First Time Buyers Guide for Purchasing a Camper Trailer
Camping can be the ultimate retreat for those long weekends away, especially if you have the freedom and accessibility that comes with having a bespoke camper trailer. Camper trailers are all the rage at the moment, and for good reason.
Much more affordable than a campervan, and much more fun if you’re an outdoors enthusiast, camper trailers can be attached to any car, and are much more nicer to look at than a campervan.
What’s more, unlike a campervan, camper trailers will not infringe on your car’s performance, nor its handling capability, making it ideal for any type of car – large or small.
What’s more, they allow for convenience and comfort without the annoyance of having to navigate a huge campervan, or packing everything including the kitchen sink into your baggage for the trip.
You can go anywhere you want, set up the tent for the night, and enjoy the comforts of home in a truly remarkable setting entirely of your own choice.
Best of all, everything is easy to unpack and pack up. Your camper trailer, even if it’s designed to be a mansion on wheels, can be neatly compacted into a small and practical trailer, no bigger than those that tradies or farmhands use on a regular basis.
To make your future camper trailer experience even better, this guide will help first time camper trailer buyers to purchase the right trailer for them.
We’ll be touching on important aspects such as off-road capabilities, the design of your camper trailer and the tent itself, important accessories that you will want, as well as other vital factors that are often overlooked.
So read on with us as we go through the only camper trailer buyer’s guide you will ever need, for perhaps the only accessory that you will ever want for those lovely long weekends away.
First off: The difference between a camper trailer and a campervan
Campervans in no way should ever be confused with the new range of streamlined camper trailers that are hot property on the market today. Campervans are the old, cumbersome, RV type models that were very prevalent many years ago.
They were slow, played havoc with the handling of the car, and could not be taken to as many places as a camper trailer can.
The campervan of old was only ever suited for retreat at a camping park. Whilst they offered a home away from home in their own right, and one that was quite sizeable for the time, the lack of practicality about their large size was largely a damper on the whole experience.
Camper trailers came about from progressive thinking on how to accommodate the traditional camping tent in a more practical way – instead of stuffing it into the back of the car.
Utilising an average, every day trailer, the tent could not only be packed away safe and sound, but it could also be integrated into the trailer itself, creating a raft of brilliant planning options.
Camper trailers soon came with kitchens to die for, fold out couches, additional storage, portable fridges, and even fold out beds to create the height of comfort inside the tent itself.
The opportunities for creating a virtual paradise are literally limitless, all with the convenience of a small trailer that takes up barely any room once packed.
Camper trailers also hold an advantage over regular tenting in that the entire structure is designed to be unpacked within a matter of minutes. Each component of your camper trailer will be integrated with one another, meaning less time unfurling sleeping bags and more leisure time for you and your family.
Camper trailers, when considering the benefits, also provide far better value for money as opposed to campervans, which have a relatively short shelf life on the road. They require little maintenance, apart from making sure that wheel bearings and axles are in line, and will last a lifetime.
New camper trailers vs second hand camper trailers
Now that we have the formalities out of the way, the first aspect of buying is knowing what you are buying. Whilst new camper trailers are rather inexpensive, second hand ones can go for a lot less, and there are many websites devoted to keen sellers advertising their much loved camper trailers online.
Unlike many other auto related products, you can still get great value out of a second hand camper trailer, as they will be required to be roadworthy for the sale to go ahead.
This will guarantee many years of fun and enjoyment. The only real difference between a new and a second hand camper trailer is basically in what the trailer will provide.
Don’t expect to find the camper trailer of your dreams with kitchenette and fold out chairs included, if you wish for a personalised trailer to your needs, you will have to buy a new one.
That’s not to say that you still can’t get a great deal. You may find a second hand one that does fit in with everything that you’ve ever wanted. Just bear in mind that this will be very rare.
Although, if you are going down the second hand camper trailer route, bear in mind to get any and all documentation that came with the trailer. Whilst camper trailers aren’t as highly regulated as other trailers of a similar type, you will still need the information provided in these documents for any insurance purposes that may be required.
The chassis of your camper trailer
Depending on what you want your camper trailer to do, as well as where you want to take it more importantly, the chassis of your camper trailer will not only affect its budget, but also its handling and performance.
A complex camper trailer with lots of accessories will require a more heavy duty chassis to support the added weight and strain. Conversely, if your aim is to do some serious off roading with camper trailer in tow, the chassis will need to accommodate the hard knocks, bumps and bruises that will ultimately occur.
