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.
There are usually a lot of great used trailers for sale in most areas. People often get rid of relatively new ones either because they love the lifestyle so much that they've decided to upgrade, or they've found that camping is not for them. Depending upon what you are looking for though, it could take some time to find exactly what you want. We wanted a 17' Casita with a specific floorplan. We got lucky at the time, but it's very rare that I come across others that are available within a reasonable distance from us.
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.)
- 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 Maintaining 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 (search/filter Services on my Products We Use 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!
Download a free copy of my Buying Used Travel Trailers Checklist
Where to shop
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.
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!
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 There are a few groups on Facebook focused on used Travel Trailers and RVs. Some of the groups that focus on particular brands also allow their members to post trailers for sale. Just do a few searches in Facebook and see what you find. If there's a group for the specific brand of small travel trailer you are looking for, you might also try to post there stating what you are looking for.
WATCH OUT FOR SCAMMERS
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. Also, be very careful of sending any money in advance of seeing the trailer, unless you are willing to lose it.
Be sure that the trailer has a clear title before you buy it, and that the party you are buying it from has the right to sell it.