Buying a Used Motorcycle Camper -- Part 2: What to Ask

In the first installment of this article, I talked about looking in the right places for a motorcycle camper. In this installment I want to talk about questions you can ask and things you should evaluate that will help you determine if you’re looking at a good deal or a potential money pit.

An owner might not know every answer, but how they answer will tell you a little something about their history with the camper and whether you should take the time to go see it. That could be really important if the camper is 400 miles away.

Were the pictures you sent taken recently? This question is just a little integrity check. Did the owner send you pictures taken when he first bought the camper? Or did he set it up and take current photos? If the pics are only a year old, that might be okay, but I think we both know that if someone sent you pictures from 2005 and doesn’t “have time” to set up the camper to take new pictures…that’s a red flag.

What is the year, make and model of the camper? Some manufacturers make different models, so you’d want to know, for example, if the Time Out you are looking at is the Easy Camper (smaller), the original Time Out (mid-size) or the Time Out Deluxe (biggest).

Is this a camper designed for a motorcycle? If the camper is a name you recognize, Time Out, Bunkhouse, Aspen, Kompact Kamp, Roll-A-Home, Lee-sure Lite, Kwik Kamp, then you can be reasonably sure you’re looking at a camper built for the width and weight limitations of a motorcycle. If the owner throws out a name you don’t recognize, do your homework to make sure you know the camper is, in fact, a motorcycle-specific camper and not just because the current owner says it is. Motorcycle campers are generally under 400 lbs empty weight and not wider than about 40 inches. Anything heavier or wider than that may be a “micro camper” and might be fine with a trike, but not necessarily a motorcycle camper.

Is the person you’re dealing with the first owner? If not, how many have owned it before? Like cars, a first owner camper is usually a better deal that one that’s passed through multiple owners.

Is the title clear and do you have it in hand? Again, like a car, you only want to give serious consideration to a camper with a clear title that the owner has in hand.

Where has the unit been stored? Very important. “In a garage”is good. “Outside under a tarp” means one thing -- Be. Very. Afraid. Some campers, especially older models made with an untreated composite wood frame, crumble away. Newer models of most reputable campers use weather-resistant pressure-treated materials that can better withstand exposure to weather. But in talking with an owner you find a camper has been sitting "out back," unprotected for a few months (or a few years), take a pass and wait for a better opportunity.

When did you last use the camper? How often do you use it? Why are you selling it? These questions will help you get an idea if this is a camper someone bought on a whim, used once, put away wet, and hasn’t opened in the last five years. I’d rather hear someone say that they take it out a couple of times a year and have just decided they want something bigger, shinier, different, whatever.

In what condition is the tent? Any rips, tears, stains, mildew? Without a doubt, the most important aspect of a motorcycle camper is assessing the condition of the tent. I can’t tell you how many calls and e-mails I’ve gotten about replacing the canvas on a camper someone just bought from eBay. That might or might not be possible. You would expect some stains and some fading on a tent that has been used regularly.

Does the interior have any evidence of mice? You may or may not get the answer to this over the phone. Mice can find their way into just about anything that sits unattended in any storage unit outside of a hermetically sealed chamber. (And we know most places we store stuff aren’t hermetically sealed chambers.) So when you do happen to look at the unit, look for any damage that might be caused by nasty little rodent teeth chipping away at carpeting, wood, or tent canvas.

Does it have all its critical parts? Is anything missing? Broken? I sold a bike and my first camper to a buddy who bought it and rode it cross country to California. He didn’t want the camper, so he, in turn, sold it to someone out there. Six months later, I’m cleaning the garage and what do I run across? The poles for the tent. That means: When you go to look at a camper, have the owner take you through the setup to make sure all its critical parts are included. You can get by if it’s missing a table or sleeping pads need to be refurbished, but if you’re missing something crucial to the setup, it might not be a deal worth doing, or worth a substantial discount.

When were the bearings last serviced? Generally speaking, it’s not a deal-breaker if the owner hasn’t done regular service to the bearings. Most units use standard automotive bearings with replacement parts available at an auto parts store. Knowing the bearings were in good shape and well lubed would give you peace of mind if you planned to pull it home a few hundred miles or if you were heading out soon on a camping trip.

What options does it have? Helpful to know for establishing a good market value of the camper.

Does the camper require any repairs or restoration to use? Another market value question. Is the camper represented as “ready to camp” or does it need to have the tent replaced, new tires, and a new tongue?

Finally, is the company still in business? I wouldn’t expect an owner to necessarily know this. This is something worth finding out on your own. I typically advise folks to avoid purchasing used units from a name that is no longer in business for the simple reason that custom parts, like the tent canvas, will be impossible to find. Most of the companies I named above have been in business for a while. Time Out has been producing campers since 1974, Kompact Kamp, which makes the Mini Mate, has been building since 1982. One once-popular camper from the above list that’s no longer in production is the Kwik Kamp.

Having some answers to these questions will give you a good sense whether the deal you’re considering is real or not. In the last installment, I’ll discuss what you should do when you look at the camper in person.

In the meantime, if you decide you’d like to consider a new Mini Mate or Time Out motorcycle camper, please contact me. If you do find a good deal and just need a motorcycle hitch or motorcycle trailer wiring, I can help with that, too.