What To Look For In A Used Travel Trailer And How To Get The Best Deal


You are in the market for a used travel trailer; however, due to the large number of online platforms available for selling previously owned items, it can be difficult to know if you are getting a good deal or not. With so many things to consider, you may be wondering what you should look for in a used travel trailer to avoid buyer’s remorse.

To avoid buyer’s remorse, it is important that you thoroughly inspect the trailer inside and out, paying extra attention to the roof and structure of the trailer. In some states, travel trailers are required to be titled. Be sure all paperwork is in order before you hand over your money.  

If you are wondering what to look for in a used travel trailer and how to get the best deal to avoid buyer’s remorse, continue reading this guide for information that will help you find the travel trailer of your dreams. 

If you want a video walk through of how to properly inspect a used travel trailer when purchasing it and how to get the best deal, check out our course here. We cover all of the topics below and more in-depth in a video format. This course has saved our users thousands!

Motivations and Goals

Before you get all excited and purchase the first travel trailer you come across, slow down and make a list. It is important to clearly lay out your motivations and goals for purchasing a travel trailer. 

There are many reasons people purchase travel trailers because they can be used for many different things. The following list will give you some examples of questions to ask yourself and ideas for why people use travel trailers: 

  • Are you ready to retire and travel from state to state, see all the beautiful sights, and meet lots of interesting people? 
  • Do you plan on living the RV lifestyle in your travel trailer full-time?
  • Do you want a travel trailer that needs to be fully gutted and renovated? 
  • Do you want a travel trailer that only needs a little TLC or cosmetic work to make it your own? 
  • Do you want a vintage-style travel trailer or a more modern, updated version? 
  • Do you want to camp in the pure wilderness or at a spot with water and electricity hookups? 
  • Do you want to park it in a permanent camping spot? 
  • Do you want to get into the business of flipping travel trailers? 
  • Do you want a cute little hang-out spot on your property where you can make a he/she shed or perhaps a quaint little guest house? 
  • Do you want to create a cute little pool house/changing spot for your guests when they come to enjoy your outdoor spaces? 
  • Do you want to live the life of a minimalist and wish to live in a tiny home? 
  • Do you want something turn-key that is ready to go without the hassle of completing projects? 

The possibilities are endless. Whatever you imagine can be turned into reality if you have the right: 

  • Motivation 
  • Skills 
  • Finances to make it happen 

Take your time and make a plan of what you want to do before you get yourself in a pickle by purchasing something that isn’t right for you and your situation. 

Warning – Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

A larger reason that many travel trailers end up for sale is that people get a grand idea in their head that they are going to renovate or flip a travel trailer only to find out that it can be quite a lot of work and at times can be expensive. 

It is important that you are honest with yourself and consider your level of skill and financial comfort level before taking on a major renovation project such as a travel trailer. 

What to Look For In a Used Travel Trailer

You may be wondering what you should look for when you are buying a pre-owned RV. This section will go into detail about what to look for and things you should avoid. 

Remember to keep the things on your motivation list in the back of your mind, as you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.

However, if you are a skilled and confident do-it-yourselfer, then keep your eyes open for things that may look bad on the surface but can be fixed if an individual has the correct set of skills in which to do so. 

The next section will provide a list in more detail as to what you should look for when considering the purchase of a used travel trailer. 

Air Conditioning and Heat

Depending upon the year of the travel trailer, it may not have air conditioning. However, most travel trailers, even the vintage models, typically have heat that is run off of gas or electricity. Older models are typically run on propane gas, as are most of their appliances. 

Appliances and Other Fixtures

If the travel trailer you are looking at has any of the following items, it is important to see that they work, and if they do not, try to see if it is something you are willing or able to fix. 

  • Microwave
  • Refrigerator
  • Shower
  • Sink
  • Stove
  • Toilet

All of the items listed above make your camping experience much more comfortable, so don’t discount them.

Electrical

This is important, especially when purchasing a vintage travel trailer. Older wiring can sometimes become worn out or have places where mice have chewed on it. Many of the older models cannot support newer appliances and other electrical devices because the wiring is out of date. 

