Dear Mentors who deal with your teams transportation,
I’m thinking of upgrading to a truck or SUV and in addition, getting a trailer.
What size trailers do you use?
Do you find it worth it?
Do teams have their coach bus tow their trailers?
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

We went to Detroit, did you find it difficult to unload/load?
What did you do with your car/trailer after load in for the weekend?

If you don’t trailer, how do teams bring in their “super pits”?
What kind of truck/suv is worth it?
(I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tow 33,000lbs)
(I’m looking at a 10hr drive from Brooklyn to Detroit)

Maybe you’re selling your truck/trailer, hit me up!

Kids, ask your mentors how do they do it.

-Thank you in advance

We have a 7x14 tandem axle trailer with standing room height inside and a fold down ramp in the back. It’s very worth it. So much easier to haul things and big things around. Everything rolls in. We don’t have to lift anything. 7x14 is about the biggest I’d go if you want to maneuver it in most parking lots.

We don’t tow with a bus. First, I don’t think we can, and second, I don’t think we’d want to. It’s a good idea to have a second vehicle to go get lunch or take a student to a hospital if needed.

We’ve been towing with a 1996 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 with the 7.4L Vortec gas engine, and it has worked out okay. I towed from SoCal to IRI and back in 2013. Loaded, we estimate the trailer is at about 6,000 lbs.

The nice thing about the Suburban is you can carry 7 people in it, or you can take the back seat out and fit a ton of stuff in there, such as a full 4x8 sheet of plywood. You can also fit 12’ bar stock completely inside the vehicle. So, it’s not a bad vehicle. Back when we bought it, it was easier to find SUVs in better condition and at cheaper prices than pickup trucks. At least around here, the used pickup truck market is still nuts today. Everybody keeps them for work, and the prices are through the roof, and the ones that are for sale have a ton of miles or are all beat up. We also had our eyes on Ford Expeditions and Excursions. Excursions have come down in price lately, and I hear the V10 gas and 7.3L diesel are both good engines. If you’re looking for used, a 1999-2005 Avalanche 2500 or a 2000-2006 Suburban 2500 with the 8.1L engine would be an affordable beast, but, these days, all of them are still 13-17 year old vehicles with >100,000 miles. Also, just about anything else will be easier to find than a 2500 Suburban.

The downside of our Suburban is it’s 22 years old now, and it has needed some major things done to it in the 6 years and 20k miles we’ve owned it: fuel pump, distributor, transmission, shocks, a/c compressor, hydro-booster, tie rods and ball joints, etc. Thankfully the engine still runs like a top, now with 120,000 miles, which is low mileage for its age.

When doing things like a “Super Pit” you really have to watch your tongue weight of your trailer. We have air assist leveling springs in addition to the heavy duty 3/4 ton leaf springs and they have helped. You also want the heaviest duty most load rated tires you can find.

If we had the budget to do it over again, I’d go with a new F-250 with the 6.7L Diesel. Keep in mind, when we got the Suburban used, it cost about the same as a Macbook Pro. We towed to Houston and Fresno with a rented new diesel F-250 and it was a night and day difference. It is just a bigger better truck and it’s almost like the trailer isn’t even there when towing. The “tow mode” feature with engine braking and trans downshifting works really really well on this truck. The Suburban gets about 7-8mpg. The diesel F-250 gets about 12-13 mpg, and just has almost infinite torque and power up grades and while accelerating.

Whatever you get, make sure it has a “tow package” which often includes a factory hitch, and most importantly a larger trans cooler. Sometimes the tow package will have a different trans altogether and/or a different rear axle, springs, shocks, and/or axle ratio.

For our setup, I wouldn’t tow it with a 1/2 ton truck. Some of the new 1/2 ton trucks are quite capable, but 3/4 ton (F-250 or chevy or ram 2500) are really the way to go. In addition to bigger better springs, you get bigger better brakes which is equally as important.

Moral of the story is, don’t tow 6,000lbs with a truck rated to tow 6000 lbs, and diesel is better than gas.

Go on…

You should do that. The price of used trucks in the south is nuts to the point where I would be looking at used German SUVs before looking at used trucks. It’s shocking to me how expensive a used F-150 with 100-200K miles goes for in these parts.

