Introduction: How to Make a Car/Truck Tow Dolly Cheap
I've been collecting cars for quite a while now. I usually rely on AAA or Allstate Motor Club to get towed home if there a mechanical failure but I really wanted my own trailer or tow dolly. Especially when buying a project car or donor vehicle that doesn't run. I don't really have the space for a full size trailer so a tow dolly seemed like the perfect answer.
I checked Craigslist and everyone wanted $1000 plus. that's more than I spent on some cars...
I found out that many mobile homes use Dexter axles in the 5,000 to 10,000lb range. Even though they have 5 lug star type split rims you can swap the drums for a standard 6 lug Chevy pattern and even the brakes work without modifications.
I had some nice rims left over from a blazer project so all I needed was steel. I was working at John Deere and noticed a lot of heavy equipment comes on frames made of heavy duty tubing. Try asking your local distributor and you may get it for free.
There was a welding shop next door with plenty of metal for sale cheap too. if you are unsure of your welding ability you can farm the welding out to the shop too. They'll probably discount the welding on the frame if you buy metal from them.
Step 1: Simple Is Better
I didn't go with swiveling joints or any nonsense like that. I tow in straight runs with a lot of highway miles.
A simple box frame with a long tongue and some side bracing is all I needed.
A good Plasma Cutter and Welder are a MUST. My Lincoln ProCut 25 and PowerMig 180C have been flawless for years. Ive used plenty of gas and about 50lbs of wire. These are worth the investment.
If you have any doubts about your welds or welding ability farm it out to a pro....
Step 2: Make a Box Frame and Add the Tounge
I wanted one as big as possible. the legal limit here is 102" wide so that's the target.
The overall dimensions of the box are 79" x 23" and made of 1/4" thick 3"x3" box tubing..
There are 2 - 17" long braces inside the box made of the same tubing, one on either side of the tongue.
the tongue was 66" long and the outside braces are 34" long and made of heavy wall 1-1/2" pipe.
Step 3: Add Trangular Plates to Mount the Spindles
Some Triangles of 3/8" plate about 24"X7" each hold the axles. the fenders mount to the tops of these with 1"x3" channel.
Step 4: A Place for Your Wheels
The wheel buckets are made out of a 14"X20" piece of 1/4 plate bent in the center to fit in the 17" gap between the box rails. They should have been wider. When towing a Geo I noticed the wheels were right on the edges of the buckets. I want to add another 2 to 4" to their width....
Step 5: A Place for Tie Downs
You need a good set of basket straps to hold the car safely. I used some ReBar make the loops and welded them in place. They are about 2" x12" with a couple of braces added. I also added loops for you cant easily roll the tires off the front of the dolly if you come up too fast.
Step 6: Fenders
You need to match the fenders to the tires you pick. The fenders are made out of 1/4" diamond plate about 10"X34" for each one. you'll need to make bends so this is where a good torch or a friend with a metal shop will come in handy.
They sit atop 15" pieces of 1"x3" channel attached to the top of the triangular axle plates.
You could just buy fenders but these are so strong I've put a few hundred pounds on them without flexing...
You'll see why that was handy in the last step.
Step 7: Ramps
To make loading a little smoother you can notch out a section of the rear tube to match the ramp width (15"). Add a hole to mate with a matching pin on the ramp to keep them from slipping off.
The ramps are made out of scraps of 1/4" plate and angle iron. plasma cut a few holes to make them lighter and add a little grip.
Probably will make those adjustable width with a second set of holes. I just welded a 1/2" carriage bolt in the end of the ramps to use as a pin.
Step 8: Lights, Brakes and Safety Chains
The original brakes worked well and with the new drums. They really keep it under control. Get a good Brake controller.....
That handle loop made of rebar behind the hitch serves many purposes. It holds the chains and harness out of the way in storage. It is a great snatch point for a come-a-long when loading dead cars. Its even a good handle when attaching and removing it from the truck.
I used a 6 pin connector to match my truck and jeep then added clearance lights on the fenders. I added a 4 pin connector to hook up secondary towing lights. I want to make pockets to hold them to the top of the fenders when not towing a car.
Step 9: Towing Cars
I used an old ex-DPW truck to tow everything I ever needed to with no problems. I keep the dolly standing up in the side yard so it's always ready when I need it. I may add a couple of T shaped feet to the ends since I now use a couple of cider blocks to keep it off its wheels whens its upright.
I came really close to that 102" limit. with 60PSI in the tires I'm at 101".... Its wide enough to tow big pickups and even slips under the rear end of my truck when I'm away from home.
I've put about 1000 miles on it towing a Honda Prelude, Chevy Corsica, Geo Metro, VW Bus, and some other things...
First let me say my speedo is way off but I went 120 miles down the throughway at the speed limit (65) with a car behind me and was amazed at how level and smooth it sat in my mirrors. Almost like it was sitting in the bed of the truck.
Step 10: Moving Other Things...
I saw a 12' X 12' Deck for sale on Craigslist for $25. The guy made it for parking his tractors and lawn equipment on so it was all 2"x6"s. The pressure treated wood was worth far more than he was asking.
It was too big for my trailer but I drove over with the tow dolly behind the truck and backed the dolly up to his lawn. We rolled it over on top of the dolly. I strapped it down and drove it home.
When I got home I transferred the dolly to my Golf Cart and drove it right up to the front window.
We rolled it off the Dolly and it landed perfectly in place. Now my wife has a nice sitting area and actually likes the dolly since it not just for bringing cars home.....
I just saw a six person Hot Tub on Craigslist for free. Looks like its getting more use....