CHECKING OUT A USED CAMPER TRAILER
Pry before you buy
Some campers have been driven and used carefully and others have been abused, but it’s not always easy to spot the difference. However, there are ways to check out the vehicle’s condition.
Step one is to ensure you’re actually looking at what you think you are. Have a close look at the compliance plate and satisfy yourself that it’s the original plate and not a counterfeit that’s been recently added.
A fresh-looking plate and new rivets should sound alarm bells. Another obvious check that’s not always done is to ensure the VIN matches the registration sticker numbers exactly.
Walk around the closed camper, looking for signs of panel damage or repair. Sections that look newer than others indicate repairs or add-ons.
Give the camper a good side to side shake and listen for creaks or groans from the suspension or bodywork. Grip each tyre and agitate the wheel to see how the wheel bearing adjustment feels.
Trailer tyres usually don’t do anything like the mileage that car and 4WD tyres do, so check each tyre’s manufacturing date stamp to see how old it is. The date is on the outer sidewall and consists of some coding, followed by four digits, denoting the month and year of manufacture. Any tyre older than six years is high risk and you should budget to replace it.
Check the trailer coupling and the electrical leads for obvious physical damage and wear. (Watch out for redback spiders inside little-used ball receivers!)
Now it’s time to pull out your groundsheet and crawl underneath. Look at the chassis rails for damage and rust; the axle(s) and suspension for wear and the underbody components for signs of flying-stone damage. It’s normal to see plenty of stone chips under a camper that’s done gravel road work, but a dented water tank or chassis rail indicates a heavy impact.
A little oil misting on the outside of shock absorber tubes is normal, but heavy oil flow indicates failed shockers. Severely worn and torn shock absorber bushes are signs of abuse.
Look at the condition of the braking system cables and wiring, checking for loose wiring ties, frayed steel cables and stone damage.
If the chassis and running gear checks out OK it’s time to investigate the camper equipment and the tent. When you open the camper, examine the water/dust seals and the locking clips for integrity. Look for signs of water and dusty entry around seals and catches.
Check that the water pump, drawers and cupboards work properly and that any hinges are undamaged.
The best way to check out the condition of the LPG system is to light up the cooker and the three-way fridge, if one is fitted.
Make sure each gas bottle is within its legal-use envelope, by looking at the bottle’s expiry date stamp.
Follow the gas lines from bottles to appliances, making sure the shut-off cocks function properly and that the lines are fitted with grommets where they pass through chassis and bodywork.
A plastic squeeze bottle full of soapy water is the ideal way to check gas system joints for leaks. (It’s also handy when you’re trying to find a slow leak in a tyre.)
Electrical wiring is a major source of trouble with camper trailers in the bush, so pay particular attention to the condition of the wiring and the camper battery. Where wiring passes through chassis or panels it must have intact grommets and cable lengths should be tied at regular intervals to the trailer framing.
Factory wiring is normally quite neat, but many owners fancy themselves as auto-electricians, so it’s not unusual to find used campers with additional DIY electrical work that has a home-made look about it. If you note non-standard electrical work, budget for an electrical system health check by an auto-electrician.
Check that all lights and outlets function properly by using a test light or, better still, a multi-meter.
The condition of the tent is basic in ensuring the elements stay outside, so spend time checking the canvas, zippers and bows. The roof is obviously the most critical area and it’s unlikely that a tent with a stitched roof repair will be watertight in a downpour. Small imperfections and wear in tent walls and doors are more easily repaired.
Zippers are wear items that aren’t cheap to repair or replace. Zippers that haven’t been lubed or have been packed away in wet canvas will show obvious corrosion.
Major repairs to a tent can be labour-intensive and therefore quite expensive. For example, just removing and replacing a tent from a camper trailer can cost a few hundred dollars in time alone.
If you’re looking at a well-known brand of camper trailer it’s normal for the maker to keep patterns, so it’s possible to buy replacement panels or even a brand new tent for it.
The camper mattress isn’t an important consideration, because it’s most likely you’ll buy a new bed to go with any used camper.
A tow test is an important part of the pre-purchase, either by passengering in the owner’s tow vehicle, or better, by coupling your own vehicle to the trailer. You should be feeling for the trailer’s braking system operation and listening for any sounds of protest from it. At the end of the tow, put your hand on the trailer hubs to check their rolling temperature.
Now it’s time to start haggling!
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