You need to look at the load you need to haul first. That will determine the specs of the trailer. The trailer type and weight will help you figure out what kind of vehicle you need to purchase and the towing capacity needed for the vehicle.

We use a 7x14 v-nose. It’s a tandem axle trailer with a brake system.

Very much so.

I’ve seen this done but not regularly and I think most coach bus drivers don’t want to haul a trailer with them.

I might have gotten a slightly taller trailer but that’s such a minor thing and not really an issue.

Haven’t been to Detroit but St Louis and Houston were never terrible. They aren’t great either but they aren’t terrible. You wait in line and then drop the door and unload.

Parked it in the team parking area. Sometimes we disconnect to give us a vehicle to easily get around locally in. Other times we just leave it connected but put down the foot to ease the load on the vehicle suspension.

We used UHauls for a long time. I’m glad we don’t anymore. It was not worth the cost for going from NC to St Louis.

We were using a used Cayenne. Seriously, the tow capacity is great and used they don’t go for as much as people seem to think. All of the German SUVs in that class have really nice towing capacities and can handle a fair bit of passenger/cargo weight as well.

You don’t BUT you do need to know how much you’re towing before you go out and buy a vehicle for towing it. In general, overkill on towing is better because you’ll have more control over the load and it will be safer.

Get something comfortable and take a driving buddy with you. Trade off when you get tired.

Not me but I can tell you to examine used trailers closely for rust and wear.

With lots of dedication to this program.

You’re welcome.

And more info:
It’s all about how you load the trailer and tongue weight:

You should also know the acronyms GVWR, GCWR, GAWR, and some others - it will make vehicle shopping easier for you:

We have one of the weigh safe hitches but you don’t need one. You just need to make sure you aren’t overloading the tow vehicle.

You need to know the local laws about towing. It’s worth a quick call to the DMV for your state to make sure you know them.

Our school owns our trailer but we use personal vehicles to tow it.

We don’t store anything in our trailer when we aren’t towing it.

We regularly check the tire pressure for the tires on the trailer before towing and we have a spare tire in the trailer. We have had to use it once. I was really glad we had it.

We regularly check the lights on the trailer. They are all LED lights but they can burn out. LEDs are good but some older vehicles won’t be happy about towing a trailer when it is connected because of the way they sense the lights. This is easily remedied with an adapter.

I’m happy to answer more questions if you have them. I suspect others will jump in too and I’m more than willing to admit I’m a novice at all of this and others might have better info or recommendations.

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If you are buying used, it could be a good idea to wait until the end of this summer or early winter, I’ll second the idea of an SUV vs a pickup, a suburban is supremely comfortable on long drives compared to like an f-150.
Something with larger than a 5L gas or diesel engine would be sufficient unless you want to pull more than 6klbs and imo that’s a ton of stuff to bring to an event

As gas prices go up it usually floods the market with larger vehicles when people get sick of the gas bill. You might be able to snag a deal. I just paid
>$2.60/gal and I live 50 miles from a huge refinery.

Get yourself an old early 2000s Toyota Land Cruiser/Lexus LX 470. Those utes are some of the most overengineered and well-built SUVs on the market, easily will last you until 250-300k miles, and will tow 6500 lbs.

You can get similar longevity at a slightly cheaper price from a 2003-2008 4runner V8 and weight distributing hitch, which are rated between 7000-7300 lbs depending on if you go 4WD/2WD. Just be cautious to check the frame for rust before you buy.

Rent a cargo van and never look back. You won’t regret it.

We rent a trailer, and we are using a large SUV owned by one of our very generous parents as the towing vehicle. Not owning the trailer means we don’t have to store it the rest of the year. Even if you are really wanting to buy a trailer, it might be a good idea to rent one the first year to make sure you like it first.

We generally leave the trailer parked at the hotel after load-in. Do make sure you get a boot for your trailer to help prevent it from being stolen. Check your tires and lights before every trip.

Hi there! Lots of great questions here. I strongly recommend you take a look at this 2016 thread– we used a lot of the advice there.

Triple Helix has a 6x12 cargo trailer. Technical details can be found here, so I won’t repeat them in this post.

