25 Things to Look for When Buying a USED Travel Trailer
By Jeanette Vale
Here at Emergency Zone, we don’t sell camping trailers, but some of you might be in the market for one. A camping trailer is a great place to store all of your Emergency Zone Products. It makes for a quick getaway when all your stuff is in one place and you have to evacuate.
Here are 25 Inspection Tips to look for before you buy a USED travel trailer. These are inspired by my friend Drew at Playing with Sticks, an excellent Youtube channel.
- The ROOF - Don’t be embarrassed to take a ladder with you. This trailer is a huge investment, inspect it well or you will be stuck with a pretty lemon. Get a birds-eye view. Especially on the roof where all the problems start. What condition is it in? Does it look like the camper was protected by a tarp in the wet/winter? Is the roof sagging in between the framing? Did water have a chance to work its way in? Do you see signs of repairs done? Is the sealant used, still holding up? Take note of where you see cracks up above and when inside, look at the ceiling in the same spots.
- The FLOOR - Is the floor new? Use your foot to press everywhere on the floor, especially edges. Look for squishy spots. Look for humps or raised areas. What is the new floor covering? Maybe it just needed to be updated for aesthetics. But if there was water damage, a new floor would cover that. Don’t be afraid to move area rugs to inspect. Look at the cabinetry or walls that are closest to the floor. Do you see water damage on it?
- The UNDERCARRIAGE - Go under the trailer and look for water damage stains in the subfloor. Is anything rotted out? Is the electrical components ok, are they hanging down where they could get snagged or cut? Are the axles fine? Are they corroded? Do both sides look similar. How is the frame? Does it look warped or twisted? It might mean this has been in an accident.
- Paint on the interior. Does it have fresh paint? It is hard to see water stains through fresh paint, however, you can look for the wall waving or buckling. Gently feel the wall, does it feel mushy?
- Windows and Roof Vents - These two areas are most notorious for water leaks. Look at edges. Look for discoloration or soft spots
- Wood paneling on walls. Push these also. There should not be air pockets. It might mean water damage.
- Electrical - whip out your miniature electrical generator. Plug in the shore power. Do the lights, refrigerator, water pumps, roof fan, a/c work? Anything that runs on electricity, test it.
- Pump the breaks, do the break lights and blinkers work? You’ve got to drive home towing this and it might be in the dark.
- Liquid petroleum gas - check your stove, the burners, check the heater, does it all work? If it is a vintage trailer the fridge should be checked, does it run?
- Canvas - For any trailer with canvas as part of the walls-look for mold. To replace the fabric/canvas might cost as much as the trailer did.
- The Hitch. Will my hitch match the trailers? Bring the right one. Does my wiring match? Get a snapshot sent to you of the wiring needs.
- Carpet - Push carpeted walls. Is there bubbling? This might mean water damage. Carpets capture mold. Take a quick sniff. Do you smell mold?
- Things not matching. Does paint in one area not match another? Does hardware not match? What was fixed and why?
- Study everything about the trailer you are interested in before you leave home. When you see the real thing you will know what it should look like. You can tell if something is missing or altered. Ask why.
- Take photos while you are looking at a potential purchase. At home later on, you might have a more calm mind to analyze things and see stuff you did not notice before.
- Do rusty nails mean there is water damage? Not always. There can be galvanic corrosion of dissimilar metals. If steel nails are touching aluminum, corrosion will occur. If the nail is in wood and it is rusty it may be salty air or condensation corrosion.
- One area that “egg” style fiberglass trailers (Scamp, Casita, etc.) get water damage is from slowly dripping inside water tanks, connections to pump, sink etc. and drains. Their floors don’t rot from exterior issues, they rot from within. Look for water stains around the internal water tank, under the sink, and any place water flows. Underneath the trailer, pipes will come through the floor - check there for signs of water damage (discolored wood around the pipes compared to rest of the wood) which may be a sign of a slow leak inside. On an older trailer, just condensation around the water or drain lines can cause discoloration - just check a little further to make sure it is not a leak or extensive rot. I know Scamp and Casita floors get replaced, even by the factory, instead of throwing the camper away, because the rest of the camper lasts so long. (Thank you Mike Mead from the comments section).
- Exterior of the trailer - Look for tears in the skin, aluminium, or holes in fiberglass. Was bondo used to fix it? Is the skin separating from the plywood? This is possibly water damage. Excessive caulking is indicative of ‘water worry’. I just made that term up. You’re welcome.
- Check the leaf springs to see if they are worn or damaged. This is hard to do if you don’t have a photo of the trailer in its earlier life. But if the trailer is riding really low or the axles are kind of off kilter, it means your leaf springs are going out or they are pretty worn.
