The Jeep Expeditions Home Built Trailer

A few weeks ago we started work on a home built off-road trailer that in it's basic form can be built in a weekend in your backyard, driveway or garage.

The biggest thing we've found keeping many "weekend off-road warriors" from investing in a trailer was cost.

The goal was to build a trailer that would get the job done for the moderate off-road adventure and do that for under $2500. Well optioned out including roof top tent we think the price would still wind up under $5000 or about half or less of what a comparable commercially available trailer would cost.

With a total of 9 total hours of work time into the trailer, it is almost complete. Here is the story of the build over several postings:

THE JEEP EXPEDITIONS HOME BUILT TRAILER

The affordable alternative to expensive off-road trailers

You've seen them in magazines, you've seen them on the trails. Custom Off-Road Trailers. You check them out and then the sticker shock set in, the entry level bare bones no frills trailer starts right around $5000. The one you saw on the trail probably set the owner back $8000 to $16,000 with the average price landing somewhere in the $10,000 to $12,000 range for nicely optioned trailer.

So much for that dream, right? Wrong, we think that we have figured out how anyone can own a basic, but very nice off-road trailer for under $2500. Add some popular options as you get the time and money and you'll end up with a full featured rig for less than half the cost of a commercially built trailer.

It starts with an idea, you put that idea on paper and you take it from there. The "box" part of the trailer will be bought as you see it. Already built in a shop that specializes in quality custom aluminum trailer boxes. You've spent half your budget and the project is half done before you've broken a sweat.

Ok, so here are our final drawings along with the blueprint from the manufacturer of the box.









The door on both sides up in the front is for our Tembo Tusk jumbo fridge slide. The fridge will slide out on the right side, the left side door will be to access batteries/electronics.

To give you an idea how the top left and right side lids will open, here are a few pictures of that set up on a different box and our actual box under construction in the factory. As you might have noticed we made a last minute change to the plans for the rear doors, we made them one big one acting as a tailgate. This will make loading and unloading much easier than the two smaller doors originally planned for the back.











Now all you need is a frame to put the box on.

STAGE #1 - The Trailer Frame

Option #1 - Pre-cut Trailer Kit

There are a few thoughts on how to go about a frame. The first one is what a number of Jeepers have already tried with success is a pre-fab kit available from a number of sources online. It has a 1980 lb GVWR and a 2000 lb axle making it just about right for our project.




Because of the load capacity, price and simplicity of a pre-cut, bolt together kit, we've decided on this to be the back bone of our trailer project. The kit can be assembled and completed in a day or two at the most. We already know that the suspension of the trailer kit, while rated for 2000 lbs for pavement use, will not make the grade for moderate off-roading. The axle should be OK as long as you aren't doing anything extreme with it. For the short term, we are going to keep the 2000# axle and see how it works. The long term plan will be to replace it with a 3500# axle with electric brakes.

Because we cannot find an acceptable kit for our 4x6 size trailer we need to cut two feet off each of the frame rails to make our 4x8 trailer the perfect 4x6 size for off-roading. This can be done easily with a hack saw, reciprocating saw or a cut off wheel. You're basically eliminating the front cross member and an approximate shortening of each of the side rails. The extra cross member that will be left over we'll use to further beef up the trailer.

Once our frame rails are cut we are ready to assemble the trailer frame. Once the basic frame and tongue components are bolted together we make our first modification to beef up our build. We will run the equivilent of a 2" receiver tube from the front of the tongue to the rear of the trailer. This can be bolted to all the cross members with 7/16" inch grade 8 bolts or you could use similar strength rectangular u-bolts. This will allow us to use a detachable front coupler to hinder theft and to allow receiver mounted accessories like a "Bumper Dumper" or a bike rack on the rear.

