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5 Reasons To Avoid Used Camping Trailers

truck towing a camper trailer
Used camping trailers aren’t always the best buy. Photo by P. Dent

5 Reasons To Avoid Used Camping Trailers

Used camping trailers can be much more affordable than buying them brand new off the lot. However, there are quite a few reasons why they aren’t such a good idea.

1. They may not be good quality

First, camping trailers are made fast and cheap so even brand new they may not be the best quality choice.  They are built for low budget consumption. That means that the attention to detail and higher quality components just aren’t part of the production process. And having said that, it’s safe to presume that production problems may be the reason some of the used trailers are in the secondary market.

One indication that persistent production problems exist might be the age of the trailer. If the trailer is almost new, it should raise some red flags. Why does the owner say they are selling it?  Are they the only person to have owned the trailer? 

A trailer that is too old might have one type of problem and a camper that is fairly new might have other types of problems, but if the seller can’t fill in any of the blanks, it’s probably a good idea to keep looking.  Either way, if the trailer has been owned by multiple people, if it’s too old or too new, or the seller can’t answer your questions, that should be a red flag warning.

2. They could have hidden problems

RVs of all types, including travel trailers are made to show well. Buying an RV is often an emotional decision, and the better the rig shows, the more likely someone will make the decision to buy it.  But to avoid buyer’s remorse, you need to step back and look beyond the surface appointments and dig into the operational features of the rig.  

We talked to one full-time RVer who had just spent over $100,000 on a new Mercedes camper van and the plumbing for the toilet was so poorly designed that the toilet, black holding tank, and dumping system simply wouldn’t work correctly, leaving her with virtually no commode in her rig. 

Another couple had the same problem in their full-size motorhome that they purchased new and were forced to sell after only 6 months. They traded it in on a different model and the dealer that eventually sold the motorhome with the defective toilet probably did not disclose those issues to the new buyer.  

Other folks we met on our journey were just moving back into their new camper trailer after having the fire damage repaired.  The hot water heater caught their rig on fire and only the grace of God kept that family from perishing in a horrible trailer fire.  The dealer and manufacturer both refused to accept any responsibility for the fire, or the damage or the peril the fire caused for that full-time RVing family.  It was a hidden problem that could have cost them their lives.

The real problem here are the defects that are unseen and undetectable. The hidden problems could be with appliances, gas lines, water systems, plumbing, electrical wiring, roof seals, flooring, air conditioning units, or something more dangerous like the chassis or braking system.    

camping trailer in campsite
Used camping trailers may be affordable but they’re not always the best option. Photo by P. Dent

3. Unanticipated costs and repairs

Another problem with used camping trailers is that they may be deceptively inexpensive which makes them hard to resist.  They seem like a great value.  New, the rig might be $69,000, but lightly used it might only be $35,000, and if it’s a little older, it might only be $10,000 or $12,000 or even less. But the enticingly low price could lead you into a disastrous purchase.

I have been following a couple on Instagram that bought a used Airstream that was a complete disaster. Of course, they were able to purchase it for nearly nothing, because this camper was very old and in a state of complete disrepair.  

This rig truly was a mess.  It had dead rodents and snake carcasses inside the trailer. None of the appliances worked. There was cat feces and torn curtains and water damage and filth everywhere.  The buyers looked past the filth and were consumed with the idea of “restoring the trailer” and adding their own personal touches to make it truly special.

They began the process of demolition, taking out all the flooring, window treatments, appliances and interior walls.  All those things needed to be taken to the landfill. As they got deeper into the structure of the trailer, it was evident that the plumbing and wiring were also shot.  

Water damage had affected virtually every system and component of the trailer, so they kept demolishing the camper to get past the damaged components.  More material had to be taken to the landfill.  Eventually they had the trailer stripped down to the chassis and the aluminum shell, that signature Airstream aluminum outer body of the trailer.  

They separated the shell from the chassis, only to discover that the trailer’s axle and wheels were completely ruined and needed to be replaced with a new axle. The frame on which the trailer was built was also badly damaged by rust, and sections of the frame had to be replaced to make the trailer safe to tow. The proud new owners of this used camper had a trailer frame in their driveway waiting for a new axle and the aluminum shell for their trailer sitting on a set of sawhorses off to the side of the driveway.  That was all that was left of the used camper trailer they were so excited to make their own. 

I have not seen any recent posts by these people but even if they are going to rebuild the camper, they will need to start with the frame, install completely new water and electrical systems, new insulation, flooring, interior walls, appliances, water heater, furnace, propane system, and cabinetry.  Then they can start to make it pretty with a new wall, window, and floor treatments, and new furnishings, but somewhere along the way they will probably need to have their plumbing and electrical work inspected, much like a renovation on a house needs to be inspected for reasons of safety.

In addition to all the parts that will need to be reinstalled, these Airstreams are a unique shape, so many of the components inside the trailer will need to be replaced with proprietary components to be sure they fit.  Not only did these folks have to pay to dispose of all the filth and decay in their trailer, now they will need to purchase parts and supplies that only fit their Airstream trailer.  

Have you ever compared the exterior awning on an Airstream trailer with the types of awning on most other trailers?  The Airstream awning is built to fold up tightly along the unique exterior contours of that signature shape. I suspect many of the parts in an Airstream are just as unique as the awnings, making this restoration even more costly and difficult.

4. They have a lower resale value

Another reason to avoid used trailers is they lose value quickly and the more people who own a camper trailer, the lower that value will go.  Even if you put a great deal of time and money into restoring a used trailer (like the folks described above), it will be difficult to recoup your investment in the restoration.  The bottom line is the restored features just don’t add additional value to the trailer. 

5. Spend more time camping

Finally, unless you’re a handyman whose hobby is restoration, you probably want to purchase a used camper trailer so you can enjoy camping and traveling with your new RV.  

You want to sit around the campfire roasting wieners, and spend your time exploring the great outdoors, not lying on your back under your trailer troubleshooting the leak in your black water tank or checking all the fuses to see why the hot water heater doesn’t work. Spending every weekend troubleshooting and fixing systems that are broken will strip the fun right out of the RVing experience and if this is your first RV, it could sour you on the whole adventure.

If you decide to shop for used camping trailers, keep these 25 inspection tips in mind:

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Author Peggy Dent Avatar

Peggy Dent

I am an author and writer, my partner is a web designer. We are full-time RVers traveling around the US and Canada. We’ve been RVing for over 20 years and we’ve traveled more than 130,000 miles in an RV.

One thought on “5 Reasons To Avoid Used Camping Trailers

  1. Hi Peggy, I’m from Chile and I read your article about the risks of buying used TT with great interest.
    Here in Chile, every day there are more interested in camping beyond the tents and the arrival of used TT of all brands and sizes has proliferated a lot.
    Due to our location (in the last corner of the world), it is not possible for us to bring new units because the freight and taxes raise the original price to the clouds.
    I think I was lucky because in the last 10 years I have imported 4 different used TTs and I have not had any problems (knock on wood).
    Today I have a 2018 Keystone Springdale 240 BH and I love it.
    Nice to comment on your article and greetings from Chile

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