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Towing manufactured housing is a trucking specialty unlike most—almost all assignments are oversized—both in width and length, and occasionally in height. And once you deliver the unit, you leave most of the “trailer” behind.
The fact is, moving a “manufactured housing” unit can be major undertaking.
There are two distinctly different towing assignments associated with manufactured housing: (1) delivering a new unit to a customer’s site, and (2) picking up and relocating an existing unit from one location and moving it to another. Still, hauling the units involves the same considerations.
Either way, as the driver towing a prefabricated home, you are transporting a family’s major investment and your service and professionalism will be a major part of the homeowners’ experience.
The first challenge is that, unlike most trucking tasks, manufactured housing transport requires transporting structures that were not intended to move on highways on trailer assemblies that are temporary and designed more to support the structure and less about being optimized for highway use.
Also, deliveries are not to terminals or businesses with loading docks and forklifts, but to vacant dirt or grass lots, sometimes with limited maneuvering room. With manufactured home units, the “trailer” is actually the foundation for the structure, and once delivered the trailer assembly is mounted on concrete blocks or pillars—the house’s foundation, and the entire wheel and axle assemblies are removed and returned to the manufacturing facilities to be reused.
With modern manufactured housing, a single home may be made up of two or three separate towable units, that can be combined at the home site to create a finished home that is comparable in quality and size to many contractor-built homes.
So, from the truck driver’s point of view, what issues are involved in transporting large, oversized mobile homes or large manufactured housing units?
First, this is a very specialized service—beginning with a specialized towing unit, the toter.
Unlike typical tractor-trailer rigs, mobile and manufactured homes are towed using a more-or-less traditional ball hitch, and the tractor is called a Toter, or Mobile Home Toter—a tractor unit specifically designed for the modular and manufactured housing industries. Some toters are highly adapted for purposes of delivering or removing mobile homes on smaller home sites. Others look and operate like over-the-road semi-trailer tractors with a longer wheelbase and a sleeper cab.
Some Toters are hybrids, with both a fifth wheel and a ball hitch. The ball-and-hitch is a more fitting design for the height demands of the housing industry considering that the hitch is at the level of the bottom of the towed unit.
The toter is often confused or mistaken for a semi-trailer tractor. The key difference between the two is in the method of coupling. Toters are equipped with a 2-5/16" diameter ball that couples with the tow hitch on the tongue of a mobile or manufactured home or the removable transport frame of a modular home.
The toter is a tractor unit specifically designed for the modular and manufactured housing industries. Some toters are highly adapted for purposes of delivering or removing mobile homes to smaller home sites. Others look and operate like over-the-road semi-trailer tractors with longer wheelbases and sleeper cabs.
Toters are required to have extending mirrors. Home section widths range from eight to eighteen feet. Toters have mirrors that can extend (manually, by electrically, or hydraulically) to enable the operator to see beyond the unit. This increases safety for public road situations. The mirrors also enable the operator to better navigate narrow roads and obstacles such as signs, mailboxes, trees, and other automobiles.
Weight of the mobile home – According to Free Mobile Home Info, older mobile homes typically weigh between 35 to 40 lbs. per square foot, while newer manufactured homes weigh anywhere from 45 to 50 lbs. per square foot. That means an 800 sq. ft. mobile home could weigh approximately 40,000 lbs. The weight includes the frame/chassis of the structure/trailer. Add to that the wheels and any materials carried inside the building to determine the actual weight of a unit to be towed.
For the heaviest moves, some states specify that the toter weigh 32,000 lb. This means that a 40,000-lb manufactured housing unit plus the toter should weigh in at about 72,000 lb., well below the national maximum of 80,000 lb. for national highways and should not be subject to overweight fees.
The typical width of production manufactured and modular homes is approximately 12 feet. This makes it a permitable, nondivisible load with only limited restrictions on travel. There are instances of buildings in the 12-16-ft. wide range being transported, and occasionally wider than 16 ft., but these are likely to be treated as superloads with very tight restrictions on when they can travel, what roads they can use, and that they must be accompanied by two or more escorts and possibly police escorts, etc.
