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Are Builders' Trailers The Stupidest Waste Of Space?


Picture of dual axle builders trailer with all doors open.

We've had our fair share of "controversial" topics here lately. From 'how to solve Brisbane's traffic problem' to 'whether you can trust a RWC', it's no secret that we've got opinions. So, if that's the case, why has this particular topic been keeping us up at night for the last 6-8 weeks?

Well it's simple, once you see the problem and know the reason it exists, it's almost impossible to un-see; And the problem today is builders' trailers.


Now, you might think, "what's wrong with builders' trailers? They seem like a good place to store tools or a particularly lousy apprentice. While there is nothing inherently wrong with builder's trailers there is a problem.


Throughout the last 60 years, utes have been used as work trucks. Barring some popularity in the panel van culture of the 70's/80's and the 'mini-truckin' movement of the 90's/00's, they have mostly been seen as just that, a work vehicle. A work vehicle tied to Australian culture as strongly telling foreign ex-pats about the existence of drop-bears or forcing Vegemite upon the uninitiated.

How did the ute come about?


Through myth or rumour, the Ford motor company of Australia claims to be the first to invent the ute after 'a farmer asked for a vehicle that could take his wife to church on Sunday and go to market on Monday'. The chances of this actually being true are extraordinarily slim, but it's nice to let Ford fans have a win now and then (especially seeing as the other Australian manufacturer routinely wiped the floor at Bathurst).

With the invention of the ute, the life of Australians was permanently improved. Being able to cart a moderate amount of stuff around while still having what was essentially a car helped industries like farming and the trades grow.


Now, understanding that utes are a utilitarian vehicle with the added bonus of a cab, we approach the real problem. Over the last 60+ years, the utilitarian portion of the ute has started to shrink significantly.


In fact, the trays on utes have shrunk so much that a Japanese kei truck has roughly the same sized bed as an F150.

A technical drawing of a Subaru Sambar (kei truck) compared to a Ford F150. Under each technical drawing is a photo of the actual vehicle. Above each drawing are the following dot points. Subaru 1. Only used by businesses to move stuff. 2. 90% of the overall bed length as F150. 3. Fuel efficient and doesn't destroy roads. Ford F150 1. Used by soccer mums to send kids to school. 2. Cannot see anyone shorter than 1.3m tall. 3. Available with 775hp.

"How is this so? Is it some kind of magic? Are we all living in a simulation?"


As far as we can tell, there's no simulation. With that said, there is a bit of trickery going on here. While bed sizes have comparatively shrunk over the last 60+ years, cab sizes have grown. This all comes back to the relationship between us as consumers and the manufacturers selling the cars.


Our relationship with these vehicles has also changed significantly over this time period too. Nowadays, owners aren't buying work trucks specifically for work, but often with the ideas of camping, 4WD'ing, towing and raising a family. Usually with the idea that a ute is the "manliest", toughest and best option for the job.


Manufacturers have been feeding this glutinous behaviour by making cabs larger, adding leather/heated seats, CarPlay, heads-up displays, carpet flooring, rear leg-room, emergency city braking, lane keeping aids, heated and cooled cup holders and everything else the heart desires.


And more often than not, this comes with a completely empty tray.

A picture of a early 2000's Toyota Hilux (foreground) compared to the size of a current Ford F150. Both vehicles have the same size bed, but the Ford is approximately 50% taller and 25% longer.

In adding all of this luxury, the prices have also skyrocketed. A brand new Mazda BT50 would have cost you $23,500 in 2006 (approx. $35,000 today), whereas a brand new 2023 BT50 today starts at almost $70,000. Literally double the price.


The worst part about all of this is that people are paying for much nicer, comfier vehicles and actually getting significantly less space to put their work stuff. On top of the seemingly ridiculous doubling in cost, over the last 60 years the ratio of bed to cabin has shifted significantly as well. In the 1960's the tray (or bed) made up roughly 60% of the vehicle; Whereas most modern utes are approaching 30%.

Picture of 5 different generations of Ford F150 viewed from the top down comparing the size of the cabin (in orange) to the size of the bed (in blue). The first generation is 64% bed/tray and the newest generation is 37% bed/tray. The rest of the generations indicate the steady reduction in bed size.

Now, there are actually a couple of reasons that builders' trailers don't make a lot of sense. They compromise vehicles, make roads less safe and they are easy targets for thieves.


Possibly the worst example of compromised usability is the new Hilux GR Sport, a really 'beaut rig' coming in at a cool $75,000. It's got a hefty GCM (gross combination weight) and towing capacity at 5850kg and 3500kg respectively. It's also got a hefty kerb weight at around 2270kg.


However, while these numbers will mean nothing to most of you, the stupidity of it all comes shining through when you do a little math. If you bought a brand new Hilux GR Sport today and hooked up your 3.5 tonne boat to test out your 3.5 tonne towing capacity, you would almost certainly be over the 80kg legal payload limit as soon as you sat in the drivers seat.

In fact, if you hook up your nice 3.5 tonne caravan to your brand new Hilux GR Sport with it's 3.5 tonne towing capacity, you would have an 80kg payload for yourself, your friends, your luggage and anything else you might like to take with you.


What does all this have to do with builders' trailers?


It's really quite simple if you've been following along. With ever-shrinking bed sizes, builders, carpenters, sparkies, farmers and the rest of the lot have taken to replacing their ever-receding tray (a problem they've leaned into) with a stick-on appendage that does the exact same job.

On top of this, many builders overload and underservice these trailers. It's not really the fault of the builder either, what normal person would know that a trailer needs a service. And there's just so many random weight numbers that you have to know to be following the law (and exceedingly few facilities to weigh vehicles).


Though it might not seem like that big of a deal to overload a vehicle like this, it actually has a significant impact on the braking performance and stability of the vehicle and can completely void your insurance in the case of an "incident".


An often unmentioned secondary effect is the placement of the weight in the trailer. An incorrectly balanced trailer can cause swaying and instability that can lead to jack-knifing in a heartbeat. All of this is without mentioning the sheer size and difficulty in manoeuvring/parking, but that's another story altogether.

The other main issue with these trailers is the simple lack of theft prevention. Though most of these trailers have the exact same style of lock as most ute canopies, there's very little to prevent an opportunist from hooking up a trailer to their own vehicle and taking off with it.


If the answer to this is a tow ball lock, watch these videos from the LockpickingLawyer.


What are we getting at with all this?


Well it's simple. With so many people buying utes just to leave the tray completely empty or to bang a builders' trailer straight on the back, it seems like an SUV might actually be a better, safer, cleaner option. However, if we had our way about things, we'd like to bring back reasonably sized trays, smaller vehicles and more reasonable prices (compared to inflation).


 

If you have any questions about this blog post, would like a second opinion from a mechanic or would like to find an honest mechanic in Brisbane, check out Kashy here.


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