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Teardrop Trailers: What you Really Need to Know Before you Buy

Teardrop Trailer Shopping Guide

If you’re reading this guide I’m assuming this is your first teardrop trailer. I’m also assuming you are using the internet for your search. Open your early search results and you’ll find lots of fun and exciting trailers with features galore. But before you set your heart on that one shiny new trailer you need to determine a few parameters. These parameters will actually help in narrowing down your choices to something that will work. Don’t pick something out until you do the following.

What is the capacity of your tow vehicle?

For most people, the idea of a teardrop being towed behind a little vehicle is one of the attractions that draw many to the whole teardrop trailer thing. They’re small, cute and look easy and fun. So before you start picking out trailers we need to know a few things first. What’s the towing capacity of your car? What’s the payload capacity of your vehicle? Payload refers to carrying ability while towing capacity refers to the amount of weight that the vehicle is capable of pulling and stopping safely. Towing capacities are determined by several factors including engine size, transmission model, gear ratio, and how the suspension is. You need this info so you can focus on trailers that will work for you. No sense in looking at trailers you can stand up in if they are too heavy, for example. Unless you plan on buying a new vehicle just for towing you need this information. So, just because Google says your Outback has a towing capacity of 2,700 pounds doesn’t mean you can run out and purchase a 2,700-lb trailer. You need to give yourself a buffer on the max tow weightt

Computing your vehicle’s towing capacity

Steps Directions
Step 1
Check the owner's manual to determine the towing capacity of your vehicle.
Step 2
Subtract 10% as a safety margin. Most vehicle tow ratings have been embellished and were also calculated without passengers, fuel, and cargo. 
Step 3
Subtract any gear or camping equipment that you plan to take with you. Including water, food, chairs, ice, kayaks, Etc.
Step 4
The number that you are left with is the maximum trailer weight that is recommended for your vehicle to safely tow. 

For really small vehicles also consider the weight you’ll be adding to the tow vehicle, as that will increase strain on the motor, tires,  etc.

After you zero in on a towing capacity figure you now have some of the information you need to start looking.

How much do teardrop trailers weigh?

Some teardrop trailer are light enough to tow with a motorcycle. Others you can tow with a Mini Cooper. That being said you still need your tow capacity info for your vehicle. The actual numbers are like 500 lbs to under 4,000 lbs. For cars and light trucks your talking 1,000 lbs. to 1,700 lbs.

Lightweight travel trailers under 1,500 lbs –Top Ten Teardrop Trailers That weigh less than 1500 Pounds

Towing Capacity Guide

Terms & Definitions

  • Dry Weight/Shipped Weight – The weight of the RV as shipped from the manufacturer without any passengers, cargo, liquids, or additional accessories or dealer installed options.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) – The current combined weight of the RV (dry weight) plus passengers, cargo, and liquids.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – The maximum allowed weight of an Vehicle/RV, including passengers, cargo, fluids, etc..
  • Cargo Weight – The total weight of all passengers, food, clothing, liquids, accessories, etc.. that you might put into your RV.
  • Tongue/Hitch Weight – The weight/pressure applied from the trailer tongue/coupler to the conventional/bumper hitch on your vehicle.
  • Pin Weight – This is often referred to as the weight/pressure applied from fifth wheel king pin to the hitch in the bed of your truck.
  • Payload Capacity – For Trucks the amount of weight you can safely add to the bed of the truck. Your Fifth Wheels Hitch Weight or Pin Weight plus the actual weight of hitch plus any other accessories you have in the bed of the truck must not exceed the Payload Capacity amount. Confirm Payload Capacity with your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  • Max Towing Capacity – The maximum weight limit that can safely be towed by your specific vehicle. This weight is calculated by adding the RV’s GVW with weight of all passengers, cargo, and liquids in your tow vehicle.

What’s the best vehicle for towing?

For some people, their budget for getting a new teardrop trailer may include a new tow vehicle. The same rules apply for towing capacity but you have more options for trailer size and applications. One example would be off-road enthusiasts. They may choose overlander type four-wheel-drive vehicles and need a trailer with the same level of off-road endurance, trailer height, and basic extreme off-road capabilities. Knowing what kind of adventures you are planning by pairing a good tow vehicle with the right trailer is definitely a plus. Even if it’s traveling to all fifty states’ National Parks, you could choose a tow vehicle with a good fuel enemy and a lightweight trailer that help reserve those costs.

Overlander Trailer
Oregon Trailer – TerraDrop Off-Road Trailer

Choosing where to buy your teardrop trailer?

When I first started looking I would find some amazing trailers that were being manufactured….  2,000 miles away. Whoa, I said, now what? Now I have to add shipping to the price? Nope. The next search you need to do is finding who makes trailers near you? The thing about teardrop trailers is most of the manufacturers are really small by comparison and that all are not available everywhere like cars and trucks are. And, if you want to actually see one in person that search will get even smaller. So if you’re already drooling over a trailer and you find out it’s made 2,000 miles away, as I did, you are in for a huge let-down. Now if you don’t mind paying extra to have it shipped to you go for it.

Who makes Teardrop Trailers in your area?

