Last week, when the workshop wasn’t quite as frantic as normal, we were having a chat about buying some new gear. Like all red-blooded males, much of our time is spent dreaming about buying the latest piece of equipment and adding to our collection. The best part about being in the hire industry is that you usually get the opportunity to live those dreams!
As our business continues to grow, so does the requests for new gear. We’ve recently had a few requests for equipment that weighs well over 2000 kg. Big deal, you would think, but it seems like anything slightly heavier than normal opens up a whole new can of worms. The best option for us is to put it on a dedicated trailer and make it easy for customer to transport and use.
Broadly speaking (and there is a lot of fine print), it’s permissible to tow a trailer and its cargo weighing up to 2000kg without requiring any direct or indirect braking. The NZ Transport Agency states that every light vehicle and trailer combination must be capable of stopping within a distance of seven meters from a speed of 30km/h. There’s also the thorny issue of tow bar ratings, usually stamped onto the side of the tow bar. Evidently, while the law doesn’t require these tow ratings to be strictly followed, the NZTA strongly recommends that these be taken into account. In essence if means you can’t use Granny’s Fiat Bambino to haul a trailer loaded with wet firewood.
But it’s in the 2000kg+ range where things get a bit more exciting.
Anything between 2000 kg and 2500 kg gross weight requires some form of direct or indirect braking. Our preferred braking system is the indirect hydraulic system, where the braking action of the towing vehicle pushes back on the hydraulic master cylinder of the trailer, activating the disc brakes on the trailer. It’s not fancy but it works, and it’s easy for people like us to maintain. The only hassle is having to manually switch the backing bracket into place when backing the trailer and the occasional plonker who drives away with the park brakes fully on.
Direct braking is a new field for us, and it’s mandatory for anything with a gross weight of between 2500 kg and 3500 kg. The law requires that you have some form of braking system directly controlled by the driver from inside the vehicle. The more common form of these systems uses electric-operated drum brakes, activated by the towing vehicles’ normal 12V braking lights and a back-up battery pack. The degree of braking is controlled from the drivers seat using a wireless remote which plugs into the 12 V socket (what used to known as the cigarette lighter many years ago).
The dilemma for us is that hardly any NZ new vehicles are fitted with tow bars certified for anything over 2500 kg. A quick read of the AA guide will show a pattern of towing weights well below 2000kg. We had a customer in a few weeks ago, who wanted to hire our 1.7 MT excavator. All up, with the trailer, it weighs just on 2500 kg. Unfortunately this customer had a lighter car, with a tow bar rating nowhere near the required range. He had to go find a mate and borrow his four wheel drive that could handle the weight. It’s enough of a problem finding a towing vehicle that can handle 2500 kg, much less 3500 kg.
Which brings us back to our dilemma. There’s some nice gear available on the market weighing around 3 MT all up, on a nice hire-proof trailer. Sexy things like larger excavators and all-terrain scissor lifters. The problem is we don’t have a vehicle in our fleet (of 2) suitable to tow the heavier gear, and we suspect 95% of our customers don’t either. Getting a heavy truck to haul this stuff around just adds more cost to the equipment. Seems we’ll just need to keep dreaming about all the bigger stuff and hope that the manufacturers can come up with ways to make it lighter, and therefore compliant.