Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How Much Money Did I Save by Buying a USED Trailer?

If you’re planning on building a tiny house on wheels (THOW) you have probably looked at flatbed trailers on craigslist (or elsewhere) and considered buying a used trailer.  However, you’re likely concerned that it might not be strong enough, or have enough capacity to haul your tiny house, or it might have damage.  And then you might have gotten some prices on new trailers and considered if the expense is worth the peace of mind.

So many questions, so few answers!!!!

For “My Empty Nest” I bought a previously-wrecked-but-repaired trailer and then altered my floor plan to accommodate it.  And, I thought I would be buying a new trailer for “My Tiny Perch” but then I found it….the one….the deal of a century that I couldn’t pass up…..even if it would take a ton of effort and time to make it work….it would be worth it.

If you have ever wondered how much it might cost or what steps might be needed to utilize a used trailer for your tiny house on wheels, this blog post is for you.

Instead of telling you a traditional “story”, let’s follow the money, shall we????

$3,000.00 - New Trailer Bid

This is the LOWEST bid I received from a reputable trailer manufacturer, for an 18 foot long, deck over (the deck of the trailer sits above the fenders) flatbed trailer.  The highest bid was $4,700.00. Yikes!?  Yes, there are many pros and cons for each design and feature but when I was reviewing them I was thinking to myself “It’s gonna’ take me a looong time to save this much money to even get started on my build!”

$80.00 - Gas Money

That’s what it costs to fill my gas tank, and Mark’s truck’s gas tank, to get me the 250 miles to go look at a trailer I found on craigslist.  Yes; 250 miles. It was a day-long investment.

$600.00 - Cost of Used Trailer

After a visual inspection and review of the paperwork for legitimacy, I paid only $600.00 for a dual-axle 2014 flatbed that used to be an RV that had flipped over on its maiden voyage with the new owner.  By the time I saw it, however, the RV body had been stripped off, leaving only the floor, subfloor, tanks, axles, wheels, tires, and frame intact.  The tires were almost new and there was NO rust to be seen.

 Tah Dah!  So proud!

$30.00 - Trip Permit #1

A WA trip permit was needed to avoid getting a ticket for towing a non-licensed trailer.

$20.00 - Dump Fees

After a bit of demo to remove flooring and rock guard and whatever else I could get off in two days, we made a trip to the dump.  The good news was that I discovered the location of the VIN plate in the process.  Yay!  I was hopeful that licensing in Oregon would be easy.

$50.00 - More Gas Money

More gas money for Mark’s truck, to tow the trailer the 165 miles to Oregon where it needs to be registered and licensed.

$30.00 - Trip Permit #2

Yep, another WA trip permit for the trip to Oregon.  Sheesh!?

Not sure if I should have done this much demo to the floor.
$138.00 - New Wheels

The previous owner warned that the two wheels on one side were bent in the accident and although he’d used the spare tired for one of them, I would likely need two new wheels.  I also wanted someone to do a more thorough inspection so this was money well spent.   It was during the wheel replacement that we discovered the axles were off center by an inch.

OK, so far, I’ve spent $948.00.

Still a bargain!!!

$160.00 - New Tongue Jack and Brake Cable

I took the trailer to a local company who manufactures and repairs trailers; for a more thorough assessment of the axles, their locale, and the rest of the braking system.  And, also, the tongue jack was broken so I’d need a new one because not having one is a pain in the butt!  They replaced the tongue jack, rewired the braking system, determined that the axle location would not affect the load, and replaced the emergency cable which was ripped off during the accident.  The trailer is now legal!

$10.00 - Trip Permit #3

While I was optimistic that the trailer would pass inspection since the paperwork clearly matched the VIN plate, the guy at the DMV was being VERY difficult and insisted that he had never seen a VIN plate in that location before.  So, he referred me to the State Patrol office for an inspection and to ensure that I had not, instead, stolen the trailer. (insert rolled eyes here!)  And, yes, I needed to buy another trip permit.  At least the OR one was cheap!?

Looks questionable to me!  NOT!!!

$10.00 - More Gas Money

In direct contrast to the DMV guy, the OSP was very accommodating and signed off the paperwork without incident or questions.  Another several hours, and more gas down the drain (merely because of a DMV employee’s out-of-control-power-tripping ego) and back to the DMV I go….

$119.00 - Licensing Fee and Title Transfer

Finally!  A legal, licensed, trailer that I can use for my tiny house!  I have no concerns, or questions, regarding its stability or ability to be used for my THOW. The GVW (gross volume weight) is only 7,000 lbs so we may need to replace the axles, but won’t know that until the house is framed and weighed. And I’m crossing my fingers that we can take enough steps to avoid having to buy new axles but if we do, we do.  I have a supplier so it’s just a matter of find the money, and the time.


Final Total: $1,247.00

Money Saved: Over $1,753.00

Totally WORTH IT!!!

Ready to go!  All 12,720 lbs...


  1. MICHELE,GREAT story,who builds and plumbs the little house?

  2. You cannot increase the GVW of that trailer by changing out the axles. The frame itself is also engineered for the original stated GVW.