Inside cargo trailers —more than meets the eye

WOODSTOCK, Ont. — Many people might think that all cargo trailers are alike. After all, they look alike.

But that would be an incorrect assumption, according to Brian Cox.

Cox has spent 45 years repairing and dissecting trailers and using that knowledge to build new trailers. He’s the founder and owner of the Canadian Trailer Company in Goderich, Ont. He was at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in September to show his premium quality cargo trailers.

In addition to his high-end trailers, Cox brought along a representative low-end American-built cargo trailer that has been condemned for safety reasons.

“That trailer was bought by my daughter and son-in-law in 2014. It was on the road for two years and eight months,” says Cox, adding that his son-in-law is a carpenter who kept all his tools in this American-built 14-foot trailer. The trailer sold for $4,600 brand new.

“He backed into a front corner with it and did some damage, so I decided to fix it because that’s what I do. When I started opening it up, I saw that the floor cross members were made from angle iron on 24-inch centres. The wall vertical studs should have been square tube steel, but they were all made from flat z-bar. The floor was chipboard. They screwed the aluminum to the steel, which you just don’t do. The two metals don’t get along. It caused a severe galvanic reaction.”

Attaching aluminum directly to steel without an insulator between causes galvanic corrosion or bimetallic corrosion. In this electrochemical process, one metal corrodes preferentially when in electrical contact with another. The trailer corroded very badly at those spots.

“He also had trouble with the roof leaking on his tools. The roof was not properly tied down, plus it was in five different pieces and it was only a 14-foot trailer. The roof panels flutter at highway speed and pull apart at the seams. And that’s why he was getting water on his tools.

“I’ve been in the trailer-retail business for a long, long time; long, long time. But I’ve never seen one this bad. I have one girl working for me. She was 17 years old when she started and she’s 54 now. She started hauling trailers out of Elkhart, Indiana, for me. My chief mechanic started working for me when he was 26 and he’s 68 now. So we’ve been repairing trailers and ripping the bad ones apart for a long, long time.

“The manufacturer had Good, Better, Best ratings, and this was called the Best. I saw there was a market for a high-quality trailer, so three years ago I decided to go into manufacturing.”

Cox explains that back when the Canadian and U.S. dollars were on par with one another, his American suppliers built pretty good cargo trailers. But with the current disparity, the American suppliers have to cut corners where they can to make their trailers price-competitive. And the quality suffers.

“(U.S. President) Donald Trump hasn’t helped the American trailer companies at all. The first week in the White House he put a 20 percent tariff on Canadian plywood. Well, all the plywood that goes to the trailer plants in Elkhart, Indiana, comes from Kapuskasing, Ont. Before I decided to build trailers, I toured nine of the main trailer factories in Elkhart. I think there’s a wide range of quality coming out of those plants.”

Cox says he never builds a trailer with 24-inch centres. Everything is on 16-inch centres. He uses a one-piece roof so there are no seams to come apart. It’s taped to the cross-members with a high-tech two-sided tape that holds the roof rigid. There are no rivets in the roof. He puts aluminum checkerboard trim on all corners to protect the trailer. All walls are either tube steel or tube aluminum. The aluminum panels are installed with the same tape as the roof, which serves double duty as an insulator between the metals. In the few spots where it’s necessary to use sheet metal screws, he uses only stainless steel, and he uses only plywood; not chipboard. There’s no z-bar or angle iron in these trailers.

“If you look at the wiring on the U.S. trailers, they use a little clip, like a pin, that pushes through the wire where they join the wires. That’s a prime way to invite corrosion into your wiring system. We build a complete wire harness in advance, right from the plug all the way back to the lights. All the male ends and female ends just connect easily.”

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