retro used camper

9 Smart Tips For Buying A Used Camper From A Private Seller

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Have you been considering buying a used camper? If so, you already know that you can save thousands of dollars over buying a new one. Much like a vehicle, RVs lose a significant amount of value as soon as you pull off the lot. Whether you decide to buy that used camper from a dealership or a private seller, there are a few things to look for as well as some questions that you should ask the seller. You will want to do more than just “kick the tires”. The last thing you want is to make your purchase only to find out later that it was a huge mistake. In this post, we are going to cover a few basic questions you should ask and what to look for when buying a used camper and share our own personal experiences.

Our First Used Camper

When we decided to buy our first camper, we had absolutely no idea what to look for when buying one used. We couldn’t afford the price of a new RV, so we went with a pre-owned. We ran across a 1999 Hi-Lo Classic that was located a few hours from where we lived. The private seller had a great description listed in the ad, and after speaking with him on the phone, we decided to make the trip to take a closer look.

1999 Hi-Lo Classic Travel Trailer
Our First Travel Trailer, 1999 Hi-Lo Classic

The seller gave us the most in-depth walk-thru you could imagine. He showed us all the upgrades he had done and provided us with records of the repairs.

We were lucky. We found an honest seller that was willing to go out of his way to make the sale. Being new to the RV world, this private seller could have seriously taken us for a ride.

Tips For Buying A Used Camper From A Private Seller

Since then, we have learned a great deal about RVs and campers. We want to share our best tips when buying a used camper from a dealership or a private seller.

Before beginning your search for the perfect used camper, do your research. If you aren’t sure which type, or class of RV you’re looking for, go to a dealership or RV show to try a few different types on for size.

Knowing what you’re looking for will save time, and money in the long run.

1. Trust Your Gut Feeling

old white travel trailer

Before you decide to buy a used camper from a private seller, make sure you ask a few very important questions. Not all individual sellers will be as honest and forthcoming as the gentleman who sold us our Hi-Lo. Unfortunately, there are people out there who just want to dump their problems off on the first unsuspecting buyer.

When we decided to sell the Hi-Lo, our buyer wasn’t asking many questions. So, Kellie and I did the same thing that the gentleman that sold it to us did. We did a complete walk-through, making sure to point out problems that we hadn’t yet addressed prior to the sale. We made it a point to be completely honest and transparent to our buyer.

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Before you buy a used camper, try to read your seller. Do they seem like they are trying to hide certain damage or are they being up-front about any issues they know about the camper?

If something seems off to you, you’re probably right. Trust your gut feeling.

2. Ask Questions

You found a used camper that you are interested in buying and you make an appointment to meet with the seller. Ask questions to find out more about the rig. But what questions should you ask? Below are a few questions you should ask your potential seller to get a bit more insight before you decide on your purchase.

question mark, board, ask-2212771.jpg
  • Are you the only owner? The ideal answer to this question is, yes. With more previous owners, the potential for damage and wear-and-tear increases.
  • Do you have maintenance records? These records don’t need to be laid out in a spreadsheet but having the dates and type of maintenance written down can show you how well the camper was cared for.
  • Have there been any major repairs? An honest seller will be completely transparent about any damage that has been repaired.
  • How has it been stored? Hopefully they won’t tell you that it has been stored in the middle of a corn field for the past 5 years. Where and how long it has been stored can tell you a lot about how the used camper was cared for.
  • Does the camper have a clear title? The last thing you want to deal with is the frustration of tracking down a lost title, or dealing with a lienholder.

The bottom line is to find out as much information as you can before buying a used camper from a private seller, or a dealership for that matter. The answers to these questions will help you decide if this is the right camper for you.

3. Check for Signs of Water Damage

Water damage in a used camper should throw up a huge red flag. In most cases, you have no idea of knowing how extensive the water damage is. In addition, water damage can be a very costly repair for you down the road. There are, however, a few things you can do to check for water damage even if there are no apparent signs of it.

old worn out camper trailer

Push on the exterior walls to check for soft spots. Look down the side of the camper to check for any signs of delamination. Delamination of the side walls occurs when the outer layer separates from the substrate, resulting in bubbles or bulges.

