How to Buy a Used RV
Save Some Money and Get the Motorhome of Your Dreams with These Handy Tips
Let’s face it, buying an RV is an expensive proposition. Even small travel trailers can cost tens of thousands of dollars, while high-end motorhomes come with six-figure price tags or more. But there are now more recreational vehicles on the road than ever before, which has led to a thriving market for buying and selling pre-owned models. This has given veteran and newbie RVers a viable alternative to buying new, potentially saving a significant amount of cash as a result.
But shopping for a used RV can be just as complicated as buying a new one. There are still plenty of things to consider before purchasing a vehicle of your own, and finding the right one can be both simpler and more complex, depending on your needs. Here are some tips to help you navigate those challenges and find the right motorhome or travel trailer at a reasonable price.
Why Buy a Used RV?
There are a number of reasons why buying a used RV makes sense. The most obvious of those reasons is that it will save you money. As with any vehicle, an RV’s value drops as soon as you drive it off the lot. That means that even a model just a just year or two old can be purchased at a substantial savings. Older motorhomes and travel trailers offer even better value, often selling for a fraction of their original sticker price.
By buying a pre-owned RV, it may be possible to afford a rig with more features and amenities. A new model outfitted with many luxuries may fall outside your budget, but a slightly-used version could be considerably more affordable. This allows buyers to stretch their dollar further than they might think and get a nicer RV in the process.
Additionally, an RV with a few miles on it may have seen some upgrades over the years. For instance, the original owner could have installed solar panels and battery packs. Or, the factory-installed appliances may have been replaced with newer, more energy-efficient models. The vehicle will also be through its initial break-in period, with any defects or malfunctions already resolved under the original manufacturer’s warranty.
The Risks of Buying a Pre-Owned RV
Buying a used RV does come with some inherent risks, of course. For example, the vehicle may not have received regular maintenance, which might impact its long-term health. If the RV wasn’t well cared for, underlining issues could cost a lot of money to repair or cause permanent damage to the vehicle.
Before purchasing a used RV, it is a good idea to have someone inspect the vehicle to ensure there are no significant problems. You’ll want to examine the structural integrity of the walls, for instance, and check the roof for any damage that could lead to water leaks. Test the HVAC and electrical systems to ensure everything is working as expected. And if you’re purchasing a motorhome, be sure the engine runs well and has no obvious issues.
One of the benefits of buying a new RV is that it comes with a warranty that protects against mechanical failures and defects over the first few years of ownership. That isn’t likely to be the case with a pre-owned model, although some dealerships may offer a limited warranty even on used purchases. You can always purchase a third-party warranty if you choose, otherwise, you’ll end up paying out of pocket for any repairs.
What Type of RV Do You Want to Own?
When starting the process of shopping for a used camper, it helps to know what kind of RV you want to own. Modern motorhomes and travel trailers come in all shapes and sizes, with options for every person’s style and budget. For some, that means a big, luxurious Class A model with space for the whole family. Others may be looking for a tiny teardrop towable built to go just about anywhere.
Knowing what you want from your RV will narrow your search and make shopping for a used model much more manageable. While there are plenty of online resources to help with that process, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the different styles, options, floor plans, and available features. By staying focused, you’re more likely to find exactly what you’re looking for in a more timely fashion.
What’s Your Budget?
In addition to knowing what type of RV you’re looking for, it is also essential to decide how much you want to spend. By defining your budget early in the shopping process, you’ll soon get a sense of the specific makes and model years that will fit your budgetary requirements.
Most online shopping tools for pre-owned RVs allow you to input a price range when defining your search criteria. By setting those parameters early on, you’ll easily be able to filter out any models that are outside of your budget, making the shopping process quicker and more efficient.
Once your budget is defined, it is important to adhere to it as closely as possible. The goal is to find the right RV for you without putting undue strain on your bank account. While the temptation may be there to expand your budget to accommodate more upscale options, that can sometimes lead to challenges with your finances elsewhere. The bottom line is that you need to be smart about how much you spend and get as much value as possible.
