Cargo Trailer or Box Truck?

Cabinetmakers discuss the cost, benefits, and practicality of buying a trailer or box truck for hauling cabinets, materials, and equipment. November 20, 2005

I'm looking at buying a trailer. My local dealer has CargoPro and PaceAmerican. What type have you found to be the best fit? I will be transporting mainly kitchen cabinets and furniture. My dealer liked the all-aluminum models (CargoPro) but they are expensive. I know you get what you pay for, but only using the trailer a couple times a month at most, I don't want to over invest. Have any of you had a steel frame trailer and found any problems with rust? Do you like the v-nose option? I assume ramp door is better than swing doors.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
I bought a 16'X 6'-6" high all steel trailer over 7 years ago. No rust issues but I am in the Southwest. I paid $3,200 but I believe they are pushing $5,000 now. I almost bought a PACE from Home Depot for $2,800 but there was no comparison in the construction of the trailers. Mine is a WW trailer from somewhere in west Texas where everyone and their grandmother knows how to weld up trailers. I really wanted a Wells Cargo but was not dumb enough to pay $8,000 for a 12' trailer. Mine does not have a ramp but I do fine without one.

From contributor H:
I decided not to buy a trailer at all. I use a 15' box van that I purchased used for $4000. I didn't like having to use my truck to tow the trailer and it is very convenient to have another vehicle that the guys in the shop can drive is they need to pick something up.

I looked at it like this:
Trailer = $3500-$5000 + wear on truck + new bigger truck = $30000-$45000. Total = $33500-$50000.
Boxvan = $4000-$6000 plus maintenance and insurance.

I can buy a lot of maintenance and insurance with the extra money and I have two vehicles at my disposal. My box van can also tow a trailer, so if the job is just a little too big, I can rent a trailer and I only have to make one trip.

From contributor B:
I looked at the very same issue earlier this year. I was renting a box truck when I needed, but when they moved further away, logistics of renting became a problem. New box trucks are really expensive. Used trucks, like the kind that Ryder would sell, I believe, are close to being used up on those small engines. And they aren't one owner... they're 10,000 owner vehicles. And I think, if you look at all the expenses of upkeep (tires, brakes, safety inspections, etc.) it could get pricey.

I opted for a Wells Cargo 16', 6'6" high covered unit with ramp back and a three foot wide side door. New, last year's model, $6,000! Duel axel, electric brakes. Easy to tow. I use my pickup truck. All associated costs are very low, and what is there to upkeep? Resale on a Wells Cargo is very good, too.

Please look into hidden costs of having a box truck... even having employees using it means they have to be on your policy and their driving record affects your premium.

From contributor G:
By the time all costs are figured in, a box truck can be very expensive for the few miles you would put on it. I went through the same thing and found an all aluminum Featherlite (used) 7 x 14 with v nose for $2800. Money very well spent. The ramp door is a dream to walk up with heavy cabinets. Plus, I never need to change oil, fix brakes, mufflers, pay high license and insurance, etc.

From contributor H:
There are concerns about maintenance on used box vans, especially rentals. However, rental companies spend a lot of effort to keep them running as they only make money if they keep them in good shape. Would they be selling them if the risk of them breaking down wasn't about to go up? No, but they still have a lot of life left in them.

Insurance is expensive for employees to drive around in shop vehicles, not to mention the risks involved with having employees driving around representing the company, but well worth it for the following reasons.

I do not want to be tied to pickups and deliveries. I make my money in the shop. The shop runs smoother and is much more productive when I am there. Even if I am in the office not producing anything but paperwork, my shop guys work harder and I am there to solve problems that come up and the paperwork needs to be done. I would say that having an employee that makes $8-$12 an hour plus insurance costs deliver and pickup saves me about 10 hours a week of driving around. 10x$40 = $400 a week, not to mention the savings that come from more effective employees. These numbers are estimates and I don't know if they are exactly accurate, but I know that I make more money if I am in the shop than if I am unloading cabinets or driving around. If you have a trailer and you want to use your employees to deliver, you still have all the issues of insurance and liability, but they take your personal truck, leaving you with nothing to drive. If you have a shop truck, you have all the same expense and maintenance of a box van plus the cost of the trailer.

If you are a one-man shop that does everything from pickup of the materials to install of the last piece of crown, a trailer might be more economical. I don't know anyone personally that makes a decent living doing it like that, but then again I don't know everyone that builds cabinets. I do know that doing it all myself didn't make me enough money to make it worth doing.

It came down to this for me. Buy a box van, make more money. Buy a trailer, spend $5000 and make the same money - the $5000.

From contributor N:
I have an Expressline 18 ft. trailer bought used 4 years ago for $3000.00. It was very well taken care of and had new, good quality trailer tires on it. Came with a nice aluminum ramp, previous owner hauled his motorcycle in it. I have had a few wires get pinched off and a few bulbs burn out. Other than $60.00 a year registration, I haven't spent any more than $100 on it since I got it. We did 70 kitchens last year. I pull it with my 1995 1 ton truck that I bought for $12,000 4 years ago - it had 30,000 miles on it. Keep all my tools on the truck and only haul my cabinets in the trailer. I have been thinking about upgrading to a newer trailer and bet I could get $1500 to $2000 for my old one. If I have to do some service work, I leave the trailer at the shop and gain 8 miles per gallon. This setup has worked well for me and my 6 man shop. It cost about $130 a year for registration for the pair and I still can use my truck to pull my $30,000 bass boat, my flatbed trailer, 5th wheel, dirt bikes, etc. A used box van would probably be about as cheap and just as well, but I just never liked box vans.

From contributor D:
I have a 26' enclosed snowmobile trailer. I thought it was going to be overkill but it is just right. Current job is a 45 min drive and I have filled the trailer 5 times and have two more to go. 14 trips in a smaller trailer would cost me an extra $1200 dollars (2 men at $60/hr each). That will pay off real quick, considering I paid $5500 for the trailer. I prefer a trailer because I spent $40000 on a damn pickup and I want to drive the thing.

From contributor J:
I had a F-600 15' box truck before I upgraded to my 16' trailer. Darn big truck used to get about 3 or 4 miles per gallon and all my installations average about 75 miles away. My Dodge Ram gets 15 MPG pulling a full trailer, so just the gas savings alone paid my trailer off in a few months. My F-600 was a very nice truck with low miles and I almost could not even give it away. I drive an expensive pickup and would much rather drive it than a huge delivery truck.

From contributor B:
5th wheels and goosenecks pull a lot easier and resell better. Of course, they cost a bit more up front, but to me it's worth it. The upper deck is where install tools stay and is used for doors, drawers, accessories, etc. Racks hold trim, quilts, cords, etc. Lower deck will hold a kitchen, two baths and utility room. I paid $4K for this, it was two yrs old. It's a WW, not as well made as many, but gets the job done well.