10 Things To Look For When Buying A Vintage Trailer

I know many of you are on the hunt for that perfect vintage trailer and I wanted to share with you 10 things you should check for when looking at one you are thinking about buying.

1. Water Damage.
Water is the #1 enemy when it comes to vintage trailers. When there is a leak it can get into the framing and cause some serious damage over time. Always check areas such as the vent, corners where the walls meet, around the windows, in cupboards and the closet. One way that unscrupulous sellers have of disguising water damage is to paint over it. Watch for trailers that have the interiors repainted inside. Now, I say that and my Buttercup is re-painted. However, that was by my choice and not because there was damage. She didn’t originally have the pretty birch wood and instead had a pale white-washed looking wood, so we opted to paint it. Just be sure and inspect painted interiors really well to determine if they were painted to cover up damage or if it’s simply for esthetics. Also check the exterior seams, roof vent, roof and around the exterior windows. Beware of trailers where the seller has used silicone to seal these areas or has slopped on some sort of heavy roof sealant.

This trailer clearly has water damage around the window and in the corners where the seams meet. Also note those little dark spots next to the beer can is rat feces. The cushions in this trailer needed to be thrown out.

2. Floor
Make sure the floor is solid and there are no soft spots. Floor repair can end up being a major undertaking as sometimes it will require removing existing dinette seating, bed frame, etc.,

3. Electrical System
It’s important to make sure all the electric works and this includes interior and exterior lights. Make sure and test all of the brake lights, turn signals, running lights, etc.,

4. Axle
Always check the axle. Make sure the axle, springs and all bolts are in good shape. The last thing you want is to go down the road and have something break. Axle replacement can be a costly expense.

Broken Axle spring. Photo courtesy of  http://www.sawdust-and-yuks.com/scotty.htm

Notice the broken spring on the left in this photo. Photo courtesy of http://www.rvwheellife.com/?p=1983

5. Tires
Check to make sure the tires are in good shape and do not have weather checking, wires poking out of them or are bald.  Check to see that they have good tread and are in overall good conditions. Tires for vintage trailers can be costly although a trailer needing tires shouldn’t mean it’s a deal breaker. It’s always recommended that if you do need to replace the tires, always go with tires meant for RV’s and travel trailers and not car tires. Also check that all lug nuts are tight! Ask the seller when the last time the bearings were repacked. I would recommend having them checked regardless though.

6. Appliances, Propane Lines & Plumbing
Check to see if the stove and fridge are in working order. This is important because you want to make sure all the propane lines are in working order. In a Shasta Compact we recently renovated we had the propane lines check and it required several repairs in the lines. Faulty propane lines is not something you want to mess with as it’s a matter of safety. Check to make sure all water lines, holding tanks and bathroom plumbing is in good working order. Have the seller test these things for you so you can verify they are working.

7. Broken Glass & Windows
Glass can sometimes be expensive to replace so check to make sure all of the glass is intact. Also check to make sure that none of the glass has been replaced with plexiglass. Plexiglass is often a cheaper alternative and sometimes it’s hard to notice if a seller has put in plexiglass. Normally you’ll see plexiglass in larger rear windows or in the window of a overhead bunk model. Also check to make sure all of the windows open and close properly.

Notice this window has been replaced with plexi glass. It should be a jalouise window with small horizontal panes going across the window.

8. Tongue & Coupler
Make sure the tongue and hitch are in good shape. Also check the safety chains and make sure those are in good shape as well. Be sure and check to see what size ball the coupler takes and what type of electric plug it has for the break lights.

9. Bad Smells
Bad smells can be a sign of rodents, urine, mold, etc., If a trailer smells bad it’s likely that the cushions are holding onto that smell as well. Replacing cushions can be more costly than simply recovering them with new fabric. So check to see if you can find the source of any bad odors. Use your nose to determine if it’s a wet wood smell as that wouldn’t be a good sign.

