Buying a Small Travel Trailer

Will it be New or Used?

So you've decided what you want, at least more or less. Your next decision is whether to purchase new or find a used one. While a new one will give you that brand new smell, it's not like buying a car. A small travel trailer does not have the hundreds of hidden mechanical parts that can be worn out and ready to fail. Of course there could always be surprises with anything used, but when buying a used trailer, the most significant aspects will most likely be things you can see.

New (Professional Factory Photo)

New (Professional Factory Photo)

Used - Our Nine Year Old (My Snapshot)

Used - Our Nine Year Old (My Snapshot)

You've probably done an analysis in the past of whether to buy something new or used. A small travel trailer won't be a lot different. I'm not going to give you an exhaustive list of the obvious pros and cons, but let me give you just a few things to think about.

  • Condition  Do you want a project or something that is ready to go?  Consider this in advance. (You'll find all kinds.)  If it is well taken care of, a used trailer can be a great deal. The good thing is that they don't have all the mechanical things to wear out and break like a larger RV or automobile.
  • Cost and Depreciation  Small Travel Trailers depreciate. If you purchase new, it will likely be worth a lot less when you sell it. This may not be a problem if you keep it a long time, but it could be if you decide you don't like camping or decide you really want something bigger. The small fiberglass trailers (Casita, Scamp, etc) often hold their value better because they tend to hold up better over time. You can generally save some money by purchasing a used one in good shape, although they are sometimes difficult to find. Another consideration is whether it is sold by a dealer or direct from the manufacturer. Trailers sold through dealers often have a lot of markup. The good thing here is that you can frequently negotiate a significant discount. The bad thing is that if you can't, you may realize an even larger loss if you go to sell it.
  • Maintenance  A new trailer will obviously be ready to go. A used trailer may need some maintenance. Other than the things you can see, be sure to check out the following (at least before taking your first big trip):
    - Tires (See the Tires section on my Maintaining page to learn about when to replace them.)
    - Brakes
    - Wheel Bearings (If you don't have the service records, I would just go ahead and have them replaced to be safe)
    - Water and Sewer System (if equipped)
    (Be sure to see my Maintenance page for more information.)
  • Risk and Warranty  There's always a risk of something breaking when you are on the road, even if it's new. A new warranty may cover the cost, but you still could find yourself stranded somewhere. If you are going to be traveling beyond your local area, consider getting Roadside Assistance and Towing coverage. Your insurance company may have it available. The most popular coverage used by many RV and Travel Trailer owners is Good Sam's Roadside Assistance (see my Helpful Tools page). They seem to have a good reputation for being able to dispatch service throughout the U.S.
  • Enhancements and Upgrades  Once you own your trailer, you will likely find a lot of little enhancements and upgrades to add (see my Making it Your Own page). All these things take time and money. If you purchase used, you may very well inherit changes made by the previous owner. These changes may save you time and money...but only if you like them!

Buying Used Travel Trailers - Checklist

Download a free copy of my checklist from the Tools page.

Where to shop

Buying New

If you decide that you want to purchase a new travel trailer, there are two possibilities:

  • A Dealer    Be sure to check out several. They carry a lot of different brands that are often quite similar. The price when purchasing a travel trailer from a dealer is often negotiable. Let them know you are talking with other dealers and you're looking for the best price.
  • The Manufacturer    Some brands are only sold directly from the manufacturer. Search for the manufacturer's website. You should find all the details there if they sell direct. There will frequently be a "dealer locator" page on the site if they use dealers. If they do sell direct, the price is less likely to be negotiable, but they do sometimes have sales.
Buying Used

If you decide to purchase a used trailer, it can be challenging to find exactly what you want. Here's a few places to look:

  • RVT.com    A lot of new and used ads from both private owners and dealers.
  • RVTrader.com    More new and used ads from both private owners and dealers.
  • Fiberglass RV's For Sale    Ads focused on small fiberglass travel trailers.
  • Craigslist.org    Ads which are local to your area.
  • Facebook  A lot of the Facebook Groups listed on my Choosing a Trailer page will occasionally list trailers for sale. You can also post what you are looking for in most of them.

You can find some great deals on a used trailer. Just be sure you check it out well and know what you're getting into!

*** WARNINGS ***

  • I've seen several cases where people have reported finding an online ad for a small travel trailer that turned out to be a scam. Be cautious and check it out thoroughly. Be particularly skeptical if the price sounds too good to be true. I would never send money that I wasn't willing to lose in advance of seeing the trailer.
  • Be sure that the trailer has clear title before you buy it, and that the party you are buying it from has the right to sell it.