When it comes to hobbies, they can be expensive. Camping with all the right gear is no different and when it comes to buying a camper, they can cost as much or more as a home. Buying used can be a great way to save a lot of money but if you don’t know what to look for or ask when looking to buy used, you can end up needing to put more money into your camper to fix things or make them right. As B and I prepare to the start of “camping season” I thought it would be the perfect time to share our best tips for buying a used camper.
B and I have always had used campers. Some newer than others, but we’ve never bought new. Campers are a lot like cars in that they do not hold their value, so we’ve never felt like buying new was worth the cost. We’ve also seen the quality and craftmanship decline in many newer campers so going a little older has allowed us to have campers that feel more substantial. There is no right or wrong, it just comes down to preference but I wanted to put that out there so you know my perspective. Now let’s get to the details.
Used campers run the gamut from “like-new” to “used hard” and, in general, they are priced accordingly. There are some things to look for though when buying a used camper so below are my tips for buying a used camper.
Tip #1 for Buying a Used Camper – Inspect Ceilings and Walls for Water Damage
Regardless of whether the used camper you are looking at is two years old or 20 years old, do a thorough walk-through paying close attention to the condition of the ceilings and walls. Campers are prone to leaking when proper maintenance is not performed. Even newer campers can start leaking around seams on the room or around windows and quickly those leaks begin to show on the inside.
Look for puckering, bubbles or soft spots in corners on the ceiling and the walls. Don’t be afraid to push on walls around windows and corners to make sure everything feels solid. If something feels soft or moves easily, don’t be afraid to ask if there has been a history of water leaking.
Leaks that go untreated can lead to mold or it can cause the ceilings to begin to sag or walls will begin to pucker or ripple.
Repairing damaged interiors due to water damage can quickly escalate from a simple paneling replacement to pulling out cabinets or furniture, re-framing and more. It may seem like a simple fix but you can quickly get into a major time and money repair if there is a lot of damage.
Tip #2 for Buying a Used Camper – Check Floors for Soggy Spots
Just like floors and ceilings, camper floors can be prone to water damage when there is a leak. A common place we have seen camper floors get soggy or spongy is near the door but that is not the only place a camper floor can get soft from water damage.
Just like inspecting ceilings and walls, don’t be afraid to walk around the entire floor area feeling for soft areas as you move.
Properly repairing water damage in the floor of a camper could require a complete rebuild of a camper and personally is not a project I’d want to take on unless I was buying a true vintage camper.
Tips #3 for Buying a Used Camper – Check that all Appliances Work
Every camper is different but most include a refrigerator, stove (sometimes an oven), a microwave, a furnace and an air conditioner. Depending on your priorities, check to make sure the appliances work because if they don’t, repairs or replacements can be costly.
Recently a camper tech told us that camper refrigerators are the most commonly misdiagnosed camper appliance. More often than not, replacements will be suggested when repairs can be made. A replacement camper frig can cost more than $1000 so be sure to know what works and what doesn’t and make sure any problems are properly diagnosed.
Tip #4 for Buying a Used Camper – know your Mattress
RV mattresses aren’t the same size as a home mattress and unless a previous owner replaced the factory mattress, they are thin and not typically very comfortable. We’ve even seen in used campers where the mattress was replaced by a previous owner who then kept the mattress.
When shopping for a used camper, take additional costs like buying a mattress into account so you aren’t surprised by these costs later. We have the regular length version of this mattress in the 10-inch thickness at home and I’d buy this version for our camper in a heartbeat.
Tip #5 for Buying a Used Camper – Check the Propane Bottles
Older campers that still have the original (or older) propane bottles may need to be replaced or have new valves put on them. While this isn’t a huge expense, if you are heading out on your next camping trip and stop for propane, if your bottles are old, you may not be able to get them filled.
We ran into this with our fifth wheel after we bought it but paid to have the fittings replaced. I’m not sure of the exact cost but it did take a few days to get the bottles back. This would have been bad if we had been camping when we ran out of propane.
For your own peace of mind, take a quick second to check the bottles. If they look old, you will likely need to replace them.
Tip #6 for Buying a Used Camper – Check the Tires
If you are looking to buy a used camper, there is a good chance the tires are original. In general, camper tires don’t see the miles that tires on your commuter car would have but that doesn’t mean they will be in good shape.
Two years ago, B and I were packing up after a long weekend at the shore and I did one final walk-around of our camper to make sure all the storage compartments were closed, cables, hoses and tire wedges were picked up only to discover that one of the tires on the back had split open and i could see the threads. I don’t know that this was a life or death situation but with a six hour drive ahead of us, we didn’t want to chance blowing a tire on the highway so B changed the tire using our spare.
Just like miles that cause wear on a tire, the sun can also dry out the rubber of your tires and make them brittle and crack. So before making a final decision on buying a used camper, take note of the condition of the tires so you can take that into consideration. We just spent nearly $400 to replace our camper tires this spring.
Tip # 7 for Buying a Used Camper – Tow Vehicle vs. Camper Weight
I’m not going to get into the difference in dry weight vs. full weight but in general, older campers weigh more than newer campers. Know the limitations of your tow vehicle and be sure to take note of the weight of the used camper you are looking to buy.
Tip #8 for Buying a Used Camper – Exterior Seams
Just like inspecting the inside of your camper from floor to ceiling, you want to do a similar inspection of the exterior of the camper. Take a walk around the camper taking note of the seams. This includes the seams along the roof, corners and around the windows and doors. Check to see if the caulking looks cracked for broken away, are there areas where it’s missing? On the flip side, are there a lot of messy seams where caulking has been applied more than once? If you find the later, it may be an indication of a past water leak. Just be sure to take note and ask questions.
Tip #9 for Buying a Used Camper – Roof
Just like checking seams around the windows and doors, look on the room around the vents, skylights and around the edges where the room and siding meet. Many campers have rubber membrane roofs. Take note of any cuts, or gashes in the room. Do the seams around all the vents and skylights look good? Do the same inspection around the perimeter of the roof.
Tip #10 for Buying a Used Camper – Check the Awning
If your used camper has an awning, take the time to put it out and inspect the frame and the fabric. While small pinholes in the fabric isn’t the end of the world, if there are more significant issues, you may want to consider this in the price.
Camper awnings range in price depending on the size and options you choose but it’s not uncommon for an awning to cost well of $2000. If it’s important to you to have, be sure to inspect it thoroughly.
I’m sure there are other things like checking cabinet doors and drawers or making sure all the lights work but if I were looking to buy a used camper today, the above ten things would be my priorities when looking them over to make my decision.
If you are in the market for a used camper this year, I hope that these ten tips for buying a used camper give you direction on what to look for, what to inspect and what question to ask so that you and your family make a great decision on the perfect camper to make new, fun memories in.
If you have questions or want more information on campers, please leave a reply below or send me an email at email@example.com