10. Title
Ask the seller if they have a clear title for the trailer. In a good number of states, getting a trailer titled can be a chore. In a few states it can be a downright nightmare. California is such a state. While in some other states getting a title with simply a bill of sale is pretty painless. It does appear as though more states are requiring titles. So keep that in mind. and do your homework first and if you find a trailer that you love but it does not have a title, check with your state first to see what the process would be to get a title for it.

Happy Hunting!

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  1. Soni Bergman says:

    HI Kelly- Great tips…will save. But I “think’ We got a good one.
    I will be looking to replace the seats that pull out to bed at the table. Springs seem to be shot. Or replace stuffing, and reupholster. Since it is naugahyde. Any suggestions? On cool fabric? And may be doing curtains to match…or work together…


  2. great article Kelle. I will print out and take with me to look at trailers!

  3. We are looking to buy a restored vintage camper. Do you currently have any?

    • Hi Julie, I don’t have any right now but do keep my eyes open for nice ones that come along. Is there a certain style, size, how many it sleeps, price range you are looking for? Also what state are you in? Let me know and I’ll let you know if I come across any.

      • LaVerne Griiffin says:

        Hi Kelle;
        I am currently in serious pursuit of a vintage camper. Please please let me know if you should come upon one for sale. I am going to buy one for sure.
        Thank you for helping if you can,

  4. Hi Kelle,

    I want one and I’m willing to do the work to fix it up. I live in NJ but will travel to find one. Thanks!

  5. I have 1957 field and stream 15ft. Tin can ham trailer, need ANY photos of such as to correctly repair all areas of ours, as was in 1950’s. Thax to all !

  6. thanks for this! I’m about to buy a vintage shasta!

  7. I purchased a 1966 219t Winnebago about a year ago as a project. I love working on her and have replaced the entire interior paneling and alot of different things. What i am at now is the plumbing part. I need to check to make sure all the plumbing is in working condition but i have no clue on what to look for. And i can’t find any schematics on this old vintage camper. What all should i be looking for and if anyone has any info on this camper that would be greatly appreciated. My main concerns on the plumbing is the toilet, grey tank, water tank, water heater, and the propane gas lines. thanks

  8. Hi there-

    I’m looking for a fully renovated vintage trailer with a bathroom. Thanks for any leads. Great website! I can’t wait to add a creek front trailer to my rental options at my yoga studio. Beyind excited! Megan

  9. I have a big tip for anyone shopping for vintage trailers (as learned by my wife and I, too late of course!)

    DONT forget to check the s#!^^er (Toilet)!!!


  10. I KNEW about an “old” roof leak in my camper before I bought it. I figured I could fix that. But I noticed yesterday there’s substantial mold on the back of the back cushion of the sofa bed,which sits under 2 windows. They didn’t make any attempt to cover it up,probably didn’t even see it. I couldn’t smell mold until I moved the cushion,and then it was strong. There’s a small amount of mold on the wall,but it looks like it originated from the wet and molding cushion. Can I caulk around the outside of the windows and possibly fix a leak,or is it a sure tear-out situation?

  11. We have been renovating a 1971 field and stream that has broken front and rear widows. What is the down side to replacing them with plexi glass.

  12. Need advice please. A neighbor basically gave us her parents 1961 Aristocrat lo-liner. Once we took the skin off, we discovered so much wood rot that even the floor had to be removed. Total demolition. My question is…is it worth the time and money to start restoration from basically the frame? It would be for personal use when complete, not for resale. Feeling kind of deflated about the whole thing. Don’t know if I’m better off buying one that’s been restored. Also, adding to my anxiety, is the hope that we can restore it properly as the walls and floor we wanted to use as templates were pretty shot. Anyone with Aristocrat experience and/or thoughts about my situation? Many thanks.

  13. hi, Kellie,
    are you still working with vintage campers ?


  1. […] created a list of things to look for when buying a vintage camper in general and it would certainly also be helpful to anyone looking into restoring or renovating […]

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good things to be aware of, although many of the issues referenced can be fixed.

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