Next we will beef up the frame with angle iron from spring mount to spring mount. The original kit used angle iron to beef up the frame with their springs, we are going a step further. The length of the angle iron depends on the length of your springs our CJ7 springs are about 46" long so we are going to use a 48" piece of angle iron on each side. Once the angle iron is bolted on, it is time to attach your springs. We are using 6 leaf CJ7 rear springs that we ordered from Omix-ADA. We also ordered the spring install kit from them which includes shackles, mounts, bushings and bolts. I guess we could have gone out to a junk yard and picked up some 40 year old springs but how would they hold up? We still would need all the brackets and bushings so it just makes sense to buy new and Omix-ADA had everything we needed in stock and it all has a 5 year guarantee.

With the springs installed we turn to the axle, bolt it up to the springs and turn the traler right side up to install some wheels. We are going with 17" wheels and tires to match the ones on our tow rig. While this is not necessary, about half the guys I know with off-road trailers match their wheels and tires. In any case you need to sell the wheels and tires that came with the kit and use a minimum of 15" wheels with 31" tires for off-road use. You can move the kit fenders higher and mount on the sides of the box to accomodate the larger tires or get new larger diamond plate fenders at most any trailer supply house.

On the 6th day you go to DMV to get it titled.

The whole idea behind this project was to build an affordable trailer that would give you good long term service for moderate off-roading. Since most if not all of the trips and trails that Jeep Expeditions plans are stock Wrangler friendly, this trailer build will be perfect for our guys from Mohave to Moab, Canyon De Chelly to Death Valley and everywhere in between. Keep in mind that this trailer can be built in your driveway in just a few days with tools you already have. No welding is necessary or needed. But if you want to really stiffen things up, a few strategic weld beads will make things really solid. Remember when you bolt the box to the frame you are essentially going to make the box a part of the frame which will stiffen it all the more.

Using a kit is the perfect option for the driveway mechanic who doesn't have or want to spend $5000 on a trailer.

Option #2 - Build Your Own Frame

-OR- You can build your own frame? This will be the preferred method for those who have the skills or resources to weld up their own trailer. It certainly will be a much stronger trailer than a kit trailer and will stand up to more abuse off-road. If you have welding skills or know someone that does this could be your best bet using 2x3 C-channel steel for the frame and cross members with 2x3 boxed steel for the tongue. You can then choose your spring and axle set up but again, our suggestion would be to use a 3500 lb axle with electric brakes if you go this route since you will have to buy an axle anyway. We'll even make it easier for you by posting up what we feel is the shopping list for the steel you will need to do it this way. The cost of the kit and the cost for steel are about the same so what you do is up to you.

You'll still need an axle, tires, wheels and suspension. The same that you would use on the kit trailer. We'll recommend certain parts, give you accurate parts lists and provide you with sources where you can get these materials.

The Next Step

The trailer build will start here with build postings starting around the end of April. We will be adding some options to our trailer like a water tank mounted between the frame rails. I am hoping to be able to find a tank in a size to make this happen. The ideal tank would hold 11 to 20 gallons.

We are going to add a trailer jack made specifically for off-road trailers and a new style articulating coupler, both from ARK Corporation. Their products are well known by Australian off-roaders and are now being imported to the USA. Initial review by Jeep Expeditions convinced us to make these products a part of this project.





Over time we will add more options to give you ideas on how to add roof top tents, rear tire carriers, fold out shelves for cooking prep, tongue accessories such as Jerry can storage, propane bottle mounting and more. Some of these optional additions will be added sooner than later.

Our trailer kit will be started before the end of April, 2015 and the box should arrive about the 4th week of April. We hope to have this completed in order to show it at our booth in Flagstaff at the Overland Expo in May.


The next part is construction of the frame..............................
 
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THE BEGINNING: CONSTRUCTION OF THE FRAME

We'll call today Day 1. It's Thursday late afternoon and I head down to the trailer supply store in Mesa, AZ to pick up the trailer kit. It was on sale and with tax I spent just under $330. Now keep that in mind because we are going to built our basic trailer for under $2500. The kit comes in two boxes that weigh in around 160 lbs each. It was easy to get them home strapped to my "hitch haul" which also makes a good platform to empty the boxes helping to make this a one man job.







