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Hey all. I'm passing the 13 year mark on my Ford E350. It has been a great vehicle, but I am outgrowing it with recent changes to my booth and product offerings. Since I have driven this setup for so many years, it would be quite foreign to drive a pick up with a trailer in tow. However, based on price of vans and their poor fuel performance, it is certainly worth considering the switch. 

I would see the hassle of towing a trailer and parking/storing it the biggest inconvenience, but in return you would get better gas mileage and a lower cost setup overall. I would appreciate hearing from those who tow a cargo trailer and speaking to the pros/cons of the process. 

In addition, I have had my van broken into in the past, so security with a trailer would be my next biggest concern. After the break-in, I installed a Viper alarm and no problems since, so I'd also appreciate hearing about trailer security. 

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I don't know about any savings in fuel expense. It depends on the truck & trailer as opposed to a new van. Fuel expense could be worse with a trailer. Parking is more. Tolls are more. More tires, more brakes. Overall length is much greater with less usable space. The distance for the trailer hitch system and truck hitch system take up length without allowing for storage. In inclement weather a truck or van might handle better than a truck with trailer.

Advantage, you can unhook the trailer and travel around in the truck, at times.  Anything can be broken into, anything can be stolen. Truck can be used for many other purposes while trailer is left loaded for shows. Trailer alone is far less purchase price than a new van.  Trailer plus truck s more than just a  van.  Trailers don't hold their resell value - however less going in.  Truck alone or van alone is safer to drive.  Trailer gives option to increase size - trade up, with little loss comparatively. Truck or van alone is easier to maneuver around in load / unloads at shows. If your tow vehicle breaks down, you can rent another, cheap enough to pull your trailer to a show - on short notice... caveat - many places will not allow you to tow things with their rental agreement.

Trailers can be secured decently via a "boot" as well as bar locks with very good padlocks (see above that anything can be stolen). There are alarms systems that will call your cell if they are being tampered with. Will you be close enough? Do you want to tangle with the thief?

You make some good points about inclement weather, which there is very little of here in AZ, but plenty while I'm out on the road. Also about upsizing a trailer is much cheaper than a vehicle. 

Do you drive a pickup/trailer combo? Are there any short-term parking/storage options for cargo trailers while on the road? 

As for cost/fuel, I am fortunate that the majority of my inventory is light, 2D work that would not require a large trailer, 350-400 cubic feet would be sufficicent? I think that setup would get closer to the 20 MPG range with a descent 6 cyl truck vs. 15 MPG of a van. 

I purchased my E350 new, which I'm glad I did because I was able to spec it out for my needs thus allowing me to keep it for so long. New vans come in around $40,000 for the domestic models and closer to $50,000 for a Mercedes Sprinter, which offers the best MPG. Pickups are obnoxiously ubiquitous in my parts. A new truck + cargo trailer would come in under both these numbers. In addition, it would also be easier to find a used truck with the right specs over a used van with the right specs from my research.

Larry makes some very good points.

When we started back in early 2013, we were using a 2008 GMC Acadia.  We were packed in like sardines!  Graduated to dh’s Ford F-150 which had a camper shell.  We then moved to a surburban.  Now we use the burb with a trailer.  Dh did the customizing inside with straps, d-rings, a few shelves at the front end in the “v”, etc.  if we decide to quit shows new can sell it and not lose a vehicle in the process.

I think many of us struggle with this same question.

I went the trailer route for several reasons.  I do 2D art.

1)  I tow a fifth wheel camper so I already had a truck.

2)  Since I already have the truck and the required insurance, adding a van for art festivals would require a double investment plus vehicle tax and insurance.  Would you use the van for just art shows and then need a second vehicle for the times you are not doing a show?  Will you drive the van around as a personal vehicle?  Will you load/unload it between shows?  For me the trailer was a way cheaper investment.

3)  Buy your trailer used.  The first owner takes the hit, after that the prices are pretty stable.  When you decide to change the size, the cost is very minimal.  I started with a 5x10".  Sold it for what I paid.  Upped it to a 6x12' used that was 2 months old and 500 miles.  Saved $1500 over new, but I'll probably lose a few hundred if I ever sell it as this rig was almost new.  Newer than I really needed.  I did change out the OEM tires that were C-rated and 65 mph max to D rated and 80 MPH max.  Going cross country on the interstate this makes a difference.  Did the same to the fifth wheel.  Not that I typically go 80 mph, but I can easily slip past 65 mph, especially with just the cargo trailer.

