How to Make a Car/Truck Tow Dolly Cheap




Introduction: How to Make a Car/Truck Tow Dolly Cheap

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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....



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    15 Discussions

    I like the tow dolly plan and may try one soon. This caught my eye

    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 need a little more info here I need to change some on a trailer thanks Larry

    3 replies

    BTW, Some of those links are 3500 lb and some are 5000 or 6000 lb. Make sure you match your load. Hope that info helps.

    You will need to get your donor axle first. Some use 10" brakes and others are 12". I got lucky and had 12".

    With 12" brakes you can get 6 or 8 lug drums.

    if you get an axle with 10" brakes you can also use the 5 lugs pattern. I think its 5on4.5 which is the old ford. I prefer 5on4.75 Chevy wheels.

    Randy at R&P Carriages is the man to talk to. Or just use his Ebay store and buy all you need. That's how I did it....

    I get you some specifics.........

    Back in the 80's we used to use tow chains to pull cars. I always kept a worn out tire with no rim in the yard. You chain it to each vehicle and its acts like a shock absorber so you don't break your neck when you start off.

    Thanks, I was surprised at how smooth it was but id rather have a rollback or a flatbed trailer with a winch. I have used a come-a-long to winch cars up on the dolly. getting them back off is fun. Usually involves said come-a-long and a nearby tree or light pole.......

    I once unloaded a Honda prelude by just unstrapping it and driving off....

    I used to drive a rollback and there are times I miss the ability to get all 4 wheels off the ground especially when neither end of the car has roadworthy tires.

    My next project may be a set of dolly wheels......

    swivels are fine for little cars but this is a wide one that can do trucks. I don't have to worry about backing up and highway use is great. There's also the worry about breaking at the swivel joint.

    So far I've towed a bus, a honda, a Geo, a corsica, a bug, a cavalier, and even a deck.... no issues. All from little egg harbor NJ up to Albany NY.

    the only problems were maneuvering in traffic in Brooklyn and in southern Jersey. I never hit anything but made a few people jump up on on curb to get away from me.

    It does handle pretty badly when empty. Bounces a lot unless I air down the tires. Once loaded its so smooth the image in the rear view mirror looks like the towed vehicle is sitting in the bed of the truck

    I was curious as to how well that dolly handles when you are trying to maneuver in tight areas while towing a car, such as backing up or turning around. Without a swivel plate on it, does it work very well in those instances?

    1 reply

    It seems more predictable to me but the tires do screetch a lot when backing up and trying to turn at the same time. I've heard the swivel plate bakes backing up harder but I live in a pretty open area so I almost never have to back up with it loaded. something to consider but if you live in a crowded area you wouldn't want something this wide anyway

    Thank you! I was looking at buying a tow dolly next year. I'll be moving a thousand miles so I need something that I can pull my front wheel drive mini-van behind my 3/4 ton pick up. Otherwise I have to make the trip twice! I saw the $1,000 dollies on Craigs list but was hoping I could find something less expensive. Ark welding is somethng that just came naturally to me. The only part I'm not clear on is how the axles attach to the triangle plates.

    1 reply

    That will depend on your axle. I chose solid mounting and softer tires because I only got the spindle ends.

    a torsion axle is the easiest to mount. its would mount ot the bottom of the tube frame.

    just remember the centerline of the towed vehicles wheels should be just ahead of the trailer axle. This provides downforce on the hitch at all times.

    I've seen many plans for full size trailers for cars in welding manuals. They are a good reference. try to get this axle if you can... its the easiest to mount


    Indeed, farming it out to a pro is the best idea if one has doubts about their welding ability. Clearly, you do not. Nice work! Looks dang sturdy.

    1 reply

    Thank you, you're very kind.

    I've always been accused of over engineering. I don't think any commercial dolly used 3/8 plate for the spindles.

    My father taught me to weld over 40 years ago. I once watched him build a 10 foot pallet lift to stack washing machines out of scraps in the garage. he even made the winch gearbox from washing machine gears and a dryer motor.

    I never really took my welding skills too seriously. Its almost second nature. I weld as easily as someone would fry an egg.

    I got a wake up call one day at John Deere when another tech asked me to weld a ring on to the end of a solid steel 2"X2" bar. He had some plans from a JD custom tool manual and it looked pretty straight forward. This was the only welded piece there. I did it and showed him and asked if it was OK. he said it was great so I went on my way.

    The service writer came over to me and said "that was really impressive" of course I was lost because I had no idea what he was talking about. he explained that Jessie was making a tool to lift a 2000 lb cab up to lay underneath for over an hour to fix a tractor and that the ring I welded was the connecting link to the hook of the chain hoist.

    He said what he found so impressive is his best mechanic wanted me to weld the link his life would depend on. If it failed a 2000 lb cab would crush him into a 3 in thick gooey mess and he trusted my welding skills more than his own.

    A very humbling experience to say the least.