In 2016, with the team approaching 10 years old, we decided to take a longer-term perspective in our decision-making. One thing we explored was making a capital investment in a trailer instead of renting a U-haul tailer for each team outing. This time frame was also coincident with the arrival of districts in FIRST Chesapeake, extending our season with additional events. This was our estimate of the payback period with options for 4, 5, and 6-event seasons.

It was a decent analysis, but there were several unanticipated additional costs not included in this estimate:

– Title and sales tax
– Spare
– Hitch with the correct ball height for the tow vehicle
E-track and fittings
Slider plate ramp for door threshold

– City of Newport News Vehicle Licensing Fee

With these costs included, here’s how the picture actually looked:

…Which looks bad until you consider that at the end of the payback period you still have a physical asset that’s worth ~$3k on Craigslist.

So was the decision worth it? From a financial standpoint, it will only be worth it much later in the trailer’s life. However, there a lot of non-financial reasons why making this investment was a good idea for the team.
– We have been able to offer this resource to other school and community organizations
– We have designed and installed tie-down points and fixtures for load bars into the trailer to be an exact fit for our pit equipment
– We have added flexibility to our logistics plans for events, often packing several days before a trip
– We have been able to keep our robot out of the rain when traveling to demos (Hampton Roads is pretty wet)
– We were able to efficiently move pre-staged equipment to produce our offseason event at a neighboring high school when our school was repairing their gym floors

What would we do differently? We might have considered a 14ft trailer which would have been able to handle carpet rolls.

Liability, storage, upkeep. Answer those issues before buying. Also remember this is a long term proposition.
That said we have enjoyed ours since day one. We have a mentor pull it and have found their to be a few yearly with the ability and willingness.
Parking at events hasn’t been a problem, save this year CHSDCMP, thank you university of Maryland. Usually on site offerings or ability nearby.
Loading is event specific, big thing here is making sure you have sufficient bodies available. Also portable pit elements help. We haven’t a big showplace pit wise so easier to transport.
If we didn’t have one I would consider looking to share with another group to save costs.

+1 for Toyotas, good, dependable vehicles. As long as they are rust free, bad previous experiences with rusty Toyota frames…

We currently are using a 7x16 enclosed trailer that a family friend/ sponsor let’s the team borrow for events. We either use an older dodge (2000s) Ram 1500 5.7 Hemi, or 2013 F150 EcoBoost, which neither have a problem towing it when loaded with our 3 cabinets, toolbox, robots, cart and other various items. Ramps are a must. Cant imagine loading the toolbox without one… Since we have to rent vehicles for events, two mentors who drive the truck with the trailer, use that truck to drive to the event typically, sometimes with an extra student or two. The trailer gets parked at the hotel or the venue, depending on how secure the lot is. Unloading and loading in Detroit took forever, but nothing to do with our trailer setup.

We have our own trailer which was donated to us by the grandfather of a former team member. It was used and about 10 years old but basically in very good shape. So the trailer itself didn’t cost us anything. We cleaned and repainted it and added team graphics. Made sure all the lights worked. Put new tires on it (it had been sitting for a very long time and the old tires were dry rotted) added a new spare tire and we added tie down bars and straps to the inside. Although its ours its titled, tagged and insured thru the school system here.

We used it this year to go to several events and didn’t have any trouble with it. One trip being from southeast Virginia to the University of Maryland at College Park, MD. for our district championship. About the only complaint i have is its a little shorter than what we could use (its about 5x8) but with careful packing we can get just about everything in it including the robot, robot cart, parts cart,two battery carts/seats and almost all our pit stuff. But for what was basically a free trailer we really can’t complain.

I’m the one who hauls it and i have a Chevy Colorado extended cab with the
Z71 package. Gas mileage wasn’t too bad in spite of hauling a fully loaded trailer. We added a 6,000 Pd tow package to my truck to tow the trailer. The rest of the team travels on a school bus and some of the mentors use their own vehicles. We wouldn’t go back to using a bus to haul our stuff as the trailer fits our needs very well.

It sounds like some teams also purchase a “team car” to do their towing, if I read the above correctly. How is insurance handled on those cars?
Buying or having a very old truck donated would be useful for many teams, in place of a trailer.

Just say no to trailers, they are a pain to deal with in so many ways and every year we hear at least one story of a team trailer getting stolen. A couple of years ago that was my former team.

