ATC Toy Haulers - Insider's Tips on Buying

atc toy hauler fifth wheelATC Toy Hauler is very unique from other brands of toy haulers in that it’s made completely out of aluminum (with the exception of the interior walls). Because of this, there are some things you’ll need to know first before buying one.

Another thing that makes these unique is that 90% of the people who buy them have them custom made from the factory. Rarely do people buy them right off the dealer lot. As a result, ATC has set up a wide variety of options. Moreover, each dealer will offer some custom options of their own.

With that in mind, here are some tips and observations from existing owners…

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Can I Buy Direct from ATC? No. ATC will only accept orders from a dealer.

Do I have to buy from my closest dealer? No. You can purchase from any dealer. In fact, most owners didn’t buy their trailer from their closest dealer.

Can I pick up the trailer from ATC, or do I have to have it delivered to the dealer? In the past, ATC has allowed buyers to pick up the finished trailer at the factory as a way to save on shipping fees. Moving forward, ATC plans to charge a factory pick up fee, but there is still no word on how much it will cost.

Shipping fees from ATC's factory may cost as much as $3,500.00 depending on where it's being delivered to.

Picking up the trailer at ATC also means being able to purchase it from any dealer across the country, and you don’t have to visit that dealer in person. Everything can be done on the phone. You can now fetch bids from several dealers for the lowest price, and then drive to ATC to pick up the trailer when it finishes build.

The downside to picking up the trailer at ATC is that you have to have your pickup truck ready with a hitch. If your pickup truck is a 1/2 ton you will definitely need a weight distribution hitch and have it ready to go when you pick up your trailer. ATC is not obligated to help you install a weight distribution hitch to your truck, though often times they’ve gladly helped out. However, make sure you know what you’re doing. If you don’t have any experience with setting up a weight distribution hitch, then it may be wise to have the trailer shipped to your dealer, and have the dealer help you install everything.

Are ATC Toy Haulers Really Half-Ton Towable? Yes, they are. However, the 28 Front Bedroom model is 1/2 ton towable as long as you don’t load any toys into it. As soon as you load motorcycles, razors, side-by-sides, or a car, your 1/2 ton pickup will struggle to tow it up hills. Over the course of several thousands of miles, you’ll burn up your transmission and differential.

There is now a growing group of ATC toy hauler owners that don’t haul any toys. They use the ATC as a travel trailer, and prefer them for the high level of durability. The only toys they load into the trailer are bicycles. Only then a 1/2 ton pickup truck is totally doable.

It’s always cheaper to have ATC install it from the start – This only applies to options that ATC manufactures themselves, such as the ladder, the patio package, the sofa, the cabinets, the roof storage. If you decide against buying them at the start, and later decide to add them after your trailer has been delivered, ATC will charge you as much as double the price. With respect to options that are not built by ATC (Dometic AC, solar panels, Maxx Air vents, et al), ATC will still charge you nearly double if you buy from them. However, your dealer can get them for you much cheaper through their own suppliers.

What Color Trailer is the Best? There’s a long-standing debate over the benefits of a white trailer versus darker colors. Obviously, the white trailer stays much more cool in hot temperatures. If you plan to use your trailer in hot temperatures, definitely opt for a white trailer. The white will make enough of difference to make it worthwhile. If you really want the black or charcoal gray, definitely add two air conditioning units. You may also want to add a second awning on the driver’s side (which ATC will do for you).

At the 2018 ATC Rally, a test was done on a black trailer and a white trailer, both parked next to each other. Temperature readings were done using a laser thermometer on the exterior panel, and the white trailer showed as much as a 30 degree F temperate drop from the black trailer.

