That Big Truck Blog

An American Car Hauler's Blog




***The following is an ongoing, independent, unbiased review and commentary by CB Stephens of Carl’s Car Carriers Inc and is based on regular, everyday usage of the equipment in the course of automobile transportation activities for which this trailer was intended. CB Stephens is a 33-plus year veteran in the car haul field as an independent owner/operator and small fleet developer. Carl’s Car Carriers Inc. is a Tennessee-based automobile transportation service chartered in 1991. Cottrell Trailers can be visited by clicking this link:

“Strap-only” trailers are being marketed arduously now by Cottrell Trailers as they convey manufacturer’s decisions requiring “soft-tie only” attachments. Keep in mind, I am reviewing a chain trailer here. Soft-tie options for chain trailers are readily available and being used daily across the country with minimal, if any, problems. A recent discussion with a veteran car hauler that regularly uses this method of “over-the-tire” ratchet straps on chain-supplied Cottrell CS-12 2005 model year equipment has reported seeing some cracking in the aluminum tables extending from some of the holes used for 3-point securing of the straps. It should be noted that he regularly transports large SUV’s that weigh 5300 pounds and more. I have yet to see any evidence of this in any of my experiences with Cottrell models but I am not doing as much “heavy” unit moves as the above mentioned operator nor am I using extensive strap moves. There are also those rumors of jurisdictions moving toward questioning the practice of using straps via aluminum decking attachment points. I cannot verify this and that is why I call them rumors. If you have personal knowledge to educate the rest of us, jump in. Your comments are welcome.

However, I believe we will see and hear more negative information about this tie-down option as Cottrell seeks to convince operators to buy new equipment or “convert” current trailers over to strap-only. While ratcheting “over-the-tire” straps are acceptable fare by most, if not all, manufacturers to date, it appears there is movement toward strap-only equipment at the urging of trailer manufacturers. It is my opinion that the push by Cottrell has much to do with the current state of the economy and the hard hit auto transport business. Cottrell Trailers remains standing while others have fallen because of innovation and industry-leading design and I do not intend to take away from that when I opine about marketing practices used. Some would just say it is just good business to do what is necessary to keep the employees working and I suppose it is. I can envision the brass in Gainesville having these weekly pow-wows in which each associate has the task of presenting ideas to jump start the once booming business in these hard economic times and while I agree that is the way I would run my business if I were “Mr. Cottrell Trailers”, I have some reservations about some advertised and solicited programs currently being offered for this market. One example, before I continue on to the review itself (and this has to do with this review later on), is a recent phone call/sales solicitation from a Cottrell rep to a family member who operates several full-size stinger car haulers. The Cottrell rep included a proposal to “convert” a chain trailer to a strap-only trailer. (Yes…Cottrell does refurbs, modifications, repairs, etc also). However, the righteous response to the Cottrell rep was this…“Just what year trailer is it that you want to convert for me? It would have to be a 2007 model or newer because anything older than that would be rusted and rotten to the point it would be wasteful ignorance to put such cost into a trailer!” I had to laugh, as much as it hurts, because I know the pain.

The last new Cottrell trailer I bought was a 2000 model…a CS-12. I ran mostly southern California via the southern routes which put me in little snow. (The harsh chemicals used by highway departments in wintertime really do a number on vehicles today but I seldom saw any of that. In an effort to understand the harshness of the chemicals being used today for highway de-icing, a study of the most popular applications all proclaim the low corrosive nature on metals (autos, bridges, etc) from the likes of calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), calcium chloride, CG-90 Surface Saver, CMS-B (also known as MoTech) and others. If these are not the chemical culprits responsible for the premature rusting of rolling stock, then substandard steel is being used). However, in 3 years, the trailer frame rails were eat through from the inside out with rust. You could poke a hole with your pinkie in the main frame rails on this $59,999.00 trailer (that price was in 2000…2007 prices were in the $80,000.00 range!) after just 3 years. Now, if you go to Cottrell’s website, they will state a 2 year “structural warranty”…leaving them off the hook for the substandard steel choices their procurement department has made. Yeah, yeah…I know these trailers have to be made lighter so we can haul more but I believe Cottrell has made some serious mistakes in their choice of suppliers OR material preparation prior to building these trailers. What good is a lighter weight trailer if there are no frame rails after 3 years? OK…I hear you, Mr. Cottrell Service & Repair…replace the frame rails??? How much is that going to cost me??? $10K. $20K More?? Either way, it seems ridiculous…no…IT IS RIDICULOUS for any business to pay this much for a piece of equipment and it basically rots inside out before a 5 year depreciation can be taken on it. What’s the fix? Hey, Cottrell! Listen up! No, I am not an engineer like your educated designers but I have been around this block for a long time. I have inhaled the “zinc coating” smoke & vapors from the insides of the Delavan “Work Horse” trailer frame rails when we would cut the beams to do a stretch job. Once you smell that, you don’t forget it. And just like the olfactory senses embed this memory, the ocular organs leave a lasting impression as well. Old…and I mean old… Delavan steel frame beams could be halved and inspected and the insides of these rails would be as clean as the outer painted surfaces. It appeared to be a coating of some type that these rails were dipped in. It was quite a chore with a grinder to remove this coating prior to welding. This stuff we called “zinc coating” may or may not have been zinc however it was a proven obvious deterrent to the rust problems we see today. (To be fair, later model Delavan trailers also went the way of rust and premature fatigue but there was an obvious change of ownership or management in the Buffalo, NY organization causing this problem). Why can’t you thoroughly pre-coat the entire beam of this thin gauge steel to make it last a little longer? Surely you are not doing this for your own company security as we have to prematurely replace equipment you have poorly prepared? Look…Cottrell has THE design down pat. They have discovered the way to hold seemingly paper-thin steel beams, posts and aluminum ramps together to transport outrageous loads safely. C’mon Cottrell…make ’em last a little longer! We know it can be done and probably by a simple coating of the materials. Now that I have gotten that off my chest…

As I said, Cottrell Trailers design is as far ahead of the game as the build prep bunch is behind. I stand amazed at the trailer durability concerning the welds and bracing. After 225,000 miles, I just had to do my FIRST “crack” repair and it honestly consisted of a hairline crack horizontally across the front upper posts just below the main upper beam. Both posts at the top…about half way across…requiring a weld to repair. I’ll be watching closely to see if it requires more in the coming days or weeks and I am guessing it probably will eventually need some gusseting or additional welds to properly stop this. I recently did some extensive suspension checks and saw no problems, cracks or weak areas. The design is a definite winner. I am often asked by other car haulers about this post-forward design and “Do you like it?” I always reply with a big “Yes!”. The post forward allows easy door access top and bottom and I can pull that unit out on # 3 without fear of overloading the table of a CS-12 had I tried that. One drawback in this position that I have found is the “tilt” deck in the bottom front (# 7 on a 10 car load) does not go as high as my old CS-12 models which limits the height/size of car when attempting to do 8 units in the trailer (11 car configuration…3 on truck, 8 in trailer). The difference is minimal between the two model trailers but it is just enough to create a problem I didn’t have with the CS-12 trailers. I guess it would be easy enough to fix this but why should I have to??? $80,000.00 should get me what it was designed to do. Admittedly, you don’t see a lot of guys (or gals) today doing this “2 end-to-end in the belly” anymore but I’ll do it every chance I get. It’s revenue and it’s a lot of difference at the end of the year. I’ve been surprised at some comments from old hands in the biz telling me they had no idea you could do this on these trailers.

Carl's Car Carriers

December 24, 2009 Posted by | Auto Transport Trailers | , , , , | Leave a comment