By Steve Savage, Mobility RV Service
I try to help readers, rather than hype the RV industry — of which I have been a part in various capacities for years. What I’ve found, having spoken at RV conferences and now as we interact with owners as I repair RVs, is folks buy with “stars in their eyes,” focusing on floor plans and interior design most often missing all the important stuff.
I’d like to share a few questions that a reader sent in:
“I plan to retire when I turn 60 in a couple of years and at that time want to purchase and put a travel trailer (or 5th wheel) on my property as a place to come back to in between some long-term travels. This would only be for about two or three years, at which time I would sell it for a song, or even give it away as I only want to spend about $5,000 to $7,000 to begin with and I feel that I will already have gotten my money’s worth out of the trailer.”
You are at the lower end of the price range with, in my opinion, $3,500 being the bottom for anything acceptable. Even in that price range, you should anticipate it will need something repaired, although occasionally you can get lucky (but it will be luck).
“Apart from all the physical condition things you have to consider when purchasing a trailer, how would I narrow the field down when I see newer AND older trailers at similar prices. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason in pricing.”
There is neither rhyme nor reason, so your observation is exactly correct. Even going to “dealer only” RV auctions, the prices change from month to month with darn little logic. You do need to learn which models were higher priced when new, as you may get better construction. To give some examples, the old Travel Supremes, Holiday Ramblers, and Newmars were built like tanks in their basic construction. But they are heavy and often were not well cared for and many are in rough shape.
In my opinion, Fleetwood models were built to a lower price point and when I work on the roofs, I have to be careful to walk on the “stringers” since the roof has so much “give.” The same thing is true of many of the new, entry-level travel trailers and fifth wheels now. If you weigh more than 200 pounds and sometimes less, you’d best lay a piece of plywood on the roof or you are going to hear some cracking and creaking.
You’d do well here to get to know an RV technician you can trust. Take them along if you get serious about buying. Unless you know a lot about RVs, or are a tech, you’ll never be able to tell what was stock and what has been changed. In my experience, laminate floors are often used to cover up rotted flooring the owner was too lazy or too cheap to repair properly. The composite floors in the new ultra-lites are so weak they sponge and crush in just a few years of use. Nothing at all the matter with laminates, but it makes a difference why they were installed.
“Why do some seemingly good trailers have no title, and wouldn’t that make it impossible for resale later?”
Many owners want to avoid the tax that comes with registration, so they simply trash the title. Oftentimes trailers that have been totaled and bought from insurance companies will come without titles, and have to be rebuilt and inspected before they can be retitled. I would encourage you in the strongest sense not to even waste your time with anything without a title! There are multiple reasons a title is missing, but none of them are good. The dealers I do work for will not buy or trade for anything without a title. Follow their lead on this one.
Whenever I considered buying a trailer without a title, I told the owner to get a title first, then call me. Sometimes the title then magically appears, at which point I advise them to register the trailer and we will talk. Without a title there is no proof the seller even owns the trailer. Anyone can write a bill of sale, which simply says something is changing hands for money.
“Would a fifth wheel be better than a travel trailer for what I want to do, or vice versa?”
In the most general terms, travel trailers are built to a lower price point, and are targeted at a different buyer. Fifth wheels usually are a bit higher up the food chain in terms of construction. Make sure you have a large enough truck if you intend to tow a fiver. Yes, there are exceptions, but not many. As an additional thought, try to stay away from ultra-lite models if you can. Some of the really high-end stuff does a good job of weight saving, but most save weight by taking out quality components, which tend to weigh more.
Now as you research and read this, I hope you realize you are simply not ready to buy yet. I don’t care what source you use, but continue to research.
Best of luck.