What should I look for in a used tent trailer?

Valerie Noronha

I'm looking to purchase a used tent trailer for a summer vacation to Yellowstone, Spokane and the Oregon Coastline. We are a family of 5 (2 adults, 2 teens, and a 7-year-old) and will be towing it with a Honda Pilot. My DH said we need to restrict our total towing capacity to 3,500 lbs. If possible, we'd like to put a hitch on it so we can attach our 4-bike bike rack. I'd don't want to spend more than $4-5K max. though will if we need to to get the features we want.

Given that, what features are must haves, nice to have, or don't need.

I'm leaning towards the ones with the front storage compartments as we'll be heading into bear country and I don't want to have to store all our gear/food/etc. in the Pilot since we'll need that space for compfortable seating.

What should I look out for when we are looking at used trailers?

What is a cassette toilet? Some mention a Porta-Potty others a cassette toilet.

Is the shower any good? Does anyone use an outdoor shower at a campground or is that more for wilderness camping?

How much propane/water storage capacity do I need?

What type of batteries and/or generator?

What are the best brands? I'm thinking Coleman or Fleetwood.

How old should it be for my price range? Many on my CL are in the 2000, 2001 range. I didn't feel comfortable going older than that.

How do I determine what is a fair price? Every ad I see seems to list a different make, model, year or options so it's hard to compare one with another.

Is it worth it to go with a dealer or better to find something on Criagslist?


Comments (5)
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First off--do not go to bear country in a tent trailer! If you do, the bears will have you in for dinner! In their tummies!
Second: buying a used tent trailer will certainly insure that the roof lifting cables will break on the third night out, in a driving rainstorm, and 75 miles from the nearest motel! Or, an un-greased wheel will go flying off into the boondocks, never to be seen again!
Third: If your hubby is mechanically inclined, a used trailer might hold up ok, but if it breaks down 278 miles from home, or 50 miles from the nearest repair shop--who ya gonna call, especially if an un-greased wheel bearing suddenly goes dry and twists off the end of the axle?
Fourth: The canvas on a used tent trailer will usually leak like a seive the first time it rains! And the second, and the third! On and on!
Fifth: A Porta-potty is a neat little bundle of joy you take along! We had one for one trip! Next trip, i parked in walking distance of the campground bathrooms/ terlets, showers! I could never get excited by carrying 5 gallons of sloshing poo, because somebody (read that everybody in family except one, were too lazy to walk to the camp bathroom!) And, dumping it--oh, my, what an exciting experience! Does something to yer ego!
Sixth: Use the campground showers! If they are a bit too cozy for ya, wait until it rains real hard, and scamper about outside in the rain, whooping like a banshee! Won't take long until the cops show up for the best show in camp!
Seventh: DO NOT TAKE A GENERATOR! Best way to get the other campers mad at ya! Take lots of flashlights and batteries to fit them! And, learn how to see in the dark! It can be done! Use a coleman gasoline lantern. They will light up the place enough, just one, to be seen from outer space! And, they DON'T blow up, unless you do something dumb with it, like laying it in your bed to warm it up, or trying to fry eggs on the lid!
I'd suggest buying a new trailer! That way, if anything happens on the trip, you won't feel too bad, but if ya buy a used one, and haven't had it thoroughly looked at by somebody besides the cutsey girls next door, the new trailer will give ya piece of mind on yer trip! And, the canvas won't leak, the tires won't blow out, and the roof will open in a driving rainstorm, or even after the rain stops!
This all comes to you from the fertile, experienced mind of Rusty Jones, who has been there, done that, and who finally ditched it all and bought a travel trailer, with the requisite of parking it, opening the door, getting in, sitting down, and waiting for my wife to cook dinner, on her gas stove/oven,with cold and hot water! Also, an inside bathroom and sit down commode (Flush type)Which you will learn to appreciate, as you view some of the campgrounds bathrooms! Have fun!!

