RV and travel trailer sales are soaring back up again. You may be one of those interested in taking advantage and purchasing a gently used unit for your travels plans. But do you know how to buy a used travel trailer?

With the world slowly recovering and starting to open back up, many of us are jonesing to go back out there and explore. One of the safest ways to do that is traveling on a travel trailer. You can go and explore the world again while feeling at home, all the while without too much contact with others in hotels, etc. 

But we are also very aware that there have been understandable budget cuts all around, and you might have been affected by them. Or you just plainly want to save! So you might have thought of a safe and cheap way to travel. Used travel trailers! They offer the best of both worlds. Aside from being cheaper, used travel trailers also depreciate less than new ones by a substantial margin. So without any further ado, here’s your comprehensive guide on how to buy a used travel trailer.

How to Buy A Used Travel Trailer

how to buy a used travel trailer

What’s your budget?

As with any other big purchase, one of the first things on the list of how to buy a used travel trailer is setting up a budget. The size, age, features, accessories, etc. of your travel trailer will depend on how much you can spend.

Not only will this prevent you from heartache when you realize that the trailer you’ve set your heart on is out of budget (believe us, it hurts!), but it will also be your first defense against accidentally overspending. 

That said, the biggest benefit to setting a budget from the get go, is that it will save you time. It will help you in narrowing down options so you don´t waste time and effort checking out units outside your set price range.

What type of used travel trailer do you want?

If you’re interested in travel trailers, you ideally already have good knowledge about them. If not, it’s time to consult the interwebs, browse online shops, watch videos on YouTube, check out your local RV park, or talk to friends who own or have owned one.

Before heading to your local secondhand travel trailer shop, it’s a good idea to already have a picture in mind of what you want. Decide on the type of travel trailer, or you can even prepare a laundry list of features you want to have, including those that are negotiable and those that you´re set on having. There are a sea of options out there, even in the used travel trailer market.

Especially if it’s your first time buying, know what you and your family need in terms of comfort and amenities, etc. Knowing all these upfront will help keep you focused on finding the right secondhand travel trailer.

Do you prefer a smaller travel trailer or a bigger RV? Depending on what you need, you may even choose to opt for a fifth-wheel or motorhome. 

Quick Guide

To supplement this article on how to buy a used travel trailer, here’s a quick guide on the Types of RVs: Which is the Best One For You

Motorhomes
  • A class A motorhome may be for you if you like: the ultimate in RV luxury; comforts, appliances, and furniture like home; long-term RV living; numerous available floor plans; large living spaces; and plenty of storage space. But it may not be for you if you´re not really into: the most expensive RVs; the costly operation, maintenance, and insurance; inability to access narrower roads; intimidating drives; and motorhomes not ideal for day trips.
  • A class B motorhome or camper van may be for you if you like: day and weekend trips; being able to drive on smaller roads; easily-driveable units; affordable purchase and maintenance costs; and quick campsite set-ups. It may not be for you if you don’t like: limited and basic amenities; small space; and limited sleeping capacity.
  • A class C motorhome or mini motorhome may be for you if you like: to reach narrower roads where Class As won’t fit; have amenities and appliances that won’t fit in a Class Bs; numerous available floor plans; and family-sized units. It may not be for you if you don’t like: a bit of a challenge when driving; motorhomes that are more expensive to purchase and maintain than Class Bs; and the fact that some luxury items will not be available.
Travel Trailers
  • A conventional travel trailer may be for you if you like: plenty of floor plan options; various; weights and lengths available; more affordable than motorized RVs; an easy fit in most campsites; and a unit that can be towed by many varieties of vehicles. It may not be for you if you don’t like: having to tow a trailer; having to be extra careful of tail swing;  a bit of difficulty maneuvering in restricted roads; and almost no driving in reverse.
  • A teardrop trailer may be for you if you like: day and weekend trips, a compact and lightweight trailer; a unique and iconic design; easy fit in campsites; a trailer that can be towed by just about any size vehicle; and lastly, affordable purchase and maintenance costs. It may not be for you if you don’t like: very basic amenities; tiny living and storage space; limited sleeping capacity; and discomfort for taller people.
  • A fifth-wheel trailer may be for you if you like: tons of space; a better towing connection; bigger and easier to maneuver; an extra living area in the overhang; and plenty of floor plan options. It may not be for you if you don’t like: limited towing vehicle options; and a trailer that small campsites may not be able to accommodate because of the bigger clearance requirements.
  • A toy hauler may be for you if you like: dual-purpose RVs; traveling with your sports equipment; and having lots of customization options. It may not be for you if you don’t like: a smaller living space, depending on floor plan; possible close proximity to equipment and fumes; and extra toys/passenger making the trailer heavier.
  • A pop-up or folding camper may be for you if you like: extremely affordable campers; lightweight and can be pulled by just about any vehicle; less complicated to maneuver because it’s so light; and can be stored in the garage. It may not be for you if you don’t like: long setup and dismantling times; fabric sides that can flap about noisily during strong winds; and limited storage.
how to buy a used travel trailer
Truck Camper
  • A truck or pick-up camper is for you if you like: no extra set of wheels to take care of; camping anywhere a truck can take you; carrying your detachable living space instead of towing; and  affordable purchase and maintenance costs. It may not be for you if you don’t like: limited storage and living space and very basic amenities.

