Buying a used pop-up camper can be a good way to save lots of money vs. buying a new camper, buying the wrong camper could end up costing you much more than anticipated making you wonder why you didn’t jut buy a new one.
Educating yourself is your first and best defense against buying a beat-up camper for top dollar. Whether you are looking to get a great deal on a used camper, looking for a project or just trying to make sure the camper you are buying is worth the selling price, being aware of what you need to look for will ultimately help you get what you paid for. Whatever your reason for wanting to buy a used pop-up camper, there are great deals out there if you look hard enough. You could be one of the lucky ones to find an almost never been used camper in perfect condition for well below market value, or a diamond in the rough for next to nothing that just needs a little TLC.
Most of the information contained here is through feedback from members of the PopUp Explorer community forum. Not every camper is equipped with everything on the list. Check the things that apply to you. Keep in mind the list is subject to change and revision. There may be things that could be included that have not found their way to the list. Contributions to the list are always welcome. The forum thread for the list can be found in the forum.
- Lift system (does the roof go up and down, does it stay up if it’s suppose to stay up)
Most modern roof lift systems are designed to stay up once the roof is raised. Some systems require the roof be locked into places once in the up position. Try do do some research ahead of time on a potential camper’s lift system so you know what to expect when you get there.
- Tires - camper/trailer tires only have a useable life span of 3-5 years. As such, they are all stamped with a date code. Learn to read the date code so that you can determine if the tires will need to be replaced. If you can’t find the date code on either sidewall, the tires could be so old that they pre-date date coding requirements. You’ll want to replace the tires if there’s no date code, if they are getting into 3+ year range, or if you see signs of cracking sidewalls, bulging sidewalls or tread areas, bald areas of tread, or tread that is warn sawtoothed or diagonally cupped.
- Wheels - bearings should be repacked annually, ask when the last time this was done.
- Brakes - Depending on the camper brakes may or may not be equipped.
- Leaf spring axles - check where the springs mount to the frame, and to the axle, and inspect these joints, as well as the springs themselves, for rust, cracks, and other damage.
- Torsion axles - check the mount plates where they are welded to the axle, and where they bolt to the frame. Make sure the welds are not cracked or broken, and that the mounting bolts to the frame are tight. Also, if the camper looks very low, it’s probably a sign that the torsion axle is sagging and needs to be replaced. These axles are not expensive, and the rubber blocks inside the axle tubes do have a life span.
- Axle bow - all axles have an upward curve. Make sure that yours does. This curve allows the axle to flex under the load of the loaded camper.
- Tongue jack
- Chains – check condition, make sure they will reach your setup. Some chains may not be long enough.
- Breakaway switch – Check to see if the breakaway switch works. Check the cable condition, cables can become frayed if it’s been dragging on the ground.
- Doors (does everything open and close, latch or lock. Does the seller have keys?)
- Bunks (do they slide in and out fairly easily)
- Converter or Converter/Charger
- water pump
- Lights – Interior and exterior including running lights, tail lights, brake lights etc.
- Hookup Cable – Check the condition, verify it works by plugging into your tow vehicle.
- electrical outlets, 110v AC and 12v DC
- Furnace (the fan on the furnace normally runs on 12v DC, the actual heat is provided using propane)
- Air Conditioner
- Water Heater
- 2-way or 3-way refrigerator (many pop-up camper refrigerators run on Propane as well as electricity)
Most RV refrigerators are either 2-way AC/Propane or 3-way AC/12V DC/Propane. Due to the time it takes to cool the refrigerator, this may be harder to test. See if the seller is willing to turn it on ahead of your visit, when you get there find out how long it’s been on and how cold it is. 3-way refrigerators can be operated on 12V DC, however this is for traveling, not when you’re actually camping. operating the refrigerator in 12v mode will drain your battery fairly quickly.
Look for signs of insect damage
look signs of water damage like rot or mildew, walk the floor, look in cabinets for soft spots.
what is the condition of fabric and cushions
roll out the awning
is there excessive rust on the metal parts
do the welds look fine on the metal parts
Fresh water tank
if equipped with gray or black water tanks, make sure the seller empties them.
Look for holes rips and tares
check the seams
check the screens
look for mildew
If you’re considering a coleman camper equipped with an ABS roof, be aware there were problems with those roofs. Coleman is now out of business so replacement and repair options may be limited. Many of the roofs are fine but you will want to pay extra attention to the roof. Look for bowing or warping, does the roof seal appear tight, is there any indication that water is getting in when the roof is down. ABS roofs would include model years 1996-2003.
For all other roofs, look for bubbles in the ceiling vinyl, soft ends and sides, especially where the latches and lifter posts are, water damage round the vent, broken caulking seams, etc.
Know what the weight of the camper is and how much your tow vehicle can tow. Don’t buy what you can’t SAFELY tow.
If possible, connect your intended tow vehicle to the camper to verify that everything connects they way it is suppose to.
If this is your first camper camper and it is equipped with brakes, you may need to have a brake controller installed.
Make sure the seller has the correct paperwork
Be aware of what your state requires in order to transfer title
Ask the seller if he has the manuals for the camper including any manuals for appliances. If you decide to buy you will know up front if he has these available.
Each state has their own regulations and requirements, make sure the seller has a clear title and all the paperwork required to transfer the camper to your name. It would be a good idea to become familiar with what your state’s requirements are so you will know what you should get from the seller or what to ask for if something is missing.
If at all possible get the seller to show you how the camper sets up. Have the seller show you where and how the water service is connected, including where the water pump, water heater and water tank is located. Have the seller show you where and how the electrical service is connected including where the fuses, breakers and converter is located. Have the seller show you where and how to turn the propane on and off. Test the appliances connected to propane such as refrigerator, water heater, stove (inside and out) and furnace.
You will want to know how to set the camper up for camping as well as breaking it down for traveling. Pay close attention, it’s easy to forget. if you have a video camera it is a good idea to shoot video of the process so you can review it at a later date.
Take a nice, bright flashlight. Open every cabinet and storage compartment, look under every cushion. Check every possible square inch of the flooring and enclosed wall space as possible for water damage or swollen particle board/plywood.
Take your time looking over the trailer. Look for fresh paint (that may be covering up damage or rust etc). If it moves or should move, make sure you witness it moving. Have the seller work each lock mechanism and prove that they work. Open and close every compartment. Operate the tongue jack and the locking mechanism on the tongue.
It’s a good idea to educate yourself on what the various components on a pop-up camper can cost to ether replace or repair. If you determine that various items may require repair or replacement within a year, you can use this knowledge to negotiate a batter price.
Other Useful Information
There is a thread on the forum titled, “What you wish you knew before you bought your first pop-up” some people may find some of the information on that thread useful so I am providing a link.