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For many people, getting a camper is a significant investment. This is true whether you buy a travel trailer, a fifth wheel, a pop-up trailer, or something in between. The expense of a new rig can be astonishingly high.
This being the case, buying a used camper is how many of us make campering more affordable. But, just like when you buy a used car, you need to approach the purchase of a used camper with a good measure of planning.
Let’s have a look at some of the most important questions you need to ask when buying a camper.
Buying a Used Camper: Is There Water Damage?
This should be the very first question that you ask. Water damage is the greatest enemy to any camper, and if you don’t ask about it (and look for it) you could be in for a significant expenditure to fix it.
If possible, get on the roof and look for soft spots. Inspect every window and door for leaks. Press on the walls and ceilings inside the camper to feel for soft spots as well. If you can’t inspect the camper in person, ask the owner for extensive photos. Better still, ask for an independent inspection to give you peace of mind.
How Many Owners Have There Been?
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Just because a camper has had a few owners doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be a good purchase for you. But the chances that it’s been used and abused might be higher the more owners it has had.
Just as important to ask is if the current owners know anything about the previous owners. Was it an older couple that used the camper twice a year or a family of five that used it every weekend? Again, this kind of information can be informative as to how the camper was used and how that use might impact its current condition.
Buying a Used Camper: Are There Maintenance Records?
Ask the seller what, if anything, they’ve had fixed on the camper. If there have been fixes made, what were they? Are there records for those repairs?
Don’t be scared of a camper that has had some repairs over the years. This is especially true if the owner has maintenance records. Usually someone that keeps meticulous records of repairs is someone that also takes care of their rig. Besides, the very fact that an owner has addressed needed repairs speaks highly of the present condition of the camper.
Have Pets Been in the Camper?
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Pets can speed up wear and tear on things like flooring and furniture coverings. But more importantly, if you’re allergic to dogs, for example, their hair and dander might render the camper useless to you unless you have it thoroughly cleaned. Pets shouldn’t be a dealbreaker as a good cleaning can go a long way, but it’s still something to be aware of when buying a used camper.
How Old are the Tires?
Most camper tires aren’t all that expensive, however, an expense is an expense. Asking how old the tires are and the approximate mileage on them could help save you some cash in the transaction – if the tires are showing their age, you might be able to negotiate a better price.
More important than saving some money is ensuring that the camper’s tires are safe for the road. The last thing you want to do is have a tire blow out on the way home. Not only is it inconvenient and time-consuming, but the tire could cause significant damage to the trailer in the process.
Buying a Used Camper: Determine If There’s Any Rust
Have a look on the underside of the camper or ask the seller for pictures of the underside. Look for significant rust on the bumper, the hitch, the wheels, axles and so forth. Surface rust isn’t a huge issue, but severe rust that has eaten away at metal structures definitely is.
Do All the Buttons, Appliances, Switches, Systems, and Lights Work?
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When buying a used camper, test every button, switch, light, and so forth. Test out the stove and the oven. Turn on the microwave. Fire up the refrigerator and check if it’s a one-way or two-way appliance (does it run on electricity and gas?).
If there’s water in the lines, turn on the pump to see (and hear) how it works. Test faucets. Flush the toilet. Turn on the furnace and air conditioning. Open windows and blinds. If the camper has slides, slide them out and in to ensure they work. Roll out the awning. Test automatic jacks and landing gears. You get the point…
Test everything you can before you commit to buy. And again, if you can’t do it yourself, either ask for an independent inspection or have the seller send you a video of them testing these items out.
Where Has the Camper Been Stored?
Where the camper is stored is very important. That’s because campers that are stored outside suffer from sun damage as the years go by. Some of this damage isn’t a big deal, like stickers that peel on the exterior of the trailer. But other damage can be severe, like to the roof or tires.
If a camper has been stored outside, ask if it has been covered in some way (i.e., a camper cover) and if the tires have been covered. If they haven’t, the damage might be obvious to your eye, but it never hurts to ask.
Buying a Used Camper: What is the Condition of the Electrical System?
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The batteries in a typical camper might last 4-5 years. And though they aren’t a huge expense to replace, a camper with newer batteries might be more attractive to you than a similar camper with batteries on their last legs. Also ask if they are deep cycle and how many volts they are.
Inquire if there’s an inverter in the camper, a solar system, or if the camper comes with a generator. The condition and level of use of these items is important. So too is whether or not they are present on the camper – after all, a solar system or a generator can be an expensive add-on.
How Large are the Tanks?
You’ll want to know how large the fresh water tank is when buying a used camper. It’s also good to know how large the water heater is as well as the gray and black tanks.
While you’re at it, ask if the camper comes with propane tanks, how large they are, and how much (if any) propane is left in them.
Inquire about how these systems work as well. It’s easy to test the propane tanks if they are installed and have propane in them. It’s a little more difficult to test something like the water heater as it needs time to heat up. An inspection will answer questions about these systems.
What is the Dry Weight, GVWR, and Tongue Weight?
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The dry weight of a camper is how much it weighs with no fluids, gear, or people on board. The GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, is the maximum weight the trailer can handle when it’s fully loaded. The tongue weight refers to the amount of weight the trailer’s tongue puts on the tow vehicle’s hitch.
Understanding the camper’s GVWR ensures that you are able to tow it safely. Exceeding the GVWR can put undue stress on the camper’s axles, the tow vehicle’s engine and transmission, and make braking and steering more difficult.
Just as importantly, exceeding the tongue weight can cause the back end of the tow vehicle to take on too much stress. This could lead to suspension problems in the back end but can also cause steering response to decrease since there is less weight on the front axle of the vehicle. Ensuring that your vehicle can safely tow the trailer is paramount.
Also ask about the size of the ball hitch that’s needed so you’re sure to have one on hand in case you end up purchasing the camper. Ensure that you have the correct wiring harness as well – 4-pin and 7-pin harnesses are both common.
Buying a Used Camper: Is the Title in Hand?
If the seller has the title in hand, the transaction will be a little smoother than if they have to pay off a loan or lien. It isn’t a deal-breaking situation if the title is not in hand, but just be aware that a few additional steps will be necessary if the title is not free and clear.
With these tips for buying a used camper, you should be all set for having a pleasing camper-buying experience!