configurations to accommodate different towing needs and loading capacities. Below are some of the most common layouts for ATV haulers:
- Single-axle trailers have a single axle with one set of wheels and are suitable for lighter loads (often used for towing one or two ATVs).
- Tandem-axle trailers, as the name implies, have two axles with two sets of wheels. They offer better stability and higher weight capacity for hauling heavier loads or multiple quads at a time.
- Triple-axle trailers feature triple axles with three sets of wheels on a tandem configuration, providing even greater weight capacity and stability than the first two layouts.
- A dual-wheel axle is a specific design in some tandem or triple-axle trailers that enhance their stability and weight-bearing capacity. Dual wheels on each side per axle distribute the load more evenly and offer better support.
- Swivel axles, on the other hand, have independently pivoting axles that allow each wheel to move independently (essentially similar to how 4WD works). They are often used for off-road applications where improved maneuverability on uneven terrain is needed.
- A drop axle only applies to tandem or multiple-axle configurations. In this setup, one or more axles (usually the rear ones) are positioned lower than the others, reducing the trailer’s deck height. The resulting design makes it easier to facilitate ATV hauling, especially when using ramps.
- Last but not least are custom-built axles. Trailers with these unique axle configurations can accommodate specific requirements that are otherwise impossible on standard trailers.
Whichever tire and axle configuration you choose, ascertain that it matches your towing vehicle and payload. With that, pay attention to tire size, load rating, and the number of axles. If you’re hauling no more than three ATVs, you may only need to decide between a single or tandem-axle trailer.
Essentials and Extras
Other trailer requisites besides size, payload capacity, and axle configuration should be carefully considered. Here’s a non-exhaustive list for your reference:
- Trailer hitch system with the appropriate weight rating — classes I to V; could be a front, rear, 5th wheel, pintle, or gooseneck hitch like Shocker Gooseneck Air Hitch & Coupler for PJ Trailer (view on Amazon)
- Safe Working Load Limit (or WLL) of tie straps
Tip: The combined rating of the straps used must be greater than the cargo weight. For instance, a cargo weight of 1,000 lbs. requires six straps with a WLL of at least 170 lbs. each.
- Wheel chocks to stop the trailer from moving when parked or during loading and unloading
- Couplers and jacks for stabilizing the trailer and attaching it to the towing vehicle
- A hitch ball that matches the trailer coupler’s diameter
- Ball mount that can carry a trailer’s tongue weight (typically 7—12% of the Gross Trailer Weight or GTW)
- Removable aluminum fenders to protect the cargo from debris and make ATV hauling easier
- Sealed cold-weather wiring harness to help protect electrical connections, including lights and signals
- Flooring (pressure-treated wood, aluminum, steel, or rubber mats)
- Spring-assist gates
Note that the last two bullets aren’t typically considered standard trailer features. Their inclusion varies, depending on the specific trailer type and its purpose.
When it comes to ATV hauling, veteran owners always live by specific rules of thumb — one of them being “Towing is more a question of being able to stop than being able to pull.” The trailer’s weight and limits should perfectly match the towing and braking capacity of the towing vehicle. That said, don’t opt for a trailer that’s too heavy for your towing vehicle or truck, and only haul within that vehicle’s means.
The second most important thing is that towing on slopes — ascending or descending — is a no-no. Doing so can seriously affect the balance of the trailer and the ATV on it. Moreover, the weight of the payload would dictate how high up an incline you can drive. The heavier the load, the lower you should be on a slope (it doesn’t matter if you’re driving in a straight line or only hauling one machine).
Even if using a trailer is technically more secure than towing an ATV via some tow straps and a hitch, driving on a slope is still potentially dangerous. Hence, it’s ill-advised to drive up or down a slope diagonally with a trailer, as this maneuver can adversely affect the balance of the machine or load being hauled. The same precaution applies to driving through ditches and sharp trenches.
Different states, regions, and countries have specific regulations regarding trailer towing. Licensing ensures that you can legally tow a trailer with your vehicle. Moreover, it keeps you in the loop about your licensed towing capacity and other regulations you must adhere to based on your licensing level (keeps fines and legal issues at bay). Consequently, this affects your choice of trailer and trailer insurance coverage.
How to Load and Secure Your Quad
1. Conduct Pre-trip Inspections.
Conduct pre-trip inspections to ensure safe ATV hauling (listed below). Also, ensure you’re on a level area, and the trailer is balanced before beginning the loading process.
- Proper tire inflation and tread wear
- Functioning warning indicators and lighting assembly
- Brake and brake controller performance
- Secure attachment of hitch system, coupler (view on Amazon), and safety chains
- The integrity of the suspension system and its components
- Trailer frame condition
- Tire-and-wheel assembly inspection and lubrication
- Fraying or damage to electrical connections
2. Secure the Loading Ramp.
As you load your ATV on the trailer, ensure the loading ramp’s stability by securely fastening it with straps. Attach one end around the grid located at the top of the ramp. Then, secure the other end around the trailer.
