An Unexpected Review: Carry-On 3.5X5LSHS Utility Trailer

SurryCentury-FerryRideI recently served as a SAG driver in support of our local bicycling organization’s Surry Century. I started supporting (rather than riding) the club’s two annual events a few years ago. Later, I took possession of the club’s 14 water coolers. I had a 4×6′ utility trailer, so moving them was a cinch. My event routine had become to deliver the coolers to prescribed locations, uncouple the trailer, mount my bicycle carrier (hitch-mounted) and then drive my SAG routes, restocking water along the way. I’d reverse the process at the end of the event, usually resulting in a really long day. Last year, I towed the trailer while I was SAG’ing. It was less time-consuming, although slightly cumbersome. I recently purchased an even smaller trailer. Transporting the coolers while making my rounds is now very convenient. The car/trailer combination is only a foot longer than an F-250 with crew cab; but it’s lighter, more nimble, and more fuel-efficient. I averaged 34 mpg over the course of 353 miles, including idling with the AC running.

“Why talk about a trailer here? Isn’t this a bicycle site?” Honestly, I was really surprised by the number of comments and questions I received about the trailer throughout the day. “Did you build this?” “Did it come with this rack?” “Why don’t you just get a truck?” Those are all common questions for a person who tows with a sedan. Allow me to explain the backstory about my trailer:

Tail of the DragonOne of my other passions is Volkswagens, specifically VW’s turbodiesel, known as the TDI (yes, I’m aware of the unfortunate TDI emissions debacle). Volkswagen (the company) certainly has its faults, but the TDI community is fantastic! I have a dedicated website, StealthTDI.com, where I share VW-related adventures, tuning choices, and photos with other TDI enthusiasts. If you’ve noticed that I like to maximize the versatility of my bicycles, then it should not surprise you to know that I do the same with my Volkswagens. I drive nearly 30,000 miles per year, usually alone with some things in the trunk. A car that gets over 40 mpg is a great asset to me. I don’t need a truck, but sometimes I need to move things that are too large or dirty for my sedan. A small utility trailer is a great alternative for someone who doesn’t want the full-time mileage and maintenance penalties of owning a truck that’s actually used as a truck only a fraction of the time.

Trailer_35x5LSHS-CroppedUntil now, my trailer was a “car thing” that I shared on my TDI website. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should share it here, too. I’ll take the time to tell you about it now that I know cyclists may be interested as well. Since I wanted a small trailer, I opted for Carry-On’s 3.5x5LSHS, a 3.5×5-foot trailer with 16-inch tall mesh sides. It appears to be exclusive to Lowe’s Home Improvement. It has a 2000-lb axle and a maximum carrying capacity of 1700 lbs, meaning the trailer itself weighs ~300 lbs in stock form. My wife immediately called it a “baby trailer.” It’s great for taking stuff to the dump or transporting dirty items that I don’t want inside my car. It’s like having a part-time pickup truck that gets 40 mpg. I couldn’t be more pleased with the purchase.

Trailer-Baby-05Its immediate drawback was I could not see the trailer while driving. That presented a challenge when backing, but also made it easy to forget it was back there in traffic. The remedy was easy. I already had some guide posts that I used on my old trailer. Mounting them was my first change. Next, I installed a wooden floor because I remember how quickly the mesh floor warped under load with my old trailer. I also moved the spare tire carrier, tongue jack and Yakima “Top Loaders” (rain gutter adapters) from the old trailer before selling it. The new trailer was nearly complete.

Trailer-AxleSwap-05I had been nervous about carrying my bikes on a trailer because it would bounce over small bumps if it wasn’t weighed down. A pair of 1000-lb leaf springs and skinny 90-psi tires provide very little road compliance for a trailer that weighs less than 500 lbs most of the time. My solution for a softer ride was to replace the leaf springs with 500-lb replacements and to swap-in larger 35-psi tires. This photo shows the difference between a 1000-lb spring and one rated for 500 lbs. A photo below shows the larger tires as well as the larger fenders I had to add for extra clearance. The trailer’s weight capacity is reduced to 1000 lbs. That’s okay because I prefer to tow less than that, anyway. The ride quality is vastly improved.

