Jeep Enthusiast Forums banner

Mini Harbor Freight (type) Trailer Ultimate Build-Up Thread

2391605 Views 3529 Replies 254 Participants Last post by  NMBruce
Let's face it; there's only so much you can fit in the back of a Jeep, even with the rear seat removed. Some folks get pretty creative with Rubbermaid tubs and receiver hitch trays and such (see picture below - pray it doesn't rain!), but bottom line space is limited.

One option is to get a trailer. My goal for this thread is to discuss how a little 4' Harbor Freight-type trailer can be used and improved upon to be pulled behind a Jeep. I will provide pictures, part numbers, prices (to the best of my ability), measurements, internet links, suggestions (etc.), and will be using my little trailer as an example. Let's have fun with this.

A couple of disclaimers:

1. I am an Army Nurse - not a trailer salesman. I have no financial interests in any companies I may mention or provide links to other than I may have purchased from them.

2. The owner of the trailer assumes any risk that may result from modifying their little trailer from how it came from the factory.

3. Sometimes over time, the links I've posted stop working. You'll have to try googling it, then. If you've got a question about a link and you can't get to it, send me a PM.

Subsequent postings on this thread will include the following:

Define and give examples of a little trailer.
What other options are out there besides these little trailers?
What needs to be done to a little trailer after I buy it?
Tires - going larger - how big?
Axle - going wider - how wide do I need?
Raising or changing out fenders.
Spare tire mounts.
Options for the hitch mount.
Gas can mounts.
Cargo box options and ideas.
Modifying the suspension.
Modifying the frame.

Off we go!

Safety video regarding trailer weight distribution (please watch - it is less than 30 seconds long):

How To Request Your Own Safe Trailering Demonstrator | U-Haul

Table of Contents

Edit 1 September 2014: Since this thread had become quite long, I have made a sort-of "Table of Contents" to break it down into subjects. This is not all-inclusive, nor does it imply that the way I did things is the only way to do it. When it gives a page number, there may be more than one post on that page related to the topic. A couple of times, I give a "Post" number - that probably means there's a link on that post for you to go to. And definitely read through the first few pages first.

There are 15 posts per page. So if I refer to a page (i.e., this is page one, post #1), you need to go to that page and then scroll through the posts on that page to find the post I'm referring to. And sometimes, I refer to a post #.

Note: When JeepForum did their last "upgrade", they changed from 15 posts per page to 20. So it has thrown off pretty much all the page numbers below. Sorry. You'll have to do the math to figure out what page the post(s) are on now.

Spare tire mount: Page 1
Mounting a wider axle: Page 2, 172, 173
Wider wheel option: Page 109, 112, 113, Post #1625
Ammo can mount: Page 8
Kolpin can mount: Page 1, 8, 9, 106
2" front receiver mount: Page 9, 10, 15, 43, 67, 68
2" receiver tongue bolt: Page 11, 43
Vinyl tub liner: Page 11
How much stuff can a little 4' trailer hold: Page 19 (Post #273)
Suspension swap (longer springs with shackles): Page 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 74, 152 (parts list)
Using factory Jeep rims on an HF trailer (and hub related stuff): Post #306, #704, #719, Page 47
Home made 3-axis coupler: Post #328
Bear box: Page 28
Calculating axle width for your trailer's wheels/tires: Page 29
Shortening/narrowing an HF 4x8' trailer: Post #459 on page 31 (thanks, jscherb)
Diamond plate trailer tub: Page 36, 37, 46, 80, 81, 85, 86, 89, 92, 94, 96, 97, 98, 100, 101, 105, 106, 121
Epic fail (and fix): Page 51, 59
Tongue extension/frame reinforcement: Page 62, 83, 84, 86, 87, 88, 90, 105, 112, 118
Trailer tongue (cooler) tray: Page 68, 70, 104, 112
Mud flaps: Page 112
Quick fists: Page 114, 119
Shock absorber mounts: Page 141, 142
Electric Brakes (and 3500lb axle): Page 172, 173, 196
RTT (really a tent cot): page 186, 187

Thanks, AuburnTiger92, for the picture! This is why he got a little trailer; check out post #2355 for a picture of his trailer.

