Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vintage-Trailer Shopping: No. 1 Tip For Keeping Your Head

You've searched and searched, maybe for months, and all of a sudden, there it is--the vintage travel trailer of your obsessive dreams, for sale at a price you can afford. And OMG, you're even the first in line to get to see it, which means it's as good as yours!! You cannot wait to step inside and see what it's really like…so excited you could burst!

This is a thrilling yet also critical moment in your search for a vintage trailer. Why? Because you can't think clearly and objectively when 'thrill of the find' takes over. (Just ask any savvy car salesman, who knows he's gotcha when this happens.)

If you find yourself mentally decorating the trailer before you've talked to the owner or actually seen it in person, you're already in danger of driving home with a box of Buyer's Remorse on wheels. Add the big urge for the hunt to be over, finally, and your ability to be objective doesn't have a snowball's chance.

Here's my No. 1 tip for keeping control of both your head and your cash in this situation:

Don't go inside the trailer until you've spent at least 20 minutes going over the outside.

This, in and of itself, takes enormous control. Because of course you're dying to see the inside. But I'll let you in on a little secret: The seller is dying for you to step inside immediately, too, because that's where you're most likely to fall in love with the trailer's charm or potential for it. That's what he's going to sell you on.

Trouble is, that's not all you would be buying.

The overall condition of a trailer's exterior is telltale of the care it's had and what you might face in trying to fix serious issues. You don't have to be an expert to use that 20 minutes actively. Just use your critical eyes--looking not for what there is to like, but for what there is to fix. (Read: What there is that will cost you money and time.)

Even if you don't know what it is or whether it's sound, go over every element on every exterior surface. Take notes and pictures--acts that require objective thinking to perform. And unless you have a direct question, let the seller do the talking. The longer you take in going over the exterior, the more anxious he's likely to get, and the more information he'll probably divulge about the trailer and what's been done (or not done) to it. At this point, bargaining power begins to tip in your direction.

Here are a few exterior photos that illustrate what your 20-minute exterior time can reveal:

* Duct tape over the top of a window, in place of missing metal rain-gutter trim. Most likely leaking.

* Old leak-repair caulking, several layers; hole in the skin above a seam; gunk inside electric running light cover; definitely leaking.

* Torn metal skin and exposed wooden framing. Easy way for moisture to enter, rot to be suspected.

The point of this post isn't to show you every single thing to look at on a vintage trailer, but to help you stay clear-eyed.

This part of your look-see may be all it takes for you to know that a particular trailer isn't for you after all. If you can live with the issues, they'll give you something to weigh against your findings once you step inside. If you find nothing of concern, woohoo--now you might have a purchase candidate.

Try my advice about staying outside upon initial meeting of a trailer. It's a little bit like dating the prince for a while before you let him kiss you and sweep you off your feet. A short delay at the start can keep you from needing a messy divorce later on.


  1. Love this post...right on Sister!! It's so hard to do but it's a must. Thanks for this post and reminder.

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