Trailer-Baby-Yakima-05Of course, the bike rack itself is what got people talking and asking questions. I’ve used Yakima racks, mounts, and matching locks/keys for over 20 years. I use 1A RainGutter towers (they attach to the TopLoaders), 54-inch cut crossbars, and old Steelhead bike mounts. I bought a BT-76 tandem mount from Atoc several years ago. I opted to buy another BT-76 (I found a cheap one on eBay) so I could offset the outboard bikes and squeeze up to five bikes on the relatively short crossbars, with four of them facing forward. The BT-76 pair unintentionally act as side rails for larger loads such as the coolers in the top photo.

Trailer-Baby-Yakima-03-croppedThat’s it, the details of my “baby trailer.” It carries bikes and cargo without the wind noise, mounting hassles, overhead lifting, head knocking, or marred paint of a roof top rack while providing much of the versatility and positives of owning a small pickup truck. My setup can carry five bikes AND still have room for 30 cubic feet of cargo. The vertical clearance of the tallest bicycle is less than seven feet. It seems perfect for a weekend getaway for a foursome of cyclists. If I can’t find three people who can stand to be in the car with me for a weekend, then the baby trailer is still ideal as a SAG wagon and as a mini-workhorse (a pony? 00-winky) for a stubborn guy who won’t buy a truck.  00-biggrin

Packed and Ready,

Scott

PS: Humorous photo-op…

OverUnder-01

About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and joined the U. S. Coast Guard in 1986. I am trained on electronics and taught myself the basics about automotive systems and to perform some of my own maintenance (cars and bicycles). I became involved with Amateur Radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology has made my job and several of my hobbies quite interesting. I retired from the Coast Guard in 2016 and continue to work in the the electronics systems engineering field. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, electronics, amateur radio, web management, and reptiles. Visit my websites to learn more.
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10 Responses to An Unexpected Review: Carry-On 3.5X5LSHS Utility Trailer

  1. Darren says:

    Hi Scott,

    I recently read “An Unexpected Review: Carry-On 3.5X5LSHS Utility Trailer” and became inspired by your story. I have started to duplicate your process of building my own bike trailer with the 3.5X5LSHS Utility Trailer. I have a question: where exactly (in measurement) did you place your landing pads on the trailer? I figured you were intentional on the placement of them in efforts to distribute your load appropriately on the trailer. Thanks.

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    • Scott says:

      Darren – I have several sets of TopLoaders mounted. Initially, and as shown in the photos, I had the front one as far forward as I could without allowing the TopLoader to touch the weld from the front angle iron; and the next crossbar was 38 inches back from there. Eventually, I re-spaced everything so I could have three crossbars, each being 24 inches apart. I figured I could carry more with three bars, even though Yakima doesn’t endorse it. BUT, I found that three crossbars really isn’t very practical and have since returned to the original 38-inch setup. I biased the bikes toward the front of the trailer since the ride is smoother up forward.

      Be weary of how road vibrations affect the way the trailer rides with bikes. My testing around home went well. However, bikes really take a beating on rougher roads in neighboring areas. As a result, I’m considering a trunk mount carrier so that I can still carry bikes with a trailer connected. The trailer will still serve as “water truck” during the rides I support. But bikes will likely ride on the car where they will have a softer ride. Bikes ride okay on the trailer if it is loaded. More is better for a smoother ride. Good luck! -Scott

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  2. Don Schulz says:

    Dear Captain Overpacker;

    Recently in my search for a small trailer to tow behind my 2014 VW Jetta SE 1.8L Turbo, I ran across your review of the 3.5x5LSHS trailer you.use manufactured by carry on. I really appreciate the raving review you gave this small trailer as it has convinced me that it is the perfect trailer to make the long journey from California to Kentucky. Thanks for your review I hope that I get as much use with my trailer as you have gotten with yours.