If offroading, or a heavy trailer, is where you’re aiming for, then you should consider the added price that will result. Hard floor camper trailers tend to fair better on dirt tracks, supporting the weight and guarding against any severe knocks it might endure, as well as protect any of the accessories that you have inside the camper trailer itself. More on that later though.
The standard tow ball hitch will require a more complex mechanism, as severe bumps may knock the trailer out from the tow. They will also need brakes, stronger wheel bearings, and a stone bash plate to ensure that flying debris off of dirt tracks doesn’t damage the structure. Having said all this, you can get away with a camper trailer on the beaten track that is only designed for on-road use.
However, you will need to take great care whilst driving, such as driving slowly, letting tyre pressure out of the camper trailer tyres, and avoiding larger rocks or any other feature of the landscape.
The only thing that will compromise the durability of your camper trailer is if it is overloaded with accessories. This is a particular folly for a lot of aftermarket add-ons, and is something else to check on for if you have purchased a second-hand trailer.
Chassis behaviour and mechanism
The chassis of your new camper trailer is also important to how it will ultimately function. Whilst the chassis is determinant by what terrain it will be traversing over, it is the ease to which you wish to unpack it that will also make up its structure.
There are three main types of camper trailers: Hard floor, soft floor, and pop-tops.
These three, whilst all providing essentially the same function, Hard floor camper trailers, whilst also being great for offroading, will also prove to be much easier to unpack due to their swing-out mechanism.
This is great for those looking for a completely hassle-free journey, or for those who would prefer to minimise manual labour. They do tend to be smaller in what the actual tent provides in terms of space, and aren’t really suited for families with kids.
They are, however, fantastic for the traditional weekend getaway for two, and will make the entire trip a very simple and easy experience. Soft floor camper trailers are might lighter in overall weight, and thus can often lack the facilities or accessories that hard floor ones can provide.
You can have a soft floor camper trailer with the essentials, however, and the overall size of the tent that they can produce makes it ideal for families, both large and small. Soft floor camper trailers allow for the very definition of a home away from home due to this size factor, and can incorporate beds, chairs, and other leisure components that will be perfect for families looking for a more substantial getaway.
Pop-top camper trailers are the most common sight on highways and freeways across the country. They are essentially the tent and a kitchenette, and often have slide out bed frames for ease of use.
Pop-top camper trailers are suited to both weekend getaways and family holidays alike. They can be pricey, depending on their size, and depending on the tent mechanism can be slow and cumbersome to unfold. However, their popularity has not waned, proving that providing nothing but the bare essentials can still be a desirable option.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the camper trailer is the tent, as this is where your de facto headquarters will be on your grand holiday. Many first time buyers overlook just how critical the actual tent design is to making sure the trip is a simple and easy going experience.
With both new and second hand camper trailers, you should always first look at how hard the tent is to unfurl, and then consider the size that you feel will be better suited to your requirements.
A large tent comes with more components to set up, whilst a smaller tent doesn’t, but obviously compromises on the capacity of the tent itself. Many new camper trailers will come with a camping tent that is made to the highest of standards.
This includes the durability of upright rods and other components, as well as a fairly ironclad guarantee of its resistance to inclement weather. If buying second hand, make sure that any issues with the tent are noted, and that there is documentation on it.
Apart from quality control and accessibility, the choice of tent is solely up to you. Be mindful of the space that you believe that you may require, as anything that you take with you, along with any children or friends that you may be taking as well, will occupy space very quickly.
It will also help to think about what types of locations that you will be visiting. If you have a particularly favourite spot that you like to visit, then a small or large tent, depending on whether it fits the area, might help simplify the choice more. If you travel around to varying locations, it might be advisable to get a small tent for ease of placement and general convenience.
Accessories and wear-and-tear (Second hand camper trailers)
Second hand buyers should take great care to make note of any defects or repair jobs that could have occurred by the previous owner. Including the tent, it may help to look at how all of the joints, welds, uprights, and the accessories all work in practice and look in appearance. The tent is perhaps a chief offender of this.
Damage to uprights can be often fixed through a quick job with the old electrical tape, however they can impact any chance you may have of insuring the camper trailer to its full value.
On top of that, signs of repair jobs can also mean that, depending on the quality and time the work was done, the tent and its supports are on their last legs.
If this is the case, it would be advisable to steer clear from that particular camper trailer, as it could be an additional cost that you may not want in the long run. Accessories, including how the physical camper trailer actually works, can also impact both its value and how it functions. Any dints in the caper trailer, no matter how minor they appear to the eye, could mean the structure has been compromised.
