Essential Truck Camping Advice

6 Tips For Buying Used Campers

Finding the right used truck camper for sale can be a real challenge.  We reveal where to search, what to look out for, and what price to pay.  Tip 1: Never buy a used camper sight unseen.

Buying Used Campers

For months you’ve been on the hunt for a specific make and model of truck camper.  Everyday you check Truck Camper Magazine’s used truck camper listings, online classifieds, local dealer websites, eBay, and Craigslist.  Every day you get skunked; no used camper for you.

Then, there it is!  At last, the exact truck camper you’ve been looking for.  The pictures look perfect and the price is right.  The only problem is that it’s on Craigslist about 500 miles away, and the guy wants payment in full to hold it for you.  He’s had a lot of interest in the camper, of course.

Tip Number 1: Never Buy A Used Camper Sight Unseen

Unless you are prepared to lose your payment, and/or pickup a damaged camper, do not send that cashiers check.  There are far too many possible issues to purchase a used truck camper sight unseen.  In a situation like this, the best advice is to clear your schedule, grab your used truck camper checklist, get in your truck, and go see that camper as soon as possible.

A lot of things can quickly go wrong if a truck camper is not properly cared for or maintained.  Worse, a number of the most common problems can be hard to spot in photography.  You really need to be with a camper in person to spot many of these issues.

For example, if a truck camper is not winterized and experiences below freezing temperatures, water lines can burst, plumbing fixtures can break, and toilet fixtures can fail.  Every spring, RV dealerships are literally flooded with customers who didn’t properly winterize and are experiencing plumbing leaks, breaks, and failures.

Roof, side, and underbody seals need to be routinely monitored and repaired or campers can delaminate, rot, and/or mold beyond feasible repair.  The overwhelming majority of truck campers and RVs are eventually destroyed by leaks caused by unchecked and/or poorly maintained seals.  Read that last sentence again.  It’s a sad truth.

As if poor winterization and seal maintenance aren’t enough, some owners abuse their truck campers from the beginning.  They might be heavy smokers, have five large destructive dogs, stow their towing equipment in the wet bath, or just don’t clean – ever.  We have seen many late-model truck campers that seem okay at first blush, but are severely damaged upon closer inspection.

Tip Number 2: Start With The History

Before getting too excited about a used truck camper, you need to learn as much as you can about the history of the camper.  This is especially helpful when you’re purchasing the camper from the current owner.  Their answers (and evidence thereof) can tip the scales one way or another for your decision.

If a truck camper is a trade-in on a dealer lot, it may be impossible to learn the history of the unit.  The dealer may be willing to put you in contact with the previous owner.  After that, you’re banking on in-person inspections.  Let’s get to the history questions:

1. Where and how was the camper stored?

Was it kept inside a dry garage?  Was it outside and covered?  Or was it outside exposed to the elements year round?  Obviously, garage kept is the goal, but covered beats exposed by a mile.  Be careful if a unit has been left outside and uncovered for a long time.

2. Did they routinely maintain the camper seals?

If they did, how did they maintain the seals, and how often?  When were the seals last checked, and what sealant was used?  Evidence of seal maintenance should not be hard to find on the unit.  The most meticulous owners might even have a log book of maintenance and repairs.

3. How much did they use the camper?  And what for?

Did they take it to Alaska and then park it for two years?  Was it a weekend camper for fishing?  Did they live in it full time?  Did they drag it over miles of logging roads to reach their favorite fishing spot?  You want a camper that’s been used, but not full time, and not under overly stressful off-road situations.

4. Why are they selling the camper?

Of course you want to ask why they are selling the unit.  Often times the reason they purchase the camper has passed and it’s just time to move on.  Many truck campers are sold after their adventures are done.  Others are sold to get a bigger camper, or go in a different direction entirely.  Find out the story.

Tip Number 3: Bring An Experienced RV Buddy, or Two

If you’re new to truck campers and/or RVs, bring someone with you who has RV ownership experience.  They will know how to turn on and try out the various RV appliances and components including propane, electrical, and plumbing systems.  At a minimum, you need to see that all of these systems are present and in working order.

Ideally, your RV buddy would also have RV maintenance experience and be able to check the condition of these systems.  If you know someone with RV maintenance experience, offer them free steak dinners, free beer, and whatever else it takes to get them to help you with this task.  Your investment will pay dividends.

In the real world, most of us don’t know someone with RV ownership and maintenance experience.  If we do, it’s a lot to ask them to spend a day with us for this mission.  Fortunately, there is another way to accomplish this goal.

Tip Number 4: Schedule A Pre-Purchase Inspection

Another way to have a truck camper checked is to schedule a pre-purchase inspection by a RV technician.  If there are no local RV dealerships, see if there’s a traveling RV technician in the area.  Traveling RV techs can often be found by talking to local campgrounds.  Either way, it’s highly advisable to have an RV tech perform a pre-purchase inspection on a used camper.

Tell the tech that you’re looking at buying a used camper and need a PDI (pre-delivery inspection) as well as a professional look over for any possible condition problems prior to the purchase.

For a couple hundred dollars, the RV tech will check the condition and function of every system.  When he/she is done, you will have confirmation of the overall condition of the unit and know about any hidden issues with the structure or components.

Tip Number 5: Plan On A Full Day of In-Person Inspections

Picking up a used truck camper is not a turn and burn.  You should have the better part of a day to perform all the inspections.  Preferably you would then spend the night to test everything out on location before proceeding back home with the camper.

Unless you live close to where the used camper is being sold, a return trip is to be avoided.  Far too many people rush a new or used truck camper purchase and wind up returning to the owner or dealer for something that could have been avoided.  Pack a change of clothes and some food.

Tip Number 6: What is a Used Truck Camper Worth?

We get a lot of questions about what used truck campers are worth.  How do dealers and consumers price their used campers?  What do they actually sell for?  How do you know what to pay for that used truck camper you want to buy?

Unfortunately, there are no good answers.  You can use NADA Guides to get a rough idea, but very few consumers or dealers go by their pricing.  The general consensus is that NADA’s used truck camper prices are low compared to what they’re actually worth and sell for.

To get a more accurate picture of what a used truck camper is worth, find similar used truck camper listings on dealer websites, RV classified websites, eBay, and Craigslist.  Making sure the price you pay is in line with what similar year, make, and model units are selling for on these websites.

In the end, a used truck camper is worth what someone will pay for it.  Due to the scarcity of used truck campers in good condition, they often command prices well beyond what you might expect.  That said, having evidence of what similar used truck campers are selling for can help you with your price negotiations.  Just don’t expect a bargain if a used camper is in good condition.

Bonus Tip: Perfection Is Not The Goal

The chance of finding a mint-condition truck camper that’s been immaculately maintained is extremely slim.  We do know of used truck campers that may actually be in better overall condition than when they were new (vigorously maintained, improved with modifications, garage kept) but these campers are very, very rare.

I have no doubt that there are more mint condition mid-1970s Porsche 911 cars available at any given time than mint-condition used truck campers.  Unless lightning strikes, take perfection off the table.

Next: How to Inspect A Used Truck Camper

For the next used camper article, How To Inspect A Used Truck Camper, we dive deep into exactly how to look at a used truck camper.  We cover the smell test, the inside job, getting pushy, looking out for delamination, roof walking, and more about screws and seals than you ever wanted to know.  Inspecting a used camper might be a big job, but it’s also the best way to ensure you get a dream used camper, and avoid a nightmare.


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