Permits and Regulations – when moving a mobile home to a new county or state, permits may be needed for each individual territory it enters or travels through. As with any oversize or overweight load these permits must be in place before the move. Regarding inspections, some states, such as Florida, require mandatory inspections of older mobile homes before moving them to the state.
Moving materials –From tools and supplies to tow hitches and tires, moving a mobile home requires a variety of tools and materials. Most toters have storage space for the needed tools and equipment needed for the move. Materials needed to install and finish the manufactured housing unit may be carried inside the unit.
Like any other potentially oversize load, individual states have regulations and procedures for determining what is an oversize load, permits required, and possible requirements for escort vehicles—and the permits and requirements are different in many states.
To obtain rules and permit rates for states in which you intend to operate, contact the motor vehicle authority for the state or search information available on the Internet. Several examples of typical state regulations are shown below.
For Alabama, annual permits for moving manufactured housing are $100, while single trip permits are $20. Oversize loads may only move during daylight hours. Widths more than 12 feet require two escorts—one in front and one in the rear. If the housing unit has approved lighting on the rear of the unit, then only one escort is required.
The fee in Arkansas is $10 per trip for units 12 ft. to 16 ft. 6 in. wide. Widths that exceed 16 ft. 6 in. are subject to a fee of $150. Arkansas has specific requirements for insurance, signs, and flags. One escort vehicle is required for units that are more than 12 ft up to 14 ft, 6 in. If the unit exceeds 14 ft and 6 in., two escort vehicles are required. There are also specified hours of movement that vary according to the width of the unit.
California’s fee for modular home transportation is $66. Maximum load width is 14 feet. Wider loads become superloads, subject to higher fees and more restrictions. For any load wider than 16 ft, escorts are provided by California Highway Patrol. Repetitive annual permits are available.
The TDOT Permit Office charges fees for granting special permits in accordance with the following schedules; provided, however, that the fees for permits to move mobile homes, manufactured homes, portable modular units or house trailers are separately identified in Rule 1680-07-01-.15.(1). Width: (a) Not more than fourteen feet (14’): $20.00; (b) Over fourteen feet (14’) but not more than sixteen feet (16’): $30.00; (c) Over sixteen feet (16’): $30.00 plus $5.00 for each additional foot or fraction thereof greater than sixteen feet (16’)….
Note, Virginia has fees that are favorable to moving mobile homes and manufactured housing. For example, for certain oversize and overweight conditions, Virginia charges a fee of 30 cents per mile, but for mobile homes and manufactured housing, there is only a flat rate of $1.00, and for multiple moves during a year, the fee is $40 per year.
Washington has one of the more easily understood set of rules and guidelines for oversized manufacturing housing units.
Note: See Appendix for complete list of states and applicable regulations for mobile or manufactured housing.
Typically, the driver of the tote simply delivers the housing unit to the site and positions it approximately where it is to be set up, guided by a member of the set-up crew. Once in position, the Toter is disconnected and the driver’s job is done. The set-up crew is responsible for the final positioning, leveling, etc., as well as for removing the wheels and axles from the beams that form the foundation for the structure.
It is conceivable that a driver could also be a member of the set-up crew if the delivery vehicle is owned or operated by the manufactured housing company and the driver is a company employee. typically, the toter and the driver are owned/employed by a company that specializes in, or is a trucking company that includes, towing manufactured housing services.
Note that existing manufactured housing units can be prepared for towing and relocation to another site—nearby or across the country. The moving contractor prepares the unit for transportation and hires or schedules the driver and toter when the unit is ready. The driver and toter simply hitch to the prepared unit and deliver it to the next location. Drivers are advised to carefully inspect the loaded unit to ensure that it will be safe for traveling
The U. S. Department of Transportation issues rules and regulations that impact the transportation of manufactured homes. The Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) develops resources that cover safety-related, voluntary information concerning manufactured and modular home section movements. The MHI manual is envisioned to be a broad-based compilation of separate guidelines related to various aspects of transportation. These resources are “living documents” that may necessitate revision to heighten industry awareness of existing transportation issues or due to federal rulemaking imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA).
