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Travel Trailers

Updated on October 4, 2009

Travel Trailers

The length averages from 10 to about 30 feet (3 to 10 meters), the middle sizes being the most popular. All are 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide and the majority provide standing room inside. The smallest accommodate 2 persons and the largest, 6 to 8.

The body of the trailer is of either stream-lined or rectangular construction, the former aerodynamically designed and unusually strong, the latter efficient in its use of interior space and less expensive to manufacture. Virtually all exteriors are aluminum, often protected with a baked enamel finish.

No interior space in travel trailers goes unused. The smallest contain cabinets, a small kitchen, and dining furniture that converts into a bed. Larger models have bathrooms, separate bedrooms, more fully equipped kitchens, and even living rooms. Many also have carpeting, fashionable furniture, wood paneling, and color-coordinated kitchens. Kitchen appliances and a heater operate on butane or propane gas stored under high pressure in 5-gallon tanks located over the coupler joining trailer to towing car.

Many trailer parks provide power, water, and sewer connections. Not all do, however, and so most trailers are self-contained and can operate for weeks without utility connections. Water is stored in a tank and delivered by a small hand or electric pump. Power is provided by storage batteries, sometimes aided by a gasoline generator. Liquid waste is stored in a holding tank until emptied at a dumping station.

Travel trailers are not mobile homes, which are relatively permanent residences, too large to be moved often. Migratory workers and military families sometimes live in travel trailers, but the principal use of such trailers is recreational, permitting extended inexpensive travel without the sacrifice of conveniences.

Photograph by Jack Porcella 1937
Photograph by Jack Porcella 1937

Camping Trailers

Less elaborate than travel trailers, folded camping trailers range in length from 8 to 14 feet (3.4 to 4.3 meters) and in width from 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters). None exceed 4 feet (1.2 meters) in height when packed. These compact units unfold into large tent-top structures that will sleep 4 to 8. Some models have cooking facilities, chemical toilets, sinks, and attachable rooms with screen walls.

Choosing a Trailer

There are more than 300 U. S. companies manufacturing trailers, making the task of selecting one difficult. Requirements may be defined by determining how much space the family needs, how large and heavy a trailer the family car can pull, how much can be spent for a trailer, how often it will be used, and where it will be stored.

The buyer should visit many dealers and study brochures and recreational-vehicle magazines. A trailer should comply with industry plumbing, heating, and electrical codes, as indicated by the seal of the Trailer Coach Association (TCA), the Recreational Vehicle Institute (RVI), or the state in which the trailer is sold. A trailer should be bought only from a reputable dealer who will fulfill warranty obligations.

Safety and Trailer Insurance

The use of a weight-equalizing hitch with antisway control makes the use of the trailer and towing vehicle much easier to handle. The added weight on the towing vehicle's wheels makes heavier tires advisable. Under no circumstances should a hitch be attached only to the bumper. The hitch should be inspected often.

Almost all trailer brakes are now electrical. Most states require a specially designed breakaway switch that automatically engages the trailer's brakes if it separates from the towing vehicle. A safety chain is required by all states.

Great care must be exercised in the use of butane and propane gas, which are heavier than air and tend to collect in corners and on the floor when there is a leak. Vigorous fanning is the only effective way to clear the gas.

Liability insurance should be bought from the same company that insures the towing vehicle, to avoid conflict in case of accident.


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