If this looks like you on your last camping trip, then this is why you need a little trailer.
Tire Wheel Vehicle Car Automotive tire
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 3
3481 - 3500 of 3530 Posts
Here are a few more photos I took this morning. I've used that Thule cargo box on a hitch carrier in the past.

Is it possible to delete and reload pictures? I'd like to fix the orientation of the first photos.


See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Been running the TAT. In Mississippi (heading to FL to briefly visit parents). At a gas station smelled something hot... passenger side wheel burning hot with grease flung around the rim. Pulled across the street to a shady spot in a medical plaza's parking lot to further assess. Outer wheel bearing had disintegrated, cooked the grease, and was just ugly. Let the repair begin.

I had a spare loaded hub. Thought I was good. Almost was. Fortunately the plaza’s lead maintenance man came out to see what was going on. He was totally cool once he saw what was happening, and had his truck full of tools.

I needed a 1.5” socket to get the spindle nut off (pipe wrench wasn’t working well). He gave me his. Nut was messed up, and it took a bit of work to get it off. Threads on the spindle were “ok” at best.

Even though the outer bearing had spit out its roller bearings, the remaining part of the bearing was stuck to the spindle. Lots of hammering ensued. Hub assembly toast.

He also had some emery cloth to smooth out the spindle... it took a beating.

So now I needed a new spindle nut and washer (I had spare cotter pins). I gave him some money, and he drove to an auto parts store and picked me up a new set. I could have walked there, but I would have had to pack everything up first.

Then it was just a matter of putting it all back together. I ran the new nut over the threads first like a die to straighten the spindle’s threads. All back together, packed the trailer, and back on the road. Checked wheel temp at ten miles, then at fifty miles. All good.

First stop was a Northern Tool and Equipment store for another packed brake hub assembly, and another spindle nut and washer. Next day at Home Depot bought a roll of emery cloth.

Thank goodness I carried a loaded brake hub assembly, and I just got lucky I broke down where I did and someone came by to help. Please take notes from my experience, and have the replacement parts and tools with you when adventuring with your lil’ adventure trailers.
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 4
My trailer took a beating on the TAT. Other than the previously mentioned bearing issues, no damage.

However, the inside edge (half essentially) of my tires were wearing so much more than the outside edge, I actually went to a Walmart in Rifle, CO and had them dismount the tires, turn them around, and remount them so the half with tread were now on the inside.

It could be a bent axle (it has seen its share of abuse). Or it just could be just I have a straight axle instead of one with a camber (slight bend in the axle). With weight on the straight axle, it could be flexing so the tires are splayed out - wearing the inner half of the tires out.

Either way, I have a new Dexter axle on order from a local shop with a camber ("bend") built into it. Same size (3500lb axle, 52" hubface, 38.5" spring centers). I'll switch over the electric brakes over to the new axle. Axle cost is about $150, and will take 6-8 weeks for it to be delivered to the shop. Will post pictures when it arrives.

Dexter wanted about $650 for the exact same axle delivered (from SC) in about the same amount of time. They said half of that was shipping. Sometimes it's better to order something from a local shop.

Once the new axle is mounted, I'll replace the tires on the trailer with two new ones (same size - LT235/75/15"). Then we'll see how the tires wear on the trailer.


See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 5
Updates on mine are slow, this year has just been too busy.

The trailer base has been fix, I hope, but the repairs to the box are the slow part.


See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Interesting how the V-Tongue goes through the crossmember (usually they are mounted under the frame). I don't know if that would weaken the crossmember or not (or if it did, would it be significant).


See less See more
So my new trailer axle came in a bit ago, and I finally got some time to get it painted. It came painted in a flat black paint, and was covered with stickers (shipping, assembly, etc.). I pulled the stickers off, cleaned off the adhesive goo, and painted it Rustoleum gloss black. There were also two 3/8" holes drilled under the spring perches for wires to run from one side to the other when running electric brakes. I didn't need them (I wired the electric brakes separately), so I tapped the holes to 7/16" coarse thread, and put in some SS plugs. If it's worth doing, it is worth overdoing.

