Buying a trailer

By Joanne Lemna  | 
Mar 9, 2016 12:40:53 PM

061505_gorv_day4_9127.jpgAre you keen on camping but tired of the rough-and-roughed experience of tents? Longing to go to out-of-the-way travel destinations in style and comfort? Want to make family vacations a bit easier to manage while still getting out into nature? Sounds like you're ready to invest in a trailer. Now, how do you decide which one suits your needs?

#1 Decide What You Want

The first thing you need to do is decide what you'll be using this trailer for. Weekend getaways? Summer holidays? Long term living? From there, you can figure out the features, size, and type you want. Consider how many people you will need to sleep in your trailer and how you plan to travel. This list catalogues all the features available in RVs and here's an excellent guide to the different classes and types of RVs.

You also have to consider the practical aspects of your purchase: budget and towing weight. You need to make sure the towing vehicle is sufficient for the job. You need to factor in hitch weight, dry and wet weight (if the water tanks are empty or full), how much your personal belongings weigh, and whether or not you'll be travelling through mountainous regions. The trailer should have a gross vehicle weight (meaning all those factors together) of less than 70% of your max towing capacity. Otherwise, you could be a traffic hazard and damage your vehicle. Alternatively, you can opt for a motorhome - we have a guide for that purchase here

#2 Do Your Research

Whether you're buying new or used, or planning to purchase from a dealer or a private seller, it's important to do your research on the manufacturers and models that fit what you want. Go online to find reviews of the company, model, and sellers. You can also stop by dealers to take a tour of the newest makes of that model. They should be able to answer any questions you might have. 

#3 Start the Search and Arrange Viewings

Now it's time to start trying to find your trailer. New or used, you have lots of options. Both dealers and private sellers will list their travel trailers on websites like kijiji and AutoTrader. Most dealers will also have their own websites, where you can view their current new and used stock. However, it's important to remember that there's a time delay between when dealers get new inventory and when it gets put on the website, so you may get lucky and find the perfect trailer that isn't even listed yet!

Once you contact sellers and arrange viewings, or plan a day to visit your local RV dealerships, it's time to test out your potential travel trailer. You'll need to bring a notebook, pen, flashlight, tire pressure gauge, and tape measure for your appointments.

#4 General Inspection

Make sure you have the following information about the RV you're interested in:

  • Owner's name and phone number
  • Manufacturer
  • Model
  • Year
  • Type/Class of RV
  • VIN
  • License Plate
  • Service records (if available)
  • Mileage
  • Price

The first thing you'll want to do is take an overall look at the RV. If it fits your wishlist, meets the practical requirements, and you're happy with its appearance and layout, it's time to give it a full inspection, inside and out. You're looking for any potential problems such as damage, pests, mould, leaks, and cracks and ensure that everything is fully functional. This includes appliances, fold-downs or pull-outs, extensions or slide-outs, lights, water, et cetera.Here's a comprehensive inspection checklist to use for every individual item to inspect on the travel trailer. You also want to double check the dimensions, capacities, and weights of everything to make sure they meet your needs. This includes the travel trailer's:

  • length
  • width
  • top clearance
  • wheelbase width
  • fuel tank (s)
  • propane tank (s)
  • water tanks - fresh, grey, and black
  • overall weight (from the manual, and when it is fully loaded)

If the seller doesn't know these numbers, ask to see the travel trailer's owner's manual, as they should be listed there. In fact, it's a good thing to ask to see this manual to ensure the numbers you're being told are accurate and that you'll be able to have a copy if you make the purchase. If you're happy with the results of your inspection, head on to the next step.

#5 The Test Drive

Before you go on the test drive, ensure the towing vehicle is properly equipped for towing the travel trailer. This means the trailer, hitch, and all its contents should be no more than 70% of the vehicle's maximum towing weight. Double-check that the hitch is hooked up properly, with the chains crossed underneath in an 'X' pattern.  Make sure the trailer's lights and brakes are functioning, as well. 

Here's what you should be paying attention to during your test drive:

  • turning
  • acceleration
  • braking
  • trailer stability and the amount of sway

Don't forget to try reversing with the trailer to see how comfortable you are with it. 

#6 Professional Inspection

If you were happy with the test drive, it's time to get the trailer inspected by a professional. While this is an additional cost, it's a very important step. The professional inspector will be able to find any issues that you missed and prevent you from spending your hard-earned money on a defective trailer. 

#7 Making an Offer and Purchase

It's now time to get started actually buying a trailer! While you can make an offer below the seller's listed price, make sure it's around the fair market value. This prevents unnecessary drawn-out haggling, and ensure you don't lose the trailer if someone else is bidding. That being said, be sure to stick to your budget. Know your top price for that specific trailer, taking into account its suitability and condition, and be fully prepared to walk away. 

Once your offer is accepted, make sure that a bill of sale is signed. Don't forget to get any keys or additional equipment included in the sale. You'll also need to register the trailer and get a license.

#8 Insurance

You'll want to protect your new investment through RV insurance. Separate insurance is the best option for ensuring you're covered in case of an accident or theft. You can learn more about why you shouldn't just add your trailer to your home insurance here. Talk to your independent insurance broker to find the best plan for you for the best price. 

#9 Enjoy!

Welcome to your new vacation home! 

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