Many travel trailers also have an inverter box in which you can hook a car battery up and switch from AC to DC and vise versa. It is important to check and see that the inverter is working properly. An inverter box is handy if you decide to camp where there are no electrical outlets to plug into. 

Floor

Obviously, this is also a big one. You don’t want to walk into your newly purchased travel trailer and have a leg go through the floor. Be sure to walk on every inch of the floor and even give it a little bounce to see if the floor bows or has any weak spots that need to be addressed, spend extra time evaluating the bathroom floors to see if moisture has caused any damage, this is very common.  

Frame and Overall Structure

This part can sometimes get a little messy because to properly inspect the frame and overall structure of the travel trailer, you will need to get down on the ground to thoroughly look the underside over. 

You will want to look for areas that are rusty and any areas where the structure has separated from the actual frame. Check the walls and corners to be sure that they are securely fastened. 

With vintage travel trailers, they tend to separate at the corners of the walls and will eventually cave in if not maintained properly. Unless you are a skilled carpenter or confident do-it-yourselfer, stay away from travel trailers that have major structural issues or damage. 

Gas

As previously mentioned, many travel trailers, vintage and modern, use propane gas as an extra source of energy. 

It is important to check that all of the gas hookups and lines are in safe working condition. You don’t want to go to sleep and not wake up because there was a leak that could have been fixed. 

Plumbing

Not every travel trailer has plumbing, but it is safe to say that the majority of them at least have a sink and holding tank for fresh water. 

Whatever the case may be for the particular travel trailer you are interested in, be sure to check any holding tanks for leaks. Check the water and sewer tanks, lines, and pipes, if there are any. 

Some fancier travel trailers even offer hot water, so be sure to check the water heater. You also need to see if it is operated with gas, electricity, or both. 

Roof

This is probably the most important thing to inspect when looking at a used travel trailer. If you are fortunate enough to find a travel trailer that was manufactured before the 1990s, you are lucky because prior to the 1990s, manufacturers used metal roofing on travel trailers. 

Once the 90s rolled around and newer technology was born, companies started using an EDPM Polymer material with a rubber-like consistency that was finally approved for commercial use. 

Here is where your problems begin. Travel trailers with “rubber” roofs are known for having major issues with leaking. The problem is that these “rubber” roofs are constantly exposed to the sun and other harsh weather elements.  

The exposure to these elements causes the rubber material to become dry, shrink and crack, which eventually allows water to seep in. 

Before you know it, you have a big leak on your hand every time it rains, which begins to cause more water damage and, in many cases, also leads to issues with mold and mildew. 

If at all possible, avoid a travel trailer with a rubber roof or at the very least be sure it is newer and in excellent condition. The material to replace the roof is not inexpensive, nor is the cost of the labor for a professional to repair it.  

If you are looking at a travel trailer that has a metal roof, the main thing to check for, again, is previous water damage and leaks. Check all of the seams and edges where the roof meets the exterior walls to be sure they are securely fastened and there are no gaps. Repairing a travel trailer with a metal roof is much more simple and less painful on your wallet. 

Screens and Windows 

It may not seem like a major thing to worry about. However, if you take your new travel trailer camping and want to get some fresh air without a barrage of mosquitos attacking you, it’s a good thing to check. 

Some older travel trailers have crank-style windows that get stuck closed, and they may need repairing or replacing. You also want to be sure none of the windows are leaking. That is another source that can cause water damage, mold, and mildew. 

Siding

Look over the exterior walls thoroughly to be sure there are no gaps or open seams where water or unwanted drafts can enter. 

Size Matters

Be sure that you own a tow vehicle that is equipped to pull a travel trailer of the weight you are considering. It is important to know what your tow capacity is before you end up buying a huge fifth-wheel travel trailer only to realize that you are driving a Ford Ranger™ that isn’t rated to safely pull that much weight. 

You don’t want to have to buy a new vehicle just to pull your used travel trailer. If at all possible, it is also a good idea to hook the trailer that you are considering purchasing and tow it around the area a little to see how it feels behind your vehicle. 

This will also allow you to listen for any sounds or see any problems that may have otherwise been hidden while sitting stationary. 

