Points to consider when buying a camper trailer

Take the stress out of buying a pre-loved camper trailer with our handy tips and hints.

If you are considering purchasing a camper trailer – new or used – these points are worth taking into consideration.

  • BALL WEIGHT: Make sure the camper you are interested in is of a suitable ball weight for your vehicle. Can you lift the front of the trailer? A situation may arise where you may have to unhook the trailer and turn it around in off-road conditions or just in the shed at home. A general rule of thumb is to have 10-15 percent of the trailer’s weight on the hitch.
     
  • BEARINGS: What sized bearings does the trailer have? Are they large enough to handle corrugated roads?  How often do I grease them? How do I inspect them for wear? Do I get spare bearings with the camper?
     
  • BATTERY: Does the camper have an on-board battery setup? What is the process of charging the battery? Do I need a battery-management system to control the charging from the vehicle? How long will the battery last? What type of batteries are used; heavy duty or deep cycle? What size cable do I need to charge the batteries in the camper? How long does it take to fully charge the battery? Is there a 12-volt trickle charge to the on-board battery via an Anderson plug when driving? What do I require from my vehicle to do this?
     
  • BED: What sort of bed does it have? Foam or inner sprung? What size is the mattress – double, queen? Will it suit my back? How far off the ground is the bed; will I be able to climb up into it? Are there plenty of mesh windows for ventilation on summer nights? Can I leave the bed made up when I close the camper? Can I get out of bed in the early mornings without disturbing my partner? Where do the kids sleep?
  • BRAKES: Hydraulic, mechanical, and electric. Each have their own merits, but in an off-road situation, trailer brakes controlled from an electric controller within the driver’s reach is a very handy item, especially on a downhill trail. Do I really need brakes? How do I adjust the shoes? What is the correct adjustment? Has it got a handbrake?
  • CANVAS: What weight canvas is the camper made from? Is it reinforced or double seamed? Do I have to ‘wet down’ the new canvas when I get home? Why do I have to wet it down?
     
  • CHASSIS: What is the chassis constructed of – rectangular hollow section (RHS) or angle? What wall thickness is the RHS? Has the trailer got a full chassis underneath it? Is the chassis painted or hot-dip galvanised?
  • COMPATIBILITY: Have a look at the weight of the camper. What is the axle weight? Has your vehicle the capacity to tow the camper? Will it be within the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended towing capacity?
     
  • COST: Probably the biggest issue for most is the cost in purchasing a camper trailer brand new. Have a look at the secondhand market. You could be lucky and find exactly what you want, in good condition and at the right price.
     
  • COUPLING: Do you require an off-road coupling for maximum articulation? Where will you be going? Will a standard ball coupling do the job?
     
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE: What sort of public relations has the manufacturer? Have they a list of satisfied customers you can contact? Do they have factory tours to view campers as they are being made? Do they answer your phone calls and emails promptly?
     
  • DUST PROTECTION: Check the dust sealing of the camper. A bed full of dust is not a great way to sleep at night. Check the rear tailgate seals. Will they keep out water if making deep river crossings? Are they vehicle-type rubber seals or glue-on rubber strips?
     
  • ELECTRICS: Does the camper come with a 240-volt electric system? Has it got a battery recharging system? Does the battery recharge automatically when I plug into a 240-volt supply? 
     
  • EXTRAS: Have a look at what extras are on offer. Extra water tanks and awnings, meshed gazebos, tropical double roof, outboard racks, boat racks/firewood racks or extra rooms, just to name a few. Can I get a deal on extras if I order with a new camper sooner rather than later?
     
  • FINISH: What choice of colours are there? Can I get the camper colour-coded to match my vehicle? Is hot-dip galvanizing an option?
     
  • FLOOR: What sort of floor does it have? A hard or soft floor? Is the floor off the ground? Will it get water in when it rains? Does the soft floor zip off? Do they have pre-cut indoor/outdoor carpet to fit?
     
  • FRIDGE: Does the camper have an on-board fridge? Is it two or three way? Can you carry a fridge on the drawbar or inside?
     
  • GAS BOTTLE: What size is it? Where is it mounted? Can I have a spare mounted there also? Is it protected from flying stones? On average, how long will the bottle last?
     
