If you were purchasing a used car, the internet could deliver an amazing checklist of what to look for but it is lacking when it comes to RVs in our opinion. We know, you checked and came out empty-handed or you got stuck reading for hours. We would like to help! Below you will find our brief but ultimate guide for buying a used camper trailer. We will have you out RVing with the peace of mind that you made the right choice!
Skip to # 11 if you really just want the quick honest answers.
1. Check the Roof, Check the Roof, Check the Roof!
First and foremost you need to check the roof because we have not said it nearly enough.
If the seller is unwilling to show you the roof, you should just walk-a-way. Honestly, if the seller is unwilling to oblige any of these requests then this might not be the unit for you.
You want to look at the seams at the front, back, and around any fixtures. If the seams seem brittle, are cracking, or are flaking away: it may be time to reseal. Resealing is not a problem, especially if you use the One Weekend RV Flex Repair System, but it means you might need to look closely for any underlying problems. You're checking for tears, previous repairs, soft spots, or worn spots. If you can, get a hose up there and see where water pools and check for leaks.
If you do suspect a problem, there is no harm in asking a professional to come out to check with you as occasionally the job may be bigger than just a reseal.
2. Check the Exterior
Take this opportunity to check the seals around the exterior as well: windows, doors, and lights. No cracking, peeling, or missing sealants. If there is, it could be conducive to a leak. Easy to fix if caught early.
If you see delamination or waves in the exterior fiberglass, could mean it either had a leak or is leaking.
Make sure the walls look square and that there are no cracks because these would hint of potential frame damage. If there is frame damage, you might have bigger problems with plumbing and electrical.
Get down in the dirt and check the underbody for any rodent damage/entrances and check the axles for excessive corrosion.
3. Have The Trailer Plugged in & Operating
When you arrange to see the trailer, have the seller proactively plug everything in so you can see that everything is in operating order. Plugged into power, LP (propane) connected and water.
Check the operation of the:
Hot Water Tank
Remember some of these appliances run both on LP and electric; be sure to test both functions. You will want to check any of their access panels exterior and interior
4. Test the Plumbing
Check that the tanks read empty if it has a display. Run all the faucets, test how they drain, and listen for leaks. If it was not winterized correctly you could be looking at more than just a broken faucet but the entire plumbing system could be compromised. Be sure to check that the toilet does not leak and the bowl seal holds water. Check the shower faucet for any leaks. Take a look at the city water hookup, that it too is not leaking. Check the water heater for any cracks and test.
5. Check the Interior
Bring a powerful flashlight and check all the nooks and crannies.
The main issue to check for is a preexisting or active leak. You need to check inside the cabinets along the front and back of the trailer, use your hand to check for soft spots gently pushing on the paneling. Checking around the windows and doors as well. You’re looking for any discoloration on the ceiling, near the corners, or along the floor.
Also, while the camper may appear to be clean, you should ask to see behind any removable panels to check for rodent activity. Mice tend to be a normal thing for RV’s but you want to ensure there has been no damage as a result of any infestations for health reasons.
At this point you also should check:
Cupboards Latching Correctly
MIA Knobs/ Handles
6. Inspect the Electrical
Ask to see the power distribution panel or fuse panel. Feel for any excessive heat from the AC breakers when in full operation. 12 volt, you’re looking for any burnt or missing fuses. Listen for a bit, and ensure there are no unusual whirring sounds which may mean their panel is on the way out.
7. Operate the Slides
Ensure there is nothing on the interior or exterior that will prevent the slides from operating and test them. You want a smooth operation in and out. Any shuddering, or one side going in faster than the other means you might need to have them serviced to be adjusted.
8. Test the Awning
Do not be surprised if the awning has some pinholes, as long as they are small or if they are larger, that they are patched properly it should not be a concern. Beware of any tears or of the awning being brittle from sun exposure. You want to see the smooth operation of the arms extending, locking into place, and retracting to be secured.
9. Try the Stabilizers
Stabilizers are easy, all they may require is some grease but smooth and up and down and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
You can check the tire’s tread, ask if the seller has any receipts to show the last time they had their brakes and bearings checked. You can check the age of the tires using the DOT. It’s super easy to do once you know what your doing:
The first two digits represent the week of production during the year. The second two digits represent the year of manufacture. If you still cannot figure it out, there are tons of decoder engines available online with the click of a button.
11. Bonus: The Deal Breakers When Buying Used
You get a bonus, simply because we want to help you make the best choice you can. Buying used can be scary but if you only take away #11, we believe you will be able to make a conscientious decision and our job will be complete.
The main deal-breaker is the condition of the roof. If you do not have a solid roof, it just goes sideways from there. The roof impacts the walls, it impacts the slides, it impacts everything else in the camper. As long as you do a thorough inspection of the roof, everything else should work just fine. The roof is only equivalent to frame damage which is just as bad.
The second deal-breaker would be electrical gremlins usually as a result of an electrical surge or rodent activity. If the power is working, but it's working weird… it might not be worth your time to fix.
Finally, a broken awning is not the end of the world, you can survive without one and can be a negotiation point. A down fridge is expensive but not a deal-breaker. A hot Water tank is about the same. I would just use these as negotiation points, as any of these items can get up-there in cost once you tag on any labor.
We hope this helps you on your journey in learning to RV and we cannot wait to hear about your first RV adventure!