3 Things to Know Before You Buy a Cheap Travel Trailer

Are you finally buying a camper? Many people choose an affordable travel trailer for their first excursion into the world of RVing. If you’re looking for one, there are some important questions you need to ask before you make the purchase. After all, choosing a camper that matches your lifestyle, sleeps everyone comfortably, can haul enough gear, and is towable by your current vehicle is a great way to get started on your RV adventure.

Calculate how much space you need for your travel trailer

Rows of RV travel trailers next to the ocean.
Rows of RV travel trailers | Getty Images

The cheapest travel trailers are generally also the smallest. The Dyrt Magazine suggests making sure the model you’re considering is big enough for everyone and everything you’ll take with you. Are there enough sleeping spaces for your family and guests?

Ensure the freshwater, gray, and black water tanks are large enough to accommodate your crew. Will the largest person in your group fit in the shower? Before you buy is the time to figure that out, not after a long day of fishing or hiking.

Can you haul enough food and drinks to feed everyone? You’ll also need storage for pots, pans, utensils, dishes, glasses, and flatware. Where will everyone sit while eating? It’s a good idea to make a list of all the essentials and bring it with you while shopping for an RV. That way, you can picture what will go where before you buy.

Is there enough storage for the outdoor gear you plan to take along? There are ways to maximize storage in an RV, but even the best storage solutions require a certain amount of space to be effective. Make sure the camper you’re considering has at least that minimal amount of space.

Know how much weight the trailer can safely carry

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of an RV is the maximum it’s allowed to weigh when it’s fully loaded with people, pets, propane, water, supplies, and gear. Even the water in the water heater and the waste in the gray and black water tanks counts toward the GVWR. 

Overloading an RV is not only illegal, but it’s also very unsafe. An overloaded RV will take significantly longer to stop and will probably void your insurance in case of an accident. Always choose a travel trailer that can safely hold everything you plan to take within the limits of its GVWR.

Know your vehicle’s towing capacity

There’s no sense in picking out the perfect travel trailer only to find that it’s too heavy for your vehicle to tow. Unless you were already planning on buying a different tow vehicle. Figuring out just how much your current, or potential, tow vehicle can pull is an essential first step in choosing the right travel trailer.

When doing your calculations, always plan for the GVWR of the RV. You can probably pull it easily when it isn’t full, but you’ll definitely want the option of also towing it without trouble when its load capacity is maxed out. As long as that load is properly distributed, that is.

Consumer Reports recommends installing anti-sway bars or a load-leveling kit to make towing even small travel trailers easier. You might also want to equip your tow vehicle with a transmission cooler, especially if the trailer’s GVWR is near the top end of your vehicle’s towing capacity.

If you’d like a camper that’s cheap, lightweight, and that can go off-roading, with the right tires, check out the Oregon Trail’s Do-Drop. It’s a great first camper that will let you get a feel for RVing for just $7,000.  

RELATED: How Many Years Can You Finance an RV?