Step by Step What to Check Before Buying
But what do you have to consider if you want to buy one of the many travel campers for sale that appear listed on different websites? How do you make the right decision between caravan and motorhome? Where do you find good offers? What should you look for when buying a used RV? This and more will be clarified in the following guide, that I kindly request you to read thoroughly as it is the result of several decades of experience analyzing campers for sale and using RVs myself with my family.
So in this article, we explain to you all the features that you have to check by yourself in person during the visit to the seller and the test drive.
Checklist Before Buying Travel Trailers and Campers for Sale
Used campers for sale are in demand, the market is constantly growing. Here we explain to you RIGHT BELOW, step by step, what to check and what to ask, and how to be beware against scams and hidden defects of the travel trailers or campers for sale that you find interesting.
Before buying a used RV, it is best to read this article and create a list of all the criteria that the desired RV should fulfill. You can also use the step by step bullet points of this article as a guide.
When you search, you will encounter campers for sale that offers more than what you see on your wishlist, at a higher price. Do not get confused by overflowing RV parts and RV accessories, and think carefully about whether you need the extra features offered,
Take a flashlight and a pair of gloves when you visit campers for sale. Purchase only used campers for sale and preferably in winter or when fall is starting. Visit the dealer during rain or immediately afterward
- Heating: It should turn on and light after about the fifth attempt at the latest. Pay attention to the distribution of the outlets.
- Gas box: Are the floor stable and the box clean? The gas pipes in storage compartments and on the RV floor must be undamaged.
- Onboard electrical system: Applies also to motorhomes and all campers for sale. Check all the electrical appliances, control board, lamps, the refrigerator and, if available, the air conditioner should be checked as well. Because in some RVs, the on-board electrical system is considered vulnerable. We refer in these bullet points also to the features that should be inspected in these individual appliances as well.
- Feasibility of a future RV renovation: Checking the number of seats and sleeping places available is crucial. A future major RV renovation and retrofitting are technically not possible in many campers for sale. And when feasible, it is regarded as expensive and associated with great effort. Although a convertible seating pattern group sounds convenient at first glance, in practice it is not good when it comes to sleeping comfort. Fixed beds will provide you more comfort but less space during the day. Decide your preferences before any purchasing decision.
- Gas certification: The only thing you cannot check yourself are the gas pipes. They should be checked for leaks by a specialist. Ask the seller if he would be willing to pay for it and have the camper again inspected by a licensed gas technician. If you are renting in Europe or buying there campers for sale, the inspection of the TÜV will suffice. Apart from the gas pipes and the gas box, you must request a certification issued by a certified and licensed technician. The certificate issued by the aforementioned technician should state the vehicle identification number.
- Service booklet: Recent inspections fully documented and preferably, the bill of the repairs to support the evidence of the entries regarding the recent maintenance activities performed in the camper or travel trailer. The service booklet has to contain the vehicle identification number and it must match with the RV you are studying.
- Roof: Particularly important are the sealing joints around windows and openings. Is the roof heavily mossy?
- Mileage and tachograph inspection: This does not apply to travel trailers for sale because in these cases there is a towing vehicle. Check the mileage and ask to see the tachograph in case someone opened it or violated it. See if the condition of the pedals justify the mileage that the seller claims.
- Furniture: Open all flaps and drawers, check the function of pull-outs, hinges, locks and lids. All edges should preferably be rounded.
- Light: Do all lamps work? If not, it can be because of the installation. Many campers for sale that I visit have problems with the installation. Are these lamps exchangeable for economical LEDs? Can reading spots be retrofitted in case you undertake an RV renovation? Also, look at the natural light: large skylights bring a lot of light and ensure a comfortable indoor climate.
- Galvanic corrosion in aluminum: Caused by electrolytes, such as water in contact with dissimilar materials (an aluminum component in the RV attached with screws made of stainless steel screws). This starts this electrochemical reaction called galvanic corrosion. Older campers for sale are frequently affected by this condition.
- Mold: Mold can be removed with some effort, but if you find mold, this means that there is condensation, humidity, and dampness due to a general lack of ventilation. It represents an excess of moisture in the target RV. Therefore, if mold first appears or other signs of moisture damage, such as musty odor or damp spots to determine, it is something to be worried about. Condensation caused by a lack of ventilation or small leaks can permanently damage the construction of an RV over the years. Carefully check the seals around windows and doors on used campers for sale. If there is already mold formed in the interior, removal of the damage is often only possible with a disproportionate effort.