Tip: Look for multiple openings on the trailer that allow you to loop and fasten the straps effectively.
3. Slowly Drive up the Ramp.
Start your ATV in a low gear to ensure slow, smooth movement up the loading ramp. Leaning forward can also aid in avoiding any potential obstructions during this step.
4. Put the Transmission in PARK and Turn off the Engine.
Turn off the engine, but keep the key in the accessory or ON position without starting it. Release the brake pedal slowly, ensuring the transmission remains in PARK. Check that the PARK position is displayed. Engage the parking brake if your ATV has this feature.
5. Set All Relevant Controls and Features to Their Correct Settings Before Securing the ATV.
If loading only one ATV, park it slightly behind the axle. Either that or park your machine in a way that allows the trailer to balance when pulled. Ideally, your ATV should be centered on the trailer axle. This placement would work wonders for your trailer’s stability and mean less load on your towing vehicle (especially if it’s smaller or also an ATV).
For ATVs like Polaris RZR and similar models, adjust the vehicle’s compression damping settings to the lowest (softest) level by turning the clickers all the way out.
On quads with active suspension, ensure the key switch remains ON, the suspension mode switch is in COMFORT, and the demo mode timeout is inactive while securing the machine. Failure to do so can result in improper strap tension during transport. To check shock damping settings, refer to the suspension visualization screen.
6. Tie the Frame to the Hauler.
Secure the ATV by tying its frame to the transporting unit or ATV hauler using appropriate straps or rope. Avoid attaching tie straps to A-arm bolt pockets, racks, handlebars, or bumpers, as they might come loose. Similarly, avoid any loose strap ends — tuck them under the trailer.
7. Verify the Quad Is in PARK and Turn It Off.
After the quad has been secured, verify that the gauge indicates PARK. If so, turn the machine’s power OFF.
On DYNAMIX-equipped models, ensure the suspension compression damping values remain on SOFT. If the suspension demo mode times out or switches to FIRM after securing, cycle the key switch, set the mode switch back to COMFORT, and re-tighten the straps (repeat steps #4 and #5).
8. Remove the Key. Secure the Fuel Cap, Oil Cap, and Seats of Your ATV.
Make sure the seats are correctly attached and not loose. Cargo and other loose parts must be secured or removed to prevent them from flying off during transit.
When transporting a quad with a roof on an open trailer, ensure it faces forward or remove the roof to prevent it from separating due to airflow, vibration, or other factors.
9. Safely Transport Your Quad to Your Destination.
Before this, verify that you’ve removed the loading ramp and secured the gate or door (if your trailer has one).
If towing your quad instead of transporting it on a trailer or flatbed cannot be helped, make sure to do so in the shortest distance possible and not to drive faster than 10 mph (16 km/h) — even if there are minimal bumps or unevenness on the road.
ATV Hauler Vehicles and Equipment
Four-wheelers from another ATV to a full-sized truck can be your towing vehicle. Choosing one from these options ultimately depends on how many ATVs you intend to haul at a time and whether you can change your towing vehicle based on requirements. In most cases, however, the existing vehicle of ATV owners determines the trailer they can get — not the other way around.
That aside, 4x4s, SUVs, longer-wheelbase trucks, and diesel-powered vehicles are the top picks for the job. These vehicles generally have a sizeable towing capacity to accommodate a modest flatbed and a mid-sized ATV. However, they’re subject to certain variables — some of which have been discussed in passing throughout this article — as enumerated below:
- Weight Matters: Heavier 4WD trucks and SUVs may limit towing capacity. Choose Rear-Wheel Drive: If you don’t need 4WD, go for rear-wheel drive for maximum towing.
- Opt for Longer Wheelbase: Longer models can tow more, offering better towing control.
- Torque is Vital: Diesel trucks excel in towing due to their torque, which translates to higher tow ratings than gas-fed trucks.
- Axle Ratios: Higher ratios boost towing power but might decrease fuel efficiency, while lower ratios do the opposite.
As cited by CNET, a Dodge Ram 1500 on 2WD and a 3.92 axle ratio is initially rated to tow 11,540 lbs. However, this tow rating can be reduced by as much as 28% if the car owner switches to 4WD and a 3.21 axle ratio. This reduction puts a significant dent in the vehicle’s towing capabilities, the trailer it can accommodate, and the number of ATVs it can haul. Hauling equipment that the vehicle can accommodate will be almost immaterial at this point.
Conclusion — Trailers for ATV Hauling
Safely transporting your quad from one location to another is crucial to owning and enjoying your ATV. Whether you choose a trailer, truck bed, or specialized rack, following the proper methods and safety precautions ensures that your quad arrives at its destination in excellent condition.
By adhering to local regulations, performing regular maintenance checks, and heeding advice in this guide, you should be able to decide on the best trailer for hauling your ATV. With that, I’m confident you’ll continue to enjoy worry-free ATV transport for all your adventures.