Once home I begin to unpack the 1st box. It contained the wheels/tires, fenders, lights and wiring harness and misc brackets and hardware. I arrange all of this in the garage and begin to unpack the second box which contains the springs, the steel, coupler and more brackets along with the instruction manual (manual? who needs a manual?). I organize the steel in my driveway in preparation of starting the build tomorrow morning. I notice that not all the steel pieces are exact copies of

Friday morning, this is the real Day 1 and I decide to take this easy. I'm not in any hurry and I've decided to tackle this on my own if only to prove that one can do this in their garage or driveway in a weekend. The decision was also made not to use my compressor or air tools because not every one has one available to them. It's going to be my Craftsman 150 piece tool set and three Dewalt 18v tools (1/4" impact wrench, 1/2" drill and my angle grinder).

The instructions say to build the frame in two sections, front and back so I get right on the front first. To make things easy I set the pieces up on a couple of milk crates and an empty box. Putting the right and left frame rails in place and placing the cross beams in thier proper locations I start bolting things together. It is important that you do not tighten up the bolts because you will have to square the trailer up later and then tighten the bolts down. With the front frame now together the right and left hitch frames are put in their proper place and loosely bolted down. Think I will take a break and head to Ace Hardware for some Grade 8 hardware and Industrial Metal Supply for the steel I need to beef up our kit frame.

I start again after lunch and as late as it is, I've got less than ninety minutes of time invested so far in the build. You might ask why some Grade 8 hardware? I've decided to use Grade 8 bolts in 7 1/16" for all the corners and the bottom of the frame. The steel picked up consited of 10ft of hitch stock, 8ft of 2x2 .250 square tubing, 8ft of 2x3 angle iron in 3/16" and 10ft of 2x3 .125 rectangular tube for a rear bumper and a stiff crossmember up front. I had IMS cut the long lengths into the size of pieces I am going to use. The hitch stock will remain one big piece.

Since I need to modify the frame from 4ft x 8ft to 4ft x 6ft I've decided the best way from from the rear section of the frame. Normally I would cut one of the remaining frame rails in half making them 2ft each but I'm customizing my design a bit and have cut two 22" frame rails which I will assemble with the remaining two cross members. you might also notice in some of the pictures that I left the frame pockets "up" in the front and down in the back and on all cross members. It doesn't matter but I'm not ever going to need to use the stake pockets so I deceded to place them down giving me more steel up top to fasten in to.







Rear frame completed in less than an hour and time to square it up and attach it to the front frame section. In our modifide trailer design we take bolt the front crossmember of the rear frame to the rear cross member of the front section. Once that is done, keep the frame supported and prepare to attach your 2x3 angle iron to each side lining up the edge of the iron with the rear edge of the trailer frame rail. Drill 1/2" holes thru the steel at all of the cross members and a few inbetween and secure it with Grade 8 bolts, not the ones provided with the kit. With the angle iron secured to the bottom of the frame drill 5 equally spaced 1/2" holes in the side of the angle iron into the frame rails and again secure with Grade 8 bolts. With this done your frame is pretty much finished except for the 2x3 sq tube which we will take care of later. I have about 4 hours invested in the frame, probably could have done it in 3 or less but there is not hurry here. It's time to install the suspension components but that will be for Saturday.











This is Satruday, Day 2 of our frame build. The suspension parts are laid out and inventoried. The poly bushings need installed in the spring eyes so we'll do that first. I'm going to mount the main eye mount at the front edge of the angle iron and setting it on the frame, it's going to fit perfect there. Half-inch holes are drilled and Grade 8 bolts are again used here. Now we move to the rear of the frame to install the front shackle mount. We do that at the very rear of the angle iron as shown in the picture. I assemble the heavy duty shackle with greasable bolts and we are now ready to mount the spring to the frame. Before we do that we need to attach the full length hitch tubing (2 1/2" x 2 1/2" x .250 square tube). I decided to cut the hitch tubing to 9'6". It will be fastened to the frame with six 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" 7/16th's square u-bolts that were custom made for about $4 each at Straight Line Suspension in Mesa, AZ.