Cooling – Because the entire toy hauler is made of aluminum, it tends to heat up quickly under the sun. Even though ATC adds foam insulation inside the walls, and even though Reflectix barrier is also added to some portions of the walls, an ATC Toy Hauler can heat up to 90 degrees F inside even if it’s just 72 degrees F outside. The biggest culprit to this is the ramp door. Because ATC builds a heavy-duty ramp door designed to withstand 4,000 lbs of load, it doesn’t add any kind of insulation or heat barrier inside the door itself. Hence, if the sun shines directly on the ramp door, all of that heat transfers into the trailer. Moreover, the front wall of the trailer has no Reflectix barrier at all, and will also absorb a lot of heat.

Owners recommend that new buyers get a trailer painted white. Owners with white ATC Toy Haulers report much cooler interior temperatures than those with black trailers, sometimes as much as 20 degrees F cooler. The white paint also helps the air conditioning system run at cooler temperatures.

Get at least two air conditioning units if you’re buying a 24, 25, or 28 foot long trailer. If you have ATC include two units at the factory, both units will be ducted. If purchase one AC unit, and then later add a second, the second unit cannot be ducted, and can only blow straight down.

Add Maxx Air fans on all vents. It’s a relatively cheap solution that will yield big benefits in the long run. When you’re boondocking in areas where there is no wind, the Maxx Air fans do a great job of blowing out the interior air and drawing in cooler outside air. This will save you on gasoline in having to run the generator to power the air conditioning.

Get Two Awnings. Even though ATC includes a large Solera power retractable awning in its price, you can have them add a second awning on the other side of the trailer. This will help shade the trailer from the sun as it passes over from one side to the other.

Add ramp door cables. These are the cables that allow you to use the ramp door has a patio. Adding these will allow you to leave the ramp door open, and let loads of cool air into the trailer. Of course you can already do this without cables, by simply letting the ramp door drop all the way down to the ground, however this allows mice to walk in. Get the cables instead.

Heating – ATC trailers tend to do a better job staying warm in cold temperatures than staying cool in hot. The 25,000 BTU furnace that comes with the trailer does a pretty good job of heating up the entire unit. That furnace, however, has a reputation for gulping down propane, and sucking down battery power (to run the fan and light the igniter).

ATC does not currently offer any options on adding larger LP tanks. That’s something you may want to have your dealer do for you, or do yourself.

Definitely have ATC install additional batteries to prevent the 12 volt system shutting down (See Battery Bank below)

Battery Bank – A battery is not included in the base model price of an ATC trailer. If your dealer does not specify a battery be installed in your trailer, ATC will not include one, and hence there will be no way to power the 12 volt system. Make sure your dealer adds a battery to the order.

ATC only offers 12 volt AGM batteries at Group Size 24, with about 80-90 Amp Hours.

ATC installs a 12 volt system that powers the lights, fans, awning, thermostat, refrigerator control panel, furnace fan, tongue jack, emergency trailer brakes, and DC receptacles.

ATC also includes (into the base price) an automatic 12 volt cut off switch that shuts down the 12 volt system when the battery drops to 12.1 volts. It does this to protect the lifespan of the battery, and to keep enough voltage in the battery to start the generator. Hence, if you add only a single 12 volt battery, that battery will drain down to 12.1 volts in just 2-3 hours because of how many things run off of DC power. At that point, the automatic cutoff switch kicks in and shuts everything down. ATC’s recommendation is simply to get more batteries, and/or add solar panels to recharge the batteries while you’re using them.

If you plan to spend a fair amount of time boondocking, or camping off-grid, you’re going to need a minimum of two 12 volt batteries. We recommend you instead have your dealer install two 6 volt batteries, typical Group Size 2 (450-550 amp hours), which should give you enough power to run a full week using all the components. Because ATC doesn’t offer 6 volt batteries, only your dealer can install this, but it’s well worth it. We know of a full-timing ATC toy hauler couple with four 6 volt batteries and 9 solar panels. So, don’t let anyone tell you that your plan for more power sounds like overkill.

