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How to Buy a Camper Trailer: a First-Time Buyer's Guide

July 22, 2016
How to Buy a Camper Trailer: a First-Time Buyer's Guide

There are so many reasons you might be considering buying a camper trailer.

You may be the new-to-camping type and love the outdoors, but not the roughing it part.

You might have been, like me, used to roughing it for years and now want some comfort in the great outdoors.

Or, perhaps you are downsizing from a larger 3-tonne caravan, back to a more manageable and flexible outdoor option.

Whatever your reasons, buying a camper trailer is not as difficult as it seems.

Setting a budget for your future camper trailer

The first thing you need to do is decide on your budget. Many would think that most camper trailers on the market are similar in price, but that is far from the mark. You can pick up a wonderful second-hand camper trailer for a few thousand dollars, or purchase absolute luxury at the top of most people’s camping budgets.

But whatever you have available to spend, I am sure that you will find your own piece of camping heaven.

So, what should we expect to get for our money?

Most new camper trailers come with standard features and as you add the accessories on top, so the price goes up. The sky really is the limit. And there is a massive price difference between soft floored, hard-floored, and tub caravans (like a Jayco Hawk) – often a difference of many thousands of dollars.

make sure you set up second hand camper trailers and inspect before purchasing

Find a bargain buying second hand

Second-hand trailers are usually lower in price, but campers don’t depreciate as quickly as cars do so the price difference might seem marginal. When looking at second-hand campers, make sure you check what the original owners have added to the camper to make it more useful or comfortable.

  • Did they put better beds in?

  • Did they upgrade the solar / hot water / suspension?

  • Are the tyres more conducive to off-road adventures than what is standard?

You might find that the owners put many thousands of unseen dollars into the van before selling it - a win for you, the buyer!

What type of camper trailer suits you?

So, now that the budget is sorted (or you at least have a rough idea), make yourself a list of “must haves” (such as a kitchen, awning, and electric brakes) and “would like to haves” (such as hot water service, outdoor shower, and queen-sized bed).

You should have an idea whether you want a hard-floor camper (these are either a permanent hard floor, such as a Jayco Swan, or a lift over hard-floor, such as the Mars Extremo Delux), or a soft-floor camper, such as the Mars Titan.

In general, soft floor campers are cheaper than their hard-floored cousins, although the occasional bargain can be found.

Then there are the tub floored campers, such as the Jayco Swan, which offer the luxury of a caravan but the flexibility of a camper trailer. The “Outback” series is an off-road version of their on-road campers.

What to look for buying a camper trailer online

So, what should you be looking for in a camper trailer? This is a hard question to answer, as everyone has different requirements for their outdoor experiences, but here are a few things we think you should be thinking about:

  • How many people will be likely using the camper? Will they all need beds (or will some be in their own swags/ tents outside, but using the caravan as a base)? Is there enough room in the camper for everyone to get out of the elements if required?

  • How important are the niceties that can come with campers? These items include:

    • Full kitchens
    • Hot water on demand
    • Outdoor showers (attached to the outside of the van)
    • Storage space for bags / clothes / food items / utensils
    • A large table for everyone to eat at
    • Microwave, fridge big enough for a few days worth of meals, freezer for that fish you just caught and want to take home –– the list goes on!

Pro tip: make sure, that if you omit something you consider to be a “we will add it later” item, you will be able to fit it to the camper. An item like a satellite dish doesn’t seem like too much of a hassle to attach later, but if there are already roof racks for the canoes and a couple of ventilation hatches in the wrong spot, it may not be as easy as once thought.

Tv antennas are a great addition to your camper bu you need to make sure you will have room for future installation

  • What car do you have as your tow vehicle? Is it up to the task of pulling a heavy camper trailer around Australia, or will you have to upgrade (or look for a lighter camper)? Look at the specifications of your tow vehicle and the tow bar attached, before deciding on the right camper for your needs.

  • Are you interested in going off road? If so, you might want to look at an off-road camper, one that is more up for the task than its on-road cousins.

  • Then there are the awnings and vestibules that can be attached to the camper to make its footprint bigger – you WILL want these! They come in either flyscreen or solid canvas (or similar products), and can be used in all weather situations, giving you more room to live in and protection from the elements or bugs.

Pro tip: Some camper tents have the option of purchasing an extra room for the footprint – something worth considering if you have a large family or lots of toys such as bikes and kayaks – out of sight, out of mind.

an awning is a must for anyone buying a camper trailer

If you are adverse to setting up and packing away a large tent, maybe a camper is not the right fit for you. Even with tub floor type vans, there is a significant amount of time to be allocated to these tasks, and to be honest, a few muscles are required too. It is a good idea to perhaps rent or borrow one before you choose this style of camping, to ensure it is the right type for you and your family.

Buying a new camper trailer vs. buying a second-hand model

So, you have decided to buy a new camper trailer. Where to now?

I strongly suggest you head to one of the Caravan and Camping shows, where the vast majority of caravan producers have their models on show. You can walk around the expo, looking at and comparing models and brands, and get a really good feel for what’s available for your price bracket. Many companies do incredible deals at these expo’s, so it’s well worth a trip.

Tip on buying a second-hand camper trailer

If you are in the market for a second-hand camper, it's still good to go to the above-mentioned expo’s and take a look at what’s on offer. You will get a good idea on what you are really interested in, making the search a lot smaller and more manageable when you hit the second-hand dealers. Also, online markets such as Outdoria have many new and used campers to choose from, making your search just that little bit easier.

Questions to ask the original owners

  • Where was it stored? Was it under cover or out in the elements?

  • Where was it purchased, and when?

  • Where was the majority of its use? (For example, did it do a big lap of Australia, or was it a weekender to local areas?) Looking under the camper will often give a good indication of a trailers use.

  • What did they add on to the camper as extras? Did they upgrade anything? What does it come with?

  • When was it last serviced? Is there a record of maintenance?

  • Look at the awnings. Are the zips in good working order? Is the Velcro still sticky?

  • Are there any rips in the canvas? Is there mould anywhere, or signs of wear on the canvas – look especially at the joints.

make sure you thoroughly inspect a second hand camper trailer   how to buy a camper trailer

  • Do the roof and tent extensions move freely making it easy for you to put up?

  • Are the poles good quality? I personally have had a trailer tent almost collapse on me in the middle of the night (a wind storm to rival most!) – but good poles saved our camping experience.

  • Is the kitchen in good working order? Is it easy to use? Is there mould in the fridge? Is the stove gas or electric (or both)? Is there enough storage for me to pack away things I need every day?

  • Does the camper have a hydraulic lift on it, so that I can access the trailer from the side, without having to crawl under the tent?

  • Is there a water tank, and how many litres is it? 60L is a minimum you should be looking for, taking into account water for drinking and cooking.

  • How long does it take to set the camper up and pack away? Get a demonstration of this – it will make things a lot easier when you have to do it for yourself.

  • Can I take it for a tow test? – similar to a road test for cars, where you take the van for a drive to see how it feels and behaves behind your tow car.

Finally, you have found the right camper for you and your family. Now all there is to do is set it up at home a few times before you head out (making sure you know all the ins and outs of the camper), and set off for your own adventures!

Images: Jayco.

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