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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Question and Answer with the CHP

At the dressage clinic I went to on 10/25/09, there was an opportunity to speak to a CHP officer (California Highway Patrol) about trailers, towing, licensing, and anything else relevant to California roadways. I wanted to share some of the information I learned. Keep in mind that the information presented was specific to California, so check with your states laws before making any crucial decisions!

  • In true CA fashion, if you are not paying a heck of a lot of money for either licensing, towing, etc, then you are probably illegally doing something - for example - if you LQ trailer is registered as a RV, than you will pay up the Wazoo for the plates every year, but you can drive with a class C. If your LQ trailer is registered as a trailer, than your plates will be cheap 5 year plates, but you will pay up the Wazoo for a commercial class A license. Obviously if it's registered as a trailer (cheap) and you are pulling with a class C (cheap) - you can be cited.

  • There is a non-commercial class A license available. If you pulling horses and you get pulled over, you need to be a good story teller. Repeat after me - "I am a farmer", "I have a farm", "these are agriculture horses", "I am within 150 miles of home". (your story will be helped if you are pulling a dingy livestock trailer with a dingy old truck).

  • If you think that you have found a loophole in the vehicle code that has an exemption for what you are doing - carry the code with that section highlighted. In most cases if you are pulled over, you can show the code to the officer and (because they don't' know the code very well either), will probably let you go. (be polite - this will help).

  • Carry an extra ball and wrench. The officer has seen trailers where the ball breaks, they get the trailer safely on the shoulder, but they don't have a ball and therefore are stuck. Someone else also mentioned you want to carry an extra hitch (that the ball attaches to). They are notorious for getting stolen.

  • Spend the extra $$ for a good receiver. Use a ball with a 1" shank - not a 1/2".

  • Safety chains can either be crossed or direct - length needs to be NO LONGER than what is required to turn. Chains should be short enough so that if the trailer comes off the hitch, the trailer does not hit the ground.

  • You are required to carry proof of ownership for the horses, or a bill of lading if you are hauling for others. If your horse needs to be put down on the road, the officer WILL NOT DO IT unless you can show proof of ownership. He recommended a lock box in the trailer with the information.

  • Any light that is out, even if it's not DOT required, is a fix-it ticket.

  • If you put a camper on a truck, the total length of truck + trailer is shorter.

  • When you move (change addresses) you MUST inform the DMV to change the addresses of all individual trailers and vehicles. They do not automatically change when your license changes. Out of date plates (because trailer 5 year plates don't have a year on them) is a major cause of being pulled over.

  • Do you need to stop at scales? If you are pulling with a pickup with a regular pickup bed with sides - no. If you pulling with a flat bed pickup or an Izuzu, modified bed etc. - yes.

  • To pull with a class C license, the GVWR of the truck or trailer cannot exceed 10K. Combined weight cannot exceed 26K (I know, this makes no sense, I had to clarify like 8 times). Here's a fun fact. If you truck exceeds 10K GVWR you can drive it around with a class C. The minute you put a trailer behind it, even if it's a little dinky utility trailer that weighs 1K pounds, you now need a commercial class A. Although you probably won't be cited for this, it is motivation to keep the truck at under 10K GVWR. The officer said this a problem because truck company's keep making their trucks bigger and bigger to out compete the "other guys" and it's gotten to the point that some 3/4 tons are over that 10K limit. Which means, technically, even pulling a little 2 horse trailer with it would require a class A. Modified beds (like flat beds) may require Class A licenses no matter what the GVWR is or the trailer being pulled.

  • You need to be able to see around the trailer with the mirrors. If you have fenders than your regular mirrors are probably OK. If the trailer has flat sides, then you probably need extended mirrors.

  • Most common cause of being pulled over is: speeding, light problems, out of date plates. The officer we talked to starts pulling people over when they exceed the speed limit ~15 mph. This differs from officer to officer. Remember this is California where the truck traffic is usually going up to 15 mph slower than all other vehicle traffic (55mph versus 70mph).

  • You are more likely to get pulled over and get a ticket near the end of the month.

  • Restrictions on your license stay there FOREVER. For example. If you get a license for a passenger van, you might get a restriction of 15 passengers. If later you get a school bus license - you will STILL have the restriction of 15 passengers and will have to carry a certificate that allows you to carry more passengers. Silly huh? Here's how it would apply to horse trailers. The cut of for the "level" of commercial A license is 26K pounds. If you take the test with a trailer/truck combo of LESS than 26K pounds, your commercial class A license will come with a restriction of less than 26K pounds. If you go back and get re certified above 26K, you will have to carry a certificate any time you pull more than 26K because of the early restriction. Confusing huh? The bottom line is that if you are getting some sort of license (like a class A commercial) get as "big" a license as possible with the least amount of restrictions.

  • Vehicle codes change yearly. It's a good idea to review any changes.

  • Most trailers have a "deadmans brake". I admit I've never even checked the battery in my 10 year old trailer. I always meant to get around to it.....The officer did state that they are required to be hooked up, HOWEVER he stated that his personal perference is to have properly adjusted chains and to let his truck do the braking, as he eased it to the side of the road. He is very nervous about having that deadman's brake come on and possible pull the trailer to one side. As long as the brake wire is there....they won't check to make sure the battery is charged. Just a thought. His advice if the trailer DOES come off the ball is to NOT in the brakes and to pull over to the side, letting the trailer pull you to a stop. Most people get into trouble, flip etc. because they hit the brakes or they steered sharply.

Just a reminder that all this information is used at your own risk etc etc yada yada. Just one horse person pulling on the road to another.


  1. Did he say anything about non-CA licensees? Like if I'm properly licensed and tagged to tow in NV and I go into CA, am I going to get a lot of grief from the CHP? Very interesting info!

  2. What a GREAT entry! Tons of information (so to speak).

  3. Funder - We talked briefly about what it would take to go into Nevada FROM california, how that changes with a class A etc, but we did not talk about the reverse. I would call the CHP and ask to talk to the group that handles this and ask if you were worried and spending a large amount of time in California.

    there are a couple people who are related to or married to CHP officers that read this blog. They might chime in with some information.

    If I was in your position, I would make sure my tags were current, all my lights worked, and go the speed limit (remember max is 55mph here) etc. and not give them a good reason to pull me over, and then not worry about it.

  4. Food for thought! I've just started trailering my own horse and it's been a real eye-opener. When looking for a tow vehicle, I purposely bought as much power as I could get (I wound up with a diesel Ford F-250).

    The other thing I found out is that for the most part, the factory-mounted trailer hitches are not up to the job ot pulling the weights associated with most horse trailers, even the two-horse variety. I wound up having to replace it with a hitch rated to pull 10,000 pounds.

    I'll have to look driver's license thing.

  5. Great info!

    Where I live (Washington State), the lifetime brand inspection really is a *lifetime* certificate (it's actually a laminated card) that doesn't need to be updated when info changes. I talked to the licensing office and was amazed to discover that they DON'T want an address update. And they don't have a system in place to ask for more money to update that stuff either. Truly astonishing. Anyhow, the brand inspection serves as permanent proof of ownership. If you've got the card and the horse, you're legally the owner.

  6. Great post. Lots of good information.

    Thank for you for letting me know about the Solstice saddle for sale. I have a permanent Google search set up for them when they come up for sale. Unfortunately, I need a medium. I have a Polish Arabian who manages to have a prominent whither.


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