Slide-outs

For the travel trailers that come with slide-outs, it is important to check the mechanisms that allow them to pop out and retract back into place. 

Some slide-outs are manual, and some are hooked to a switch that works off of the power inverter from the battery. Check for leaks with the slide-out is open, this is a common issue in used travel trailers.

Water damage

Checking for water damage is imperative when purchasing a used travel trailer. If water has leaked into the trailer, there is potential for rotten wood. This issue leads to structural issues and also the danger of breathing in mold and mildew, which is a health hazard.

Wheels and Tires

Check with the seller before making a long trip to check out your used travel trailer. Ask them if the wheels and tires are road-worthy. 

Many times, especially when purchasing older vintage travel trailers, the tires will be dry-rotted and/or flat. 

Sometimes you can air flat tires up, and they will be ok long enough to make it home, but you don’t want to take the risk of having a major blow-out and accident while taking it home. It is always good to check first and keep a spare wheel and tire in case of an issue.  

Miscellaneous Items You May Need

The following items are commonly overlooked when purchasing a recreational vehicle. 

  • Generator for times when you can’t plug into a campsite’s electricity or when you don’t want to use propane gas
  • Heavy-duty extension cord and adapter plug for hooking to sites with electricity
  • Water hose for hooking up to the exterior spigot

The next section talks about how popularity affects the price of travel trailers. 

Trends Push Prices Through The Roof

We are living smack dab in the middle of the tiny house movement, and do-it-yourselfers have caused a surge in the popularity of travel trailers which makes them a hot commodity. 

What happens when something becomes trendy? The price goes up. Thanks to HGTV™ and the many other lifestyle/home improvement shows, it doesn’t look like prices will be dropping any time soon. 

This makes finding a good deal even more difficult, but if you keep reading the tips in this guide, you may be able to avoid some costly mistakes and come out on the winning side of things. 

Getting the Best Bang for Your Buck

Many times you can negotiate down on the price a lot if there is damage because the person who is selling it does not want to spend the time and money fixing it, and you can play on that emotion and get a good deal. 

Don’t be insulting and low-ball the seller. However, if you know you are going to have to put a lot of time and money into the project, it is fair to try and get a lower price than what is being asked. 

Comparison Shopping

Another way to know if you are getting a good deal or not is to do some comparison shopping. Look at what other travel trailers in the surrounding area are being listed and sold for; this way, you will know if you are paying too much. 

If you go into a potential sale without any knowledge about travel trailers or what they are worth, you are likely to get hoodwinked by a savvy seller who can spot a newbie from over a mile away. 

Your best defense is knowledge. Having a firm grip on the following things will put you in control of the sale:

  • First: Know what you want
  • Second: Know what to look for
  • Third: Know your skill level
  • Lastly: Know your budget and be prepared to negotiate

Knowing all of those things before you begin the search for a used RV trailer will put you in the driver’s seat of the sale and on your way to fulfilling your dreams, whatever they may be. 

The next section will go into detail on other ways to get the best deal on a used travel trailer. 

Other Ways to Get the Best Deal

The following list will go into more detail on how to shop for and get the best deal on a used travel trailer for you and everyone to enjoy. 

Check the Fine Print – Know What They are Selling

If you are thinking of purchasing your used camper trailer through an RV dealer, be sure that you are clear on what the asking price is actually covering. 

For example, one RV manufacturer may have a travel trailer on sale for $10,000, and the one across the street may be selling the same one for 12,000. However, you need to see why those prices are different. 

Although one may seem more expensive than the other, the higher price may include some additional perks or fees such as:

  • Off-season storage options
  • Options for generators and other appliances
  • Yearly maintenance/winterization
  • Or possible warranty 

Go for Gently Used 

If you are looking for a newer model with more modern amenities, search for gently used travel trailers that are only three to five years old. 

It has been said that most recreational vehicles such as a travel trailer are traded in around every three years or so. Mostly because people’s lives change: 

  • They have had another child and need more room 
  • They just like to upgrade every few years 

Either way, you can get some really nice travel trailers that look new but don’t hurt the wallet as a new model would. 

Make Them Fight for Your Business

If you are purchasing through a dealership, let them know that you are also looking at other dealerships and get them to fight for your business. 