I live in California and there are only a handful of teardrop trailer builders here so I started my search within my local framework. Even then some were an 8-hour drive away. So the search was getting smaller. Now the good news is most manufacturers can add just about anything in the way of options and modifications, so getting what you want is not out of the question. Some people would put a longer driving range into their search, like maybe driving a few states away to pick up your trailer. This can be fun if you turn that trip into your first camping adventure. The downside is if you need any work done by the builder you have a long way to drive for repairs. So for me, I found a manufacturer an hour’s drive away and got the trailer and features I wanted. If I need changes they’re close enough to get it done. This is also true if you buy a used trailer. You may need work done by the builder so being close by is a huge plus.

How much do teardrop trailers cost?

Buy now you should have things narrowed done a bit. The next elephant in the room is the budget. We all start out with a number and usually, things change. When you start visiting the various manufacturers you find it nearly impossible to get a quick price. They all have a base price and you must compute the total price a la carte. Now one thing to keep in mind is just because these trailers are small doesn’t mean the component prices are small. A door’s price is the same whether it’s on an 8ft teardrop or a 20ft travel trailer. Vents are the same, stoves are the same, sinks are the same, etc. When putting together your wish list keep that in mind. 

I wrote more about the costs here.

Supply and demand

Do supply and demand affect RV prices? You bet it does. With gas prices low and people needing to get outside the demand will outpace delivery and if you’re late to the party you might not get anything at all. Dealers are reporting strong demand for RVs so I wouldn’t be so concerned about getting a steal as I would be about getting one at all. Google Trends on RV's

Teardrop Trailer options and upgrades, when choosing to buy

Now, this is where you can really control your budget. If you were like me and started watching YouTube videos on all these cool teardrops with everything you could imagine only to find they were $25,000 or more, you might have been a little shocked. Well after calming down I started to get real about what I really need. Did I need a DVD player, did I need a TV, etc. What I found is I didn’t even need a sink. You really have to imagine these options in the real world. Let’s take the sink. They’re too small to wash dishes in and they take up valuable counter space. Next, you have to have an onboard water reservoir and a grey water tank. Oh, and you want hot water? Guess how much that costs. My whole point here is to really think hard about all the bells and whistles. I highly recommend renting a few different teardrops before you buy just to get the true experience. I have included some rental information here you can read here.

My whole vision of what I need has really changed the more I use it. You can easily add options after you use it a while.

Buying Used VS. New

I’ve never had a problem buying anything used, you can get really lucky sometimes. Of course, the search usually starts with Craigslist. And as of late, the competition for buying an RV used is very high. With teardrops as they’re in short supply when you find one on craigslist it’s too late. Now what I’ve done in the past is found websites that allow you to search Craigslist by the state as Craigslist doesn’t allow you to do that. You have to search by city or area and it takes a long time. I used I was able to search every day and one day something pops up and you jump on it.

What to look for when buying a used teardrop trailer?

Dry rot is the first place to look. Check all doors and windows carefully for softwood around the parameter. Check the roof vents. Look for signs of continual silicon build-up applied from the owner. When someone has a leak they will apply silicon many times which looks like a gob. Check underneath carefully to see if the moisture barrier has been compromised or repaired. Sometimes one man’s repair is another man’s nightmare. Look for signs of rust or leaky axles. Look for cracks in any of the welds. Look for a musty smell inside the cabin. Check all the electric operations. Turn on all lights, jiggle wires and sockets were ever possible, looking for shorts. Shake the cabin to get a feel for the structure if it’s loose. And, if you can, hook it up and pull it around and listen for bearing noise and any other weird sounds. Lastly know the pricing for what you’re looking at. Sometimes you can find dealer closeouts at nearly the same price.

Do Teardrop Trailers Have Bathrooms?

I get this question a lot. If a bathroom is one of your “must Haves” then you need to start with the weight factor, because they are going to be on the heavier side and will most likely fall into the “needing a bigger tow vehicle” category. So this is why you need to weigh all the factors before starting to pick things out. Start by referring back to the answers for tow vehicle and weight. You might be looking for a travel trailer instead of a teardrop. Though there are some claims that a teardrop has a wet bath it’s just not a teardrop in the true sense of the word.

The nuCamp TAB and the Scamp are about the closest thing, but they are not lightweight, and towable with a small car.

Little Guy Max Tear Drop Camper
Little Guy Max Tear Drop Camper

When is a good time to buy a teardrop trailer?

Well, you need to start way before you think you’ll need it. The winter season is about the best place to start, but not always. The RV shows start in January but I’d start earlier when it comes to teardrops. Teardrop trailer manufacturers are small companies that build a few at a time. In fact, most have a finite amount of trailers that they can build in a year and that’s it. Very rarely does a teardrop manufacturer have a teardrop sitting around waiting for a buyer. The best you could hope for is a cancelation, and that’s rare as well. These things are built to order and you wait for it to be built.

Speaking of RV shows, you can get some good deals but teardrops have the same problem there as well. There aren’t enough trailers manufactured for them to cut the prices. The travel trailer manufacturers will cut you a deal at these shows but the demand has been so high I wouldn’t count on it any time soon. 

Storage: Where do you plan on storing your teardrop trailer.

Now the first and best answer is “in your garage”. But that’s not always a question people answer before they buy. Sometimes, even as small as it is, it doesn’t fit. I’ve seen people with really sloped driveways who can’t get a trailer up to the garage. I’ve seen people who found out that the trailer is two inches too tall to fit in the garage. Take a moment to measure everything otherwise, you could end up paying for a storage yard.

Trailer Doesn’t fit, Oh Crap!