- On-board battery: Check for cracks or acid efflorescence and the right charger. If there is acid stain, it can be removed with a battery acid stain remover. Body battery with enough capacity to be able to stand self-sufficient. This will apply more to the case of motorhomes rather than campers for sale.
- Mattresses: Very important, but not because of the mattresses themselves, as you will buy new mattresses anyway. Check for foxing in the mattresses. This may reveal that the RV is subject to humidity and moisture in high proportions and this happens with many campers for sale.
- Warranties and operation instructions: Request the seller to obtain the warranty documentation for all the appliances, along with the operation instructions thereof.
- RV Inspection: You should definitely insist on a test drive, as I repeat many times in this article and in others. A superficial view is not enough. If you are not in the United States, but in the European Union, incidentally, more than six-year-old campers annually require an inspection (TÜV). A fresh recent badge is certainly a good sign. Especially for an RV newbie, this gives the certainty that no gross defect was overlooked.
- Environmental badge: Mandatory in some states in the United States. If you are reading this in the European Union, older campers for sale often have only a red or yellow sticker and cannot be moved freely. The RV should have then a valid green badge.
- Shower tray: Preferably has to be anti-slip. Watch out for cracks or other damage, as they can harm your feet, and also check the sealing joints. If there are cracks, check if water has already penetrated the small area of the bottom plate. There are some small campers without a bathroom where you need to use an exterior toilet anyway.
- Contract clause: Specifically for RVs, all kinds of campers for sale and not actually RV rentals, it is required a contract clause where the seller states that the object is sold without former accidents and without other defects. This is because in case there is a concealed flaw (non-patent defect) that would not be encountered by the buyer after a reasonable inspection given the nature of the object. Reject immediately all clauses where the object is sold “as is”. If he rejects this or insists on contract terms such as “purchased as inspected without warranty claim” you must refrain from buying and reject the operation immediately.
- Cooker: Check if all burners work. All flames should burn bluish and evenly. If the flames are yellow, there is a problem and a gas licensed technician should be called. The flame has to be blue and can have a yellow tip in the primary cone (this means you are using natural gas) or in the secondary cone, which represents the liquid propane flame utilization.
- Refrigerator: The flame must ignite in gas mode and the cooling fins become cold after some time.
- LPG devices: When applicable, check all LPG consumables for functionality. These devices must have a gas test certificate. This is related to other points where we describe the inspection of the gas licensed technician. So this is one of the few checks that you cannot do yourself.
- Moisture: Check the entire vehicle for moisture. Take a flashlight and observe carefully in all corners. If dark spots are found, this indicates moisture. Even a musty smell can be an indication of this.
- Windows: Carefully check gaskets on windows and doors for damage such as cracks and embrittlement.
- Insurance: Check if the RV is currently insured and if you can subrogate the former owner of the RV in the insurance contract as the new owner once you buy or the insurer has to accept you as a contracting party.
- Water tank: Here check the pump and see if there are cracks in the water tanks and damages. If you want to travel in winter, or when you refurbishing your RV to become suitable for winter temperatures, you should pay attention to heated tanks and internal water pipes and drain taps.
- Awning: Check this and trim parts for damage, especially with older models, the procurement of spare parts can be a problem.
- Test drive: In a paragraph below we explain how to proceed in a test drive, that should not last less than 45 minutes, but shorter in the case of travel trailers for sale. Better if you can do it on a rainy day. In the case of campers for sale, turn the radio off and close the windows, paying attention to the noise from the engine.
- Examine underbody for rotten wood and rust on the chassis, inspect installations such as brake lines. Take protection gloves with you and a lantern or flashlight when visiting the private seller or RV dealer.
- Brakes: When you checked visually the underbody of the RV, you also inspected the brake lines, but during the test drive you will check how the break works, notably the brake lag according to the proper stopping distance.
- Tires: Determine the age and control the tread depth. Is the wear even? If the tread wear is asymmetrical in different parts of the tire, this represents a misalignment in the wheels or inflation done improperly. Independent of any visual inspection, the tires should not be older than six years.