After you’ve settled on the general type of travel trailer you like, you can then gather a list of features you would like it to come with. For example, you´ll be happy to have solar panels if you plan to go boondocking often, especially far from resources. Or if you intend to hangout with RVer friends around a campfire, an entertainment center and outdoor kitchen will be great additions. And if you have a large family, then a bigger trailer with bunk beds would be worth considering.

How’s the fair market value?

So now you´ve whittled down your options and chosen the type of used travel trailer you’d like to buy. The next important thing to do is finding out the fair market price for your chosen make and model. It’s essential to know or have a good idea of what’s a good deal and what’s just plain overpriced. 

You can browse large dealership websites for the price of new and used, as well as travel trailer listing sites. You can also check out NADA guide values where you can make a compilation of what is a fair used price for your chosen unit. A national value for dealers and banks, NADA will give you an idea what a travel trailer is worth in a particular locality.

Where are the best places to buy?

The next step on how to buy a used travel trailer is to find a dealership to purchase it from. Dealerships can be a dime a dozen, so it’s important to carefully choose a reputable one that you can trust to cut you a good deal, now and later. Checking out the service department will help you see if the establishment has a certified service team personnel who can take care of you and your used travel trailer in case problems crop up down the road (no pun intended). You’ll want to find people you can trust based on their record and reputation.

Check if the facilities, like the service department and service bay areas are not dirty and disorganized. When getting your travel trailer serviced, you can usually judge the capability of the staff by how they keep the place up. And don’t forget to check the neighborhood and online rep too. Aside from good reviews, it’s also a good sign if they take the time to respond to reviews, good or bad. 

It’s also a big plus if the dealership is big and they have more than one location. It’s extremely convenient to have a place reasonably close to run to if you encounter a problem while travelling. Just knowing that there’s a support network that got your back while on the go adds an extra layer of safety and security to your trip. Dealers often offer preferential treatment to their own patrons and you can receive help first.

How about shopping at a dealership further away?

Sometimes you just have a precise picture of what you want and need in a travel trailer. And so, you may experience some difficulty finding it in your area. If this is the case, it might be worth your while to look at dealerships and showrooms that are further away from your vicinity. You might actually find your ideal second hand travel trailer a couple more hours away. Surely, you won’t want to miss out on that opportunity. Also, you can make a pleasant outing out of it. Since many certain models of used travel trailers are not quite as accessible as new, you may really have to look a bit farther than you have originally planned.

What questions should you ask when buying a used travel trailer?

Don’t be shy or embarrassed to ask about anything you want to know about the unit. That´s part of how to buy a used travel trailer. If you saw something questionable, curious, a discrepancy, etc., ask. Ask as many questions as you need. You’ll want to purchase the closest to perfect unit as you can get, at the best price. 

A few possible questions you will want to ask are the following:

  • Did the unit have any water damage when it was brought in? 
  • What items have been fixed on it before listing it for sale? 
  • How long has it been on the lot? 
  • What’s the post-buying process for things such as after sales service?

Ask questions like these so you can have a better idea of the travel trailer´s condition before you make the purchase. You’ll also of course want to know if the dealership you’re talking to provides after sale services.