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    • Scott says:

      Don – Thanks for visiting! Yes, the trailer is a great asset! The Jetta is an excellent car for two people plus luggage. It’ll work for three plus weekend baggage. However, the car get crowded with three people plus a week of luggage, laptops, food, and other stuff. The trailer is overkill for our needs during travel (may be perfect with a fourth traveler). But it’s still more efficient and quieter than buying/packing a rooftop carrier. Plus, if you put everything in the trailer, none of the additional weigh is on the car’s tires; the car rides and handles great! Think of all the times you’ve seen loaded cars/SUVs on the roadside with blowouts. The only downside to the 3.5×5′ trailer is that I cannot fit 4×8 sheets of lumber or drywall. But I rarely have a need to do that and can rent a truck or trailer if the need arises. Have fun! -Scott

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  3. Mike says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the review. It helped me decide to go with the Carry-On trailer instead of a Harbor Freight trailer. I plan on modifying it for kayaks, which will surely be a light load.

    Could you please tell me, was the leaf spring swap difficult? I am thinking about doing it to my trailer.

    Thanks!

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    • Scott says:

      Mike,

      Thanks for visiting. The swap was super-easy! I have a few shots starting at http://www.stealthtdi.com/Albums/NewStealthTrailer/suspensionswap.html that shows how I did it. The primary lesson learned is to do the work with the trailer coupled to the car for additional stability. You can work on one side at a time. In fact, working on one side at a time (instead of removing both wheels at once) should make the trailer more stable. The leaf spring is a “slipper spring” that slides out after unbolting the axle and one spring bolt. There really is no “toughest part of the job.”

      Good Luck,

      Scott

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      • amdebate says:

        Hi Scott,

        Just as a follow up (and since nobody ever tires of hearing this)– you were right. Replacing the springs was simple, taking less than an hour.

        Getting the springs, however, was not as simple. Etrailer.com no longer sells the WIC2 spring. Instead of letting me know when I asked a question about it, or even after I placed an order, they left me hanging for a couple of days until I discovered that they canceled my order without notice and contacted them. Convenient… heh…!

        Etrailer sells a replacement part, but it is not sized right. (24-5/8 vs 24-1/4). You can see the manufacturer’s item number right in their photo– UNA-177 (the same label appears on the WIC2). I couldn’t find the WIC2 at a reasonable price anywhere else, so the UNA-177 had to be it.

        I figured that if I was going to take a gamble on the length, price shopping was in order. Etrailer has the springs for $25.98 for the pair, plus shipping ($11.74 for me, so $37.72). I found the same springs at a place called SDTruckSprings for $13.90 for the pair, plus shipping ($15.79 for me, so $29.69). I got them in, and they fit just fine.

        I haven’t taken it for a test drive yet, but have stood in the back and jumped a bit. Much more flex, and I anticipate a smoother ride for my kayaks.

        Interestingly enough, the same company that makes the UNA-177 also makes a UNA-176, which is a 230lb spring. The trailer manufacturer says that it weighs 300lbs, so that would leave you with 160lbs of capacity, say 125lbs with some headroom. That may be a good option for someone who plans only to use their trailer as a means to pull something lightweight, but too bulky to fit on a car. Only one spec difference– the bushing’s inner diameter is 1/2″ vs. 9/16″. It looks like you can pickup the proper bushing from Amazon for about $9 for the pair (part PE-227).

        Thanks again!

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      • Scott says:

        Thanks for the update! -Scott

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  4. Theodore Rowe says:

    Where did you get the larger tires/ leaf springs? I didn’t realize that larger tire could be had in the 4.80 bolt pattern.

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    • Scott says:

      Hello – I got everything at etrailer.com. The springs are 1000-lb “slipper” springs. The larger tires will only fit if you also replace the fenders. These days, I have VW wheels mounted by using hub adapters. Now I no longer need to carry a spare tire on the trailer since the car’s spare in the trunk will fit the trailer. 🙂 Good Luck! -Scott

      Like

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