Family Fun in Tow: Trailers for Summer

Want to save on airfare, hotel and restaurant costs this summer? Hook a travel trailer up to your family vehicle and hit the road.

There’s plenty of options and opportunities, so long as you know what you need and what your vehicle’s capable of hauling.

“The first thing to check is your vehicle’s gross combined vehicle weight rating,” said Bob Gisi, technical advisor and towing expert at etrailer.com, an online retailer of customized towing accessories based in St. Louis. “That’s the maximum allowable weight for the car, trailer, and all contents. Exceeding that limit can cause problems with the car and can be a safety concern.”

Lightweight, eco-friendly travel trailers are common sights in RV showrooms across the country, making “trailering” an option for more Americans than ever before. These trailers can be towed by sedans, SUVs, minivans, crossovers, and even some compact cars.

“It’s been a growing trend over the last few years,” said Kevin Broom, director of media relations for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “Consumers want these lightweight camping trailers that are easy to tow and give them better fuel efficiency.”

Small, pop-up tent trailers and teardrop-shaped mini-campers have existed for decades. But now consumers can find full-sized conventional travel trailers that weigh as much as two-thirds less than models of old.

Two factors account for the change, Broom says: the use of space-age materials and advances in electronic technology.

For many years, travel trailers were constructed primarily of steel and wood. Now more and more manufacturers are using composites like resins and cross weaved fibers. These durable, lightweight materials can be molded into curved shapes to make a trailer more aerodynamic.

Other trailers in the new “ultra light” class are made entirely of aluminum. Like plastic composite material, aluminum is lightweight, durable, and will not rust or rot. Both types of construction materials are touted as being “green” as they are recyclable.

Meanwhile, technological advances in electronics have enabled travel trailers to become more compact.

“Ten years ago, to put a 27-inch TV set into an RV, you’d need three linear feet of cabinetry,” says Broom. “Today, manufacturers can simply hang a 27-inch flat panel TV on the wall. Switching to a flat panel TV eliminates 30 to 50 pounds of weight.”

Shrinkage in the size and weight of electronic components means trailer designers can create spacious living areas inside RVs while decreasing their overall size and weight, says Broom.

Designers can also throw in all the comforts of home.

“Increasingly, you’re seeing amenities that used to be available only in higher-end RVs filtering into all levels of RVs,” Broom said. “These amenities include air conditioning, refrigerators, stereo systems, flat screen TVs, and DVD players.”

Etrailer.com offers the following advice for finding the right trailer for your needs and your vehicle:

  • Size matters. Take into account your car’s towing capacity (gross trailer weight rating) and stay within that limit.
  • Think about function. Know how you intend to use the hitch, i.e., towing a camper, towing a boat, carrying bicycles, etc.
  • Buy quality. Use the highest-rated hitch that’s compatible with your vehicle. That way, the greatest amount of accessories are available for upgrades or changing needs in the future.
  • Do your homework. Always check the vehicle manufacturer recommendations for your year and model before buying a trailer.
  • Fill up prior to weigh-in. When weighing your car and trailer on a commercial scale, make sure both are fully loaded and fueled. Fill the gas, propane and water tanks, and load all of the personal gear, equipment and food you will be traveling with prior to hitting the scales.