Stan Crumbaugh, owner of Independence Rent-All, in Independence, MO, has been renting trailers for 35 years and operates three rental stores. “Any discussion about renting trailers has to focus on safety and liability,” he emphasizes, “which, in turn, means talking about maintenance practices. If a trailer is maintained properly and in compliance when it leaves the store, what happens once it’s in the hands of the customer is the customer’s responsibility.”
Independence Rent-All carries 40 trailers in its inventory, comprised primarily of 5- by 12-foot utility trailers and heavier trailers to haul equipment such as skid-steer loaders. “Our yard person does a ‘walk-around’ with the customer before the trailer leaves the store and when it is returned. We go through all our trailers top to bottom twice a year and periodically check the lights, wiring, and coupler.”
During winters, the store strips down the trailers, sandblasts and repaints them, and replaces wood floors as needed. Crumbaugh says the store files maintenance records on all its rental equipment and vehicles, including trailers, a requisite for tracking costs, any ongoing issues, and liability claims.
He notes the store carries a $1 million liability insurance policy with a $2 million umbrella.
Ready for the road
When renting trailers, Golden Gait’s Masud identifies three significant challenges to overcome. At the top of his list are first-time renters who, in addition to not understanding hitches and weights, just don’t have any experience towing a trailer. That’s an issue only time behind the wheel, a few bent fenders, and some broken lights can remedy.
“Then, customers may not always convey what they plan to haul or where they plan to take the trailer,” he adds. “We no longer rent to customers with out-of-state drivers licenses. More than once, our trailers have been left abandoned halfway across the country.
“Customers also need to understand that they are responsible for any damage to the trailers, including tires,” he continues. “Our yard person walks around the trailer with the customer, making sure the trailer and tires, including the spare tire, are in good condition.”
Masud’s store requires rental customers to provide a driver’s license, proof of insurance, and a credit card. In addition to spelling out the customer’s responsibility, the rental contract also details what the store is not responsible for, including the trailer’s contents.
Nick DeSando is sales manager for Jim’s Trailer World in Lyons, NY. “Occasionally, a trailer might have a light issue that’s caused by the renter’s vehicle,” he relates. “In that case, we offer to fix the problem for the customer, or we won’t rent the trailer.” Lights, he adds, are not generally a big issue if the trailer is maintained properly and inspected. Even if a bulb burns out on the road and the customer gets a citation, the result isn’t a fine, but a “fix it ticket.”
In the trailer rental business for seven years, Jim’s Trailer World offers trailers that range from small car dollies to 18-foot long equipment haulers. “Our most popular rentals are the dollies,” says DeSando. “We don’t charge for tire damage unless it’s directly attributable to how the customer used or rather misused the trailer. For example, we have found tires with flat spots caused by customers who ‘smoked’ the tires with the electric brakes. If the rental is for more than 500 miles, we also charge a mileage fee to compensate for drive train wear and tear.”
Know what the customer doesn’t know
One of the first questions Crumbaugh asks customers is how they plan to use a trailer. “If a customer comes into our store and wants to rent a popular 5- by 12-foot utility trailer, I try to find out what they plan to haul. I emphasize, too, that these trailers are not built to haul firewood, sand, gravel, and other heavy material and should not be loaded above the fender walls.”
As this store owner relates, customers don’t always understand the relationship between a trailer’s capacity and what they plan to haul. He gives this example: “Several years ago, a customer rented a utility trailer to haul away roofing shingles. I explained that he shouldn’t load the shingles above the fender walls. The next day, he called me and said that the trailer had a defective tire that had gone flat. I drove to the site and found the trailer loaded high with shingles that probably weighed a total of 8,000 pounds, well over its 3,000-pound capacity. All four tires were flat.”