With the hitch stock now bolted to the trailer frame, it's time to double check the squareness of the trailer, make any necessary adjustments and tighen all the bolts again. With everything done so far we are ready to bolt on the springs and flip the frame over making it right side up. Once you've done that, its time to mount the 2x3 square tubing on the front and rear of the frame. The long piece will go on the back, the 4ft piece on the front. We've spent about $70 on square u-bolts and Grade 8 bolts which we'll add to the final cost.

















The next thing to do it to bolt the axle up. We are going to try out the 2,000 lb axle that came with the kit for a couple of trips and see how it does. One thing I am going to do before we hit the trail is to replace the 3/8" u-bolts with some 7/16" ones for piece of mind. You have to decide if you want the axle spring over or spring under Most miltary trailers I've seen are spring under, this keeps the COG down and the trailer more stable on and off road. I'm going to try mine out spring over and see how it does.

With the axle bolted to the springs with a modified bracket it's time to mount the hubs to the spindles. The hubs come pre-greased and attached to the wheels. I'm going to remove wheels and install just the hubs as the factory wheels and tires aren't going to be used. Now there is one thing, factory Jeep wheels are not going to fit the 56" WMS to WMS axle that came with the trailer kit without the use of wheel adaptor/spacers. I need to figure that one out in the next day or two and order the set that I need. In my case it will be an adaptor that takes the trailer kit 5 x 4.5 bolt pattern (TJ, ZJ, YJ) to the 5 X 5 bolt pattern (JK, WJ, WK). Probably 1.25" would work. Otherwise, it's going to make it easy to decide when to upgrade to the 3500# axle. BTW, the spring center to spring center for welding perches on a new axle is 46 1/2". WMS to WMS on a JK is just a hair over 65 1/3", I've found that standard WMS to WMS on off the shelf axles seems to be 65" which will more than work.

I've now gotten about 8 hours time in the trailer frame with little left to do other than to attach the coupler, lights and trailer jack. In less than 9 total hours taking my time, the trailer frame is now done and ready to put the box on when it arrives later in the week. I am very pleased with how solid the trailer feels and very pleased with this project so far. Tomorrow, Sunday, I'll get the lights and license plate bracket installed so I an get it registered and tagged at the DMV on Monday. But first it's time to get a couple of friends together to roll the trailer over since the frame is pretty much complete.











Here we are a few days later and time to revisit axles, adaptors, bolt patterns and such. I got a set of wheel adaptors to convert the trailers 5x4.5 bolt pattern to 5x5 which is the current bolt pattern for most Jeeps. It's 1.5" thick and with stock wheels it should work. Clearances are close though. It would probably be easier if you were going to keep the 2000# kit axle to get some wheels with a few inches of offset. But, my mind is made up now and I am going to replace the kit axle with a 3500# Dexter Axle from Auto Safety House (ASH) in Phoenix. ASH has several locations in the state and walking into their show room is like walking into a candy store for trailer parts and accessories. If it's trailer relate they have it in stock. The sales manager told me that they are the #1 supplier to trailer builders in the state.

Now here is what I figured I would need for the axle swap.

1 Dexter 3500lb axle with flanges. 65" Hub Face (WMS to WMS)
2 Jeep Style Fenders 36" wide
2 Hubs for 5x5 bolt pattern
2 Bearing Kits
2 Spring Perches

However if you are going spend nearly $200 for a regular 3500# axle, you might as well spend another $100 and get one with electric brakes. A few years ago at the Overland Expo, Mario from Adventure Trailers did a class on driving off-road with a trailer. Their "demo" trailer had electric brakes and Mario showed us all kinds of tricks you can do with a trailer that has electric brakes on the trail. Just amazing.