Any severe damage to the camper trailer should be covered in supporting documentation that you receive. For accessories, such as the kitchenette, again dints and scratches, in particular to any woodwork that may be present, will require accurate documentation.
This documentation is important for servicing and insuring your camper trailer down the track, and is vital that you have any and all supporting paper.
Paintwork and galvanised steel camper trailers
New camper trailers, much similar to standard work trailers, will come with powder coated, galvanised steel as a standard. Whilst looking plain, this powder coating works in a similar fashion to how protected steel roof cladding does, and will essentially protect the camper trailer from corrosion, severe knocks and scratches, as well as inclement weather based wear-and-tear.
If your camper trailer does not have galvanised steel, or is painted overall, you should take care and a hint of precaution when both buying it and using it.
Painted camper trailers, especially if you’re planning to take yours offroad, will easily chip and scratch, just purely because of the nature of rocks flying up from the surface. If you are not fussed with having to repaint your camper trailer to maintain its look, then go for it.
If you are, or if it’s beyond the scope of your budget, always opt for a galvanised steel camper trailer. Non-powder coated camper trailers will suffer damage over time, and may compromise the integrity of the camper trailer itself.
The only way that this would be a viable option is if you are okay with only taking holidays to dedicated camping grounds. Otherwise, this is not a good place to start for those who enjoy offroad trips.
Fitout of your camper trailer
For many, this is what sets camper trailers apart – the fitout and accessories that make the weekend getaway so enjoyable. Aspects of the fitout that we will be discussing here will be areas like the kitchenette, storage, mattresses, any sliding components that may come with your camper trailer, water tanks, fridge facilities, as well as gas and electrical supply.
By now, hopefully you have thought deeply about what is essential for your trips, based on how you spend your time, as well as other aspects that are perhaps desirable.With that in mind, you can also now start to think about the appearance of these fitouts.
What we’re going to discuss here are perhaps the finer points that are often either overlooked or not well understood in regards to camping outdoors.
New camper trailers will have the highest of standards of fitouts, whilst for second hand camper trailers, a little love and care will go a long way to help preserve them for a long time to come.
Your kitchenette will be an integral focal point of your camping holiday. For those who are planning long trips into the great unknown especially, having the kitchenette function exactly as it should is critical for the enjoyment of your trip.
There are two popular forms of kitchenettes at the moment: pull-out ones, and those that are built into the structure of the camper trailer itself. Pull out ones can be cumbersome to set up and use, depending on their age, but will offer much more storage and space to use in your kitchen. Those that are built into the structure of your camper trailer will be purely built for durability.
They will often be of the same material as the camper trailer itself, in this case galvanised steel for new models, and will offer hassle-free and simple cooking and meal preparation. For serious offroaders, a kitchenette that is built into the structure will be a much better fit than one to pull out. This will ensure that you can practically eat and set up anywhere – ideal for when you are really on the less used path. If you are the more casual style camper that will be either setting up in less secluded spots, then a pull-out kitchenette for your camper trailer will be best.
This will allow you to, despite the time taken to set up, enjoy a more comfortable space. Pull-out kitchenettes are also perfect for those who are cooking for either a large group of travellers or families, given the additional space.
Depending on what type of camper trailer you have purchased, the storage will vary from very compact to ample and plenty. This part of the guide will assume that you’ve thought long and hard about exactly what type of goods you take with you on your journey, as well as how much space you will need, depending on the party travelling with you.
Hard floor camper trailers and larger variants will more often than not have plenty of storage for you to utilise, whether it be simple grocery storage, or for equipment and tools required for the trip. Given that these are designed for proper offroading in the first place, it is probably no surprise that they are the ones that will offer the most.
You should also consider whether you are more likely to take long trips as opposed to short ones. For those who enjoy longer holidays, the more storage the better, as it will minimise the need for you to keep taking trips into nearby towns to stock up for the journey.
Those who are more likely to enjoy weekend getaways could live with less storage. This also depends on the vehicle that you are using. If you own a larger vehicle, such as a 4WD or an SUV, then you will possibly have more space to use as well. For those with smaller vehicles, more storage may be advisable. The mechanism of the storage too can be important to consider when purchasing a camper trailer.
If you want to minimise labour times and increase convenience for any reason, storage that is relatively simple, such as slide-out platforms or drawer like mechanisms will be ideal for you. Many pull-out kitchens will have very convoluted storage spaces that are only accessible once the entire structure is setup, so also bear that in mind if you are looking to cut down the time spent setting up aspects of your camper trailer.