These resources are voluntary. These guidelines are not industry standards or mandatory requirements. However, improved safety for manufactured and modular home transportation is the common objective.
The Manufactured Housing Institute has prepared the Transportation Resource Manual of guidelines on many aspects of transporting manufactured housing. They often review Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or Federal Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations and guidance and examine how they may affect manufactured housing transportation.
Guideline 001: Securement of Shifting and Falling Cargo during Manufactured Home Transportation
MHI expressed concern because various types of materials and supplies, often called “ship loose” materials, used to complete the home, are shipped within the transportable sections of manufactured housing units. The FMCSA’s final rule included the following language: “…transporters of the homes would comply by ensuring that materials and supplies used to complete the home, are positioned so that they cannot shift around inside the home while it is being towed to its installation site. Placing the items within closets and utility rooms or other confined spaces generally would satisfy these new requirements.”
Guideline 002 Hours of Service of Drivers (HOS):
Initially, the rule allowed times (1) 10 hours driving and (2) a total of 15 hours duty time and (3) off-duty (rest) time of 8 consecutive hours. The FMCSA final rule provides an alternative to create incremental changes to the current on-duty/off-duty driving requirements, including (1) 11 hours driving time and (2) 2.2 hours other on-duty time. This allows some flexibility for drivers who are delivering units within a day’s drive.
Guidelines 003 Wiring Harnesses for Manufactured Home Braking Systems and Guideline 004, Guideline for Manufactured home Axle Recycling Guideline
These guidelines provide technical guidelines needed because brake wiring systems, as well as the wheels and axles are intended to be installed and removed from the transported structure’s chassis and may be collected and reused on another chassis.
There are also guidelines for a quality control that provides for Third-Party Testing agencies to deliver approved quality control programs of recycled harnesses, axles, wheels, etc.
005 – Escort Vehicles for Transportable Section Movements, 03-24-05
In cooperation the Specialized Carrier and Rigging Association (SCRA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), MHI prepared escort guidelines for the movement of permitted oversize/overweight loads. The guidelines are titled “Pilot Car Escort – Best Practices and Law Enforcement Escort – Best Practices.”
Although states, through their permitting process, have some requirements for oversize/overweight movements, no nationwide guidance is available for how law enforcement escorts should support these movements. Both guidelines cover such issues as pre-trip planning and meetings; preparing for escorts; route planning and communication; oversize/overweight highway movements; and escort assignment. Copies of the described documents are available at: www.cvsa.org/committees/size_weight_committee.html. MHI-03/24/05
Guideline 006 North American Standard Driver/Vehicle Out-of-Service Criteria is the revised North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria.
Part I (driver criteria) identifies violations that render the Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) operator unqualified to drive or Out-of-Service. The necessity for all enforcement personnel to implement and adhere to the standards is: (1) a matter of law, (2) perceived as necessary by the CVSA and, (3) a professional obligation if substantial enhancement in the safety of CMV operators is to be achieved.
Part II (vehicle criteria) identifies critical vehicle inspection items and provides criteria for placing vehicles Out-of-Service subsequent to a safety inspection.
Jurisdictions are taking an even closer look at vehicles and drivers because of security concerns. All CVSA-certified commercial vehicle law enforcement agencies in North America use the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria. For more information, contact theCommercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
States have substantial authority to control the conditions under which oversize or overweight loads may move, especially non-divisible loads. State permitting practices often differ and present a challenge to the transport of oversize loads across State boundaries, including trucks carrying manufactured housing.
FHWA has established communications among industry executives and State permit officials to reach a consensus on more efficient, coordinated movements of oversize loads. With the support of the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials (NASTO), the FHWA is moving toward harmonized permitting activities.FHWA will use this initiative as a template for solving complex, multi-state truck mobility issues that arise in other areas of the country. They are also working closely with other regional organizations of The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials AASHTO, like the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO), and the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) on this issue of streamlining the permit process and seeking interoperability between States.
The above information may be updated. Always check resources or named agencies regarding the most recent changes to applicable regulations or policies.