Getting a new RV or a motorhome means paying a real fortune. Therefore, most people (when they see the price tag) reconsider their wishes and usually opt for a used motorhome or camper trailer. If you are the latter, then you also have to know that, although a used camper trailer is a great option, the market for it is enormous and you have to be careful before cashing out.
Also, keep in mind that buying a used RV does mean you will pay less than buying a new one, but if you are not careful, you might end up paying the price of a new one after you are done with all the repairs. But, that’s why you have us! In this guide, we are going to talk about 9 things you need to know or examine before buying a used camper trailer. From the mileage, maintenance records, to checking the frame and a few more questions and things you need to ask and do before you hook it up to your car and start your road adventures.
Let us start with the mileage.
Know the travel miles
Just like when buying a used car, knowing the actual mileage is extremely important. With a car, it’s logical that the more miles it has the shorter it’s engine life and functionality will be. The same principle applies to camper trailers. The more miles they have, the more worn out their tires are and the greater chances are of having some screws and bolts lose which can result with some elements (both external and internal) falling off while you drive.
When it comes to tires, buying new sets for class B or C recreational vehicles is not a big deal as they are pretty much the same as truck tires, thus, not that expensive. However, if we are talking about class A, then things tend to get much more expensive. For example, if you are buying an A-class from an owner that didn’t notice that his trailer has an alignment issue and his front tires are extremely worn out and ready for immediate replacement, you can expect $300 per replaced tire!
Therefore, checking the state of the tires is a must. If the previous owner has maintenance records, the actual mileage can be determined right away. If not, it’s not rocket science and you can do it easily. Just look for sun damage and if the tires look worn out.
Pro tip: You should count in replacing the tires anyway. So, if the tires on the camper trailer look like they need replacement, use that to bargain and lower the price.
Again, like when buying a used car, the first thing you ask for is the service book, right? Well, the same goes for buying a used camper trailer. Having service records means that you will have an insight into all the parts that have been replaced. This way, you will know which parts are old and need an immediate replacement, but you will also know when the new parts were put on and how much time they have before you need to replace them as well.
If the owner of the camper trailer is a responsible one, he will have everything documented. This shows you that he took proper care of the trailer and that most likely you won’t have unexpected problems with it. You know exactly what you are buying.
Checking the trailer frame
The overall integrity of soon-to-be-yours camper trailer is hugely impacted by how its frame is constructed. What you need to know is that there are 3 steel shapes used for camper trailers. The best option you can find includes a box steel pipe frame construction. Such a frame is more resistant to bending and distortion than any other steel frame type. However, this frame type is the most expensive one of all three types.
The next in line when it comes to quality is the channel steel frame construction. This frame type is more susceptible to bending and distortion than the box steel pipe frame and you can recognize it if the trailer is slightly twisted or bent in some points. This frame is significantly cheaper than the first one but needs constant maintenance and repairs.
The worst frame type you can choose is the angle iron frame construction. This frame is the least resistant to jumps, sharp turns, and vibrations and it twists and bends rather easily. If the trailer you want to buy is twisted, it most likely has an angle iron frame and it can only get worse. Another pointer that the camper trailer you want to buy is constructed with this frame type is a very low price.
One of the most important factors for having stability while you tow the camper trailer is the length of the towing. It’s quite simple physics. The longer the towing is, the more stable will your drive be and the less stress, will your vehicle suffer.
The shorter the towing is, the more unstable will the trailer become, especially when turning, and the more will your car struggle, especially uphill.
Before buying a used camper trailer, you HAVE to ask the owner to power it up and hook up the water supply. Why? Well, you need to make sure that everything works. You have to test all the switches inside, check if the pumps are running and water comes out of the faucets.
Likewise, you need to check the power outlets inside and see if they have electricity. This can easily be tested with a regular plug-in-circuit tester. Go from room to room of the camper trailer and test each outlet.
Finally, you need to test the 12 Volt battery that serves as a power supply for when you need electricity but you don’t want to connect it to your vehicle. For this, you might need a battery charger or jump-start cables if the battery is old. If this is the case, you can also use the old battery as a reason to drop the price a bit since you will have to buy a new one.
Brakes are the most important part of every camper trailer. If they aren’t working properly, not only that you are endangering yourself and your family or friends, but you are also putting other people on the road at risk. Therefore, checking if the brakes on the camper trailer work is a MUST. Though, you only need to check if they function because you have to service them once you buy the camper trailer anyway.
There are two types of camper trailer brake:
- Electric brake
- Impact brake
Here’s how each of them works.