This is technically axle #4 for the trailer. There was the original factory axle, an 1800lb square tube axle, the current axle (3500lb straight axle set-up for electric brakes), and now this one (3500lb axle with a crown). In the picture below you should be able to see the slight curve in the axle.

Why the new axle with a crown? My trailer tires were wearing heavily on the inside half of the tread with the 1800lb axle. That was one of the reasons I initially went with the straight 3500lb axle (plus to get electric brakes). This trailer gets abused off-road, and I thought I may have originally bent the 1800lb axle. I figured there was no way a 3500lb axle would get bent in a trailer that only weighs about 1200lb fully loaded and wet (wet - gas and water in the cans, and full ice chest) so I went with the straight axle. So I either bent this one too, or the weight (and abuse) is causing the axle to flex and bow the bottom of the tires out. Hopefully this axle with the slight bend will compensate for any flex the axle is having, so my tires will wear even now.

This straight 3500lb axle was not a "Dexter" brand axle. The new one I just got with the crown is a "Dexter" brand axle. Does it make a difference? I don't know. Do they both use the same gauge thickness and type of steel in their axle tubes? I don't know. Are their spindles the same quality? I don't know. Will my new tires wear quicker on the outside edges because of the crown in the axle? Wait for it...

I don't know.

The tires were wearing so bad, that on my TAT trip I stopped in CO and had a shop dismount the tires, and flip them around so the half with the full tread were now getting the wear.

I've got new spring plates on order, and new 1/2" U-bolts. Once the spring plates come in, I'll pull the old axle out and replace it with the new. I'll post pictures when that happens.


See less See more
Hopefully, that does the trick.

Regarding the two trailers I mentioned a few posts up, I have confirmed they are 5x4.4" lug pattern
When I put new springs on the trailer (four-leaf 900-something-lb rated each spring), I took them apart, sanded the surfaces smooth, and then put a thin layer of grease on each touching surface to help them flex. I had to slide-off the spring clamps, and then tap them back on.

The clamps then didn't want to stay in place anymore, so they would slide off. And then one of the springs would want to start going at an angle (not too bad as the U-bolts will only allow so much sideways movement in the spring, but I would crawl underneath and hammer it back in line with the rest of the springs). So while I've got the axle out, I pulled the offending spring on each side (second leaf from the bottom), and have them at the machine shop to drill a tapered 1/4" hole at each end (1.25" from each end) so the head of the machine screw will be flush with the spring surface, and I will be putting one of these spring clamps on each end of both leaves:

Once I get them back from the machine shop (Wed next week?), I'll be able to put it all back together. Got new tires mounted and balanced and ready to go. New spring plates have been drilled for 1/2" U-Bolts and are ready to go (original holes were for 3/8" U-bolts, and those would have worked just fine too). Got new hardware (nuts and washers) to replace some of the old hardware. Everything that needed painting has been painted.

I'll be glad to have this project completed.

New tires are mounted and ready to go. They made a mistake at first and put P235/75/15" tires on the rims. What I had was LT235/75/15" tires. So I brought them back (never took them out of the back of the truck before I realized their mistake) and had them mount and balance the correct tires. More plies in the LT tires, so more HD.


See less See more
Ok... axle is mounted. Can't really get an "action shot" here. Kinda boring pictures actually, but is shows what I've done (and what you can do). Got the new spring plates (with shock mounts) drilled for 1/2" U-bolts and installed (the old ones were beat up and had been modified one too many times). I had 3/8" U-bolts on there before, and they would have worked just fine too. 1/2" may be overkill actually. Had a loose upper shock mount that I needed to tighten up. Got the springs back from the machine shop with the 1/4" tapered holes on each end (for machine screws) so I could put the spring clamps on either end of the spring... so I've got the spring packs back together.

You can also see the bump-stops I'm using on the trailer (factory Jeep TJ cups and bump-stops). They're to help keep the springs from over-flexing.

You can see the slight bend in the axle - hopefully once there's weight on the axle the tires will wear even. All that's left to do is to mount the hubs (brake drums), and them attach the wheels and tires.

This'll probably be the last time all this stuff is this clean underneath. That's ok; this trailer is built for off-pavement adventure!

