Buying a Travel Trailer, AKA Sailboat Practice

Hey, we’ve had a few mimosas this morning, lets offer half what they are asking. Whats the worst that could happen? That’s how we bought our RV.

A few months earlier Shannon and I were still working out our plans to move to the coast and start our boat search. where we would live in that time was a big question, and we just figured we would have to rent an apartment or something wherever we decided to go. Having to rent a place, for probably a thousand dollars a month or more and sign some sort of longer term lease was not an ideal situation. We wanted to be able to move quickly if we didn’t find any boats, or move onto the boat if we found one.

I was out for a run one day (where I do most of my good planning) and ran by the local RV dealer. Something struck me, and it stuck with me the rest of the way home. Doing the math (which is most of what I think about while running), I figured if we could buy a used trailer for five or six thousand dollars, that would be just as much as six months renting, and we would have complete flexibility as to where and when we go! The search for an RV began.

The search began as many others do, Craigslist. We quickly found that not only was it possible to get a decent RV for the price we want, but there were several to chose from. Knowing nothing, we just started calling people to try and look at some. This was nearly a complete failure. Apparently the market for used RV’s is such that they sell almost immediately. Every call or email we made, no matter how soon after the post was put up, we we already 2nd or 3rd in line.

Just so we could actually start looking at some we went to the RV dealer that I had passed to originally come up with the idea. We knew most RV’s at the dealer would be WAY over our price range, even the used ones, we just wanted to have a look at what kind of things we should be looking for. After looking at a few, we found one that just connected with is in the right way. Out of curiosity we asked the price. $14,900. Um no, we immediately went back to craigslist.

After several more failed craigslist attempts, we were starting to lose faith in the idea. So while sitting at the bar for breakfast, with our mimosas in hand we decided to just make a low-ball offer for the trailer at the dealer. We walked in with confidence, and offered $7000 in cash (less than half the listing price). To our surprise they didn’t laugh, and a bit of skillful negotiating and some signatures later, we pulled away with our new to us RV.

That very night, we tossed in some camping gear and towed it up to Lake Vallecito for our first excursion in our yet to be named trailer. We discovered many things that trip, how small it was, how not to use the toilet, how to lock ourselves out, and that we needed our own hoses to connect to the water. One advantage was that usually when you buy an RV from a dealer, they want to keep it for a day or two to do a delivery inspection. We were so eager to take it that we didn’t let them do that. but we discovered what worked and didn’t, things like certain lights, tanks sensors, the heater acted weird, and the A/C didn’t work at all. We brought it back the next day and they fixed all of it, $900 worth of work all for free claiming they would have found and fixed those things. I doubt they would have found all of those things as it took several hours of heat running to discover its issues. For more details on the camper itself, check this page, Serenity (our Travel Trailer RV)

We got it back from the the dealer in nearly perfect working order. So I geeked out and promptly began replacing, upgrading, and tearing everything apart. Power is going to be a big issue on the sailboat, and RV power systems are nearly identical to sailboat systems. The trailer has a single 12v battery to power most systems, so I want to know how long that will last. First thing I installed was a battery monitor and live usage gauge. I then spent days testing every light, every pump, every circuit, and fully charging and draining the battery over and over again to determine exactly what everything uses. I found that one of the bigger drains was simply the old incandescent lights. With every light on it was pulling almost 500 watts and about 5 amps, at that rate the lights alone would drain the battery in less than 17 hours of use. I knew replacing with LED’s would significant reduce that power, so on the first of many trips to the RV parts store I found that a pack of 2 LED’s was almost $30! There are 28 lights to replace, so that wasn’t going to work. A quick trip to my local computer found that I could buy a 30 pack of the exact same LED’s for $45, no brainier there. After I installed the lights, I tested again to find that all lit up, it uses ~20 watts total, and just over an amp. Power for lighting was no longer an issue.

Shannon and I live and work on the internet, so upgrade number two was to fully network the trailer. Most RV parks (and future Marinas) have some sort of provided Wifi. For security, I don’t want to be on the same network as everyone else, nor do I want to update all 15 Wifi devices at every stop, so I picked up a Ubiquity Access Point, and configured a separate secure and encrypted internal WiFi for all my devices.

The bonus of all of this? Most, if not all of the upgrades to network and power systems are fully transferable to the boat with we get one!

Speaking of getting a boat, stay tuned for news on that too, we spent all last weekend touring boats down in Corpus Christi.

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