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I bought our used tent trailer last June (2008) and we love it. We found it on craigslist, and for us it was a good experience. We wanted a camping trailer that would fit in our garage, so a big travel trailer was not an option. Here's what I learned:

- A good used tent trailer is clean, free of mold, and the wood around the sink area is not swollen with water damage. No smoke/dog/food odors whatsoever. Very clean and in good working order.
- Have a trailer repair/service shop check out your trailer before you buy - they'll be able to tell you if everything works as it should. Worth the money. They'll also be able to show you how everything works.
- It takes a few camping trips before you really get the hang of it. I was nervous about the propane furnace, how the 3-way (gas-elec-battery) fridge worked, and the leveling of the unit. But now that I have it figured out, I'm good to go!
- The guy we bought it from kept it in a large clean shop/garage, so it was dry all winter. No mice. I wouldn't buy one that's been kept outside.
- No toilet/potty in ours. We only camp in parks with showers and restrooms. I did buy an outdoor shower, though, for use at the campsite for private quick cleanups.
- Be careful about the weight - the trailers with the extra storage are typically bigger and weigh more, especially by the time you add the rest of your camping gear (chairs, bikes, rafts, food, etc.).
- I wish our camper had a bike rack on top; it's a difficult trick carrying bikes on the racks that go between truck and trailer.
- Bear Country: check with the park to see what they say about tents and tent trailers. Food lockers are common in those areas. We survived a severe lightning storm in our tent trailer last summer at Lost Lake in Oregon (and my teenage boys thought it was awesome).
- We don't have a generator. Just a good battery. Extended camping trips of 3 days or more might benefit from having a generator, but you'll add weight with that. An extra battery might be easier.
- Find a good rv forum like TrailerLife to get a lot of your questions answered.
- We have two large propane tanks, and that is more than adequate. The water tank under the trailer holds something like 30 gallons, and you shouldn't fill it until you get to the campground (weight, see?).
- There is a bluebook for RV's. Check before you buy.
- Our brand is a 10-year-old Jayco, and it's very good.
- I bought one of those cabela outdoor kitchens to use since I like space and convenience when I'm cooking. The indoor sink is just used for quick cleanups.
- The gas hot water and furnace is awesome; I wouldn't go camping without it again (think cleaning pots/pans, warm water for showering, etc.).
- My husband is not mechanically inclined, so it's up to me to make sure it's set up properly and running right, and I do just fine thankyouverymuch.
- Getting it level at the sight is SOOO important.
There's a lot to learn about using one, but once you figure it out, you're ready to go camping any time. My greatest helper was the trailerlife forum. Really found the experts there extremely knowledgeable and eager to help.
Hope this helps. Good luck, and happy camping!! (I can send you pictures of the trailer and the setup if you'd like.)

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valinsv you can buy a very nice used tent camper out of the paper or on craigs list.That way u know who owned it and how they took care of it.Anything 5-10 years old will be your best price range.Sounds like rusty got a bad deal on a used one.That happend some times.Make sure you set it up and take it down a couple times (before you but it) and make sure everything works.Most RV/trailer dealers will repack your wheel bearings for a few bucks.Only needs to be done every couple years.Like was said before, skip the terlit and shower they just take up space and are another mess you will have to clean up.LOL.Your 1st camping trip with it should be close to home. You will forget things that you may want to go and get.Good luck and make it fun.

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To Treelover: When we bought that old Nimrod tent trailer, i was just learning the auto body repair trade, so we didn't have a lot of money to be able to buy a new trailer, so we bought that old one! It did what we needed it for. And, when parked in between a mass of other tent campers at a convention--we could see it right away! The canvas was bright orange, and stood out, like an outhouse in the fog! And, it didn't leak! Back then, there weren't many tent trailers for sale, so thats why we bought that old one.
As for wheel bearings: Repack the wheel bearings every summer, at least once, or every thousand miles, less if ya live in Texas! And, keep those little tires inflated to what pressure is stated on the side-walls! Some folks think 65 lbs is too much for them, but after a trip of 4-5 hours, tires like those little ones will build up too much heat from the road, and will go "BANG" at least 60 miles from any help! Always inflate them to the correct pressure, and carry a tire guage, and check them every morning when travelling (when they are cool!)And carry a mounted spare tire, too!

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The most important thing to look at....everything. How are the fixtures holding up? Have a look at the frame, make sure its not bent. You don't want to be stuck with a makeshift

Here is a link that might be useful: shower trailer

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