Travel trailer owners: advice, opinions, and stories wanted.

My wife and I are thinking seriously about buying a travel trailer. We have done quite a bit of tent camping together, but we are looking for a way to combine camping and longer-distance traveling, and we feel that a trailer would allow us to enjoy the campground experience while minimizing the extra time and effort that dealing with the tent entails, particularly when it rains.

We have the towing capacity to handle a fairly large trailer (a Jeep Commander with a 5.7 liter hemi engine), but for various reasons we have decided to go with something 20 feet long or less. We have found a Coachmen Catalina 18BH at a dealer near our home that we like a lot.

Before we pull the trigger, I want to hear from any trailer owners on SDMB. I would love to read about your experiences, advice, warnings, preferences, et cetera. Thanks!

My parents had a pop-up camper until I was about 25. We towed it out west behind a station wagon on epic 3-week summer vacations pretty much every year. A pop-up trailer with beds that slide out of either end seems like the best of all worlds: it’s light-weight, low enough (when towing) for you to see over in your rear-view mirror (if you’re in something tall like your Jeep), and low enough to afford decent aerodyamics/fuel economy. Easier to maneuver in tight spots.

No shower/toilet in it. If that’s important to you, then I guess you’ll need to go with something like the link you’ve provided. For us, we just picked campgrounds that had showers; when these weren’t available (rare), we did spongebaths in the camper using a tub of warm water.

Canvas walls means you hear plenty of ambient noise. If you plan to stay at KOA’s where everyone is running a genset all night, this could be a problem. But if you like remote state/national park campgrounds where you can hear nighttime animals or the white noise of nearby river rapids, this is a plus.

Thanks, Machine Elf. One of the reasons we are thinking of a travel trailer instead of a pop-up is the ambient noise issue. While we enjoy fresh air and ambient nature sounds, the reality of commercial and even state park camping is that you have no control over how noisy your human neighbors might be. If all we are hearing is owls and katydids, we’ll forgo the air-conditioning that night and leave the windows open. If we’re trying to sleep right next to a group who wants to sit up all night drinking and telling stories, it will be nice to have the A/C option.

You’re actually right at the practical maximum towing weight and length with that 18 footer, and that’s assuming your Jeep has the Trailer Tow Group option and a Class 4 weight-distributing hitch. (Not to mention transmission cooler, brake controller, etc.)

We used to have a Jeep Grand Cherokee and it was hairy-scary at towing. AFAIK, a Commander is essentially a Grand with another row of seats and pretty much the same chassis. The engine could handle the weight, but the suspension could not, and there would be times we could feel the front wheels lifting. :eek: The Jeep’s short wheelbase made it a good “mule” for jockeying trailers into position, or dragging them around town, but it was frightening on the highway. We wound up replacing it with a pickup truck with a longer wheelbase.

If you haven’t already, check with a couple camper dealers to see what they recommend. There’s probably a reason you don’t see too many people pulling full-size campers with Jeeps.

If it was just for my wife and I, I’d get one of these:
http://www.golittleguy.com/teardrops/

You’d never know it was behind your Commander and probably wouldn’t affect your mileage much at all. They do come with an outside kitchen, and they do have some of the niceties inside - like AC and TV. They’d block ambient noise much better than a tent or popup too.

I’ve towed big travel trailers with my Jeep Cherokee. It has the tow package and the load leveling hitch, but I just don’t enjoy pulling something that big. It kills your gas mileage and if you have a strong crosswind, it’s just scary. With the extra you have to pay in gas, you may as well just get a hotel room when you get there - which is basically what you’re pulling anyway.

For me, I like to rough it a little - or it just isn’t camping.

gotpasswords - The GVWR on the Catalina 18BH is 5900, and our Commander has a max of 7400. Is the Catalina too close to the maximum? It has the towing package, including a transmission cooler,and I had planned to have a brake controller and stabilizers installed. Do you think we should look for a lighter trailer? The GVWR on the Catalina includes fairly large fresh, gray and black water tanks (total of 116 gallons) that we will rarely if ever tow full. The capacity of these tanks was a plus in our minds.

brewha - We have looked at those and liked them, but were looking for a bit more room and comfort if we can get it. And I understand your view of camping; when I was younger, if there was a car within five miles, it wasn’t camping. My feelings have changed with age, and we’re hoping to use this as a motel room on wheels for vacations that don’t involve typical camping activities, like visiting relatives who don’t have guest rooms.