RV Dealership versus a Private Seller
After setting your budget and determining the type of RV you’re looking for, you’ll be ready to begin your search. That could lead you to vehicles that are being sold by RV dealerships or a private seller, either of which will offer a very different buying experience.
Generally speaking, you’re more likely to get a better price when purchasing a used RV directly from the previous owner. Depending on your negotiating skills, you may even be able to haggle for a lower price, saving yourself even more money. But buying from a private individual means the vehicle won’t come with a warranty of any kind, nor any guarantee that it will stay running long enough to even make it home. While there are plenty of good deals to be found when buying directly from the owner, it is always a caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) situation.
On the other hand, if you buy a used RV from a dealer, it will likely come with a warranty of some kind, even if it is only for a short period of time. Additionally, the dealer will probably have already fixed any minor issues with the vehicle and given it a thorough cleaning both inside and out. There is a good chance that the dealer’s price will be higher than buying it from a private individual, however, so keep that in mind when shopping.
Use Online Search Tools
It should come as no surprise that the best way to shop for a pre-owned RV these days is by using the internet. There are numerous websites dedicated to helping would-be owners find their perfect vehicle. Even a simple Google search can produce links to specific models for sale locally and in other parts of the country.
Here are a few online tools to help get you started:
- RVs.com – A website dedicated to selling new and used RVs with excellent search functionality
- Camping World RV Sales – Check Camping World inventories across the country to find the right RV for you.
- Good Sam RV Valuator – A website that helps determine the market value of an RV model to help you know if you’re getting a good deal.
Always do a Walkthrough
Before buying a pre-owned RV, always visit the seller in person and do a thorough walkthrough. This will allow you to inspect the vehicle for yourself and look for any potential red flags. It will also give you the chance to ask any questions you might have about the motorhome’s history and use.
When making your walkthrough, there are a few important things to be especially mindful of. For instance, look closely for water damage on the ceilings and walls, which could indicate the RV has severe structural issues. Check the tires to make sure they are roadworthy, and test the electrical system, HVAC, and all appliances to ensure they work as expected. Most RVs have a few quirks here and there, but you’ll want to avoid any major problems if possible.
No matter how good of a deal you get on a used RV, avoid purchasing it sight unseen. While photos and videos are a good way to get a sense of a motorhome’s layout and what features it includes, they often don’t tell the whole story. If you buy before seeing the vehicle in person, you may end up with an RV that is falling apart, requiring lots of time and money to get it running properly again.
Take it for a Test Drive
When purchasing a new car or truck, most people take it for a test drive to get a sense of how well it handles on the road. The same is true for an RV. If you’re buying a motorhome, ask the seller if you can fire it up and take it for a short ride. This could reveal any mechanical issues that otherwise could go unnoticed, like failing brakes, wheels out of alignment, or an engine struggling to create power.
When purchasing a travel trailer, ask the seller if you can bring your tow vehicle to see how well it pulls the RV. Test your hitch or fifth wheel coupling to ensure they are compatible with the trailer or require an upgrade. It is also a good idea to plug the trailer into the truck’s electrical connector to ensure all the lights and braking systems work properly.
If the seller is reluctant to allow a test drive, it should be considered a red flag. As long as the vehicle is running properly, there shouldn’t be any issues with taking it for a short spin. As a buyer, be wary of anyone who isn’t willing to be fully transparent with you.
While you may be excited about purchasing a motorhome as soon as possible, it helps to remain patient and wait for the right RV to come along. Buying a camper is an investment in the lifestyle, which is why finding the right model is so crucial. Do plenty of research, ask lots of questions, and be prepared to pass on a few vehicles before finding the one that meets your needs. Rushing in too quickly can sometimes lead to an expensive case of buyer’s remorse.
By taking your time during the shopping process, you’re more likely to enjoy the experience and learn more along the way. You’re also more likely to find an RV that aligns closely with your wants and needs, opening the door to all kinds of adventures in the years to come.