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What’s a car transporter or car carrier trailer?

A car transporter is usually an articulated lorry where an extended tractor unit at the front pulls a trailer which is specifically designed to carry as many vehicles as possible. There are smaller car transporters which are effectively a rigid truck, but most cars (unless they’re broken down) are moved on larger artics.

Car transporter with 9 vehicles, courtesy of Richard Says. The trailer part usually has three axles.

The trailers are most commonly a custom skeletal type with minimal bodywork unless they are used for transporting luxury vehicles or race cars. This means that vehicles are exposed to the elements, but more vehicles can be carried.

This isn’t a car transporter, it’s an enclosed vehicle trailer

The trailer has a hydraulic upper platform that drops far enough so that loading ramps can be connected and vehicles can be driven on; vehicles are not winched on like with a vehicle recovery service, therefore they need to contain enough fuel and sufficient battery charge to be started and driven using their own engine.

The upper ramps drop down to enable the vehicles to be unloaded or loaded courtesy of Alex Liivet

Once that platform is raised, space on the lower deck is opened up for vehicles to drive on.

Car transporters typically carry 5-11 vehicles, but it depends on the size; you’ll fit more Minis on a trailer than you will Ford Rangers.

The vehicles are secured to the deck with ratchet straps placed over the tyres.

Ratchet strap over a wheel on a flat deck recovery vehicle – the strap looks like it need to be replaced

Challenges driving car transporters

Because of the high centre of gravity due to vehicles being transported on the top deck, car transporter drivers need to be smooth and steady with their driving to avoid rollover situations. When vehicles are unloaded, the lower deck is unloaded first and any remaining cars are shuffled to the lower deck to avoid raising the centre of gravity; car transporters should never be driven with vehicles only on the top deck.

The front of the trailer extends over the cab which can create problems when turning as the front corner of the trailer will follow a wider arc than the cab. This puts the driver at risk of hitting awnings, signposts, roadside trees, bus shelters and streetlights.

The forward distance is long in a car transporter

Car transporter drivers need to be aware of vehicle crime. A transporter carrying a load of high-end cars could have over a million pounds’ worth, which could be an attractive target to thieves. Keys should be securely contained.

Some transporter drivers will also load and unload the vehicles, something that’s made much easier with a spotter to guide them.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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