While downloading these pictures, I came across some old pictures of earlier versions of this same trailer before the cooler tray up front, aluminum tub, etc. You can see the spring shackle behind the tires in one of the pictures, so this must have been after I did the first spring conversion. Tires shown are 205/75/15" (current tires are LT235/75/15") on an 1800lb square tube axle (and still had more clearance under this square-tube axle and 205 tires than I did under the pumpkin of the Jeep's rear Dana 44 and 33" tires). This trailer has evolved over the years.

Fall is here. Soon it'll be winter. Do you need a project? Get a lil' trailer project going! Then load-up and go on an adventure. This last picture of the trailer... I took it on plenty of adventures as you see it - I'd load it up with camping gear, hook it up to the TJ, and go. The last picture was taken quite a few years ago somewhere near the Alaska/Canadian border (Atlin Canada? something like that). We had a blast on that trip. Trailer pulled like it wasn't even there.


See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 2
Hubs are back on, wheels and tires are back on, and now it is ready for its next grand adventure.

On my recent overlanding trip, I ruined a hub somewhere on the highway hundreds of miles from my destination, so I had to use my spare hub (thank goodness I carried a spare hub and bearings!). And that same day I went to the nearest Tractor Supply (or Northern Tool & Equipment - I forget) and bought another spare loaded hub (and spindle nut & washer). So today when I was putting the hubs back on, I put the recently purchased spare hub on in place of the other original hub (on the side that didn't go bad). I'll get a bearing set to replace the bearings in that old hub, and then that'll be my spare hub (on trailers with electric brakes, the hub is also the brake drum - they're all one-piece). So I'm now running one new, and one almost new set of hubs on the trailer. There is only one real part that can go bad on these little trailers that'll leave you stranded, and that is the hub bearings. I can't stress enough carrying a spare hub with greased bearings (and spindle nut & washer and cotter pin) in your trailer. Of course you're already carrying a spare tire for your trailer.

FREE TO GOOD HOME (pick-up only):

I don't need my old trailer axle anymore. It is a 3500lb axle 52" hubface-to-hubface with spring perches at 38.5" on center. It has the mounts to install an electric brake backing plate, or you can just use regular hubs. It comes with the spindle nuts and washers, but no hubs. The axle is a straight axle, so the axle can be mounted above or below the springs. I live in SW WA about 45 min north of Portland OR just off of I-5. Send me a PM if interested.

DO NOT take it if you're not going to use it. Don't be an A-hole and tell me some line about your trailer build just to turn-around and sell it for a few bucks. Heck; I could sell it if I wanted to. They're about $150 new.


See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 2
Today I am driving about 80 miles to see about a new axle for my trailer, I bend the 3500 lbs one I put in back in 2014.

One of my old Air Force buddies lives in Amboy, great area almost moved there back in 1991.
Today I am driving about 80 miles to see about a new axle for my trailer, I bend the 3500 lbs one I put in back in 2014.

One of my old Air Force buddies lives in Amboy, great area almost moved there back in 1991.
I don't know for sure if I bent mine (it did take a beating during its lifetime), or if it just bowed under the weight of the trailer. I don't think the trailer loaded weighs enough to bend a 3500lb axle, but that's one reason my newest axle has a slight crown built into it.

Nobody's asked for my old 3500lb axle so far, so I put it up in the shop rafters with my old 1800lb square tube axle till someone wants it. Who knows; maybe 50 years from now it'll still be up there.

So if you bent your 3500lb axle, what are you replacing it with?
I don't know for sure if I bent mine (it did take a beating during its lifetime), or if it just bowed under the weight of the trailer. I don't think the trailer loaded weighs enough to bend a 3500lb axle, but that's one reason my newest axle has a slight crown built into it.

Nobody's asked for my old 3500lb axle so far, so I put it up in the shop rafters with my old 1800lb square tube axle till someone wants it. Who knows; maybe 50 years from now it'll still be up there.