- Tire Tread. Tires that are worn down and then shred on the highway can be dangerous or deadly. As the tire blows it can take out other compartments of your trailer causing much damage. Did you know car tires are different than trailer tires? Some say it doesn’t matter which you use. Use appropriate tires.
- Frame Inspection. Take the time to really look at the frame the trailer is built on–in fact pay to have this professionally done. If you spend thousands of dollars and hours renovating the trailer only to find it's got an issue with the frame, you’ve got a pretty expensive zinger on your hands.
THE HEAD GAME WHILE BUYING A TRAILER
Be careful of the excitement. We get so excited and see the end result of how we will use the trailer with our family around a campfire. It’s beautiful. But keep that emotion in check while you are inspecting. Realize that everything wrong with the trailer will result in YOU doing all that work and spending all that money to fix it. There are red flags. Stay alert
Ask the Seller, how many miles did this trailer travel? How long do you store it? How often did you use it? What are things you wish could be different about this trailer? Why are you selling it (try to gauge if there is an underlying reason) ? Some people say, “my family just outgrew it” but there may be real reasons underneath that. The inspection will bring those answers forward even if the owners aren’t forthcoming.
Things to take with you to inspect a trailer:
Gloves. You’ll be poking and prodding a possibly dirty camper.
A face mask (in case there is mouse poop everywhere)
A flashlight and appropriate glasses for your eyes to see up close
A snapshot of the electrical trailer hookup from the seller
A matching electrical hookup so your car can attach and light up the trailer during transit.
A little fuel to test things like the stove, etc.
Magnetic trailer wiring kits (less than $20 on Amazon) in case the lights on the trailer are broken and it’s dark when you leave with the trailer).
Tiny portable generator. (this is to test electrical lights, water pumps, etc)
The right hitch
Tire pressure guage
Tire fill up thingie ma jigger-it makes a lot of noise when its filling tires.
A tarp to lay on as you look up under the carriage.
Thanks for stopping in folks!
Okay, so you noticed I only gave 21 Things....Watch Drew of Playing with Sticks. Some of his items I combined with others. And from a Graphic Design perspective....25 looked nicer than 21. :)
ONE MONTH LATER....I BOUGHT A CAMPING TRAILER
Here is my Report.....
Hello again. It is one month since I wrote this article. Lo and Behold, I found a camping trailer that looked neat and I jumped in my car to go look at it. Guess how well I did in following my own advice in this blog?
I will give myself a D-. I did terrible in following the wisdom!
I did this visit at the end of a work day. I was tired, I had to go to the bathroom, it was an hour drive through thick traffic to get there... and in this state, I entered negotiations. I did not take anything with me (note the list above of things you should take with you to inspect a trailer).
Before I drove to the intended city, I did ask the seller what kind of hitch and electrical hookup it had. But then, I didn't care because I was surely NOT going to buy it. I have commitment issues.
What I did take with me was the worse thing anyone could take with them to a deal where thousands of dollars could be lost.
I took my sister. A Spendy sister.
She shoots money around like its water from a squirt gun. As she heard me backing away from the deal she began chanting:
"Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!"
And so folks, I bought it. I caved simply because of her damn chanting. $15,500 dollars later...I drove home with all my muscles in knots. What did I just do?!
My older brother was going to kill me. Not that it's any of his business, but he freaks out when thousands of dollars are lost.
Now, he is the sibling I should have taken with me! He is thorough, meticulous and would have spent the time needed to get every ounce of information from the seller.
He would've inspected every system in place. The heater, air conditioner, holding tanks, solar, electrical and plumbing.
I slid into the bank doors one minute before they locked it. I asked for a cashiers check. The hitch fit, the electrical hookup fit, might as well! More unsound logic.
On the way home the tail lights sputtered and died. Just like the wise man above said it would. We drove that trailer in the dark for an hour-- with no lights.
My sister had her own car so she tailed us and became our lights. This was still stupidly dangerous to do. Mom was up with me giving back-seat-driver advice while I white knuckled it. I actually welcomed her critical thinking.
Would my twenty-five year old van be able to pull this weight? Would we pop a tire and all roll into a ditch? Were we going to DIE???!!!
But this morning I woke up and pulled back the blinds so I could look at my new camping trailer that I know nothing about. Sigh. It's all mine. I sure hope nothing is too broken. Well....the battery is dead. We did find that out. But it's so cute!
I plan to get the ugly stickers off and decorate with my own. Okay, not really. That's too much effort and I've aged since typing the first sentence of this blog.
What is so ironic is that on the drive home we saw a tiny teardrop trailer in the next lane. It was the exact one pictured above in the banner art for this blog. A little red and white.
Maybe I'll keep adding to this blog in the months to come as the adventure unfolds. Ciao fellow travelers!
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