10 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Vintage Camper Trailer
So, after years of contemplation, you've made the decision that you want to pursue the American Dream. No, we're not talking about a family and a house, we're clearly talking about buying a teeny tiny home on wheels and taking your gay lifestyle blog on the road. Or some variation of that.
Before you take the plunge and pick out your own vintage camper trailer, there are like a million things you should know. When we started the process of buying and renovating our own vintage camper (ROSIE!!!), we knew next to nothing. We had questions like, "what happens if someone tips it over while we're in it," and "will we kill each other if we stay in this thing for more than a week together?". While we don't actually have solid answers to these questions yet (though, presumably the answers are: we fall down screaming and yes), we do have the answers to the more important questions that will get you started on your very own vintage camper trailer purchasing journey! Check them out below or check out our other posts on this process such as Rosie 'Before' Photos and Master Plan and Painting the Exterior of a Camper Trailer.
As part of our partnership with eBay for this project, we'll be showing you how to use eBay for every step of the vintage camper purchasing and renovation process! Check out the variety of campers and RVs available on eBay, and a quick search for "vintage" brings up quite a few options!
1.) If you're buying a trailer for a cosmetic renovation, spend more now and less later
As we outlined previously, this whole project can be done for between $8k and $12k, depending on how handy you are and how far you want to go in terms of custom design etc. (this is all assuming you aren't going for a collector's brand like Airstream or Shasta, in which case you may spend up to double that number). The bottom line is, though, you're going to end up spending that money one way or another, and trying to save money upfront by opting for a cheaper vintage camper is often just going to mean it'll take you a bit longer to finish the project while you end up spending the money you originally saved as you'll likely have to do structural, electrical, or plumbing repairs.
We found Rosie for about $4,000 and she needed basically no work other than cosmetic changes. Before purchasing her, we were looking at other options that were in the $2-3k range but would need to have roof, floor, or siding work done; or would need to have an axel repaired or electrical re-wiring. After doing some thinking and math, we figured out we'd maybe be saving $1-2k upfront, but we'd need to put that money right back into the repairs before diving into the aesthetic changes we wanted to make, and in turn set our completion date back by at least two to three weeks. NO bueno.
2.) You're going to need a lot of tools and safety equipment for any work you do on it.
Unless you've already got a fully stocked tool box with sanders and safety masks and many different screw drivers and power drills, etc., a large portion of your costs will come from having to buy all the equipment it takes to do the work you're going to need to do. Make sure you include these costs in your budget planning, and our advice is to shop for them online where you can easily look for deals. eBay's got a great selection of power tools and painting equipment at good prices, which can help make this project a little less costly. To help figure out exactly what you'll need (though every renovation is bound to need different tools), check out our post on the subject.
3.) The Internet is your friend, with sites like eBay having vintage camper trailer options to choose from (and ways to ship them if you're not down for the drive!)
We didn't really know where to start looking for a vintage camper trailer. The idea of finding one in person seemed best because it would allow us to adequately assess the condition of the trailer. However, we quickly learned that this was going to limit our options to basically three campers, one of which had a massive hole in the side. After spending a couple of weeks on eBay looking for a vintage camper, we realized that people who own/sell these things are in general really respectable and understanding, and will happily provide you with a Facetime walk through or an excessive number of photos. You'll have to use your judgement (more on that below), but we felt pretty comfortable that we were getting an accurate depiction of Rosie throughout the entire buying process.
We used the shipping service uShip to have Rosie towed to us from her home in West Virginia as we didn't have the time to make the 18 hour drive there and back. uShip was actually really great because it's set up a lot like eBay and syncs directly to the site, so you basically just post the object you want shipped and the price you want to pay and then individual shippers will actually bid for the job by offering you competitive pricing options. For instance, we posted Rosie on uShip along with all of the information on the address she would be shipped to and from and the offer of $850 for the job (we just picked this number based on other job offers we'd seen for similar distances). Within two hours we had multiple offers from people willing to do it for less and were able to read their reviews and recommendations from other customers. We were even able to talk to our shipper directly and have him inspect Rosie at the original property to make sure she looked exactly as we were told and matched the photos. It gave us so much peace of mind about the whole process and we highly recommend using this service if you're shipping your own vintage camper or really literally anything else.
Of course, if you are going to have it shipped, you'll need to be buying a vintage camper that is in towing condition, which Rosie was - another reason to shell out a little extra cash upfront!
4.) That being said, there are millions of scammers out there and this is how you can spot them.