  • HINGES: Are the hinges strong enough? Can the doors/tailgate be removed?
     
  • INSURANCE: How much is insurance and what is covered? Is contents insurance included? Am I covered off road?
     
  • JERRY CAN RACKS: Can you carry extra fuel or water in jerries on racks in/on the camper? How many can you carry and where? Can I lock them?
     
  • JOCKEY WHEEL: What sort of jockey wheel has the camper got? Solid rubber or pneumatic? How do I set it up?
     
  • KITCHEN: Is the kitchen internal or external? Is there plenty of cover if it is raining? Do you have to erect the camper to access the kitchen? Can you have an easy lunch stop on the roadside? What size stove has it got?
     
  • LIGHTING: Does it have 12-volt lighting inside and/or outside the camper? Is there lighting over the kitchen area? Has the camper got cigarette lighter plug outlets so I can use my 12-volt lighting?
     
  • LOCKERS: Does it have side or front-mounted lockers for extra storage? Are they lockable? Are they dust and water proof?
     
  • LOCKABLE: Can I lock the trailer to prevent theft when parked?
     
  • PACKING UP: Can I throw the kids’ beds on top of the main bed without 'breaking them down'? Where do the tent poles, ropes, and pegs go? Does the awning need to be unzipped each time?
     
  • PLACES: Where do you intend to take your camper? Check the underneath clearance if you want to go on rugged 4WD tracks. What is the departure angle?
     
  • PLUG: What sort of wiring has the trailer plug got? How many pins are there?  Will you have to rewire the vehicle’s plug? Will they rewire it for me when I come to pick up the new trailer?
     
  • POWER: Does it have a 240-volt set up and power board? Does it have a 12-volt on-board power supply when the vehicle is not hooked up?
     
  • RACKS: Can you carry your boat, canoe, or push bikes on an optional rack that fits over the top of the trailer? Do you have to remove the boat to set up the camper, or can you simply swing it away? How much effort is involved (when on the road, you will have to do this each night)? 
     
  • REAR STABILISERS. Does it have rear stabiliser legs? What is involved in setting them up?
     
  • REAR VISION: Can I see over the top of the trailer in the rear-vision mirror when towing? Can I see down the sides? Do I need extended mirrors?
     
  • REGISTRATION: How much does it cost to register the camper? Does rego come with the deal?
     
  • RESCUE HOOKS: Does the camper have rear tow hooks?  A situation may arise that requires you to recover your trailer backwards. Where would you connect your shackles?
     
  • SCREENS: Are the screens 'midge' proof? Is a screen door standard?
     
  • SET UP: How long does it take to set up the camper? Does it require one or two people in setting up? Something that requires half-hour or more in setting up will take longer to pack up. What is involved in setting up a quick overnight camp? Do I need pegs and ropes?
     
  • SIZE: Is it of a size to suit your needs? Can I add an extra room as the family grows?
     
  • SOLAR: Does the camper have solar panels as extras? What size are they? How long will they extend my stay in the one place? Do I have to camp in full sun?
     
  • SPARES KIT: Have they got a spares kit on offer?
     
  • SPARE-WHEEL MOUNT: Does it have a spare-wheel mount? Is it accessible in all situations? Can I open the rear doors of my vehicle? If not, can I get an extended drawbar?
     
  • STONE PROTECTION: See what sort of protection is on offer to protect the front of the camper and, more importantly, stop rocks rebounding into the back of your vehicle and smashing a rear window on dirt roads. Has it got a shade cloth guard or a bar across the front of the trailer?
     
  • STORAGE: How can I gain access to my gear stored in the camper? Do boxes or draws slide out; the bed lift up? How much gear can I fit in? Has it got a spare gas bottle rack? What weight will it be loaded? Do I also need to load the rear of my vehicle?
     
  • SUSPENSION: There are coil, leaf, and rubber suspensions to choose from in various setups. Each has its own merits in their own situations: independent coil, heavy-duty leaf springs, solid axle with leaf springs and shock absorbers, and torsion bar suspension to mention a few.
     
  • TOWBAR: Check the recommended towing capacity of the tow bar. Is the ball weight or downward weight on the tow hitch within the limits set by the tow-bar manufacturer? If overweight, it could void your vehicle’s warranty. 
     
