Seems I’ve somehow earned the reputation of knowing something about travel trailers……After owning a 20′ Toy Hauler for 5 years and towing it all over America, I’ve got some opinions that I’ll share with you. Please feel free to add comments below if you think I missed something or want to add something .
Here it is, 2020 and the year of CoVid. RV sales are through the roof! Friends that I never thought in a million years would think about camping are calling me or stopping me at camping events to ask a million questions. Total strangers are approaching me at rest stops to ask about RVs. Crazy!
So here is what I’ve learned….And formed an opinion about….And you know what they say about opinions…..
For the past few years, I’ve towed my trailer down to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona from Massachusetts and lived in the trailer for three+ months. Mostly BOONDOCKING out in the desert of forests. Rarely in an organized RV park. One year I towed it all the way to Oakland CA to visit my kids and grandkids in LosAngeles and SanFrancisco area. That was a near 12,000 mile trip and lasted three months! What a great adventure!
I’ve owned various camping devices. From canoe camping with tents to backpacking with a simple tarp…..Lots of motorcycle camping including a trip to Alaska via motorcycle and tenting every night for 5.5 weeks, to a couple of pickup truck campers to a Roof Top Tent off-road trailer I recently built. You can read a whole bunch on my camping stuff on my main web site http://rvbprecision.com/
And if you are really bored you can read about the motorcycle trip here:http://motoalaska.blogspot.com/
So lets get at it!
#1) Tow vehicle……Buy enough truck! We will discuss trucks here but the same goes for any SUV that has an actual frame. Unibody vehicles have no place towing anything over a couple thousand pounds. Don’t bother yourself with “tow ratings”…..they are basically meaningless. The truck or SUV’s Payload is everything. Here’s the deal. A fully optioned 1/2 ton PU might have a tow rating of 12,000 pounds. But a payload of only 1500 pounds. (The more options you have on the truck, the lower the payload will be). There is a yellow sticker on the drivers side door jam that calls out the trucks payload AS OPTIONED. If you did buy a 12,000 pound trailer, the tongue weight would be 1200-1600 pounds….At 1200 pounds that only leaves you 300 pounds for passengers, fuel and stuff in the bed. At 1600 pounds you are dangerously overweight. And adding airbags or other suspension enhancements does nothing for the “car like” weight rating rear axle of a 1/2 ton pickup. You can spec a 1/2 ton truck with much greater payload, but you will usually not find one on a dealers lot. My advise is buy a 3/4 ton truck for any trailer over 8000 pounds. Three quarter ton pickups are built MUCH stronger and way more heavy duty than a 1/2 ton. Brakes, Axles, Universal Joints, differential, frame, etc are all much more stout. The only difference between most 3/4 ton trucks and 1 ton trucks is the rear springs. When I was shopping for my 2018 RAM 2500, I found higher rated payload, 1/2 ton trucks were much more $$ than a 3/4 ton with the same options and nearly 80% more payload.. My truck has a payload of 3300 pounds! There are no 1/2 ton trucks that can claim this. And with modern, coil suspension, when unloaded it rides like a Cadillac. Not like your fathers 3/4 ton truck of just a few years ago. Nothing worse than going on a long trip with an under powered or under capacity tow vehicle. The whole trip becomes a white knuckle adventure. No fun! Also, don’t trust the hitch ratings the trailer dealer tells you. I bought a hydraulic scale and have weighed the “loaded” hitch weight on a number of trailers and we are always shocked on how high it is. My trailer, a Forest River 19RR with two batteries and two 20# propane tanks on the hitch, full of water but no motorcycle in the toy hauler has a hitch weight of 1800 pounds!!! Put a 600 pound motorcycle in the “garage” and the hitch weight goes down to 1500 pounds. Still way more than you would expect for a 19′ trailer.