Other than eBay, we also found a ton of great options on Facebook vintage camper selling groups and Craigslist. Both of these sites have more potential scams than eBay (because of eBay's rating and reviews system and built in payment protections), so we were being extremely careful. We found A LOT of scams, many of which can be avoided with the old stand by of ... if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If someone is telling you they will give you their 18' Airstream that needs some light cosmetic work for $5k they are literally just lying to you and that Airstream probably does not exist.
Check around for average pricing for the brand and condition of the camper trailer you are looking at and critically compare the prices. Anything going for $1k - $2k less than the average price is suspect. Don't be afraid to ask the seller why the price is low (it's not like they'll raise it up once they realize it's low, they've probably done their research as well and are just trying to either make a fast sale or there is some legitimate non-scam reason for the lower pricing). You can also request they do a video for you or provide more photos - nothing is wrong with asking for this considering you're about to hand over several thousand dollars! If they refuse to send you more photos or answer your questions, move on.
If there is an extensive emotional back story included in the original posting, there's a good chance it's a scam. For some reason this is a popular way to try and scam people. We had someone trying to sell us a good-condition Shasta camper for $3k, which was about $5k less than the others online for this model and condition. In the posting, it was claimed the price was so low because of a tragedy and emotional turmoil and a need to get rid of it etc etc. It was really weird and kind of sad but, like, totally made sense that this seller would want to sell it for so cheap once we heard the story.
After a brief gossip session about it with our vintage camper fairy god mothers, Kyla & Jill, all we had to do was copy and paste the text from the posting into Google and BOOM there were like thirty other posts in different forums online saying this ad had been used a million times and is a scam. People are lazy and will just use an ad over and over again hoping to have someone fall for it. So, ask for photos, ask many questions, copy and paste the text and photos from questionable ads into Google to check for duplicates, and if possible have someone (either someone you know who lives near the camper or your shipper) do a full inspection before money is sent over.
Like we said, though, eBay has a lot of these built in protections, so we'd highly recommend going through them for this.
5.) Water damage (even slight water damage) should maybe be a deal breaker for you
Even if it looks minor, this can often be a major pain in the butt to fix and can quickly get extremely costly. It also likely means you'll have to not only replace the side paneling that has damage, but also part of the roof. If you're seriously in love with the trailer, it may be worth it to put the time and money into repairs, but otherwise it's best to just pass.
6.) Damaged electrical wiring, plumbing, and propane lines should maybe also be a deal breaker
Same as above, this can quickly get very expensive, and - especially when it comes to propane and electrical wiring - you're going to want to bring in a professional. Only consider taking on this type of project if you're seriously in love with the trailer.
7.) Everyone is going to ask you if it's an Airstream
It's a buzzword these days and you'll get used to just saying "No." That's all. (Unless you do have an Airstream, obvi).
8.) There are the "cool kids" trailer brands of the vintage trailer world, and then there are the ones that most of us can afford
Airstreams, Shastas, Aristocrat, Avion, etc. They're all amazing brands, but to be honest you're essentially paying for a name. Well, OK, Airstreams are actually also much more durable and roomy then your average trailer, so that's something to consider - but the rest are really similar to run of the mill vintage campers that never became quite as popular, such as our Globestar. The biggest down side to having an obscure trailer is that it may be hard to find a lot of information on them online, but most of these 60's and 70's era trailers are built extremely similar to one another so it's not really a huge deal and in my opinion the money saved is worth it.
9.) You'll need a vehicle that can tow it (OK this sounds obvious unless you're us)
Funny story, we didn't even really consider the fact that our tiny tiny Ford Fiesta had zero towing capability until we were like half way through the buying process with Rosie. Long story short, we traded in little Anderson for our new truck, Tatiana, and all is well. Most of these smaller trailers (13-18') will weigh in between 2,500 and 3,500 pounds, but always make sure to ask for weight before purchasing to make sure your car can handle it. All of the info on your car's towing capacity can be found online through a quick Google search for the make and model.
10.) Check with your neighbors or neighborhood association before parking your camper on the street in front of your home
We live in the far east Bywater, where children literally ride four wheelers on the main highway in the summer and law enforcement doesn't really have a presence, so there wasn't a question as to whether or not we could just park Rosie in front of our house. BUT, if you live somewhere more suburban or with a neighborhood association or cops or rules, make sure you check what the dealio is with parking large vehicles on the street to avoid any issues, as a 10'+ trailer isn't really inconspicuous.
Yay! Now you're like, totes ready to buy a trailer. Or, at least more ready then you were before. Vintage camper purchasing may seem like a daunting task, but a lot of it is really exciting and totally worth it in the end. Don't forget to check out eBay's selection of campers and RVs, have fun and good luck!