How to thoroughly inspect a used travel trailer

how to buy a used travel trailer

Most showrooms will have over a 100-guide assessment on secondhand travel trailers. This thorough inspection of the unit will identify any defect and repairs that may need to be done, determine their asking price, etc. They check that all appliances are functioning as they should, spot weaknesses and soft spots in the travel trailer, and down to checking if all the lights are in working order. It’s also to make sure that the unit is in good condition all around. 

That being said, this doesn’t mean that you can be complacent and not check the travel trailer yourself. Double check if all the lights and appliances are working, or if there are a few things that need fixing. Some things are actually more expensive to repair than you may have though initially. Check in all cupboards and drawers for whatever doesn’t seem typical, like water spots in these areas, or in the roof, walls, ceiling, and floor. Be warned that some water damage can be quite expensive to repair.

Check every one of the doors and windows to ensure they can open, and there aren’t anything concerning, like broken seals. Likewise, be certain to thoroughly assess the overall state of the travel trailer to get a general idea of how much more mileage it can take while in your possession. 

To help guide you further in the right direction, here’s a point by point guide on the major aspects of the used travel trailer that you should watch out for.

Electrical framework

The electrical framework of a travel trailer incorporates AC and DC wiring, outlets, power lines; all lighting and bulbs; the battery reserve; and all electric kitchen equipment like the fridge, microwave, stove, and convection oven. 

You’ll need to actually inspect every AC breaker and DC fuse for functionality, and excessive heat when on, make sure that all wiring is in optimal condition. The main power should be running perfectly, while all AC outlets should be able to pull a current.

Ensure none of the batteries give indications of erosion, and actually look at their voltages with a multimeter/hydrometer whichever tool is appropriate. Additionally, check that batteries are not too old, as those don’t normally last more than 7 years.

Ensure that the cooler, freezer and refrigerator are appropriately cooling when on. All the external access panels for these appliance should be clean and without debris. The fridge will usually have a gas mode, so check if the auto-switch is working as it should. To do this, shut off the power and watch the burner for a flame.

Water damage

Like we’ve mentioned previously, water damage can be expensive and extensive to repair. So we strongly advise that this should be one of the key things to look out for. Signs of water damage include: brown spots, bowing, squishiness or softness and corrosion on the floor, ceiling, and even the walls. Keep a lookout on corroded screws, and molds anywhere too. Test the floor by walking around, and if you can do it carefully, jumping on areas where water is likely to pool or leak, like the shower, toilet or near the kitchen sink. You can even climb to the roof and walk or carefully jump around too!

In fact, we actually do advise climbing on the roof. And if need be, bring a ladder with you. Don’t worry about the extra time or effort required in bringing and unfolding your ladder. Remember, this is the home you’ll have on the road. It’s all a part on how to buy a used travel trailer.

Water damage is one of the (if not the) most common types of damage in used travel trailers. It can be easy to miss, and sometimes, some enterprising people or unreliable dealership may try to hide it, so be vigilant. For example, if the travel trailer is newly painted, you might be happy because you won’t have to pay for repainting. But new paint can obviously hide apparent signs of water damage. 

Gas and plumbing

Despite the fact that it is lawfully needed to have a travel trailer’s LP Gas system certified and periodically reviewed, especially before sale, before making any deals on it, it’s still smart to actually look at it yourself also. Ensure the propane chambers are less than ten years of age, and that the elastic hoses, controller and tank switch over valves, and any remaining pieces of the framework are liberated from conceivably destructive propane leaks.

Test water hookups by topping off the new water and waste tanks and driving the RV around, if possible. A while later, check for spills under the RV and dump the waste tanks, searching for a decent stream to egress. In addition, ensure water siphons or pumps work appropriately and can supply a decent stream to every one of the faucets in the travel trailer.. 

You likewise need to be certain the water radiator, latrine, and other pipings work appropriately. Double check that everything provides a good stream of water, without leaking, particularly around the sinks, and bathroom. Ascertain that the travel trailer´s water heater can heat water up as it flows from the faucets.

Heating and air-conditioning

The air-conditioning and heating units will single handedly  make your travel trailer livable for the better part of the year. So it’s crucial to make sure that both of these important features are working as they should be. Check within for spills from the rooftop gasket and ensure the channel is in acceptable condition, the roof part of the unit for flotsam and jetsam and harm, and the wiring, electric associations, and fan, as well. 