So if you bent your 3500lb axle, what are you replacing it with?
I had people tell me to just add support to another 3500lb axle, but with all the stuff I carry and the weight and where I go with it, a 6000lb axle with brakes this time. Talking to a few different shops and since the cost is almost the same between a 5200lbs and 6000lbs axle, I will go large.
I normally carry about 1300-1500lbs when I have the box on and camping, but I have carried 3/4 to a cord of Oak wood a few times over long distance, paving stones, building materials, plus with the off roading and other stuff, I want it done correctly and over built. Also since my suspension has failed a few times on the road and pushed the right wheel/tire violently into the frame, I think that could have a lot to do with the bent axle. My axle is bent downward (lower in the middle) and to the front on the right side.
You can see a little of the bend here, but it worst than the picture shows.
Wide enough to see the wheels on your trailer.

Big enough to carry your stuff low down in your trailer.

Tongue long enough so you don't damage your motor as, when, and if you jackknife.

Same size wheel as your motor if you are going off road.

The back end of TJ would make for a smart rig.
You've got some good points Delta0.

Yup; the 90-degree rule. Gotta have a tongue long enough so if you're at a 90-degree angle, nothing is hitting. Also (as I learned the hard way) the tongue has to be long enough so if you've got a swing-away spare tire carrier on your Jeep, it can swing all the way open and not hit anything on the trailer. Mine didn't when I got a new spare tire carrier, so I had to extend the tongue to compensate.

I think jscherb took the back half of two TJs and made a trailer. Maybe he'll chime in. He makes the difficult look easy.

This would make a nice trailer tub - You should be able to put it on an easily modified HF trailer frame:

I think I paid a little over $1000 for my aluminum tub (with locking hinged lid) including shipping, but that was a few years ago.

Don't forget Kaiser Willys if you want a "real" reproduction WWII trailer. You can order just a tub and fenders (~$1,000), or a whole kit which includes the frame (~$1,500 - $2,000) minus suspension and axle of course.

Wanna go fiberglass? Check out Dinoot trailers (and their J-Series tubs):

My opinion(s) after doing this for quite a few years?

A five to six foot long tub is about ideal behind a Jeep. Go tall(er) instead of long(er) in the tub. Especially if you're four-wheeling with the trailer (which I've done a lot of) - the shorter the tub, the less rear overhang. My tub is tall enough so I can put two 8-gallon Rubbermaid Action Packers on top of each other and still have a little room above left over even with the lid closed.

No wider (outside tire edge to other outside tire edge) than your tow vehicle's tire measurement. My trailer's a little narrower than my TJ's tire measurements (tub is 40" wide at the base; same as the old WWII trailers), but is the same as my CJ2A's tire measurement width.

Definitely gotta have a spare. Either have your trailer's tires and rims exactly match your tow vehicle's so you only need one spare between the two, or carry on the trailer a matching spare. Since my trailer can be towed by either one of my three overlanding vehicles (all with different tire sizes or bolt patterns), I carry a matching spare on the trailer. When I broke a leaf spring on the trailer once, the tire started rubbing on the fender and starting to cut a groove into the tread. If allowed to go too long, it would have sliced the tire in two. And I'd have been stuck there if I wasn't carrying a spare.

The TJ (and truck - 96 Ram 1500 4x4) run 285/75/16" (33") tires, the Willys runs a 31x10.5x15" tire (and truck and Willys run a different bolt pattern than the trailer), and the trailer runs an LT235/75/15" tire (28"?). It is smaller than any of the other vehicle's tires, but I still have a couple more inches of clearance under the trailer's axle than under the TJ's rear Dana 44 axle, and it sits level when connected to any of those three vehicles. I've never (as far as I know) hit the trailer's axle on anything when off-road (and I've pulled it over some crazy stuff).


See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 4
Right now I have a 57” total width hub face to hub face, but that includes 2” 5x5 to 6x5.5 adapter, so I am doing away with them.

I have about 1/2” of clearance at the top of the tire with the fender liner with the axle bent in, so my plan was a 58” axle hub face to hub face.

For me, where a problem comes in, is that a 60” axle is a standard axle, where the 58” is custom made, so I am not sure which one I am going with, depends on cost and build time for the 58”. I don’t think the extra inch on each side will be that big of a deal.

