Last month I wrote an article on two interesting new pop-up tent trailers (see Pop-up Tent Trailers) that has proven to be one of the more popular posts, here on CampingBlogger. Tent trailers are popular camping solutions for families because they provide a lot of bed space in a compact area. Tent trailers can usually be stored at home, which saves several hundred dollars a month in storage fees. Many tent trailers weigh less than 2,000 pounds, which means they are towable behind most family vehicles.
Buying a used tent trailer is a lot like buying a used car. The “sweet spot” is a lightly used, three year old model that is still in like-new condition, but has depreciated enough to offer a significant savings over a comparable new model. A quick search on Google™ for ‘craigslist 2006 tent trailer’ yielded three different models listed for $6,500 to $6,995 that I’m sure can be had for closer to $5,000. That is less than half of what these models would sell for, new. Can you go older than three years? You can, but I think you will find that the price does not drop significantly, unless the tent trailer needs a lot of work.
What to look for
The first thing to look for, when evaluating the condition of a tent trailer, is also the easiest to find: mold and mildew. The musty smell should be prevalent as soon as you step inside the unit but, if it is not, be sure to inspect all of the tent material anyway. The trailer may be spotless and shiny new, but the tent canvas will tell the real story of how well, or poorly, the owners took care of it.
If the canvas passes muster, then it’s time to move on to the appliances. This is a tricky area to catch problems in, because the appliances operate off multiple power sources, and you have to test each one. We have some friends that recently purchased a pop-up tent trailer and, months later, discovered that their refrigerator only worked on AC power. They are looking at a $300 repair bill.
Once you’ve checked out all the appliances, it’s time to run the sink for a few minutes, flush the toilet (if equipped with a holding tank) a few times, then crawl under the trailer and look for any leaks. Also, look for any significant rust (light surface rust may be normal, depending on your area) and any noticeable signs of damage. Finish up with a close inspection of the tires.
The tread should be fine, since the owners are probably selling it because they rarely used it, but look for uneven wear, which could indicate a bent or misaligned axle. A more common problem is UV damage in the sidewalls of the tires. Tires have a finite life of about five years, so even on a three-year-old trailer the tires may be nearing the end of their serviceable life.
At this point, you should have a good feel for the overall condition of the tent trailer. More than likely the owners are selling because they rarely used it, so any problems that you find are likely to be from lack of use, rather than use. Try to find several trailers that you like, before you make any offers. That way, you won’t be disappointed if your offer gets turned down – just go on to the next one!
For a 3 year old pop up camper (IMO, tent trailers have tent roofs and pop ups have hard roofs ☺), the cause of mold and mildew would most likely be from closing up the camper with wet canvas and storing it that way. If you open It back up when you get home until it dries, then put it away for storage, no mold will develop. However, in an older camper, mold causes would also include leaks, mainly from the roof and front storage trunk if equipped, and should be THE FIRST thing to inspect when buying used. A good checklist when buying used can be found here: http://www.title-3.com/BuyUsed.htm. Another awesome resource is PopupPortal.com
A tip for searching Craigslist for pop ups: Since pop up campers are known by many terms, be sure to search using the different terms. Terms would be pop up, pop-up, popup, tent, trailer, folding, camper, expandable and similar terms.
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I am looking to buy a pop up trailor that is in excellent condition I have a 5 yr old autistic son who wants to go camping I took him once and he had the time of his life. I want to take him as much as possible but I can’t afford to buy a new pop up I’m hoping someone has one under 1000.00 in calif.
Perfect article. We owned a 34′ travel trailer a few years ago and sold it along with my diesel truck to cut expenses. We’ve been itching to get back into camping, but on a smaller scale and I think a pop-up or one of the new small/light trailers would fit the bill.
Will definitely be buying used, as I’m someone that bought new and took the huge hit when I resold. I’m definitely all for letting someone else do that.
I know for travel trailers, checking tire condition is real important too as some just sit in the sun, bake and crack. Guessing this is important for a pop-up as well, but not positive given the lighter weight.
Also, what are your thoughts on buying used trailer hitches? I know many used trailers come with the hitch. Are they safe or is it better to just buy new?
Nice blog, definitely becoming a subscriber.
Hi, I’v got my eye on a 1970 Starcraft Stardust 8. It’s in excellent condition and it passes all of your requirements. How much would a trailer like this go for? It has new brakes and tires. no AC, no water heater, just a sink, 3 burners, water pump. very basic. Thanks let me know what you think.
I’m located in Kent, OH. It is a 2001 Kamparoo Cub. I’d gladly send you some pics. It is a base model with no frills, but it as been kept in the garage and only used a dozen times or so over the years. I open it a couple times a year and air it out. My father got it from Kamparoo b/c they wanted him to test it and write about it in a magazine he founded formerly called “Pop up times.” I just don’t use it enough and I have two small children. We were thinking of maybe hanging onto it, but I’m afraid it would be under utilized. Let me know if you’re still interested and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org… I check that very often.
Rick…if you’re still looking, I’m thinking of selling my Kamparoo tent trailer that I had imported from Australia. In great condition…double bed with fold out hard floor on the other side (700 lbs. total weight).
Hey Andrew, very interested in purchasing a Kamperoo. Where are you located? Is it a Weekender or a Vacationer model? How long have you owned it? Why are you selling?
Is that any chance if i buy used tent trailer in a portable pack, so i’ll assemble it by my self, i mean a very small portable pack
Those are too big and heavy for a motorcycle, Rick. Have a look at Lees-ure Lite (www.leesurelite.com). Good luck!
I am looking for a new or used tent trailer that can be pulled by a motorcycle. Is the “Go” or the “Switchback” able to be pulled by a motorcycle? Do you have any used ones?