I would have sworn that Chefguy used to sell RVs. Does anyone else remember that? If I’m remembering the correct poster, he can probably give more advice related to the trailer itself.

I’m a long-time, second generation RV camper (trailers, not motorhomes). I’ll try to summarize some info for you.

Your decision to go with the shorter trailer will have pros and cons. The obvious cons are living space, and sometimes smaller trailers will have smaller “made beds” (those which do not have a daytime function as a couch or dinette). Yours appears to have a 48" double bed which is considerably smaller than a standard (54") size. One of the other limitations is counter space, although most now have sink or stove covers to expand the counters. The good news is that smaller trailers have a considerable advantage in some of the national parks. You can choose almost any campsite, while the larger 5th wheels and motorhomes will find space more limited. I’ve camped in some parks that limited trailer size to 25 feet in order to fit around curves in the camping areas.

I’m not sure about your tow vehicle, but in my experience trucks can generally tow the amount they’re rated for with few problems. Your limiting factor when towing usually isn’t the tow weight, it’s the GCWR (Gross Combined Tow Rating). This is the outside limit when everything is taken into account (jeep, trailer, water tank, equipment, people).

You will almost certainly need a weight-distributing hitch, and these require a little adjustment to get the tensions right for your particular tongue weight. If you can find a reputable hitch installer in your area, they can sometimes be more useful than the RV dealer in helping you determine the capacity of your vehicle.

As far as information on your particular jeep, here is a thread on the Open Roads Forum started by someone who’s towing with a Commander. Joining is free and maybe you could IM him for particular questions? That website has a wealth of towing info, but beware there are a lot of posters who maintain that one should never tow with less than an F350 dually diesel, (yada, yada). We call them the “Weight Police”.:wink:

When starting from the empty weight as listed for a camper, a good rule of thumb is to add 1200-1500 lbs to estimate your final weight. In my case, this works out exactly, as my camper has a 5100 lb dry weight, and showed 6600 when I put it on the Cat scales at the local truck stop. The RV manufacturers do not include water or propane tanks in their empty weight figures.

From our experiences camping as a family of four, here are some (very vague) numbers on capacities when you don’t have any hookups (called “dry camping”).

  1. With normal (40 gal) fresh/grey/black water tanks, you can last about 4 days without dumping or refilling, and can stretch it to 5 with a little conservation.
  2. The two propane tanks should easily last more than a week for normal cooking, running the fridge, and reasonable hot water use. You can also unhook from the camper for a week if everything’s charged and expect the fridge and freezer to maintain your food (we once left ours on a Disney world parking lot for 5 days while we moved into a hotel; everything stayed frozen/cool).
  3. The standard deep-cycle 12 volt battery will also last about 4 days with normal use (water pump, lights, fridge circuits, etc.).
  4. Your gas mileage while towing will probably be about half of what you’re used to. It’s a least a good starting estimate. Mine drops from 20 to 8.5 (you’ll see why below).
  5. I plan for 60 mph when making long trips. For every camper/truck combination I’ve had, it seems to be the sweet spot where it’s not uncomfortably fast, but the engine is at a high enough RPM it doesn’t lug on hills.
  6. Your tow vehicle will charge the battery on your camper while you travel, but it’s fairly slow. Plan on 6-8 hours of travel to restore a drained camper battery.
    All these numbers can vary of course, and are unimportant when you stay in a campground with hookups. Most state parks provide water and electricity, but you will have to empty your holding tanks every 3-4 days (grey water will be your limiting factor). Most commercial parks (KOA, etc.) provide full hookups so the capacities are irrelevant there.

Most RV parks provide both 30 and 50 amp electrical service. Your camper can use either, but you will need an adapter plug if you’re put in a site with only 50 amp (dealer can explain this in more detail).
Here’s a picture of my rig, taken last week. I’m right at the upper limit for GCWR, but it tows very stable and stops quickly. BTW: I’m towing with the 5.7 L engine as well.

Good luck with your new camper. The Missus and I bought our first camper in 1981, and we’ve never gotten bored with it.

The weight wasn’t so much the concern as the length. I forget the ratios and rules of thumb to figure it out, but in general, if the trailer is too long compared to the tow vehicle’s wheelbase and the distance between the tow vehicle’s rear axle and the front axle of the trailer, you wind up with a big tail wagging the dog - poor handling and enough sway to make you queasy.

