Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Why I Lifted My T@G
There is so much more to see in the world if you venture off the asphalt roads and explore those less traveled gravel and dirt back roads. Expanding your travels to include destinations that lie off-road can give you an unforgettable experience—one that isn’t shared by most travelers.
My T@G Max soft overland camper allows me to do just that, and getting it was not too difficult or expensive. When I first saw this T@G trailer, I knew it would fill my basic travel and camping needs, but I wanted more; I wanted an off-road capable trailer. But at the time that I was shopping for one in 2015, the T@G was not offered in an off-road version.
I knew I couldn’t take just any camper off the asphalt; a traditional model lacks the ground clearance for higher off-road terrain without bottoming out, and it doesn’t have space for tires that can handle the rough off-road terrain (like open fields, rocky pastures or small mud or water crossings). So I had a decision to make: Do I buy a lesser equipt trailer, one that’s already off-road ready? Or do I modify one myself, and gain a sense of ownership and accomplishment as an added bonus?
I grew up under the guidance of my father, a great man who created, invented and built just about anything and everything. If he did not like the way something worked, he found a way to make it better. I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and transform this trailer into something that could take me onto those back roads.
With a little research I found an easy, economical way to transform this already capable T@G trailer into a soft overland off-road trailer: Lift it. I ended up learning that in a weekend’s time, you can convert this trailer—or any trailer with a Dexter axle—to really give your camping adventures a lift.
To lift your trailer for off-roading, the first thing you’ll need to acquire is the Dexter frame spacer kit (I used model P/N K71-723-01 for #9 axels, which increases the lift by 2.63 inches). At the time of this post, the axle kit I purchased cost just under $80, which is quite reasonable. Most T@G trailers have the Dexter #9 axle already installed, but make sure you confirm that yours does, too, so you purchase the correct kit.
Another important note: My 2015 model did not come with the brake package; if your trailer has it, you may need to lengthen the wiring to accommodate the lift. Be sure to consult the manufacturer of the brake system for details.
Start by jacking your T@G trailer seven to eight inches off the ground. If you don’t put it up to this height, the trailer will not be high enough to accommodate the tire reinstallation after the lift kit is installed.
Important: Do not use trailer stabilizers to support your trailer while you work. Use proper equipment—such as jack stands—at each corner, and make sure they are suitable for the trailer’s weight.
After you have jacked and stabilized your trailer and supported the axle, you can then loosen and remove the four (two per side) stock fasteners between your frame and axle.
Once the fasteners are removed, lower the axle, keeping in mind that the front side (the torsion side) will rotate down as you lower the axle.
When you have adequate space between your frame and axle, slip the lift kit’s spacer into place, with the open side facing inward, positioned above the axle and below factory mount.
Install eight bolts, washers, lock washers, and nuts (four of each per side). Tighten the frame mounts, but only snug the axle mounts. This step is essential: It will allow you the wiggle room to center the axle on the frame. Use a precision ruler to center the axle on the frame, leaving equal distances on both sides. Once the frame is centered, tighten all fasteners to 80-100 lbs/foot.
For the next step in my T@G MAX soft overland project, I took a ride to Great Lakes Forge in Chicago. I was able to meet Greg Russell, the owner and developer of the Lock ‘N’ Roll hitch system, which is designed and manufactured at Great Lakes Forge.
Greg and I sat down in his shop so I could learn more about Lock ‘N’ Roll trailer hitches. He told me about the design, the growing pains and the capabilities of this system. Greg has been working with metal since the age of 10, and his facility’s projects range in usage from rail transportation to works of art. He also knows the sport of off-road exploration, and has taken trips to places like Australia to testing his hitch system (which led to Greg obtaining patent rights for his Lock ‘N’ Roll system in many international markets).
Greg is serious about his product, and that’s evident at Great Lakes Forge; I can see why his three-axis system is gaining popularity. This is why I decided on the Lock ‘N’ Roll system for my soft overlander.
Note: When I researched hitches, I learned that a conventional two-inch ball type hitch might not be suitable for off-road use. This is important, because if a two-inch ball type hitch is articulated beyond the working capability of the hitch, the trailer can separate from the tow vehicle. So be sure you purchase the appropriate hitch for you intended use.
Installing the T@G’s New Hitch
Hitch ‘er up….
Installation of the new hitch took a couple of friends and me about five hours to complete. We left the old hitch 50-degree angle plating structure, mostly on the frame. We then positioned the new Lock ‘N’ Roll 50-degree wedge into place over the top of the old wedge.
With the addition of some spacers, we welded all components onto the frame. If you are not a welder, I suggest you have a trained shop do this project for you. The installation and structural integrity that comes with proper welding is crucial.
Putting the Rubber on the Road
If you choose to lift your trailer and use the stock tires, you will have lifted your frame from 12 to 15 inches off the ground, but your axle will remain at a nine-inch clearance. But a set of new tires can get your T@G clearance up to 18 inches and your axle to a height of 12 inches.
To get my T@G Max really off-road ready I decided to install 15-inch tires that can handle that rough terrain while giving me more clearance. The crew at Discount Tire and I settled on Goodyear Wrangler P225/75 R15 tires, with Chaos 5LG 15-inch by 8-inch rims (with a bolt pattern of 5-114.30, offset of -19 and backspace of 3.75 inches).
Whichever rim you choose for your new tires, make certain that your center bore is large enough to fit over your axle hub. The final fit of my setup was spot on; side clearance was sufficient, which gave plenty of room for the shell, and the look was exactly what I wanted.
Now the fenders needed some help; with the new tires and the suspension travel, my new lift would have made contact with the original style fenders.
The good news is you can leave your fenders in their original positions with this lifting project; they only need trimming for a proper fit.
I decided to trim three inches off of the fenders, on an equal radius to the tire, and then install Pacer Performance 2.5” Flexy Flare heavy duty no-lip fender extensions (part number 52-170). I installed the flares to the fenders with stainless steel bolts and fiber-locking stainless nuts instead of the fasteners that came with the flaring.
Update: Some readers have reported that they have done this modification and only needed to trim two inches off each fender, and I personally like the look of the two-inch trim better than my three-inch trim. But adding the rubber flex flare does add another dimension to the fenders, giving them both an impressive look and sufficient wheel debris clearing coverage.
I had to take my fenders off in order to trim them, mostly because I had not seen anyone who had done this mod to a T@G trailer before, and it took some trial and error. Trimming the fenders while they’re on the trailer instead is possible, and it might be a safer method. The sides of these trailers are very thin and easy to damage. Of course, if you trim your fenders while they’re still connected, do it before your new tires go on.
If you decide to remove the fenders, though, remember that the fender screws go into a thin fiberglass skin with only styrene core. They are also glued on, so you should be careful in the removal of the fenders, the installation of the flares, and the re-gluing and screwing your fenders back into place as suggested.
Nothing Left but the Drive
With a little fresh paint on your new hitch, you now have a completed soft overland trailer. This rig is capable of anything you can throw at it (with the exception of boulders and hardcore crawling, neither of which was my intention with my build). The hitch is super quiet and it’s a breeze to hook to my tow vehicle, even working by myself.
Our maiden trip was the Wisconsin Adventure Trail, and she did great, even with many moments of four-wheel low and rear lockers engaged. Surprisingly, this whole project cost me less than $1000, but it added much more value in the expanded usage and the sense of accomplishment I gained.
Update: Since first lifting the trailer, I have put over 20,000 miles of unlimited use on my T@G, and I have several more trips planned for 2018.
This post is dedicated to the man who inspired me to create, invent and build: my father.