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Buying a used camper is an excellent way to save money by avoiding depreciation. RVs are like automobiles in that as soon as you drive your new camper off the lot, it is worth less than when it was sitting on the lot. For this reason, purchasing a used camper that has been properly maintained can be a sound investment decision. Many people will only buy a used camper with the thought that they get a better value and any problems have already been solved.
Before purchasing a used camper, complete a thorough walkthrough and inspect the camper (check out our article on walkthroughs). There will be a few key areas that you need to inspect very carefully.
Leaks are the greatest enemy of campers. When purchasing a used camper, inspect for leaks or signs that the camper had water damage in the past. Campers and Campfires recommends that you do not buy a camper that has had a previous leak because water leads to mold and rotting wood. You may not see the evidence of the water damage now, but it will no doubt lead to a significant expense later.
Water damage will generally leave a brown stain. Inspect every square inch of the ceiling to look for brown spots or mold. Look very closely in the corners for any traces of water damage. Also, push up on the ceiling to ensure that there are no soft areas. If an area is soft, then the wood above it is probably rotting.
Scrutinize the roof. Get on the roof and walk around carefully, feeling for soft spots as you go. A soft spot indicates that the roof may be rotting in that area. Inspect the caulked areas around vents and the air conditioner for cracks or just a blackening in color. The discoloration is an indication that water could be permeating in these areas. Look carefully along the edges of the roof for any signs of tears or leaks.
Look at the sealant around all of the items on the roof, such as skylights and air conditioners. If you see cracking, more investigation is needed. First, check closely and make sure that water has not leaked into the camper. If there are no signs of leakage, ask the owner to have everything resealed before you buy or ask for a discounted price so that you can recaulk these areas. Resealing can be done yourself. You do not need to remove the old sealant. Use denatured alcohol to clean the old sealant, and then apply a new sealant on top of the old sealant. We personally use Dicor (Check it out on Amazon), a self-leveling lap sealant. A caulking tube is used to apply the sealant GENEROUSLY. It may take up to 12 tubes of sealant to properly seal a medium-sized roof.
Inspect all of the seams around the roof fixtures and sides to ensure no gaps. Eternabond tape (Check it out on Amazon) can be used to seal gaps, but first, check that there have been no leaks.
Pay close attention as you walk on the floors. If you feel a lot of giving as you walk, this indicates that the floor may be rotting from a previous leak.
Cabinets, Pantries, and Closets
Open all cabinets and closets to carefully check for any leaks that may have occurred. Look for water damage and any signs of mold on all interior and exterior walls and cabinets.
Inspect around the sink as well as the shower for previous leaks and mold. Check the caulking to ensure that it is intact and airtight so that water cannot permeate into other areas around your shower. Inspect the fittings under the sinks as well.
Inspect fiberglass campers for delamination. Delamination occurs when water seeps between the fiberglass shell and the plywood to which the fiberglass is glued. If the camper’s outside wall looks like it has bubbles and waves, this is a sign of delamination. If you see bubbles, walk away immediately. The wood underneath will rot, and it is expensive to fix. Delamination generally means needing a brand new sheet of fiberglass and a new plywood wall.
Check the tires for wear and dry rot. If the camper has been sitting for any length of time, the tires will dry rot, even if they are only a few years old. There is a four-digit code on the tires so that you can tell their age. If the tires are four or more years old, expect to change them quickly. For campers that have been sitting for several months, we recommend changing the tires. A flat tire can ruin a vacation as well as damage the underside of your camper. Read our article on tire maintenance.
If you find a camper and think that it is a good deal but still have questions, we recommend finding a certified recreational vehicle inspector. The inspector completes a camper inspection similar to a home inspection completed before purchasing a house. We recommend that you go through the National Recreational Vehicles Inspectors Association, where they have inspectors trained to inspect used campers before purchase. A good RV inspection may take up to 5 or 6 hours.
Like with any walkthrough, have the owner demonstrate everything on the camper to ensure that it all works. If the owner does not have access to a 30-or 50-amp outlet, ask them to meet you at a location with an outlet, even if you must pay $30 for a campsite to inspect it. Hooking the camper up and checking everything is the only way to ensure that all electrical and plumbing components work. If the owner is unwilling to meet you someplace to hook-up the camper so that you can thoroughly inspect it, we recommend walking away from the deal.
Know the Value
Check the camper’s value that you are interested in purchasing to ensure that you are buying it at a reasonable price. The best way to do this is to check the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) for its value. NADA provides the most comprehensive value guide for campers. You can also compare the prices of similar models on RV Trader.
If you find a used camper that has been well maintained, it is an excellent way to purchase without losing that initial depreciation. Just ensure that you do your due diligence inspecting the camper before agreeing to purchase. If you have any water damage, your money-saving investment can become very costly.
Finding a Diamond in the Rough
Sometimes you will find a camper with evident damage, yet you want to save it. If you do not want to do the work yourself, consider using an RV restoration company to restore the camper or RV. If you do plan to restore the camper yourself, we recommend that, at the very least, you contact someone who specializes in RV restoration to give you an estimate on the costs and time involved in completing the restoration. We met Hitch + Home, an RV restoration company from Louisiana, on a recent trip to Pigeon Forge. Just because a camper has damage doesn’t mean that it is time to visit the RV graveyard. Just know that there can be a lot of money tied up in the restoration. Make sure that it is worth it to you.
Check out some of the recent work from Hitch + Home.
Do you have any tips for purchasing a used camper? We would love to hear from you. Please drop us a line in the comment section below.
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