4)  I store my cargo trailer with my camper.  Leave the trailer fully loaded between shows.  No need to empty everything out before/after.  This should probably be reason #1.  Last thing I want to do is load and unload between shows.

5)  The van will get better fuel mileage.  My truck gets 22 mpg  on the highway and rated to pull 19000# on a fifth wheel.  Add the 3000# cargo trailer and and the mileage drops to 14-16.  With the fifth wheel only which weighs 12000# I get 12.5.  I think the wind resistance and another set of axles adds to the drag.  

6)  DOT.  When you have a vehicle over 10,001# GVCR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight RATING)  and are in interstate commerce I think you need to register the equipment and have a CDL.  Most people push their luck on this issue.  Just say'in. It's complicated and you get a different answer from everybody.

It's easy to get a van that fits under the 10k rating and stay legal.  Combine a 7002# GVWR truck and a 3000# trailer, cross a state line going to a show and you have a possible DOT issue in commerce.  Not so towing for personal use with the camper.  Strange law IMO.  So if you decide to go the truck trailer combo setup, look carefully at the GVWR's for each.

7)  Art show staff prefer the vans at load in/out.  They take up less space.  To help out with this, I have almost everything loaded into big wood covered boxes with 8" wheels and castors.  Takes me 15-20 minutes to unload "at the curb" , and 20-25 to load it once everything is packed and "at the curb".   If I need to put stuff back in the trailer, I can roll my boxes blocks if needed.  Parking your rig for 60+ minutes to load in/out won't make you any friends.

8)  If your tow vehicle is not "oversized", be sure to get brakes on the trailer.   You will save this back many times over with vehicle brakes that get hot and warp the rotors.   Brake kits are $250 and can be easily added to most any cargo trailer.  (The axle needs a 4" square flange behind the hub.  Most 3000# trailers come with this).

Both options have advantages and disadvantages.  A dedicated van is probably the easiest, a dedicated trailer the cheaper route.

Randy, you give some good things to think about.  There is only one thing I want to address ... Leaving your stuff in the trailer when not doing shows.

We live in coastal Louisiana.  We have extreme temperatures here starting in April and going through October.  Heat and humidity are hard on stuff in storage that is not climate controlled.  Dh does put damp rid in the trailer but it has no other climate control.  For that reason we do not leave much in the trailer.  I do have a shop to put it in that IS climate controlled.  We leave a few things in the trailer that are not likely to be adversely affected by the heat and humidity (that the damp rid does not take care of).

I know in some parts of the country the extreme weather may be harsh winters.  Y'all that live in those areas know more about the effects than I do.

Great Point. I'll roll my art inside the garage if it's going to be super hot. And I pack it all up over winter. 

Thanks Randy. I appreciate the specific details about your ownership with the truck/cargo setup. I agree that the van is likely the simplest option and the truck/cargo being less expensive. I am weighing the pros and cons so your post is very helpful. 

Points by others are good. I've had a trailer for four years. A few times I looked at those with a cargo van with envy. Mostly that's when I'm trying to back up! But overall I'm happy. I do art fairs only during the summer so I don't need the cargo van full time. This allows me to park the trailer in my driveway and leave it, freeing up my truck the rest of the time. I've never had a problem hauling the trailer or anyone breaking in Locks are great and cheap. Most of the times during a show I'll unhook it and leave it in place if I'm sure I'll have access to hook it back up. 

The best thing I've done with my trailer is design my own roll-on carts. Four carts hold everything I need for a show. One for my tent. One for my 2-D art. The other two for the other crap (oops, I meant, my other art fair essential necessities: battery, bins, ladder, podium, etc). Many times I'll get my trailer/truck close to my assigned space, and just roll my carts over to load/unload. Once loaded, they take at most 10 minutes to roll into my trailer and secure. 

When breaking down, I hate to touch stuff twice. (I don't like breaking down my tent, put the pieces on the ground, then load them one by one into another vehicle.) The carts don't eliminate that, but they help tremendously by allowing me to load as a I go. Plus, they take up less room when I'm breaking down than an entire vehicle. 

The other benefit of the truck is having room in my tail for extra "stuff" if I need it. Most of the time it's why I store my wheel chocks, trailer parking block and extra tarps.

As it is now, I have plenty of room in my trailer and - if I re-designed my carts - I'd have room for extra.Trailer2.jpg

I think parking/backing up with a cargo trailer is my biggest resistance to that setup. I do shows solo and there plenty of times parking and negotiating my large van is enough of a hassle without the added length of a trailer. Thanks for weighing in. 

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