Pitch Your Tent: Buying an RV

Buying An RV: 5 Tips

I wanted to introduce you to the newest member of the EatStayPlay.com “Royal” Family:

Coleman Taos Tent Trailer

"Skippy" is covered in snow at the moment and I couldn't open him up to get a photo. A "portrait" is the best I could do.

My new (to me) Coleman tent trailer! (I think I’m going to call him Skippy.)

This is a 1996 Coleman Taos. That’s the smallest tent trailer that Coleman made. In the course of finding and then buying the trailer, I kept a mental list of tips to help keep you sane through the buying process.

This list is very different from the article I published a few months ago: Top 10 Tent Trailer Tips

1. Figure out how you want to use the RV

This is really important so don’t make the mistake of meeting with a salesman first! You’ll want to really think about what you’re looking for before you go to an RV dealership and have some well-meaning salesperson talk you into an RV that isn’t right for your family.

Some things to think about are:

  • Do I want to cook inside or outside?
  • How big of a stove do I want?
  • How many people will I need to sleep? (Keep kids, friends, and pets in mind!)
  • How big of a potable water tank do I want?
  • Do I want a shower?
  • Do I want a toilet? Could I get by with a removable canister toilet or does it need to be built in?
  • Oven? Fridge? Microwave? TV?

2. Decide how big of an RV that you want to handle

For me, little was better. I have a tiny truck and I’m not comfortable with the idea of pulling a big hard-side trailer. And when I was thinking of size, it wasn’t just the physical size of the trailer (although I did think about that) but it was also the towing capacity of my vehicle.

My folks missed this critical step when they bought their last RV! The Queen Mother found the PERFECT trailer, ESP Boss bought it for her, and then they realized that the truck couldn’t really pull the trailer! It was getting 6 miles to the gallon and the engine was laboring up even mild grades.

Since they’re in love with the trailer, they bought a new truck!

3. Visit an RV dealership or RV show

The bigger the better on this one! It’s not that you’re ready to buy, it’s that you’re ready to do some nitty gritty research. Go armed with the specs on your tow vehicle and your list of how you’ll use the RV.

Then, spend time getting the feel of the various sizes and models. Your vehicle might be able to PULL a monster trailer but do you want to CAMP in one? You might find a feature that you simply can’t live without.

One of the things I always look at is the arrangement of seating at the table versus getting into a bed. Especially in tent trailers, it’s common to have to step ONTO the bench at the dinette to climb into a bed. For me, I hate that since I don’t want to break down the bench’s padding with my foot and I don’t want to put my muddy boot where I’ll be sitting to eat later!

4. Decide the maximum amount you want to spend

Now that you’re armed with ideas, decide your budget. This one can be kind of tricky. You might have a number in mind and then start shopping and realize that you can’t get all the features you really want in your price range.

I ended up spending more than I originally wanted to, but the trailer turned out to be a SCREAMING deal so I was okay with it.

5. Start shopping!

Visit dealerships, used car lots, and bankruptcy trustee sales (that’s where I found mine.) Also keep an eye on your local newspaper’s classified ads, Craigslist, and eBay. Once you find a trailer you want, do some research to find out what it’s selling for.

I started by going to NADA Guides to take a look at the “blue book” offering for my trailer. Then I looked at the same MODEL of trailer (Coleman Taos) across a 4-year window (1994-1998). I used that to get an idea for the high and low asking prices for a comparable trailer.

It’s really important to keep in mind three things when you’re looking for comparable trailers:

  1. Size
  2. Year
  3. Condition

If you can’t find the perfect RV right away, don’t despair. Just keep looking. I also recommend talking to your friends and family about what you’re looking for; you never know when they might hear of the perfect RV for you.

The Story of “Skippy”

ESP Boss & I were heading to the store to buy more Christmas lights for the outside of his house when we passed a bankruptcy trustee sales lot that had a GREAT little tent trailer offered. We went back the following week and got to meet the trustee and take a look at the trailer. It was in GREAT condition.

The asking price was $2,000 which was more than I wanted to pay (Step 4). But, the trailer had all the features and amenities that I wanted (Step 1-3) so I put in an offer (Step 5). I offered him $700 which was above NADA but the trailer was in great condition. (And I REALLY wanted it!)

There was a counter offer so I had to raise my bid. At the date of the sale, I was the highest offer and the trailer was mine for $1,700. I think all parties were happy: I got a deal (comparable trailers had been selling from $2,200 to $2,500) and the trustee got $1,000 more than my original offer.

And I’ll be spending my Christmas money getting ready for my first spring camping trip!

Readers Weigh In:

  • Have you ever purchased an RV? How was the process?
  • Have you ever had to upgrade a vehicle to pull your new RV?
  • Or downgrade your RV to match the towing capacity of your vehicle?

When I announced on Facebook that I’d purchased a tent trailer I had a ton of friends comment about happy tent-trailer camping memories. Do you have any to share?

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