A cargo van is the way to go. I’ve got a high top E-150 and you can stand up inside as can the robot. Our robot cart puts the robot at just about the floor height of the van so it goes right in at the full 55" height through the extended height side door. Lifting the tool box is a bit of a pain. However you can find them with wheel chair lifts that are often rated for 300lbs or more.

If you do get a van there is one choice that stands head and shoulders aboe the rest, that is a E-series with the 2v 4.6 and 4R75W transmission, the longest lasting non-HD truck period. However that is the problem they last so long and that means that private companies don’t consider retiring them until they have at least 300-350k on them, if not a million. Gov’t entities on the other hand will often retire them much earlier so they will still have a lot of life. My van’s first vocation was as an ambulance which means that the walls are paneled in…wait for it… FRP, better known as Regolith in our world which is even more appropriate since mine is a 2009.

If you do go for an E-series I recommend a E250 or E350 if it is a 2006 or older but if you go with a 2007 or newer the E150 like mine will be fine. That is because the 2007 E150 is really the 2006 E250 while the 2007 E250 added a whopping 60lb to its GVW rating. All of that was done do dodge CAFE regulations and when the shopper wanted to replace their E150 with another they could sell them a new one with the E150 Badge. If you do go with a GM don’t accept less than a 2500. Do not under any circumstances get a Sprinter whether the badge says Ram, Freightliner, or Mercedes, they are not durable and are really really expensive to fix and maintain.

For retired gov’t vehicles a couple of my go to spots are and also check your local auction company websites as many of them will have contracts with one or more local gov’t entities. Even if you decide to go with a Pickup or SUV check them out as they are usually maintained far better than any private owned vehicle and usually go for wholesale prices as the majority of the buyers are dealers stocking their lot.

1197 has the near-exclusive use of a school district bobtail truck with a liftgate. Liftgate means that we can load/unload just about anywhere; the truck is big enough to transport everything we need for most events within its range and throw in a neighboring robot and pit. (District doesn’t like it traveling too far out, but for events within range…)

On 865 we had a mobile machine shop that was quite a lot to tow. No one on the team even owned a vehicle with a trailer hitch anyway (city) so we’d rent a tow vehicle for competitions. A lot easier than dealing with a team vehicle.

Because of districts the machine shop isn’t needed so now they just throw the pit under the coach bus. Particularly if your in districts (4+ events a season) the resources needed for transportation is something to consider when designing a “super pit”.

Gee, such a simple solution! Why doesn’t every team do that?

We are on our second trailer. The first one was great, no major issues, we just needed more space.

Our current trailer is a 7x14 Tandem Axle, Electric Brakes, Rear Ramp.

We had clamp rails installed when it was built, so we can connect strap clamps. We had them installed slightly lower than ‘normal’ to have good placement on our tool boxes.

We built 3 shelves across the front for control boards and other small items. Most everything else is on a rolling cart that gets strapped in.

We purchased our trailer with team funds, but the trailer is considered property of the school district. It has school plates and it covered by school insurance.

Some suggestions:

Get an empty weight for the trailer, then get a loaded weight. Make sure you are not overloading the axles or the tow vehicle or hitch. Get an accurate tongue weight empty and loaded. You can easily do this at a truck scale, it is pretty inexpensive.

If you can afford the tandem, it is a safer and gives some added protection with a flat.

Keep a log sheet in the trailer for trips, so you know mileage for tires, bearings, brakes, etc.

Get a strip of LED lights and install them. Power off of a robot battery. Very helpful for loading. (We have interior lights, but they are only powered if the tow vehicle is running.)

Pay attention to loading. Make a load map so you know what goes where. Tongue weight is important for safe towing (should be about 15% or total trailer weight).

We have our team number painted on the roof.

We tow with a GMC Sierra, with a 6.2L and Heavy Duty towing package. Our loaded trailer is about 4500 pounds.

Load in at most events is easier with a trailer - in and out quickly. Load in and out in Detroit was long and slow, but it didn’t matter if you had a van, a trailer or a bus.