Like I mentioned before, our 21’ trailer on a Grand Cherokee with a weight-distributing hitch was a white-knuckle ride at 55. Same trailer on a Ram 1500 Mega Cab, and it was night and day. We’d look in the rear-view mirror now and then to make sure it was still there.

I’m going to second what Machine Elf said. We have owned pop-up trailers for almost 20 years now and love it. With a pop-up you can get into a lot of places that you can’t get to with a travel trailer or motor home. and our current trailer has both a shower/porta-potty combo and A/C. With the built-in water tank and batteries, we can be fully self-contained if we happen to stay at a campground with no hookups, which we like to do sometimes. The only thing we can’t use without hookups is the A/C, so for that we need a generator.

Although at times I (slightly) envy my neighbors with their big 5th wheels and roomy travel trailers, that envy quickly goes away when I think how much easier to tow and more maneuverable my tent trailer is.

Pish-posh - it’s Airstream or nothing!

My grandparents got their first Airstream sometime in the 1950’s. It was small, no more than 18 feet. They traveled a good bit when he retired, and took my 2 sisters or me somewhere every summer.

He always had a Mercedes-Benz to pull it; diesel was cheaper and had more torque, and MB was about the only diesel you could find.

Through the years, they traded up and up, and eventually had a 1975 Excella 31 footer. From age 5 to 15, I spent every summer on the road with them from Alaska to Argentina and everywhere in between. The cool part about Airstreams is the community. I know other mfrs. have clubs, but to see 5,000 silver trailers at a rally - you never forget it.

Of course we went backroads and alone as well, and my sisters and I have seen more of North & South America than anyone I’ve ever met.

My parents have passed away, and my in-laws aren’t really the adventurous/putting up with grandkids types, but I hope I can take the reigns one day and drag my grandkids all over hell and creation as my mom always put it.

Anyway, a new 16’ Sport is 3,500lbs, and a 22’ is 4,500.
And there’s plenty of previously loved ones out there too!
Aerodynamic means better gas mileage!

I grew up in them, so that’s my bias. Either way, I wish you good travels and hope you take the kids, the grandkids, and more as much as you can.

I’m a tent camper, but my wife is a little more delicate at times. So we went with a popup. A hard-sided popup. It’s enough work that I still feel like I’m camping, but the hard sides do a lot to abate the noise when we’re in state campgrounds.

To all - thanks for the replies. I really appreciate your input.

pullin - Thanks for the details. The dry weight on the Catalina is 3850. The Jeep is rated for 7400, so I think that it’ll be OK on weight. I have joined RV.net and expect I will find some useful information there. You’re towing a boat and a travel trailer! Cool. We have kayaks that we will probably carry on the roof of the Jeep for some trips, and I plan to have a receiver added to whatever we buy to accommodate our bike rack.

gotpasswords - For various reasons, we will be hanging on to the Jeep Commander for the foreseeable future, so we need to match whatever we buy to that vehicle. Based on the owner’s manual, the Jeep should be able to handle up to a 25 foot trailer with a class 2 hitch, and up to 30 feet with class 4. The Catalina we are looking at is called an 18 foot trailer, but the overall length is 22’9".

FatBaldGuy and Balthisar- We have looked at some pop-ups and even used a borrowed one a couple of times. Nice, but not quite what we’re looking for.

**ducati **- I like Airstreams, and my wife loves them, but the price is just too high.

My sister owns a Compact Jr., a small fiberglass trailer with a pop-up top. Hers weighs about 1600 pounds loaded, and she tows it with a RAV-4. Here’s a very good fiberglass trailer site you might want to poke around on.

You said the teardrops were interesting, but you’d prefer more space. Have you looked into a T@B? Cute little devils!

Advice from some friends, expect mice to use a popup when you aren’t.

I did indeed sell RVs, trailers and the like. It was a short gig, but I learned much. You’ve got the most important item covered: never buy a trailer that exceeds your towing capacity. Definitely use sway bars/stabilizers and talk to a place that specializes in towing gear.

Coachmen makes a respectable trailer and motorhome, as does Airstream and Dutchmen. I would also probably recommend the Fleetwood Pioneer line as a beginning trailer. They make a very sturdy 18’ trailer. Not all Fleetwoods are of the same quality, however.

