What To Look For When Buying a Used Camper

Contributor

Scott Russell

Favorite Trip

Day trip to Channel Islands National Park. Incredible cliffside island hiking and watching whales from the boat!

Home Base

Kansas City, MO

Favorite RV

Holiday Rambler Armada 40P (Our dream rig!)

About Contributor

Scott, his wife Vanessa, and their 14-year-old daughter have traveled full-time in their RV for 8 years. The family has worked and homeschooled on the road through 42 states so far. They blog about RVing tips, travel destinations, jobs for RVing, and the full-time RV lifestyle on their blogs https://theadventuredetour.com/ and https://rvnomadjobs.com/. They are also RV content creators @theadventuredetour on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube. Be sure to reach out to them and say hi!

There are many camper types and floorplans in the used RV marketplace. Knowing what to look for when buying a used camper can feel overwhelming for a first-time buyer. From towables to motorized units to truck campers, narrowing down which RV type best suits you is just the beginning. 

Consider These Factors When Buying a Used Camper

Here are a few considerations to help you find an RV that will work best for full-time travel.

Tow Vehicle Compatibility

Truck towing Heartland Mallard travel trailer
Photo by Camping World

Before purchasing a used camper, consider your current vehicle’s towing capacity – or if you will be purchasing a new vehicle. Also, consider the cost of the tow vehicle and if its size (like the RV size) could limit your campground selection.

For example, if you are looking for a large fifth wheel, you may need a larger truck with the towing capacity to handle the RV’s GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating).

Similarly, if you are looking for a motorhome that can tow a car behind it, your current car must be flat tow compatible. Or you will need a different “dinghy” that’s more conducive to your ideal RV lifestyle. 

Spend time researching to ensure you find a used camper that matches your current or prospective vehicle. You never want to get close to the maximum towing capacity – see the 75-80% rule. If you do, you’ll regret it when traveling in mountainous regions, and it can cause unnecessary damage and repairs to your vehicle. A little research goes a long way in making the right choice.

Condition

Trailer condition - what to look for when buying a used camper
Photo by Camping World

You are looking for a used camper that was initially well-built and has been treated well by previous owners. Look for structural features like an aluminum cage structure within the walls and flooring. You also want a fully walkable roof to make routine maintenance and repairs easier.

Quality tire age and condition may be one of the most overlooked features when shopping for a used camper. If a used RV has cheap, no-name tires that are too old or overly worn, replace them right away to prevent blowouts. Some recommended tire brands include Michelin, Goodyear, Carlisle, and PowerKing. Learn more about trailer tires.

An RV walkaround is a must when shopping for a used camper. But sometimes, the least-obvious inspections come back to bite you. For example, it’s hard to fully inspect every inch of the water, plumbing, and propane systems. Even if you know what to look for, it’s time-consuming and requires the correct tools and testing procedures. 

That leads to the next thing to look for when buying a used camper.

A Thorough RV Inspection

Grand Design technician performing RV inspection
Photo by Camping World

One of the most underutilized RV buying tips is to have an inspection completed before purchasing. Similar to a residential home inspection, an RV inspection can reveal many hidden problems. 

Knowing what you are dealing with can keep you from purchasing a lemon or getting stuck with expensive repairs. An inspector can identify potential issues or repairs – big and small – that should factor into your buying decision. While most people think RV inspections are only for used campers, they can also discover issues in new camping units, such as errors in manufacturing. Learn where to schedule an RV inspection.

The term “house poor” doesn’t only pertain to traditional houses and regular living arrangements. It’s possible to spend too much money and end up with a very steep loan on an RV or your tow vehicle.

When shopping for used campers, don’t lose sight of your why and stick to your budget. You don’t want to spend so much that you don’t have the funds to visit the places or enjoy the activities for which you made this lifestyle switch in the first place!

Size

fifth wheel size - what to look for when buying a used camper
Photo by Camping World

Bigger isn’t always better when you buy in an RV. You may want as much living space as possible when transitioning from residential to camper life, but large RVs have limitations.

It’s important to consider how comfortable you are driving and parking a large vehicle. Don’t exceed your comfort level, or driving, parking, and navigating into campsites will be more stressful.

Also, consider where you want to stay. If staying in national parks, state parks, or privately owned land is something you desire, going too big will limit your choices.

Staying 35 feet or under is ideal for buying a camper to stay in national parks and many state parks. Large fifth wheels need more space to maneuver into campsites. They are also the tallest RV option, which increases the chances of damage from low trees on privately owned land and within tight campgrounds if you’re not mindful.

It’s tough to balance the need for daily living space with ease of driving and parking. From our experience, making sure you can fit in the places you wish to visit is a priority. That can mean sacrificing living space, but we find that we spend more time outdoors anyway when we’re excited about where we’re staying.

Floorplan And Features

Couple relaxing on L-shaped couch inside RV floorplan
Photo by Camping World

Consider how you plan to live your days inside the RV when looking at used camper floor plans. Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • Do you have kids that need their own sleeping spaces?
  • Are you working from the road? 
  • How often do you cook meals?
  • What rainy-day activities might you need indoor space for?

Prioritizing sleeping spaces suited to your family’s size is a great place to start. Large families are typically drawn to fifth wheels, toy haulers, and large travel trailers because of the many options for flexible sleeping spaces. 

Couples or single travelers may embrace van life, motorhome travel, or small campers. Here are some features to look for when buying a used camper.

Used Camper Features To Look For

  • Storage space for gear, toys, and camping equipment
  • Sleeping capacity and layout (i.e., separated rooms for privacy)
  • Refrigerator size 
  • Pantry storage
  • Counterspace
  • Cooking equipment (indoor and outdoor)
  • Office or school space (for remote work or roadschooling)
  • Generator or solar power (for off-grid camping)
  • Washer and dryer hookups (for full-time living)

Four-Season Capability

Jayco Jay Feather travel trailer in the snow
Photo by Camping World

Look for this feature when buying a used camper for full-time RV living. Most people who choose to travel full-time are chasing regions with warm weather year-round. Insulation may not be at the top of your mind if this is you.

For a full-time camper, the weather changes – simple as that. You may need to stay for an extended period in a location you didn’t plan on. And having four-season insulation isn’t just for winter weather; it is super important in the heat. 

If you’ve spent time in an RV in Florida, Texas, or Arizona during summer, you know how tough it is for a camper air conditioner to keep up. Camper insulation is your year-round friend while traveling full-time.

For full-time living, look for insulated used campers rated for four seasons. And even if you retain a residence and only use your camper part-time, an RV that is rated for full-time use can hold up better for daily use than other options.

Should You Rent Before Buying an RV?

Renter saying goodbye to RV owner before setting out on an adventure
Photo by Camping World

Wish there was a way to try before you buy? With Good Sam RV Rentals, you can do exactly that!

There are so many used campers for sale that the choices can feel dizzying. Renting a used RV allows you to try out a specific camper model, or narrow down the type of RV that fits your preferences. 

By renting an RV, you get a feeling of what size you’re comfortable driving, how much daily living space you need, and how you feel about different floor plans.

Some people even test if they’ll enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle by renting in a campground near their home to try staying in a small space for an extended period.

Before we bought our RV, we rented an RV for a week to see what daily life feels like in such a small space with a child. The experience was invaluable, and we highly recommend trying this if you are on the fence.


Check out these helpful RV roundups and buying guides to learn more:

Do you have any questions about buying a new or used camper? Let us know in the comments below. 

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