Onan Generator – ATC is one of the few, perhaps one of the only, RV manufacturers that offers a 5,500 watt Onan generator on a bumper-pull toy hauler and/or travel trailer. Onan generators are typically only found on 5th wheels and motorhomes. ATC does a great job with integrating the generator into the trailer and creating a very convenient solution for off-grid power.

The generator is mounted on the tongue, which does add a lot of weight (about 500 pounds). However, this may be an advantage weight-wise because you want more weight up front to help prevent trailer sway. It’s also an advantage because it’s much easier to access the generator for maintenance reasons (oil changes, fuel filter, spark plugs).

If you opt for the Onan generator, ATC includes a 36 gallon fuel tank, and a start button with fuel gauge located inside the trailer. You can also opt for the “fuel station” which is a gas pump you can use to fill up other vehicles with.

The Onan Generator itself is a gas hog. You can easily burn through 5 gallons of gas in about 10 hours of use. Hence, if it’s hot outside, and you’re having to run the air conditioner most of the day, it may cost you $15.00 in fuel per day. Many ATC owners choose to not buy the Onan Generator, and instead buy a portable Honda, Yamaha, or Champion generator. Many buy two of the Honda 2,000 watt generators because of the fuel efficiency, and then daisy chain them together when they need the extra power. The drawback to this, is that you have to leave portable generators outside (due to the exhaust) hence you’ll want a heavy duty lock and chain, as well as a generator umbrella when it rains.

The Onan Generator requires a lot of maintenance. You’ll need to do oil changes every 150 hours of use. If you plan to live full time in your ATC, you’ll discover that 150 hours doesn’t take all that long, sometimes just a few weeks, depending on how often you run your air conditioning, or how often you need to recharge your battery bank. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to change the oil on an Onan, and the way ATC mounts the generator to the tongue makes it really easy to access. You can also buy Onan filters at any RV dealership, and get just about any Onan part from Amazon.

Opinions on getting the Onan Generator seem to run 50/50 among ATC owners. Half of them got the generator, the other half did not. Those that got them, really like them. If you, or your spouse, or kids, are not at all adept at running and maintaining portable generators, you may end up with happier family members if you get the Onan. General rule of thumb is that if keeping your tongue weight low is of very high importance to you, then don’t get the Onan. Otherwise, definitely get it because the convenience of having on-demand power at the push of a button (from inside the trailer), will make your spouse and kids enjoy boondocking a lot more.

Solar Panels – Many ATC Owners get the solar panel installed by ATC. However, your dealer will likely have many other (and often better) options for solar. ATC’s solar panel is a Chinese-made panel, and ATC doesn’t offer any choices on brands, sizes, or configurations. Most dealers, on the other hand, can set you up with a wide variety of USA made panels and several choices in charge controllers and battery bank design. Before opting for ATC’s solar panel, definitely compare with what your dealer can set you up with, or check with independent solar panel shops.

Four Inch Lift – By default, ATC Toy Haulers sit quite low to the ground. This is to make it easier to load and unload vehicles. ATC offers the option to raise the trailer up another four inches. Raising the trailer places the clearance at about the same level as most other toy haulers and travel trailers. If you plan to take your toy hauler boondocking, or camping off-road somewhere, then you’ll likely find yourself wanting the four inch lift. Again, it’s way cheaper to have this done when ATC is building your trailer, than to wait after the fact.

If you plan to tow your trailer down dirt roads, or off road, definitely get the four inch lift. It will open up so many more camping choices.

Getting the four inch lift also means you’ll need a taller step system to get in and out of the trailer. ATC will automatically install this for you.

Will the 100-gallon Water Tank be Enough? Definitely so. We’ve found that the 45-gallon black tank will fill up before you deplete the fresh water tank. The longest any ATC owner has gone without having to dump their gray/black tanks was 4 weeks, and even then there was still some fresh water left in the tank.