So the axle I picked up today at Auto Safety House is a Dexter 3500# axle with 10" electric brakes and a 5x5 bolt pattern. While I was there I also got a nice length of 7 wire trailer harness with the standard 7 blade RV plug and and electric brake controller. I'll get the trailer switched over from the 4 pin connector to the 7 later today and tomorrow I'll have the spring perches welded to the axle and do the swap.

I've now gotten about 8 hours time in the trailer frame with little left to do other than to attach the coupler, lights and trailer jack. In less than 9 total hours taking my time, the trailer frame is now done and ready to put the box on when it arrives later in the week. I am very pleased with how solid the trailer feels and very pleased with this project so far. Tomorrow, Sunday, I'll get the lights and license plate bracket installed so I an get it registered and tagged at the DMV on Monday.

Coming Next: Ready to install the custom aluminum box..............check back this weekend for more pictures and updates................

Continued in Post #19 on Page #2 of this thread.
 
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pexic

New member
very nice, I started my build for the same reasons and somehow in the same direction :)


good luck with your project!
 

yj4trails

Observer
Really like what you are doing here. The modular construction of it I think will work out great for the home builder. Yes please post prices for the build when you get it complete. Good luck.
 

dstock

Explorer
Good start!

Depending on the jeep specific wheels, the 1.5 inch spacer may not be enough to clear the Dexter hub without some modification to the dust cap.

Have fun!
 
Good start!

Depending on the jeep specific wheels, the 1.5 inch spacer may not be enough to clear the Dexter hub without some modification to the dust cap.

Have fun!
You are exactly right, found out last night that the 2014 Rubicon wheels will not work with either the 2000# or 3500# hubs. After market rims like my ******** Cepek DC-1s on my Grand Cherokee will work just fine. Don't know why Jeep made the center hole so small in the newer Jeeps. I didn't want to use 2" spacers so I am going to use non-Jeep rims. Will eventually match them up with the JK so that trailer and Jeep have the same rims and tires.
 

dstock

Explorer
You are exactly right, found out last night that the 2014 Rubicon wheels will not work with either the 2000# or 3500# hubs. After market rims like my ******** Cepek DC-1s on my Grand Cherokee will work just fine. Don't know why Jeep made the center hole so small in the newer Jeeps. I didn't want to use 2" spacers so I am going to use non-Jeep rims. Will eventually match them up with the JK so that trailer and Jeep have the same rims and tires.
2" is exactly what I went with on my trailer build to enable me to use matching AEV wheels to my JK. Trial and error is all part of the fun!
 
Really like what you are doing here. The modular construction of it I think will work out great for the home builder. Yes please post prices for the build when you get it complete. Good luck.
I'll have what we call Phase 1 done this week. I'll post costs and source of parts to make it easy. There are things you can do to cut your costs. I chose new CJ7 springs but you could easily get a set of take offs from a CJ or a YJ privately or from a junk yard. Same with wheels and tires. I just happened to have a set of rims and tires laying around so there will be no cost to me. A buddy of mine was given a set of Rubicon wheels from someone he knew for free, unfortunately they won't fit on the trailer due to the size of the hubs.
But Craigslist is a good place to find wheels cheap, you just have to look and be patient. I've seen Jeep rims for $75 for 5 in like new condition. Just remember you have to take into consideration hub size when you choose your rims.
 

tomr67

New member
I would love to have mine made from aluminum, but I am scared to ask what retail on that box would be plus shipping ouch

The steel jeep rims are what you want , aluminum center hubs too small
 

1v6pony

Adventurer
Maybe it is the photos, but your axle appears to be mostly in the rear, why not centered in the frame? With it being an expo trailer and all the fluids and battery and other heavy stuff, it would seam you are going to be very tongue heavy... Just a thought.
 
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