Before you buy a horsebox
Deciding to buy a horsebox is a relatively simple task, actually finding something to fit your individual requirements, that is lightweight, tough and capable of legally transporting your horses safely, is quite the opposite!
It is in fact a minefield with designs, quality and safety features varying wildly across the industry. I thought it would be worthwhile highlighting some items worth considering that may not at first be obvious.
1. Horsebox size
There are several factors here to consider and probably the main one is your driving licence. This will determine what class of vehicle you can drive legally. Cost to purchase and run will be major considerations too, as will the number of horses, sleeping, cooking and toilet facilities.
If we start with horsebox sizes and licence requirements, there are some descriptions below:
- 3.5 tonnes (with category B licence)
- 4.5 tonnes (with category C or C1 licence)
- 7.5 tonnes (with category C or C1 licence)
- 10 to 26 tonnes (with category C licence)
2. Buying your horsebox
Much like buying a car it is relatively easy to be swayed by the simplest of things. As an example, shiny paintwork is the first thing customers see and can often influence a decision to buy. In reality, although paintwork is important, the focus should be on the bones of the horsebox first and colours and fittings should be secondary.
It is always sensible to start with an HPI check.
3. Horsebox payload
Next, above all other considerations I would jump straight to payload. Payload is the weight of horses, people, tack, water and fuel you can legally carry. If you make a mistake here, it is going to cost you dearly. To calculate the payload, you need to know the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM), often referred to as the Gross Weight, or GWT of the horsebox and subtract the un-laden weight (how much it weighs empty from its weighbridge certificate) from the MAM. This calculation gives the payload.
As a very quick example, if the MAM is 4.5 tonnes and the un-laden weight of the horsebox is 2.7 tonnes. The calculation for permissible payload is 4.5 (MAM) subtract 2.7 tonnes (un-laden weight) and this gives 1.8 tonnes payload.
The marketplace is flooded with overweight horseboxes. Overloading a horsebox affects cornering, suspension, brakes, and voids insurance. They represent a significant threat to horses, passengers and other road users. Fortunately with a more informed public, both new and used horseboxes that are overweight have become considerably harder to sell.
I would add a word of caution here as a healthy payload can be achieved in two ways. The more expensive route is manufacturing using the latest materials and designs, in a manner that actually makes the horsebox stronger as well as lighter. The other route is to keep the overall price down and cut corners wherever possible. This often includes removing safety features and results in a build that only needs to outlast the first year’s warranty period.
My advice would be to approach any sales meeting armed with the payload you require and to be on the safe side, remember to leave a little spare capacity.
There is more in-depth information on Horesbox Payloads and Axle Loading HERE
4. Horsebox weighbridge certificate
The sensible route here is to avoid horseboxes without a current weighbridge certificate and bear in mind it is not uncommon for people to remove partitions and horse doors when weighing overweight horseboxes to sell ……and yes it does happen, I have seen it!
To be completely transparent for customers we weigh vehicles onsite and everything we manufacture has a weighbridge certificate. It isn’t, but really this should be an industry-wide standard.
5. Horsebox build safety
This is a difficult one for customers because they do not look with the eyes or experience of a coachbuilder. At the very least, customers should have a good look underneath for finish and attention to detail. How it is protected from water and salt is probably one of most important factors and the finish here should be just as good as the outside paintwork. Do not believe the hype that aluminium does not rot. If left unpainted and exposed to the weather, oxidation (rust) will begin from day one!
My rule of thumb is (regardless of whether it’s aluminium, galvanised steel or stainless steel)- if it’s underneath, paint it and then spray it with Waxoyl.
6. Used horseboxes
If you buy a used horsebox, whilst inspecting underneath I would check the horse floor and supporting subframe. Steel and aluminium both corrode, so look for broken welds or cracks. If it has an aluminium plank floor and aluminium subframe I advise a close check around bolts and screws for fracturing as this is a common fault.
An inspection should include tyres, steering, clutch and brakes. A visual inspection of the tyres should highlight tread depth and individual tyre condition and don’t forget to check for cracking on the tyre walls. A short test drive should highlight steering, clutch and brake issues. I would also look for oil and water leaks and if it has air brakes, it’s a good idea to drain the system down by pumping the foot brake when the engine is off until the low air alarm sounds, then start the engine and let it fill up again until the buzzer goes quiet. At this stage it’s probably worth testing all the gauges, fans and lights etc.
In addition, service histories are of benefit when available, however many used horsebox chassis have been maintained fleet vehicles so service history is notoriously hard to come by.
7. Horse area
Horse safety should be part of any inspection and must be high on any list. Horse partition strength is important, as are edges on cappings and any metalwork. Ramp condition, angle and fastening mechanism should be checked and take special care looking at the hinges, it’s where most horseboxes have problems as they do age and these are expensive to fix. You should test the weight of the ramp and see if you can close it. Often used horseboxes will need new ramp springs or gas struts to make them easy to close.
8. Horsebox living area
Living areas can vary greatly from horsebox to horsebox, but the main items to check are the water system, 12/24 volt and 230 volt systems and all gas appliances. A current Gas Safe certificate should be included and this should be renewed yearly. As a side note, for your own peace of mind a carbon monoxide and smoke detector should be fitted.
9. Final few pointers
It is worth considering the pros and cons of buying from a dealer or buying privately. Buying privately may be the cheapest option, but it is almost always sold as seen, whereas buying from a dealer often has some warranty and will come under the Sales of Goods Act 1979.
Before you even view a horsebox, research the manufacturer carefully. Ask on the horse forums and look at Google reviews. The more you learn beforehand the better equipped you will be to make a safe purchase.
If you are going the bespoke build route and having something made, my sage advice would be, do not deviate too far from what everyone else would require. As an example, if you stalled a 7.5 tonne build for one horse and had a double sized living, when you sell the horsebox your market will shrink from everyone looking for a three stall 7.5 tonne build to a handful of people.
My final observation is one I see happening more often. The knock on effects of the past years has made a big dent in both new and used horsebox availability and customers are compromising just to have something now. Statistically compromising on requirements makes a horsebox hard to live with and ultimately they swap them sooner. I think it is prudent to make a list of your requirements and don’t accept compromises because they are very hard to live with!!!
I hope you find this useful.
Thank you for reading. If you need advice on any horsebox topics, please get in touch.