To get the best deal, you need to make them think you are going to walk out the door and give someone else your money. 

Don’t let them know how badly you want the travel trailer. Make them think that you could take it or leave it without a care. If you want to win, you have to play the game; the negotiation game, that is. 

Think Outside of the Metaphorical Box

When you are looking for a used travel trailer, you need to think outside of the box, metaphorically speaking. Get out of your local area and really search the whole country. 

Of course, keep your budget in mind. If you cannot afford to drive from New York State to California to pick up a used travel trailer, then obviously narrow your search to an area that is more feasible for you. 

Some of the following online platforms are great ways of searching for a used travel trailer: 

  • Craigslist™
  • E-Bay™
  • Facebook Marketplace™
  • Let-Go™
  • Mercari™
  • OfferUp™

While this list is not all-inclusive, it gives you a great place to start. One of the best and sometimes the most fun ways to find a used travel trailer is to simply take a drive and see what you can find. 

You will be shocked at how many people have old travel trailers just sitting behind their homes or in an old barn somewhere. 

Oftentimes, the owner may not have been thinking of selling it, but when someone comes to their door with cash in their hand, it can be hard to resist. You can end up finding a diamond in the rough when you least expect it just by driving around your local area. 

Weigh Your Options

Don’t get too excited and just buy the very first travel trailer you come across unless you just really love it and don’t want anything else. After all, sometimes you “just know” when something is right or not. 

Take your time and look at as many travel trailers as you can. Doing this will give you a better idea of what you like and dislike and what you are capable of taking care of, etc. 

The next section will discuss the best time of the year to purchase a used travel trailer. 

The Best Time of The Year To Buy

You may be wondering when the best time to buy a travel trailer may be. The following list will enlighten you on that subject: 

  • When a newer version is released from the manufacturer. When a newer model becomes available, people will want to upgrade, and you stand a pretty good chance of getting a good deal on their old travel trailer model. 
  • At the end of the season. It’s the end of the season, and people may not be thinking of upgrading to a newer model and don’t want to store their old model over the winter. This is a great time to snatch up that travel trailer while they are out of the camping mood. 

The next section will discuss the best way to know your style. 

The Ultimate Way to Know Your Style

When you are at a crossroads, the best way to determine the style and options that you want in a used travel trailer is to rent different brands and styles to see what suits you the best. Take a few weekend trips and really put them all to the test. 

Once you have tried out a few different styles, you will definitely know what is most important to you, and you will be able to make an educated decision that will leave you with a smile on your face and hopefully some money leftover in your wallet. 

Brands Make a Difference

According to reviews, some brands of travel trailers are superior to others for many reasons. Although there is not enough space to provide a full pros and cons list, the following brands have been given less than stellar reviews by those who have used these travel trailers. 

  • Coachman™
  • Fleetwood™
  • Jayco™
  • Keystone™
  • Winnebago™

Although these brands are commonly known due to expert marketing and advertising, they have lost popularity in their reviews because of quality and safety issues reported by users. 

The brands on this list are favorites among those who are familiar with the travel trailer experience: 

  • Airstream™
  • Forest River RV™
  • Lance™
  • Shasta™
  • Starcraft™

The brands on this list are all known for exceptional quality and attention to detail. They are designed for the true traveler in mind. 

Common Sense and Patience Will Get the Best Deal

As you can see, a little bit of common sense and patience will allow you to make an educated decision when purchasing a used travel trailer. Pay attention to details, ask lots of questions and have fun with the process. Before you know it, you will be living your dreams. Happy camping!

Get MORE out of The Savvy Campers Directly to your Inbox!

Be the first to be notified about FREE tips, hints, coupon codes, and email-exclusive information. All for FREE!

Eric

I have been camping most of my adult life and am passionate about having the best camping equipment as well as writing. Combine these two items and you have our site.

Recent Posts

Free RV Inspection Cheat Sheet

Join our Newsletter to stay up to date on the latest RV topics and receive our FREE RV Inspection Cheat Sheet Today. Use this tool to inspect new or used campers you are looking at purchasing.

50% off Travel Trailer Inspection Secrets Course