This type of brakes comes with electromagnetic drums that are activated through the towing-vehicle placed controller. This controller uses your towing vehicle electric current and activates the breaking process, which slows down or completely stops the trailer.
With electric brakes, you have control over when and how fast you want to slow down or stop the trailer behind your car. This is quite a useful option to have and most modern camper trailers come with it.
Furthermore, there are different types of electric brake controllers and some even offer you the ability to choose the type of brake control. The type you should choose for your trip depends on the total weight of your trailer (while towing it, without occupants), as well as the frequency of towing.
Impact brakes don’t need electrical power to work. They work on their own each time you hit the towing vehicle brakes. The brakes “decide” when they have to activate themselves by calculating the equation of the overall momentum with the weight of the trailer.
It might sound too complicated and like there’s some advanced mathematics involved but it’s simple – when you hit the brakes on your towing vehicle, the impact brakes on the trailer sense the momentum and activate themselves automatically, preventing the trailer from raming your towing vehicle.
Checking the camper trailer axles is also important because they hugely affect both the stability of the trailer during the drive and the wearing of your tires.
There’s an easy way to determine if the axles are not as they should be by checking the distance between the trailer’s front and back tires. If the space between tires is bigger on one side and smaller on the other, you may have a big issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
However, keep in mind that due to the leaf springs flex, this distance is not often exact but if the problem with the axles is significant, you will notice it.
If, for example, the distance between the tires on one side is hugely different than on the other side, the trailer might have a problem with a bent axle or a broken center pin. This means that if you buy the trailer and not service the axles right away, you might be just a pot-hole away from a horrible accident.
Likewise, keep an eye on the moving spindle on the trailer you consider buying. Why? Well, if 14-1 / 2 inches is the size of the wheel, you may be dealing with a mobile home shaft. We recommend reconsidering this purchase because finding a replacement wheel, wheel bearings, and tires for these shafts is hard. Also, check if the shaft is connected to a suspension system or simply welded to the frame. It should be attached to the suspension system and with a grease fitting for bearing lubrication.
Axle bearing lubrication is very important and one of the things you have to maintain regularly. If you are dealing with a bent axle and thinking of replacing it, we recommend TOW-MAX Brand trailer axle.
Wheels and Tires
When buying a used camper trailer, it’s important to be fully aware of the current state of the wheels and tires on them. Also, you have to make sure that their load rating is higher than the weight of the trailer because they need to support the additional gear weight and the weight of the occupants when parked and not deform.
The easiest way to check is by looking at the receipt of the tires. This way, you will know the exact load rating as well as the date when they were bought. Why is the date so important? Well, in general, camper trailer tires have a life-span of 4 to 5 years. However, many trailer owners tend to use them long after this period which is an accident just waiting to happen.
The state of the tires also depends on other factors other than the mileage. This can be checked with a simple physical verification. You can tell if they were out on the sun or snow for too long by noticing sunburns or general age wear.
Another sign that the tires are in dire need of replacement is how much thread is left on them. If it’s good looking then they could last one more season. However, if they look like Formula 1 slick tires, you HAVE to replace them right away, and that is one additional after-purchase cost you have to factor in.
If that’s the case, we strongly recommend the TOW-MAX Brand tires.
To level your trailer camper properly and make sure you don’t roll over and fall out of the bed while sleeping, as well as help your gas refrigerator work properly, you need to have a properly functioning and capacity matching A frame jack. Otherwise, it might bend due to the weight of the trailer, or leave the whole trailer unstable when hooked off the towing vehicle.
When checking if the jack works as it should be, pay attention if it rises and goes down easily and smoothly. If you have a hard time raising the trailer, you might need to service it or completely replace it. Another additional expense that can raise the overall price of the trailer more than you planned.
With the jack, we have reached the end of our 9 Things You Need Know or Examine Before Buying A Used Camper Trailer guide. All in all, we have to say that you can find plenty of used camper trailers on the market, but you can find many bad ones as well. Unfortunately, some things are not immediately visible to the naked eye and you do have to conduct a thorough inspection before deciding to buy the trailer.
However, thanks to our guide, you are now armed with exactly the knowledge you need and now you know what to pay attention to and which questions to ask. Also, do your research and check the prices of the camper trailer type you wish to by so that you have some room to bargain and not pay a small fortune for something you could have gotten for far less money.
In the end, use all the steps you learned here and we are sure that you will end up with the camper trailer of your dreams. We wish you good luck and safe trips with your new camper trailer and make sure you let us know what you found and how happy you are with it in the comments.