I would avoid Keystones, such as the Outback. Even if you move up eventually to a 5th wheel, I would avoid the entire Keystone line. Jayco makes a good trailer, but they have a problem with off-gassing from the carpet glues, etc. Perhaps they’ve fixed that by now, but it used to be so bad that it would drive you out of the thing within ten minutes. People in the FEMA trailers know what I’m talking about.

With any trailer, go through it from front to back. Bang on things, open things, check for fit, finish, etc. Trailers that may look nice can be the cheapest built piece of shit on the road.

Try to avoid buying used. You’re taking on a whole lot of problems in many cases, because trailers just don’t hold up all that well over a lot of years, particularly since people don’t take care of them. I’d go with a fiberglass sided/roofed, rather than metal sided, and inspect the seams twice a year without fail. Once water gets under the skin, it will start to detach from the framework, and cannot be repaired. It has to be replaced, which is very expensive. Also, get the windows resealed (or do it yourself) every few years to keep moisture out. If it has a water heater on board, make sure you check the sacrificial anode every year for erosion. They’re generally easy to replace and are cheap. Chock your wheels when you park. Practice backing the thing up, if you are not experienced doing so. Also, have somebody back there with a walkie-talkie or a loud voice to tell you to stop before you rip a hole in the thing. Teach your backer how to make hand signals, not vague wavy motions that tell you nothing.

What do you know about the Roadtech that is based on the Mercedes? I was drooling on one at the rest area on 95 earlier today … It looked fairly new, so it probably was no older than 2009 going by what I saw googling for pictures.

We are looking for an investment in traveling comfort for me, we can set it up for how we like to travel, and not having to do restaurants for eating, and being able to take little naps when I need to crash out and being comfortable instead of trying to get comfy in a car would make longer road trips better for us. We want to do a week and a half or so a year in Europe, and the other week and a half bopping around the Eastern US, and then more travel after he retires. We do not want to haul around a huge ass trailer.

I’m assuming you mean Road-Trek, which is a Dodge 2500 or 3500 chassis that’s badged with the Mercedes logo because of the engine. We looked at those prior to buying our present RV, which is a Pleasure-Way Excel. Both are Class B motorhomes, but the resemblance ends there:

  1. I don’t like the Dodge chassis. The box is too narrow and it really creates a problem getting past one another inside. The Pleasure-Way Excel is built on a Ford Econoline E-350 chassis with a custom-made box on the back that is eight inches wider than the standard Ford van. Doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a big difference inside.
  2. The fit and finish of the Road-Trek is sloppy and below what you would expect for something that costs that much. The Pleasure-Way fit and finish is excellent and the layout is well thought-out.
  3. The Dodge tends to be top heavy and presents more surface for crosswinds.
  4. That Mercedes diesel engine is going to tack about $15-20K onto the price. It’s not worth it, as you will never recoup that cost in gas savings over the V-8 or V-10.
  5. If you’re dead set on the Dodge, Pleasure-Way makes a class B on that chassis, so go with the better product. While Road-Trek gets a lot of publicity, it’s an inferior product, IMO.

Try before you buy. We really love this RV: it’s ideal for a week or two vacation. Both vehicles have a 5,000 lb hitch on the back, so towing a car is no problem. But you really don’t need a car, as the RV parks anywhere a van can park. We opted instead to by a luggage rack for the hitch and a very large waterproof storage bag to sit on it.

I did seem to misspell =) I was going by memory and got it wrong.:smack::smiley:

I believe that there is an RV rental that does this brand just over the border in Canada, perhaps we will take a bit of a vacation and rent one and drive it around for a few days to see. Though by the way that they write the info for the particular one, it is built on a mercedes sprinter, not a dodge. All stuff to ask about when we do the factory tour =)

Yeah, it’s confusing. It’s the same vehicle, but in the US it’s badged as Dodge. You may remember that Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler some time ago. Both Road-Trek and Pleasure-Way are built in Canada. In addition to the differences I mentioned, you have the added problem with the Sprinter of the expense of maintaining a diesel engine. If you really are enamored with this platform, you might look at a Winnebago View, which is a larger Class B (24’ instead of 19’), with more room inside. It has a small slideout for the dining table, a larger bathroom and more storage. Looks like they have two models now, one with a rear corner bed and one with a sofa conversion. I drove one of those some years ago and sold one to a woman who was going off on her own. Not a bad little rig, but I would never buy a diesel, and I really hate having to climb over somebody to get out of those corner beds.

Taking some first time trailers would probably be mean a lot. If you have some problems about first time trailers, all you have to do is to try it with the sealer.