Fridge and electricals
The fridge is often one of the many areas that can cause problems for campers. Whilst modern day fridges have to abide by strict energy saving regulations and thus utilise less power, they can still take a huge chunk out of the battery storage that you are carrying with you.
The electrical aspect of your camper trailer is one of the more important things to consider, as running out of juice effectively means that you are stranded.
It is not uncommon for many campers to take ample battery storage along with them, especially for those taking longer trips, to minimise the threat of having to call for help in the event of running out of power.
For both second-hand and new camper trailer buyers, it is advisable to ask the seller in either case how the battery storage fairs, or how much charge it can hold along with your car battery, respectively.
Your camper trailer, second-hand or new, should have some form of documentation on the voltage and capacity that comes with the batteries. This will give you a clear idea as to how many appliances and the duration of time you can have them on for for your trip.
Whilst gas supply is relatively easy to obtain on the road at many petrol stations and corner stores throughout the country, there are a lot of regulations that need to be abided by, not just for law requirements, but for your own safety.
Whether you need to follow these regulations depends purely on the type of setup that your camper trailer has for gas storage. Once again, there are two forms of gas storage that are most common in camper trails today.
Many new camper trailers will have a dedicated area for a gas bottle stowed somewhere in the structure. It will have a ring – effectively what it says it does, which is ring around the bottle to keep it in place.
These gas storage facilities will also more often than not have a permanent plumbing system installed too, meaning that you will only have to ever turn the gas bottle valve open to use your kitchenette. This minimises the labour involved with connecting it yourself, which in either case is identical to connecting a gas bottle to a barbeque.
Then there are systems without rings or any other form of storage, or a storage area for a gas bottle, but no ring to secure them. These gas bottles fall under a series of strict laws that can be found in all states, and while many differ slightly, they will all basically require a regulator, or safety gauge, to make them lawful. This gauge basically signifies the pressure of the gas bottle and its use, as well as providing a stop gap for leaks that can occur from the use of free standing gas bottles.
In the majority of cases you will need to set up the plumbing for these gas bottles yourself, connecting them to the kitchenette for further use. Depending on the gas supply that you are using – nitrogen or LPG – the cost of this regulator could be between $300 and $15 respectively.
The only advantage between purpose built storage and plumbing for gas bottles and ones that you have to set up for yourself is time consumed doing the latter. Having plumbing already set up for your gas bottle is also ideal for those who are perhaps inexperienced in doing so themselves.
Depending on the complexity of the camper trailer that you have selected, it may also come with an inbuilt water tank. Inbuilt water tanks are great for those that are looking for a truly hassle-free holiday experience with their camper trailer. Your camper trailer will come with information on the size of the water tank that is in storage, which is commonly in between 60L and 120L as an average.
Again, depending on the age of the camper trailer, you may need to set up the plumbing independently yourself, although new camper trailers will have the plumbing already set up. Protecting the water tank, however is important for offroaders, as the damage that can occur to your camper trailer can also puncture the water tank.
You should ask the seller whether the water tank is protected either by the structure itself or a stoneguard if it lies below the camper trailer.
Second-hand camper trailer buyers will have to take care with any water tank that may be present in that older tanks aren’t as strong as new ones. Enquire whether the water tank is made up of a thick wall polyethylene material. This will suffice in making sure that punctures do not occur.
Other aspects of a camper trailer that first time buyers should be aware of relate to convenience and durability aspects of the structure itself. Whilst new camper trailers will have high quality components as standard, such as durable wheel bearings, axles, and towbar structure, second-hand ones are less likely to do so. You should always enquire about the quality of the moving parts of the camper trailer.
Documentation should show how old the parts are, as well as the material they are made out of. This will give you an indication of their quality, and their durability. You should always insist that a spare wheel be fitted, or at least a spare wheel holder be available, on the camper trailer.
Punctures, especially when offroading, will happen to even the newest of tyres, and its ideal to have a spare one to avoid the terrible predicament of being stranded and requiring assistance. Overall, however, a camper trailer will prove to be a sound investment, and whilst bearing in mind everything that is listed out in this guide, will also prove to be one that will last you for a long time to come.
Most importantly, remember to always go for a camper trailer that suits your needs and requirements. Not only will this ensure that you can safely stick to any budget that you may have, no matter how low or high it is, but also that you will get a lot of enjoyment out of your new camper trailer.