  • TRACK: Does the trailer have the same track as your vehicle? When towing in sand or mud, will the trailer sit in the tracks of your vehicle?
     
  • TRAVEL COVER: What is the travel cover made from? Is it a hardtop or a soft cover? Will the cover dust proof the canvas when travelling? How will it handle the harsh Aussie sun?
     
  • TYPE: Is it a fully devoted camper body or is the camper based on an off-road box trailer? Can I use the trailer for other things like taking waste to the tip? Does the camper open out to the rear or side?
     
  • WARRANTY: How long is the manufacturer's warranty? If necessary, where do I go for repairs? What sort of backup service do they have?
     
  • WATER/FUEL: Where is the water tank? Is it plastic, fibreglass, or stainless steel? Has it got a gauge? Has it got a stone guard? Can the filler lid be locked? Has it got a hand or electric pump or, better still, both? It is a good idea not to have all your water in the one tank in case of a leak.
     
  • WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION: Does the rear of the vehicle sag when hitched up? Is the drawbar overloaded? You may require towing aids such as Polyairs, uprated suspension, or adjustable shocks.
     
  • WHEELS: Do I have a choice of tyres? Can I get the same tyres I have on my vehicle? It is a good idea to have the same wheel/tyre combination as your vehicle if travelling to remote places? With two spares, a good tyre repair kit, and a pump, you can get yourself out of trouble and on the road again.
     
  • WINDOWS: How big are the windows? Can I have extra-large windows made when I order? Are they big enough to allow a breeze through for summer sleeping? What size mesh is used? Will they keep out sandflies? Can you get clear covers for when it's raining? Do the awnings keep out the rain?
     
  • ZIPS: What brand zips are used? Do they look as if they are up to the wear and tear they will likely receive?

Carefully considering all camper trailer options will ensure you purchase the correct trailer for you.

When buying a pre-loved camper…

OWNERSHIP: Unfortunately, camper trailers are sometime stolen and resold. Please make sure the VIN, chassis, and registration numbers match with those on the registration papers. A new VIN plate could be cause for alarm.

SUSPENSION: Check for…

  • Buckled rims.                    
  • Bent axle: Stand back behind the trailer and check the wheels are upright and the tyres for uneven wear.
  • Broken leaf on suspension.
  • Drum brakes can be in any condition. The pads could be worn out and the hub may need machining, especially when used on the dusty/muddy roads of the outback.
  • Tyres age – old and cracked tyres are dangerous towing at high speeds and may cause a failure. Tyre experts are now advising against the use of tyres that are more than six years old, due to the effects of ageing.
  • Check shock absorbers for oil leaks.
  • Ask when the bearings were last greased/replaced/checked (self or workshop). Are there receipts?
  • Ask when were the brakes last serviced. Are they electric or override?


CANVAS: Canvas becomes very stiff/dry and loses its water-resistant qualities when not used. Someone who regularly uses their camper is more likely to keep the maintenance up, so it will most likely be in good condition. So, check:

  • Seams for stress and stitch fraying.
  • Canvas folds for fray and wear.
  • Eyelets on tent section and awning for stress.
  • Condition of zips.
  • Mold on canvas.

Checking the camper trailer thoroughly before purchasing will ensure there are no nasty surprises down the track.

BODY

  • Check for loose rivets.
  • Check chassis for cracked welds and components.
  • Check electrical trailer plug for compatibility to your vehicle.
  • Check tow height of hitch.

GAS

  • Check 10-year inspection date on bottle.
  • Check rubber gas hoses for deterioration.
  • Broken parts on stove.

GENERAL: How often was the camper trailer used? A camper that is hardly used is probably in worse condition, as rot starts to set in and tyres break down and develop flat spots, which lead to blowouts.

 

This article was republished with the permission of www.campertrailers.org – a source for unbiased information on all things camper trailers.

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1 comment on “Points to consider when buying a camper trailer”

  1. kyle

    26 May 2017 at 9:58 am

    I knew nothing about camper trailers before reading this article. It was interesting to read that a camper trailer should have a fridge for your belongings. I hope this article can help us to know what RV we should look into renting on our next family road trip.

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