#2) Engine choice…..Under 8000 pound trailer, the biggest V8 gas motor offered by the trucks manufacturer. You’ll thank me later for this. Also, get a higher numerical rear axle than what is usually on the lot. Your engine will thank you for this! Most trucks are shipped with low number axle ratios for the higher CAFE (MPG) ratings of the total fleet. But they are absolute dogs pulling anything over 3000 pounds. Now if you are thinking a trailer over 8000 pounds, you might want to look at a diesel. I’ve had both. My last truck was a 2006 Dodge with 5.9 Cummins diesel. Absolutely amazing motor. I drove from Massachusetts to Oakland CA and back, over western mountains and I think the transmission shifted three times! And this was with my trailer fully loaded and at about 7000 pounds. My current truck is a Ram 2500 with a 6.4L gas Hemi engine. It’s a bear! But it ain’t no diesel. Out west or even in the mountains of West Virginia, I miss my diesel. This 6.4L Hemi, with a 6 speed transmission, shifts more than a Dem……Oh never mind! By the way, my diesel pulling this trailer returned 12mpg and the gas motor returns 10mpg. Reports are more modern diesels are returning upwards of 16-17mpg towing this size and weight trailer.
#3) pick out a trailer you want ….AND THEN BUY A TRUCK TO TOW IT! If you already have a tow vehicle, don’t buy more trailer than you can COMFORTABLY and SAFELY tow.
#4) WHAT TO BUY.…Buy a used trailer. Find one two years old that someone outgrew or didn’t have enough tow vehicle and they scared the bejesus out of themselves. Let them take the massive depreciation of up to 40% and work out all the bugs. ALL travel trailers will have New Trailer Issues. The stories are endless. You don’t want to go there in your first year of ownership. Not fun!
#5) FINANCING…Don’t think about financing for more than 5 years……two or three is even better. And cash is the best. If you have to finance it, you probably can’t afford it. Don’t fall in the trap of 10 or 15 year financing. You’ll make interest payments for years and when you actually start paying for the trailer it will be 6 or 14 years old and you’ll owe the full price on a trailer worth half or 1/3 of what you paid for it.
#6) SIDE OUTS….This is a hot button……… I’m not a fan. Sure they make the trailer larger when deployed. Are you going to stay in the trailer all day? Do you really need 36″ more space? But can you get to the bathroom at a rest stop without deploying the slide? Many travel trailers are so poorly floor planned that this is a real issue. If you plan on spending the night at a rest stop or a Walmart some do not allow slide outs to be deployed. And they leak, fail, screw up and basically just another thing to go wrong. And when they go wrong its a BIG thing. Trust me, there are enough other things to go wrong with a travel trailer.
#7) Appliances….You want a 120V/LP Gas refrigerator. Many new trailers are coming with 120V, residential type refrigerators. These are fine if all you are ever going to camp at are full hookup sites with 120V AC available. But if you ever plan on boondocking, you’ll be running your generator forever. Your neighbors will love you! Some newer trailers are offering only 12V refrigerators. You better have lots of battery voltage or be hooked up to AC or run your generator! LP Gas refrigerators are a marvel. They sip LP gas and can get down to 0 degrees in the freezer all with just a little tiny flame. Amazing you can make cold from heating something up!
Microwaves only work when on AC or the generator is running. My trailer has one, I’ve never used it. I store bread and cookies in it.
Oven…..If you like to bake, nice to have. But really heat up the trailer in the summer. My trailer has one. I used it twice in 5 years.
Gas or Electric stove and oven?…….Gas is better especially if boondocking. See above about electric only refrigerators.
Waterheater…..The new “On Demand” water heaters are getting great reviews. I don’t have any experience with them. A simple 6 gallon, LP Gas water heater has served me well.
AirConditioning……Only works when hooked to 120V AC or on generator. You can not run AC off your batteries. My 19′ trailer has a single 13,000 BTU unit and can barely keep the temperature 20 degrees below ambient on a 90 degree day. This trailer should have come with a 15K unit. Any trailer over 24′ should have ducted AC and maybe two units otherwise there will be hot and cold areas in the trailer. My AC is not centrally located and is not ducted. It is in the rear of the trailer and I need to use a fan to move the AC to the sleeping area up front.
Bathroom……Wet Bathrooms, where the entire bathroom is the shower stall really suck. You stand on the toilet or the tiny space next to it to take a shower and everything gets soaked. You want a real shower stall that is big enough that you are not fighting the shower curtain when taking a shower. My little 19′ trailer has an actual bathtub with shower! Just like at home, but smaller. My wife loves it! Happy wife…….Happy Life!
