How to Buy a Pop-Up Camper or Tent Trailer

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Staff member
Gold Supporting Member
Dec 22, 2002
Southeastern PA
Pop-up campers and tent trailers are great. If you've never had one, there are a few things you need to consider before you buy. This post is designed to answer the most basic questions. Any other questions you may have should be posted here at the PopUp Portal so that you can get fast answers from a bunch of friendly, experienced folks.

Step 1: How much can you tow?
Unless you are planning to buy a different tow vehicle (TV), you need to know what your car or truck's tow ratings are. These are in your owner's manual. Do not rely on random people on the Internet, or sites like to tell you, because the rating on your vehicle may differ depending on how it is equipped.

If you are driving a full size truck or SUV, it is likely that you can tow almost any pop-up (PUC) with little fuss or muss. Check your manual to be sure.

If you are driving a small SUV or mini-van, you will have to carefully pick a camper that will fit within the limited towing capacity of your TV. Be aware that you cannot buy a trailer that approaches the max tow rating listed for your vehicle because that rating assumes an empty vehicle, and you will always need more capacity for passengers and camping supplies. See the post in the Tow Vehicles and Towing section called: Towing with a Car, Small SUV, or Mini-Van for more information.

Step 2: What features do you want in a camper?
This will depend a lot on what kind of camping you plan to do, and how many people need to go with you. PUC campers range from a basic tent on wheels, to a travel trailer with canvas walls. Bed sizes and sleeping capacity vary widely as well. The most common sizes for PUC trailers are 8 to 12 foot box lengths.

Consider how you will use the camper to develop a list of features you really want.

  • Are you going to be camping as a couple, or as a family of four or more? That will help decide the size question.
  • Are you camping in colder climates or high altitudes? Then you might want a furnace.
  • Camping in the desert, or in hot and humid climates? You'll probably want A/C.
  • Are you a back-to-basics camper, or does your idea of camping include microwave ovens and televisions?
  • Do you plan to do mostly weekend trips, or extended camping for a week or more? This might help you decide whether you want your own shower.
  • Are you going to be staying at RV parks mostly, or more primitive sites without electrical or water hook ups?
  • Are you planning to bring bikes, kayaks, or other gear? This can direct you to campers that have gear storage, or racks integrated into the roof.

Once you have a good idea of what you want, you should browse manufacturers' websites or shop local dealers to see what brands and floor plans you like. If you're buying used, look at a number of campers until you know for sure what size and features you want to buy.

Step 3: How do you prefer to buy?
Many people will only feel comfortable buying new from a dealer. This includes a manufacturer's warranty and a relationship with a dealer for repairs and maintenance. It comes at a fairly steep price in terms of depreciation on the value of the camper, just as it does with car purchases.

Many people only like to buy used campers because they are less expensive, and are often lightly used. You should find lots of used campers on the market during the Fall months in local classified ads, and on sites like,, and other online classified or auction sites. Also, many RV dealers have an inventory of used campers that are traded in, and you will find many of them with a simple web search. You can get an idea of used camper values by checking sites like The Nada values are just a guide, and people report that actual prices tend to be higher in Western states and Canada.

Just as with car purchases, it is important that you carefully inspect the camper before you buy. You should have the seller demonstrate the setup and take-down procedures. The seller should demonstrate that all the accessories work. You should get an idea of how the trailer has been stored, how long it has been unused, whether there have ever been any leaks in the roof or plumbing, etc. Inquire about when the last time the wheel bearings were repacked, tires were replaced, and when the brakes were checked (if applicable).

Things to watch out for are:
  • Mildew in the canvas, or water stains on the ceiling
  • Soft spots in the floor or roof
  • Sagging or cracking roof
  • Lift system not working well
  • Bent frame

It is a good idea to use a checklist when you go to look at a camper. An excellent one is published here: Natasha's Camping Site. Be very thorough. You should take it for a test drive. If you're really concerned, you can make arrangements to take it to an RV repair shop to have it professionally inspected.

Step 4: Ask for help.
The people on this forum are really helpful with any questions you may have. If you want to know about a particular year or model of trailer, search the PopUp Portal for info on that model. Or ask about it in the Pop Up Pre-Purchase Questions (PUPPQ) forum and someone will certainly give you some ideas.

That's it! Once you have a pop-up camper, I'm sure you will love it as much as all of us at the PopUp Portal. They are easy to tow, comfortable, and a relatively inexpensive way to make priceless memories with your family.

Good luck, and Happy Camping!

Submitted by member: sk91709

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