Remember, this is boondocking, and as such, most boondockers don’t shower every day. This also means taking “Navy” style showers. On the other hand, if you want to still shower every day, and take normal, residential style showers, you’ll likely fill up your gray tank before the fresh water runs out. Only then you might consider adding a second 100-gallon water tank (which ATC will do for you). However, you can also dump the gray-tank on the ground, provided you’re on public lands, and no one is watching you.

See also “Exterior Shower” below for more details about this.

Exterior Shower – Most ATC owners don’t add this option. You should only consider getting this if you plan to do a lot of boondocking. This allows you to take a shower without having the water fill up your gray/black tank. Certain ATC toy hauler models have their interior shower draining into the black tank. Hence, if you plan to do a lot of boondocking, your black tank will fill up fast. The exterior shower is a way to buy more time before having to dump. Find out from your dealer if the ATC model you’re considering will drain into the black or gray tank. If it drains into the gray, you you’ll likely not need the exterior shower because you could still dump the gray on to land if need be.

The Front Door & Steps – This is perhaps the biggest complaint ATC owners have. The step system is called the “Stepabove” and is made by a company called “MORyde” (see link). It folds up and stores inside the trailer, as opposed to sliding underneath the trailer. It’s a nice looking set of steps and feels very solid. However it comes with some problems.

The steps tend to throw dirt, sand, and debris into the trailer when the steps are being folded up.

The steps need to be completely folded out and resting flat on the ground in order for the door to open and close properly. This can be a problem when boondocking on uneven ground, or parked next to a street curb.

ATC cannot install alternative step systems during the initial build of the trailer because of how they’ve streamlined their assembly process. The only solution is to have them include the standard “Stepabove” steps, then have your dealer remove them and install something else.

The door can latch to the side of the trailer using a small “catch” mounted to the side. Most ATC owners have complained that the catch does not feel like it’s mounted securely. Older versions of ATC toy haulers used a gas-shock to keep the door open or closed. ATC eliminated the gas shock when it decided to utilize the “Stepabove” step system. Some owners have opted to replace the “Stepabove” steps with some other solution, which allows them to install a gas shock to the door. This can only be done after the initial build.

ATC also has their own in-house step system that slides underneath the trailer, but is used primarily on their car haulers and Quest trailers. Some toy hauler owners have had this step added after the initial build. ATC can sell you this step and have it delivered to an ATC dealer. But, it only work on trailers that have not been lifted (4 inch lift).

Three Seasoning Plumbing – This adds heating pads to your water tank, gray tank, and black tank. If you don’t plan to camp in below-freezing weather for any extended length of time, these are not necessary. You can still camp where temperatures dip down into the upper 20s (F) and not experience the tanks and plumbing freezing up.

Cabinets – Definitely add as many cabinets as you can afford. Most ATC owners express a desire for more storage. If you’re getting a Front Bedroom model, then avoid getting the HappiJac Bed and instead have ATC install as many cabinets as will fit.

Insulated Floor – This is definitely worth getting. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked options. Keep in mind the floor is completely aluminum. ATC is the only brand of toy hauler and travel trailer that offers a completely aluminum floor with no plywood. As a result, the floor will get very cold in chilly weather, so much so that it becomes uncomfortable to walk barefoot on. You’ll most likely lay carpeting over it while camped, but getting the insulated floor option will also help keep the trailer warm.

The all-aluminum floor will also form water condensation during rainy weather. However, getting the insulated floor option will eliminate that.

If you don’t opt for the insulated floor, there are some ATC dealers that can insulate it later on, but can be pricey.

Airline Track – This is a must have. Nearly every ATC owner gets this. It’s virtually necessary to have if you plan to load motorcycles in your toy hauler, because it’s the only way to mount wheel chocks without drilling into the floor. But even if you don’t plan to load motorcycles, it’s still very handy to have airline track to secure other large items during tow, including tool boxes or large cargo.

Roof Storage Platform & Rack –  A few ATC owners have added this only to find that they rarely use them. Only if you’re absolutely certain you will be storing stuff on the roof you should consider it. If you’re not sure, then don’t get it.