Preferably, you should run the air conditioner for about 15 minutes and actually measure the internal temperature, which ought to be about 20°F or (6.67°C) cooler than the outside. Ensure the fan on the exhaust vents are working and the bug screens are in proper order.

Etc. – how to buy a use

Aside from everything previously mentioned, there are various other things in the travel trailer that you have to check for proper function. Entertainment center appliances like TV and sound system, etc., the undercarriage, all kinds of safety and monitoring equipment like GPS and cameras, etc. should all be checked. Even the water/sink drains, furnace vents, behind appliances and inside the roof. Try to check all the little spots that the dealership probably hadn’t checked when doing their own assessment.

how to buy a used travel trailer

Tips on how to buy a used travel trailer

To provide additional advice and make sure that we have not missed anything, we present these 10 useful tips on inspecting the used travel trailer you are planning to purchase.

Never ever buy a used travel trailer, sight unseen

Nope, never. If you´re not able to check the used travel trailer personally, don’t even consider it. Try to work out a date and time when you can. If the seller or dealer itself tells you to do the transaction without you being able to inspect the unit thoroughly, that is a red flag. Do yourself a favor and don’t transact with this person or establishment. However great a deal it may seem, you’ll never genuinely know the state of the vehicle until you´ve inspected it up close and personal.

Check the ceiling

You want to look for brown spots, a very visible sign of a leak, as well as parts where the ceiling is bowed or coming down. All of these point to evidence of water damage. Yes, a damaged ceiling can be repaired, but you run the risk of exposing even more problems that need to be addressed when you tear it out. On a lemon of an RV, it’s typically not worth the expense.

You need to search for brown or yellow colored spots, which are especially noticeable indications of leaks. Parts where the roof is bowed or descending are also very visible signs of water damage. A damaged roof and/ceiling can be repaired but at what cost? You risk uncovering considerably more issues that should be tended to when you’ll have to tear that roof down. You definitely do not want to save on the actual travel trailer but end up paying more on the repairs.

Search thoroughly for signs of mold

Regardless of whether there’s no apparent water damage in the typical spots like floors, walls and ceilings, and mold on a travel trailer´s interior are usually  indicative of water issues like leaks, etc. Have a look at the edges of the roofs and floors, turn upward and down the dividers, and particularly take a look at the corners and caulk in the washroom around the installations. Additionally, open up cupboards and storage rooms and sparkle a spotlight to check whether there’s any shape developing. You’ll frequently smell it, yet if the storage rooms or cupboards feel particularly warm (hotter than the remainder of the travel trailer), there’s a decent possibility that there’s mold starting to grow in there. 

Open up exterior panels and look inside each one

All the panels should look dry and spotless. Anything rotting or corroded inside or around the cutaway are not good signs.

Look underarm check bolts and screws

Any noticeable rust and corrosion are possible signs that water is beginning to seep in. Assuming the screws actually look spotless and painted, the travel trailer is most likely in good condition when it comes to water damage. But remember not to be complacent and look beyond brand spanking new paint. Sometimes, that might be covering up an unsavory surprise.

Inspect the floors closely

Especially the edge where the floors meet the wall? Check those thoroughly. Also, we already suggested bouncing around up and down (carefully) at various spots. As senseless as it sounds, this is very effective in checking the stability of the floor. Areas that are near where water is used the most are especially suspect, such as near the kitchen sink and the bathroom. The floor should be stable and strong. If you feel like there’s too much give or some softness, that floor might be decaying.

Give the walls a push

Test those walls. Push firmly on the outside walls all around the travel trailer. There shouldn’t be too much softness or give.

Inspect the roof thoroughly and check for stability

Inspect the caulking to ensure everything is sealed and fixed firmly. You’ll need to look around the lookout window and vent, however around the whole edge of the RV. Old, darkened, disintegrating, or rotten caulk could be an indication that water is getting in and making a lemon of a travel trailer. 

Take your ladder and get on that roof. Stroll around (cautiously!) and ensure it feels solid and sturdy. If the roof has too much give and feels weak and soft under your feet, then unfortunately, it’s probably rotting.

Now you know how to buy a used travel trailer

But wait, there’s more! If we’ve missed anything else, here’s a video from Playing with Sticks to cover all the bases.

More tips on how to buy a used travel trailer

Now that you know how to buy a used travel trailer, are you ready to get out there and explore again? Let us know in the comments what your first destination will be, once travel becomes safe again!

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