What To Look For When Buying A Used RV Trailer Or Fifth Wheel

rv-trailer-shopping.jpg Shiny and new would be great, but they don’t stay that way for long and the depreciation is rapid and heavy.

A used travel trailer or 5th wheel RV can save you a large percentage from the expense of buying new, while still providing you with a good alternative.

Maybe your budget is more in line with a small weekend sized rig, but you really want roomy and spacious so you can live full-time at least part of the year on board.

Whether on the road, or set up on a lake lot at an RV resort, you can get more bang for your buck if you consider a used RV trailer.

Determining whether a particular RV trailer is a good investment or not is much easier than deciding if a motorhome is a good candidate or not.

Without an engine and drive train to be concerned about, the chance of a major defect coming to light after the sale is much less likely with travel trailers and 5th wheels.

Mechanical Things To Look For


Road safety should always be the first and most important concern when inspecting a used recreational vehicle.

Be prepared to crawl under any RV trailer you’re considering in order to determine what condition the frame is in.  A badly rusted frame indicates the foundation that supports your getaway structure isn’t sound and may give way at some time in the future.  Cracks, broken welds, impact damage — all are reasons to move on to another used RV trailer.

Tires, wheels and axles are your next concern.  Unless the current owner can assure you that the tires are less than 5 years old (even if they look perfect or have hardly been driven), expect to replace them.  Ultraviolet rays from the sun have created tire rot and tire failure is eminent.  A blowout at highway speeds can be compounded by rapid failure of more than one tire at a time.  It’s best to budget for tire replacement right from the start.

Having the wheel bearings inspected and repacked, as well as the electric brake system checked, should be part of the first order of business when you take ownership of any used RV trailer.

The good news is once you’ve reached this point, the trailer is mechanically safe to travel the road.  See… this process is much less complicated and less expensive than what is required when purchasing a used motorhome.

Structural Things To Look For

inspecting-a-used-rv-trailer.jpg A quick walk-through inside the trailer will identify structural problems.

  • Are there leak stains on the ceilings?
  • Are there any soft spots in the floor?
  • Is the entry door working smoothly?

The exterior concerns would be:

  • Separation or peeling of the fiberglass side walls (an item too costly to repair).
  • With aluminum siding, are there any loose panels, or physical damage?
  • Damaged windows can be costly… Do they open properly?  Is their mechanism in good operating condition?

Interior Appliances & Accessories

interior-of-like-new-rv-trailer.jpg With all the structural issues confirmed to be okay, we move on to appliances and accessories.  The most important would be the refrigerator.  Large refrigerators can cost $2,000 or more.  Repairs can be almost as expensive, quickly reaching the point where replacing it is more budget-friendly than repairing it.

Always make sure the sale is pending verification that the refrigerator works properly. Lack of cooling isn’t the only concern.  If the temperature regulation is not functioning, it will freeze your beer as well as your fruits and vegetables.

The refrigerator is one of the most expensive features that could be considered a deal breaker, if not in good working order.  The remaining appliances and fixtures will cost you hundreds — rather than thousands — to replace or repair.  How picky you want to be depends on the RV’s overall condition and how good of a deal you’re able to make.

Other things to look for inside the RV:

  • Is the interior outdated?
  • Are the windows and curtains in good working order?
  • How are the floors?

This was the situation when we bought a 1995 35-foot fifth wheel to live in full time a couple of years ago…  The interior was completely worn.   But you can completely remodel and freshen up the RV with new flooring, carpeting, and curtains throughout.

We even went so far as to wallpaper some walls and paint others.  We removed the dinette and did away with the built-in sofa.  When we were done, we had a kitchen table and chairs for two, a new sofa, and we even found room for a small chest freezer.  My wife loved it because now the 2 main floor slide-outs could be rearranged at will.  Nothing was permanently mounted — giving us more of an apartment feel.

In the end, if you’re looking for the most square feet at the lowest cost, then buying a used RV trailer or fifth wheel trailer should definitely be a consideration.  With a little work, you can make it your own.  And in many ways, it will probaby be better than what would find in a new RV!


Curtis Carper

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

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  • fundone

    Hi Curtis,
    I have a 2007 Cardinal w/four slides and upon returning to N.Y. from Florida I noticed a crack between the bed slide and the storage comp. I reported the damage to the insurance company as I was on a section of road between Olean N.Y. and Salamanca N.Y. that was so bad I thought my whole rig was going to come apart. There were no exits for about 17 miles and I didn’t dare drive below 45 miles, hence the claim to the insurance company. My unit is at Camping World for an estimate and they have requested that an adjuster look at it. In your opinion, what do you think I can expect to happen? Is this a common problem with 5th wheel campers? Besides the crack the shower side walls have lost the bond and have come loose. A more complete inspection is surly in order. As your report suggests the repair of this type may be to costly to repair. What a shame. I suppose a perminate site is it’s saving grace if that is it’s fate. Thanks for the site and the valuable info.

    • Curtis

      fundone, Sadly, due to lightweight construction, cracking and sagging/alignment problems are becoming more common with RVs equipped with slideouts. I tend to believe your insurance company will treat you fairly. Based on my own experience with State Farm, when my motorhome was vandalized they covered the damage very well. There’s a huge trade-off for the space and comfort provided by slideouts. You loose rigidity and the flexing can lead to all kinds of problems. That’s why I will never buy another RV with slideouts.

  • Teacher Man

    I want to buy a really cheap travel trailer, like under $2000, and remodel it. What should I look for and what should I turn away from? I’m new to this, so please forgive my not knowing the vocabulary. I’m assuming a rusty, bent chasis (or is it called trailer?) and problems with the siding and interior walls should deter me. What do you think? If this isn’t the appropriate forum for this question, could you tell me where I should ask?

    • Curtis

      Teacher Man, Any sign of a water leak is a deal breaker. If water gets in through a roof seam, around a window, or through faulty siding, it will rot the structure. This could be a common problem for RV’s on the low end of the price scale. Inspect thoroughly looking for soft spots on the floor too.
      Stains on the walls, water is the number one killer of value.

      • Teacher Man

        Thanks, Curtis. Whatever we get, we’ll probably replace the walls, but we don’t want to replace the 2″x4″ framing. Otherwise, what are we buying? We might as well build a trailer. But I’m guessing if we see any signs of water damage we can assume the framing is rotting too? That you know of, is there a forum for people who want to refurbish trailers? Thanks again.