Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Vintage Trailers: Some Qs to Ask Before You Buy One
So you're smitten by the idea of owning a vintage camping trailer and starting the hunt to find one. What do you need to know?
Before you start thinking about brands and styles and sizes (oh my!), you need to know how much trailer your intended tow vehicle can handle. The average American vehicle has a 3.0-liter engine, is made of lightweight parts, and is designed for fuel efficiency--not for towing anything resembling the weight and length of the trailer shown above.
Many a novice trailer buyer has been seduced by a larger trailer (with potty!) and/or a low price, only to find that her mini SUV or garage-sized sedan doesn't have a prayer of being able to pull it, stop it, or handle it safely in adverse weather/road conditions.
How do you know what your proposed tow rig can pull? Recommended: Drive your vehicle to a U-Haul center that rents trailers, and ask one of the experts whose job it is to match renter vehicles to loaded moving trailers. You'll get a good idea of trailer sizes, lengths, and loaded weights that'll work with what you have.
You may find that your current vehicle won't be safe with anything but the smallest, lightest trailer--or with any trailer at all. Ignore this advice at your peril!
Now, let's assume you've either narrowed your search criteria to what you can tow safely, or that you've upgraded to a heavier-duty tow vehicle.
Your next question-to-self should be, "How much repair/restoration am I willing and able to take on, and at what price?" There's a saying worth paying attention to: "You can pay now, or you can pay later." A $500 "Needs TLC" trailer can easily add up to being a $5,000 expenditure, or more, before you can hook up and go have fun with it.
And if it's going to take a year or better to make that happen--then maybe you're better off saving money for that extra year and buying something that's already been rehabbed and is ready to roll.
What you see above is a 1950s trailer that had to be taken down to the bed for a complete rebuild.
This, dear friends, is a PROJECT. One that can take years, cost a small fortune, and ruin a marriage if you're not careful. The initial low purchase price of a complete fixer-upper will mean nothing if the trailer gets torn apart and never put back together because you can't afford the time and money. (On the other hand, if something this monumental floats your boat, you'll find no shortage of nearly-gone trailers just waiting for you to find them and drag them home.)
Next Q: What's your intent for your would-be trailer once you have one? Do you intend to take trips with it--or simply set it up in your yard for you and the grandkids to enjoy?
This question is more important than you might realize, because not all vintage trailers remain road-worthy enough for extensive travel. (Just ask the owners whose trailers don't pull straight, or that have disintegrated while going down the road.)
If your intent is to paint and decorate a darling little backyard playhouse, then that old, cheap-or-free trailer out in the neighbor's weeds might be just your ticket.
On the other hand, if you want to travel with your trailer, that neglected oldie might not be so golden in terms of your expected reality.
If you have other questions about vintage-trailer shopping, post them here. We'll do our best to get you the answers that will help.