Over Stove Fan/Ventilator…….A must have! My trailer did not come with this option. You couldn’t cook anything on the stovetop without the smoke detector going off. I had to cut a hole in the side of the trailer and install one myself.
#8) Electrical Power….You want two “Group 31 AGM” batteries. Negotiate this at time of purchase. Don’t go away with a single group 27 battery. Todays needs for electronics will leave you wanting…Big Time!
#9) Solar…….If you are only going to full hookup RV parks, you don’t need solar. If you are going to boondock it is a must have…..otherwise you will be running a generator all the time to keep your batteries charged. I’m a nut about solar. You can read all about what I consider a minimum solar system for boondocking here http://rvbprecision.com/rv-projects/solar-install-grey-wolf-19rr-toy-hauler.html
Do not buy your solar system from the RV dealer. I’ve yet to see even one system that that I would consider adequate for todays electrical needs or for anywhere close to the price you can pay in the aftermarket. They usually undersize the panels, use too small of wire and cheap charge controllers. Most dealer installed solar is just barely good enough to maintain your batteries charge while the trailer is in storage.
#10) Suspension…..If you buy a two year old trailer that has any miles on it, I bet dollars to donuts the suspension needs attention. It’s cheap money to upgrade it. Here is a HOW-TO I wrote a couple years ago http://rvbprecision.com/rv-projects/dexter-e-z-flex-suspension-upgrade.html
You want 15″ wheels on anything over 7000 pounds. And USA made tires……RVers refer to Chinese tires as “China Bombs”. You cant believe the damage they do to the trailer when they explode at 65 mph!
#11) Load Equalizing Hitch…….In my opinion, any trailer with more than 800 pounds tongue weight can benefit from a LEH. And any trailer with tongue weight over 1500 pounds MUST have a LEH.
#12) Construction…..Aluminum frame and chassis with some type of plastic/fiberglass skin is best. But you pay for this. Fiberglass or plastic roofs are showing up more and more and are zero maintenance. Lower price trailers are “Stick and Tin”……wood frame and aluminum skin. They are usually fine. But if you get a leak, then rot follows if you don’t catch it in time. Lower price trailers have rolled rubber roofs that generally need to be resealed and recoated every ten years or so. Want about the best constructed trailer you can buy?….See Airstream!
#13) Size……This all depends on what you are going to use the trailer for and how many folks are going to be in it. My trailer is a “Means To An End”….I sleep in it, cook a few meals, and might read or watch TV in it at night. I rarely got “Camping”….I use it to go to events and I’m at the event usually during the day. Therefore for just my wife and I, a 20′ trailer serves us fine. If you have a 30′ or 40′ trailer and are pulling it with a gas motor truck, getting to many gas station pumps can be a real adventure. If you have a diesel truck with this size trailer its a no issue because tractor trailer trucks need to get to the pumps so you can too. I’ve gone down roads or into shopping centers and gas stations with my 20′ trailer that would have been a real issue if it was any longer. I see huge trailers pulled by gas trucks and wonder how they deal with this issue.
Also, many state parks are not set up for any trailers over 24′. These parks were designed back in the day when a 20′ camper was a big trailer!
So, there you have it. One mans opinion on what your travel trailer should look like. Be aware, all NEW travel trailers are works in progress. NO ONE and I mean NO ONE makes a travel trailer that is perfect right from the get go. The big issue is getting them serviced once you buy one. The RV industry has sold upwards of 500,000 units a year for the last four or five years. This is 2.5 MILLION new units on the road. The number of service bays and RV technicians has not grown anywhere near fast enough. Currently you might have to wait months to get an appointment to get something serviced on your trailer.
And as I’m writing this during the CoVid epidemic, most campgrounds, public and private, are limiting the number of sites available. It was nearly impossible to get a camposite here in Massachusetts this summer. Even without CoVid, land values have skyrocketed during the great economy we have been sharing over the last 4 years and campground owners are selling their land for housing. This will be an enormous issue once the epidemic is over and folks start traveling again.
My advise, keep it as simple as you can, especially if this is your first trailer. Single axle, no slide, under 20′ is easily the best value, most fun , lowest cost trailer out there. Find one two years old, use it for a year or two and you might get all your money back if you sell it to upgrade. Or you might find you hate camping and never use it and it turns into a storage building on the side of your house as you pay off the note…UGH!