After living full time in our ATC Toy Hauler for two years now, we have a lot to talk about…
If you’re thinking of buying an ATC Toy Hauler, click on the video above. I review all the major components, starting with the chassis, frame, floor, roof, and on to stuff like leaks, tires, electrical, plumbing, storage tanks, awning… I even talk about the built-in Onan generator, the cabinetry, and the three-season plumbing.
I talk about what’s still holding strong, and what didn’t work out.
Why I Bought the ATC Toy Hauler
When Sash and I made up our minds to get some kind of RV to live in full time, we eventually settled on a toy hauler…
- We wanted to take our motorcycles with us. So obviously, we needed a toy hauler.
- I didn’t have any faith in the other brands of toy haulers because of their wood/steel construction. That is, we visited several dealerships, and toured through several toy haulers. These rigs had been sitting in these lots for months, and I knew they had been rained on over the months. I also noticed the caulking had been applied very poorly around windows and doors, meaning water was already leaking into the wooden frame work while sitting on these dealer lots.
- I searched online for all-aluminum made toy haulers, and I found ATC.
At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information about ATC Toy Haulers other than what literature ATC themselves put out. But I researched everything I could find, and believed these all-aluminum trailers addressed the concerns I had about rotting wood, mold, mildew, and rusted-out welds. It seemed like ATC toy haulers “had” to be better than the competition in terms of holding up to long-term use.
The Structure is Strong, While the Appliances are Average
Our two year ATC Toy Hauler review basically says that the structure and chassis of the trailer is still rock solid, square, and straight. The roof and floor are still holding up perfectly. Even though the roof is just a sheet of aluminum, it’s still thick enough and strong enough to keep water out and remain tough after two years of full time use. The floor is a sheet of extruded aluminum and remains solid and strong. This is really the primary advantage of the ATC, you get 100% aluminum construction, all factory made by ATC, not purchased components.
The doors, windows, and cabinetry all open, close, and lock perfectly just like brand new after two years of use. This is after towing the trailer over rocky roads, sand, mud, through rain, wind, hail, snow, and 100+ degree F temperatures. After hearing about other brands of trailers where doors no longer close properly, or cabinet doors getting stuck shut, it’s a testament to how solid ATC builds these trailers.
Otherwise, all of the appliances are the same as what you get with other brands. That is, the refrigerator is the same Dometic refrigerator that other brands of RVs use. We have the same Dometic air conditioning units, the same Suburban furnace, the same Shur-Flo water pump, the same Dexter axles, the same Solera awning, the same Atwood tongue jack, the same Progressive Dynamics electrical panel… It’s all installed to RVIA specs, and for the most part they work fine, just not any better than in competing brands of toy haulers.
Otherwise the extra price you pay to buy an ATC Toy Hauler comes in the actual components that ATC builds (chassis, frame, roof, floor, cabinetry, and doors).
Some Leaks Occurred
We did get some water leaks over the past two years, but only minor leaks. Two of the leaks only occurred once, and never again. They happened at the front door window, and also at the ramp door. These happened when the winds blew hard directly at these areas, and where it rained for several days straight. We do have one other leak that seems to repeat itself, this at the front bedroom window on the driver’s side. Water seems to get into the window caulking and run down the inside of the wall and pool on the floor. It’s only a slow leak, so it doesn’t pool too much. But since the floor and walls are all aluminum, there’s no worries about rot or mold.
Three Season Plumbing Failed Due to Inadequate Battery Charging
The three-season plumbing failed to work. We only used it once over the two year period, and it was a time when we didn’t expect temperatures to get down to freezing. We turned on the heating pads for the water line, water tank, gray tank, and black tank, and ran them through the night. The next morning, we found the water line completely frozen. It seemed the heating pad for the water lined failed to work. I’m guessing the heating pads for the holding tanks also failed to work.
It seems the culprit is an inadequate battery charging system.
ATC installs the Progressive Dynamics 9560 converter/charger. It has an “intelligent” system in that it can detect when the battery is low and thereby increase charge to 60 watts at 14.4 volts. However, for some reason, this unit in our trailer only put out between 13.9 to 14.1 volts, with only 19 watts. On top of that, it seems the cable that ATC used to connect the converter to the battery is too small because when I measured the incoming voltage at the battery, I was only getting 13.6 volts. Hence, my battery was not getting proper charge in bulk mode over the two years we’ve had this trailer. That resulted in battery damage, and thereby the battery was incapable of delivering adequate voltage to the water line heating pads.
The heating pads require 13.5 volts based on the information printed on the pads. I’m sure the pads could work down to 12.8 volts. However, because the distance from the battery to the heating pads has to cover about 20 feet, and because the cable running out from the battery to the pads is also small (looks like a 14 gauge), I’m guessing my already damaged batteries were just not capable of delivering enough voltage.
That being said, the Progressive Dynamics 9560 converter/charger was never meant to be a full time battery charging system. It was only meant to deliver just enough power to restore your batteries from 50% charge to 80%. Getting a battery all the way to 100% charge without setting it on fire is not a feasible and cost-effective matter that any RV manufacturer can do without putting itself at liability. Battery charging is a dangerous subject.
Bottom line is that the three season plumbing that ATC actually installs won’t get you through several nights of freezing temperatures because the battery charging system they use, along with the size of wire they use to connect the converter to the battery, are effectively inadequate, and thereby slowly damages your batteries over time.
The only way to ensure that your three season plumbing system will work is rely on solar panels (at least 600 watts of panels on the roof) along with a sophisticated solar charge controller, to keep your batteries properly charged. The other solution is install lithium batteries, along with a lithium charge controller, to ensure peak voltage all through the night.
ATC, along with their dealerships, should do a better job of explaining the battery charging system, and how relying on a standard converter/charger will put a three-season plumbing system at risk. Our dealer didn’t explain this to us, and I’m sure it’s because it’s complicated and they just want to make a sale. I wish someone at ATC would have taken the time to explain this, at least in a detailed video. It would have helped us prepare for that frozen camp up in the mountains.
Converter/Charger Caught Fire
That same Progressive Dynamics 9560 Converter/Charger eventually caught fire.
What happened is that over the first year and nine months, it collected a bunch of dust, lint, and hair. The converter has a fan on it to keep it cool, and it ended sucking in all this debris. Eventually there was so much of it on the converter, that it caught fire and fried up some wiring. Fortunately, the fire didn’t go on to burn everything else down. We only had to get a new converter.
The reason why it sucked in so much debris is because ATC installed it at the floor level. The converter is located beneath the refrigerator, and literally sits on the floor. Hence, it gets dirty.
If you buy an ATC toy hauler, you should pull out the converter once a year, and blow it off with a can of compressed air, just to keep it from catching on fire.
Should You Buy an ATC Toy Hauler?
If you plan to use your toy hauler a lot, and I mean an awful lot, like once or twice a month, up to living in it full time. Then sure, having a toy hauler that is as rugged as the ATC is going to be worth the investment, especially considering how poorly built the competing brands are.
What you don’t want is to buy a toy hauler that’s going to fall apart on you, or have rock put a hole in the floor, or a chunk of tire fly off and destroy your wheel well. An ATC won’t suffer that kind of damage, and thus may actually be cost-effective in the long run.
But, if you’re not going to use it often, or are still unsure what the future holds, then look for a cheaper brand, or try to find something used. An ATC will pay for itself years down the road after tens of thousands of miles towed. If you don’t think you’ll ever spend that much time in your toy hauler then look for something cheaper