Here are 10 things you need to know before buying a vintage camper.
Daniele Pennington is a lifelong resident of Tucker County. She is passionate about serving her community through many roles and enjoys spending time outdoors in all seasons while hunting, trout fishing, kayaking, and—of course—camping. She also owns The Happy Camper in Parsons.
What should you focus on when inspecting a vintage trailer?
Always check the roof. If the walls and flooring have “soft spots” or a “wavy” appearance, that indicates leakage.
What can you expect to spend?
If you are looking at a fixer-upper, you can expect to be in the range of $500 to $2,000. If you are getting a “finished” one, $7,000 to $15,000-plus, depending on make and model.
What are the structural issues you should walk away from?
If you are in the market for a fixer-upper, I would say nothing would be considered a deal breaker. And keep in mind, with a vintage trailer, there is ALWAYS work that will need to be done. Water damage is your most common problem. Usually if a roof or wall displays signs of water damage, it has affected the flooring and the main structures, too. Before buying, make sure you research to see if you are able to find the parts that are needed for the repair.
Should you restore it yourself, or hire someone?
I have done both. My dad and I redid mine a few months after purchasing, and it was good for three years. I then decided I wanted to “re-do” it some more and went with a business, due to my time and capabilities. Having someone else do it is much more expensive than DIY. And it all depends on your willingness. There are a lot of articles and videos out there that can help you tackle the project yourself.
What kind of tools do you need?
Elbow grease for one. Your basic handyman tools will do.
What are typical issues with vintage trailers?
Water damage, leaking, and electrical. If you don’t update it and want to keep it as close to the original design and condition as possible, you will see continuing issues. But keep in mind, new campers leak, too! Finding parts for vintage trailers is what is tough sometimes. Another big issue a lot of people run into is the trailer having a title. In some states it is not as easy to get it titled and road-ready as in others.
What do you need to know about towing?
Most canned ham trailers are small, so they pull pretty smoothly. I would recommend some sway bars, as they do tend to get a little squirrely.
Where are the most reliable places to purchase from? How do you spot scammers?
Facebook has several vintage trailer groups—these groups are helpful for a remodel, too—where campers are listed for sale all the time. You aren’t likely to find a vintage trailer at a dealership—you will mostly be dealing with individuals. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Also fact check: Some models don’t have bathrooms or certain features. If they are advertising those things, it’s likely a scam.
What are the most valuable vintage trailers?
Well, that is in the eye of the beholder. But I personally think Airstreams, especially considering they are still a long-standing brand and continue in the industry today. It says a lot about them. The round roof design tends to aid with preventing leaking and water damage. But the rare canned hams are great, too. It just depends who you ask!
If you are gutting a trailer, what are the most important upgrades?
Upgrading and modernizing the electrical would be my first recommendation while you have it “gutted to the core.” If you really want to steer from the original blueprints, adding an air conditioner would be good, too—those small canned hams get HOT!