My trailer was built off the specs of an M416 trailer, so it has always been narrower than my vehicles, 2014 JKUR, 2006 GX470 and my 2020 Tacoma. My Tacoma width at the ground, outside tire to outside tire is just over 75” and my trailer is right at 65”, so the 60” axle would not make to big of a difference. In the past, I have added a rear view camera to view the trailer at anytime and plan to the same here.
My TJ's width outside edge of tire to outside edge of other tire is 72" (285/75/16" tires on 16x8" rims). On the trailer it is 63" - and the Willys is within an inch of the trailer's measurement. I do a lot of off-roading with the trailer, and sometimes here in the PNW the trails are tight with rocks and trees on either side. I'm glad to have a narrow(er) trailer.

My trailer's new axle is a Dexter 3500lb axle. On the spindle ends, it is a little bit different than the previous 3500lb axle (or any other axle spindle I've seen). On the old axles, it is the traditional end using a castle nut held in place with a hole for a cotter pin. On the new axle, it has a segment cut out at the end tip for a washer who's center hole isn't perfectly round, and the axle nut is a traditional looking nut held in place with a cage (no hole drilled for a cotter pin). The cage has a tab to align with the machined off section on the tip of the spindle. See pictures below. Both have a zerk fitting at the end of the spindle to grease the inner bearing. I'm hoping the cage thing holds the nut in place and keeps it from spinning loose.

I picked-up for the spare hub a set of replacement bearings (two - an inner and an outer bearing), a new seal, and a new nut/washer/cage thingy. Came to $20 total. So one day this week I'll pack the bearings and swap them out (and put in the new seal). And then I'll have a spare hub with freshly greased new bearings all set to go, and hopefully I won't be needing it anytime soon. But it will be in the trailer just-in-case. Having a spare set-up saved my butt on my last overlanding trip.

I can pack bearings by hand, but it is a messy job. So today I went and bought a bearing packing tool. Maybe it'll encourage me to repack my trailer's bearings more often. Looks easy enough according to this video:

bearing packing tool - Video Search Results

It cost eight bucks - figure its worth a try.
Font Wood Material property Rectangle Circle
Data storage device Dvd Gas Font Blank media
See less See more
... And to close the loop (packing bearings? this is boring - and I know it).

I pulled the seal off the back of the hub assembly/brake drum, and the bearings just fell right out (as expected; as they should). I cleaned out the old grease from the hub assembly, and used my new bearing packer (worked great!) to pack the two new bearings. I put in the larger/inside bearing first, tapped in the new seal to keep it in place (tight fit), then flipped it over and put in the other (smaller) bearing. Then I covered the two ends with duct tape to keep it all clean, put the whole assembly in the box the hub/drum assembly came in (along with new nut/washer/cage thingy), and now it's ready to go back into the trailer in case I ever need it. Since I had a spare castle nut/washer/cotter pin, I put that in there too in case I ever need to help someone else out.

Again, PLEASE!!! no matter what kind of axle you're running on your trailer, you need to carry a spare hub assembly with installed greased bearings & seal (I call it a "loaded" hub), and a spare nut/washer/cotter pins (or a spare nut/washer/ cage thingy if that's what your spindle takes) in/on your trailer. And a large enough socket to get the nut off (my pipe wrench wasn't cutting it) and a small roll of emery cloth. The nut for both of my 3500lb axles needs a 1.5" socket. And when my bearing went bad (and it also ruined the hub where the small/front bearing seats so the whole assembly was now toast) it put some small grooves/burrs on the axle's spindle so the new bearings wouldn't slide over it. So I had to use some emery cloth to smooth it out. A roll of emery cloth is just a couple bucks at Home Depot or Lowe's.

Don't leave it all at home. A fully loaded hub to match your trailer isn't that expensive and doesn't take up that much space - especially if you're not running electric brakes. A spare nut/washer/cotter pin (or cage thingy) is cheap. A 1.5" socket (or whatever size your trailer's axle nut takes) can be picked up at most any auto parts store or hardware store (or you or they can order it online). You'll be so glad you've got it if you ever need it on the trail.

I wish I had taken a picture of myself in that parking lot swapping out my hub. But it was hot out (summer in the south), I was tired, and I still had a long way to go to get to my destination. I just wanted to get it done so I could get back on the road. It would have been SO much worse if I hadn't had the parts and tools on hand or available.


See less See more
3481 - 3500 of 3530 Posts