Towing capacity, regular maintenance essential to safe hauling!
by: Christie Gold
Florida Sporthorse Magazine
From professionals hauling multiple horses to large competitions to amateurs attending schooling shows or their children’s Pony Club events, a towing vehicle represents a costly, long-term investment.
For those making the transition from paying show-hauling fees to purchasing their own truck and trailer, the task may seem daunting: Gas or diesel? Half-ton, ¾ ton or dually? Can the family SUV handle the job? Do I need four-wheel drive?
As with any large purchase, it’s wise to consult experts. While the local dealership may display an array of shiny new trucks on the lot, the sales person who put the family in a new sedan last summer may not know what vehicle is best for hauling horses.
Gibson Truck World in Sanford has specialized in trucks—and only trucks for the past 18 years. Owner Yves Belanger understands the wants and needs of horse owners from both a mechanical side and as the husband of Devon Belanger, the owner/trainer of Horses In Harmony, a Central Florida horse rescue, rehabilitation and training facility.
Belanger says the make of the truck comes down to personal preference and that the “Big Three” automakers all manufacture quality vehicles, so buying the right truck comes down to pulling power and the quality of the maintenance.
Over Florida’s flat terrain, he says a “Weekend Warrior” who hauls a standard two-horse bumper pull trailer to local events can get by with a half ton pickup. For anything more extensive, larger trucks are a must.
Gibson’s Marketing Director Angela Stockman believes that four-wheel drive is a valid consideration. “At most horse events, you end up pulling your trailer down a dirt road. If it rains, suddenly, you are in the mud. It’s a worthwhile investment.”
Belanger reminds consumers that a 4x4’s pulling power is about 500 pounds less—an important consideration if someone is looking at a half-ton pick-up that will pull a heavily loaded trailer.
Adding a dressing room to a trailer, buying a three-horse trailer or larger or making plans to travel out of state with horses will require a ¾ ton pickup or a dually.
“Other than pulling power, the dually offers more stability,” Belanger said. “Plus, if you get a flat in back, you can drive for a bit since there are four tires behind.”
Another choice when looking at a ¾ ton or dually is gas vs. diesel.
“Diesel produces more torque,” Belanger said, “which is why they cost more. “
Stockman says the cost of the diesel vehicle isn’t the only factor: everything on a diesel truck costs more from fuel to maintenance.
Belanger says that other decisions come down to comfort. “Obviously, the longer the ride, the more luxuries you want,” he said.
His wife, Devon, also stresses visibility. Extended mirrors are a must when pulling trailers.
Belanger is also a stickler about maintenance. This is understandable since all trucks that come onto the Gibson lot under go a 135-point inspection. Eight mechanics work in 25 service bays to prepare each truck for sale. 60 percent of the company’s business comes from repeat buyers, and Gibson sells approximately 15 trucks out of state each month and 10 internationally.
The website is full of testimonials from satisfied customers—many of whom never set foot on the Gibson lot. Each truck is photographed and videoed to provide buyers with thorough information on the vehicle. Of course, Belanger encourages that buyers examine his inventory, but even if they purchase elsewhere, he emphasizes the importance of regular maintenance and careful preparation.
“Obviously, it is preferable to drive a vehicle with lower miles; however, with care, a truck will easily take you over 100,000 miles. And that being said, I’ve seen trucks with over 100,000 miles in better shape than trucks with 50,000 miles. It all depends on the care and maintenance of the truck. I would also rather see a truck that has had 2 or 3 great owners versus one bad owner. You don’t want to wait until the oil light comes on before you have it changed. That is why it is so important to perform an inspection before you buy.”
In addition to regularly-scheduled maintenance, he recommends a fuel additive to keep injectors clean.
Before hitting the road, Belanger stresses safety and preparation. On both the truck and trailer, it is important to check the tires. Trailers, especially, can sit unused for long periods of time making the tires susceptible to dry rot.
Spare tires, for both the truck and trailer, are essential. Belanger also says that many spares are locked, so it’s important to have keys to the locks as well as jacks that will support the truck or the trailer and the correct sized lug wrenches for all tires.
Because equestrians often drive in remote areas, he also suggests investing in flares.
“I always look at the darkest scenario. For $10- $20, a flare gun will help keep you safe,” he said.
He also encourages travelers to have a list of service providers en route to their destinations in case of a breakdown. He believes in having a game plan before heading out as not all roadside assistance plans handle vehicles towing trailers.
“There is nothing worse than breaking down someplace and not knowing who you can call for help,” he said.
Devon also stresses the importance of reliability and safety. “You’ve got to have peace of mind. Your horses are your most precious cargo.”