We have a big 16x7 footer with a rear ramp door, purchased on a grant from Ingersoll Rand Foundation (one of our mentors used to work for them). We wouldn’t need anything this big for moving things to events, but it is great on-site storage and (with the graphics) is a great billboard both on-campus and when we roll in parades. We’re currently using it as a garage for a golf cart we’re building into a major air cannon, and some field element pieces. It isn’t too bad to get to suburban events, though I still don’t know how I got it turned around in the St. Louis parking lot in 2015 when I hit a dead end. In our case, the booster club bought it with the grant and donated it to the school board, so they’re covering licensing and liability insurance.
The team does not have a truck/van; we’ve been paying various mentors and coaches over the years for use of their full-size pickups when necessary. If we ever found ourselves without a mentor/coach with a truck, we did the math and figured that it would be much less expensive to rent a large pickup a few weekends a year than to maintain, license, and insure one, even if it were donated.

7x16 dual 3500 lb axle with an extra foot of height.

Without a doubt. 5 events and 3 offseasons a year plus numerous demos. We couldn’t do without it.

No. Buses run into messes with trailers, not the least of which is inability to turn around: see this year’s Detroit fiasco.

I do NOT recommend the extra foot of height (above a normal walk in trailer). Initially it sounded great because tall folks wouldn’t bump their head when entering and putting a tall robot on the robot cart and leaving it sounded great too.

However - in reality on windy days that extra foot makes the trailer blow around. Our previous 7x14 towed far better than this one - other than the 2 foot difference in length it had rounded edges instead of square and didn’t have the extra foot of height. That’s the size I recommend.


We drove our trailer up to one of our mentor’s company’s fenced in lot and left it (with permission). The truck we used to get to and from the hotel each day, and parked either on the roof or in the parking structure next to Cobo. Not once we did have trouble finding parking, so I’m chalking up the complaints for that to either not mapping out the parking structures in advance (and CALL to see if they are going to be opening) or just not knowing the city.

Wheelbase, wheelbase, wheelbase. The longer the wheelbase on the tow vehicle, the better it will tow in a straight line. We tow with a full size F-150 crew cab with a 5.0L v8 (mine), or a full size Dodge ram with the eco-diesel. I’ve also towed with a twin turbo diesel suburban (the best tow vehicle I’ve used) to a GMC Yukon Denali. The Yukon was probably the worst of the group - it liked to wiggle around a bit too much for my taste.

If you want to go whole-hog you can use a weight distributing hitch setup. They are usually unnecessary for FIRST applications but if you have a smaller tow vehicle they can make up for a lot of mistakes.

Also - tongue weight on the trailer is very important. We’ve done this by hit or miss. Load up the trailer, usually with weight forward. Take it for a drive on the freeway with cars passing you. Adjust weight as necessary. Make a trailer loading map, laminate it, and put it on the wall inside the trailer.

Also - if you have a round nose or v-nose, front shelves are awesome. Mount the spare high on the internal wall out of the way, or on the tongue. I prefer inside the trailer so it doesn’t rot. Wasps love to make nests inside spare wheel sun covers. Include an oversized jack with the trailer - most truck jacks aren’t good for this application. Include lug wrench, breaker bar, hitch lock, and lockable wheel chocks (so they don’t get stolen).

Overhead lights inside the trailer are helpful for late-night loadout.

Electric brakes are a must-have, especially if there’s a chance you will drive in slippery conditions and you have a decent sized trailer. Any slippery conditions at all including rain or even gravel roads will result in drastically longer stopping conditions. Driving in heavy traffic also makes them necessary. The first time someone pulls close in front of you you’ll realize how important they are. Surge / hydraulic brakes are all well and good, but too often they result in the trailer “pushing” the tow vehicle right around into a jackknife, or lengthening the stopping distance too much. Along with the electric brakes you’ll want an electric brakeaway device and a built in rechargeable battery for the breakaway system. Make sure it is self-charging and has an easy-to-access external self test.

We have a 6x12 single axle v-nose trailer. Which means we cannot put 973’s pit in it, but it works for our purposes. I have towed it with my 940 turbo Volvo. It pulled OK, but lite on brakes. something truck based is definitely a better tow vehicle. If you rent something, make sure.the contract has towing allowed. Many rental agency prohibit towing.

The trailer makes a useful staging space for outreach events outside of school hours.