 Pay particular attention to the seals around the windows. Cracked or damaged seals could indicate that there may be unseen damage inside the walls.

Inspect the roof with a fine-tooth comb. Be sure to check the seals around the A/C, vents, or any skylights the used camper may have. Pay special attention to the sealant around the edges of the roof. Does the caulk appear to be in good shape or is it cracked, discolored, and worn? Soft areas in the roof are a good indication of water damage.

Check the interior for any signs of mold, especially in the corners of the ceiling and walls. If you spot signs of mold in these areas, there is a good chance that there is a water leak.

interior of used camper
Check Interior For Signs Of Water Damage

Use a flashlight to inspect the insides of the cabinets, paying special attention to the corner where the cabinets meet the ceiling. Look for any discoloration or obvious signs of water damage, like rusty screws.

4. Check The Age Of The Tires

It is recommended to replace RV tires every 5 to 6 years, regardless of tread wear. Tires on a travel trailer or camper rarely wear out in the tread area. The main area of concern is the sidewalls. After a few years, the sidewalls will begin to crack from dry rot which can lead to a dangerous, and costly, tire blowout.

To check the year the year the tires were manufactured, check the four-digit number after the DOT code on the sidewall of the tire. These four digits will often be located inside a raised oval. The first two digits represent the week of the year, and the second two digits indicate the year the tires were manufactured. For example, a code of 2019 will indicate that the tires were made in the 20th week of 2019, as indicated in the photo below.

DOT date code on a tire
Example Of DOT Tire Date Code

If the tires on the used camper you want to buy are getting close to the end of their lifespan, you might use this information as a bargaining tool when negotiating the price. If you have ever purchased new tires, you already know how expensive they can be.

5. Check The Under Carriage

Crawl under the camper to check for any signs of damage or excessively worn parts. If the underbelly isn’t insulated, look for signs of rot on the bottom of the floor.

While you’re under there, take a look at the waste tanks and plumbing. Look for signs of damage or leaks.

Operate the stabilizer jacks to ensure they not only operate, but also that they aren’t bent or damaged.

6. Check The Electrical System

Before buying a used camper from a private seller, make sure all the outlets, lights, vent fans, etc. are in proper working order. Use an inexpensive outlet checker with GFCI tester to test the outlets. When you push the button on the tester, it should trip the GFCI located inside the camper, usually in the kitchen or bathroom.

Test the battery with a voltmeter to make sure you are getting proper voltage. You should see a voltage reading somewhere close to 12VDC. While you’re in the battery compartment, inspect the wires for signs of overheating, or damage. If the wires are discolored or if the wire insulation is brittle and cracked, this could indicate hat there has been an electrical issue in the past.

While we’re on the subject of the electrical system, check the camper’s power cord, paying close attention to the prongs. What you are looking for is signs of corrosion and any signs of overheating, arc burns, or any other signs of damage.

7. Hire An RV Inspector

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After doing your own inspection of the used camper you’re interested in, hire an RV inspector to check it out. These inspectors know exactly what to look for and will give you a comprehensive report, so you know what you are buying.

8. Get A Receipt

Make sure you get a bill of sale, or receipt from the seller that includes the purchase price, what you purchased, who you purchased the used camper from, and what method of payment was used.

9. Get Your Used Camper Insured

Congratulations. You’re the proud new owner of a used camper. The next step is protecting your investment. Call your insurance company and have the RV added to your policy.

Conclusion To Buying A Used Camper

You can save a great deal of money by buying a used camper, but before you make a purchase, do your homework. Be diligent in your research. You can check the market value of a used camper through NADA. This website will give you useful information about the price you should expect to pay based on the condition, much like Kelly Blue Book for vehicles.

Rent Your RV Now!

If you would rather buy a used camper from a dealership, be sure to check out our post, RV Dealerships; 5 Things You Should Know. In this post we cover everything we learned when we purchased our used Kodiak that we currently own.

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