- Optimal equipment analysis: Before deciding which of the campers for sale you want to buy, you should determine what equipment your desired mobile must-have, what it should have according to your requirements and what it can have according to your budget. Because especially when buying a used RV, it is important to make your own priorities clear. Although you can expand the equipment after the purchase, it may not be cost-effective. Therefore, before you buy, think carefully about which things are particularly important to you and which features you might be missing out on.
- Suitable size: So first determine how many people you want to travel regularly and how long you want to be on the road. You can already do a first size estimation. Because if you plan to go on holiday with your family, your demands are different than if you are only traveling in pairs. To determine your requirements in regards to the optimal size, it is important to know how many people you want to travel with. Make sure not only that everyone has a place to sleep, but also that you will spend time in the vehicle even in bad weather. However, when you buy a used RV, the size of the vehicle also matters, for example, when you plan to be away from paved roads. With a small motorhome, you can do much better there than with a large caravan. Anyone saving their sleeping space definitely saves in the wrong place. For families, the question is particularly important: Do you want a separation between parents and children? This can also be beneficial for longer holidays. Depending on your travel behavior, you will face different demands on a travel companion. As a rule, “function before optics” applies. If you travel a lot and a high degree of mobility is particularly important to you, you should possibly restrict the room comfort a bit. The three most important guidelines when sizing are storage space for luggage, the size of the kitchen and the sanitary area. If the campers for sale meet your expectations, you have a good basis for comparison.
- Sufficient storage space: Also in the planning of the storage space, you should envisage when selecting among the campers for sale the number of travelers and the duration of the holidays plays an essential role. All larger and smaller pieces of luggage should be accommodated. If you want to take bicycles or surfboards with you, you should plan accordingly. In these cases, consider the campers for sale that include a toy hauler. In case of travel trailers for sale, it is recommendable that you keep an eye on the permissible maximum weight related to your planned towing capacity, so you are actually forced to study the tongue weight and the related camper weight. All storage compartments and storage spaces must have ventilation openings
- Parking space: When determining the size, also consider a parking space for your camper outside of your holidays.
- Check the trailer hitch: As we refer in this article to trailers and campers for sale, we have to see the trailer hitch, especially before the test drive. If the hitch ball is actually moving after lowering the trailer jack, then the hitch is not at all secure. If the hitch ball does not move, then the trailer hitch is well fastened and very secure so you can take the test drive.
- Taillights in the trailer: Currently many states of the United States will require fully functional tail lights in the trailer. It is better always and more secure to have a tail light kit properly installed and functional to avoid a sanction or a penalty. Mandatory in all the European Union, if you happen to buy or rent an RV there.
- Tongue weight: Learn the tongue weight because of its relation with the hitch and the towing capacity of the vehicle that later will tow the camper. This is required for trailers for sale and other towable RVs such as pop-up campers. This point, of course, does not apply to Class A RVs, such as motorhomes. Read our related article about camper weight.
- Payload and vehicle class: This bullet point is for our readers from the European Union: pay attention to the vehicle class and the possible payload – with a class B EU driving license, you can only drive campers with a gross vehicle weight of 3.5 tonnes. Most travel trailers and campers for sale will be within these legal requirements.
- Does your RV look like an RV? Many campers for sale are class B RVs and they are the chassis of the van, completely revamped into an RV and do not look like an RV and you can park them anywhere. I am thinking now about in many Mercedes Benz Sprinter variations. If your RV will look like an RV, you will be forced to stay in RV parks. Some RV parks only let you stay for a month at a time, and then they kick you out this means you are constantly looking for places to park, and you have to move around constantly. If you want to avoid this situation, pick a class B RV that is a refurbished van.
I am Tony, an RV designer and RV developer. I create bill of materials for RV manufacturers for travel trailers and fifth wheels. I worked as a freelance transportation consultant for Lyft. As an RV development consultant, I create customization trees for RV manufacturers who want to offer a solution to prospective customers to design their custom RV with variant configuration. Apart from this, I sell in Indiana trailer hitches, hitch balls, goosenecks and weight distribution systems where I provide advice to customers who want to know which is their towing capacity, which hitch ball should they utilize and how to deploy a weight distribution system. I do my best to explain all these processes and their installation, here in RV Favorites.