The Price is Right - 5 Tips Purchasing Your First Pop Up Camper

Peggy Sue needs a good wash and is about to get a fresh coat of paint.
When we bought our pop up camper last December, we went to look at it armed with a checklist from the Pop Up Princess.  I had done lots of research.  I felt prepared and ready to make a great decision.  Several months later, I still feel like we got a great camper.  However, we have encountered quite a few issues along the way.  The main reason I stress doing your homework is how costly mistakes can be.  And, knowing what repairs will cost will help you to budget and plan for them.

On the day we went to look at Peggy Sue, it was a cold rainy day.  The owner of the camper had her completely opened her up for us to examine.  The heating unit was on, and she was exposed to the weather.  If you are looking for a pop-up camper, make sure that the owner opens it up completely for inspection.

At our initial visit, I asked about leaks.  I looked over the canvas.  The electric was working, and the interior was warm.  The owner showed me where he had patched the canvas and talked about caulking the roof for maintenance.  The floor had been replaced with vinyl.  We gave everything a good look over both in the interior and exterior.  I have to fully disclose, we purchased a camper from a really great family that took the time to show us everything that they had done to it.  So, any events we encountered were not his fault.  This camper is a 2001 model, and we got a good price.  Older campers are going to have significant wear depending on the amount of and type of use.

But, what did we miss?  What should we have asked?  I think there are a few things that anyone new to purchasing a pop-up camping might miss.  Even with a well-constructed list, there are things you might miss!  These small misses can add up big time.  Knowing the value of the work you are getting into helps make a better decision.  Also, consider how much work you are able to do and willing to do.  Time is money also.

Before you do anything, look up the value of the model you are interested in to get a ballpark price.  This may help you determine if the asking price is worth it when making your purchase.  NADA Prices for RVs is a good place to start.  Arm yourself with this information first.

Once you know the value of your camper, you have the information to at least start negotiating.  There were a few things that we have been updating throughout this year.  These are also items that could factor into the actual price of the camper you are purchasing.

1.  Canvas

Even if the canvas isn't leaking, repair work can indicate a bigger problem.  With canvas replacements starting at $850 for smaller campers, this can be a big miss!  Our canvas had not been well cared for over the years and was just old!  We have managed to limp through our first year with the existing canvas.  But, this year, we will replace it because it really does have dry rot.

When  I opened the camper the first time to do work, it ripped a large piece that I have repaired.  I have also cleaned and treated the canvas to make it through this year.  A sewing awl is a handy tool to have for repairs regardless of age and condition!

If your canvas is in good shape, you need to treat it well.  Waterproofing and sealing it will make a big difference over time.  I recommend using 303 (30606) Fabric Guard, Upholstery Protector, Water and Stain Repellent.  It will keep your canvas protected for a longer time.  You can also read about how I repaired my canvas from a previous post.

303 will treat and protect your canvas!
I also recommend getting some Pop Up Gizmos to protect your bunk ends.  It makes interior temps warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.  Plus, these also protect the canvas as well.

Pop Up Gizmos fit over the top of the bunk ends and create a more energy efficient interior and protect from UV rays, tree sap and more.  

2.  Tires

Tires for a camper should be replaced every five years.  You can determine the age of a camper tire by plugging in the DOT number found on the wall of the tire.  You can use to help you determine the age.  But, do remember that many times tires wear out before they actually age out due to the elements.  You might consider using a set of tire covers to protect your tires.

Regardless of whether this is a piece of bargaining, for overall safety, know the age of your tires.  Look at the expiration date and determine if they need to be replaced before purchase.  If not, note the age and keep up with when they need to be changed.

3.  Leaks

Even if there aren't leaks now doesn't mean that there have never been leaks.  Check under the edges of the pop-up camper roof line for any wood rot.  We have a couple of places that we will be repairing when we replace the canvas.

It is easy to get caught up in the moment of looking at a camper that you think is in great shape because it doesn't have current leaks.  Ask and look for yourself.  Because unseen leaks are difficult to repair, this could be a very costly mistake.

Roof repair in action!
We did end up with a leak along the center seam that we repaired.  It was some work but not as much as replacing the entire roof.  We have contemplated a roof rebuild.  After talking with the dealership, I don't believe that we are going to need to go that far.

4.  Age and Condition of AC and Heat

The AC and Heating Unit in our camper now is older than the actual camper.  The owner disclosed that he put in the AC/Heat unit.  I didn't ask a year or any further information.  It was working and seemed fine.  But, the shroud was cracked.  If I would have asked more questions, I would have discovered more about it.

We are replacing our AC/Heat unit this fall.  Our current one is clogged up with dirt dobber nests and is on its last leg.  The gasket is also shot and is causing a leak around it.  With rusted in bolts, we are really limited on what we can do with this.  It's a total replace.

5.  Basic Condition of Ports and Inlets

The city water inlet didn't work in the camper.  The water did work once I made this repair.  It was a minor repair, but we also ended up having to replace the gray water outlet and electrical hatch.  These were all small things.  But each repair adds up quickly.

You can read more about my city water inlet repair from a previous post.  Replacing these items costs less than $100.  But, these are necessary if you want to use your water and connections when camping.

If you are buying an older camper, do keep in mind that you are buying a project most likely.  Even a newly remodeled camper can be a project.   Did the person doing the work on the camper you purchased know how to do the work correctly?  If not, you may end up redoing work that wasn't done right.  I think this is one of the biggest mistakes someone could make.  Purchasing a camper with the work done wrong only to be replaced will really add up!

Buying an older model camper can be a steal.  It can also be a lot of work and expense.  Set a reasonable budget for what you want to do.  When you make this budget factor in the repairs and updates that you need to make.  The quickest way to get into a money pit is to buy a camper that you think is a bargain without factoring in the work ahead.  Also, how much work can you do and how much would you have to pay for someone to do it for you?  You can use my pop up camper remodel sheet to help you in the planning process.

To get the best deal on your used pop-up camper, follow these steps:
  1. Know the value of the model you are looking to purchase.
  2. Use a check list to go over all of the features.
  3. Just because something seems to be working, ask more questions to find out the condition and age of everything.
  4. Check all of the tires and parts for functionality.
  5. Look for wood rot and dry rotted canvas.
Finally, negotiate.  If there are updates that need to be made, use these points to help determine a fair price.  With the right price and well-placed updates, you will still end up well below the price of a new camper.  Just know that you will most likely have work ahead of you.  I love projects and have enjoyed our updates to Peggy Sue.  To learn more about the products that we used to remodel our camper, visit my Pop Up Remodel Page.

Have a great week and...