Should you buy a new or used RV?

You’ve made the big decision to buy an RV. That may be the easiest part. Now what?

After researching the many types of RVs on the market, you may have even decided on the type of RV that best suits your needs (travel trailer, fifth wheel, motorhome, etc). But there’s still a very important question lurking out there. Should I buy a new or used RV?

The implications are big, and may even determine how much you enjoy your “new-to-you” RV and the lifestyle experiences you have with it.

Most articles on this topic do not take a point of view on this choice. They simply outline the pros and cons of each. I’m going out on a limb here: My husband and I bought a new motorhome, but wished we had purchased a used one.

Sure, there are many factors that go into this decision. And we ended up with many check marks on the positive side of the ledger for buying new. But for us, the enormous difference in cost outweighed all other factors.

Our Decision to Buy New

So much of the research we did suggested buying used was the way to go. But because we were such RV newbies, buying used felt really scary. What if we inherit a mess? What if we have repairs that we don’t know anything about? We let our fears drive our decision. So we bought new—and even bought an expensive extended warranty for peace of mind.

As I mentioned, there are several pros to buying a new RV. I’ll share those first, and then talk about the cons—including the big one.

The Pros

Buying a new RV is like buying a new car: It smells good, it’s clean, everything looks nice, no one has used it, and there are essentially no miles on the odometer. It’s really easy to get seduced by that “new coach” scent.

New RVs also come with the latest features, technologies, and interior styles. This can be very beneficial, especially if you don’t want to do a bunch of upgrades on an older model.

Additionally, new RVs come with a manufacturer’s warranty—usually for a year. Many things that could go wrong are covered, however, do your research and understand what’s in your warranty.

The Cons

Simply put, you are going to lose money when you buy a new RV. It will happen swiftly and fiercely—like the minute you sign the papers and drive it off the lot. Your RV hasn’t physically changed, but it’s now considered a pre-owned vehicle. And the immediate depreciation can be as much as 20%.

Imagine, on the high end, you’ve just bought a $250,000 diesel pusher and made a sizeable down payment with your hard-earned money. Poof! There goes as much as $50,000. I know this is an extreme example, but it’s relative.

I’ve met many RVers who did plenty of research before buying, only to find out within a year or two their RV no longer meets their travel needs. They usually end up being upside down in their RV loan and are forced to keep their RV, or take a sizeable loss to get out of it. Ouch!

And even before you buy new, there’s confusion around the real market value of the vehicle. Everyone knows not to pay the full sticker price for a new RV, but what is the real number the dealer is willing to sell it for? Negotiations can be really awkward—especially if there’s any lack of trust or sales pressure.

If that’s not enough, a new RV hasn’t been broken in yet. Your first year may feel more like a revolving door into the dealership than a carefree highway. That happened to us when we had a slide that wouldn’t open or close merely three weeks into our full-time travels.

Buying A Used RV

To be fair, I have never purchased a used RV. However, I have talked to many people who have—and even others who have bought both new and used over the years. Very few have said they would recommend buying a new RV. In fact, it seems the more familiar people become with RVs, the more likely they are to buy used.

The Pros

It’s probably obvious that the main benefit to buying used is saving a boatload (I mean, RVload) of money. If you’re patient enough, and do your research, you may even find the exact new RV you want—just a couple years old and with hardly any differences from the new model specifications.

This actually happened to us, but we let it get away. We were so new to RVing that even when we had the opportunity to get the RV we wanted at 30-40% off the new price, we simply weren’t confident enough to close the deal. And a few months later, we bought nearly the same model at new RV prices. Visualize me kicking myself now.

Also, the used RV market is quite transparent and efficient. Online websites such as RV Trader and RVUSA have thousands of listings nationwide for used RVs being sold by dealerships and private parties. By looking at these listings, you can get a general sense for the true market value of the RV you’re interested in. Also, fair market values are available on NADA Guides—similar to Kelley Blue Book values for autos.

In addition to saving money, a used RV is more broken in than a new one. Things that are going to break in the first few years have been fixed. Also, the prior owner(s) may have completed upgrades, added features like newer technologies, or installed satellite TV or solar.

There are many benefits to buying used, but like anything be diligent in your research because there are some downsides, too.

The Cons

Yes, you could buy a lemon. But you could buy a lemon even if it’s new. If the previous owner(s) don’t disclose something, like water or structural damage, that is a giant RV pie in the face. Be sure to thoroughly inspect the vehicle, or pay to have a professional do it. If the seller is serious, they may share the inspection costs, or even be willing to pay for it entirely.

Depending on where you live, you may have to travel quite far to buy a used RV. But this would also likely be the case for buying new. I’ve heard stories of people chasing around the country to find the perfect used RV, so do your research and be selective.

While you’ll save money buying used, you could still end up paying too much for it. Maybe the owner did custom work and wants to get their money out of it. In this case, you have to decide what you are willing to pay for. Again, do your research on a fair market price and negotiate from there.

One last possible downside is that a used RV doesn’t automatically come with a warranty. Depending on where you buy it, you may need to buy your own warranty coverage.

The Winner: Buy a Used RV

Hear that? That’s the joyful sound of chirping birds because you made a great decision to buy a used RV. If you bought new and disagree with this post, that’s okay. We did, too. To be honest, now that we’ve worked out the kinks, we really like our coach—we just wished we had paid less for it.

We’re mostly happy with the performance of our motorhome, and the interiors are in relatively good condition. Oh, except the torn up couch and chairs from our cat’s claws. Whoever buys this from us someday should definitely negotiate a “cat scratch” discount.

Did you buy a used or new RV? How was your experience?


Camille Attell - Author and Coach

Camille is the founding partner of MoreThanAWheelin.com, a website specializing in travel, RV life, remote work, and the emotional journey. A lifelong learner and longtime instructor, she is passionate about helping others live a life of freedom and flexibility. She is the creator of Remote Work School, an online school helping people find remote work opportunities. In 2016, she and her husband, Bryce, left their corporate jobs to travel and work full-time. When not working and helping others, Camille enjoys hiking, snowboarding, culture and the arts, and photography.

3 Responses to “Should you buy a new or used RV?

  • I like how you talked about researching before making the decision to buy an RV brand-new is critical since it’s an investment on the same level as getting a car and getting a new RV also means that you have the manufacturer’s warranty–usually up to a year. At the same time, one should also consider that getting an RV new also means that it’s open to initial upgrades and being free of known RV issues for the first few years of owning one new. If I had the chance to buy a new RV I would make sure to look around for something that would definitely get my money’s worth.

  • David Bianchini
    2 weeks ago

    After 25 years and buying both new, the first 2 times and used the 3rd and last time, I’m happy with each decision that I made at that time. It’s a very personal choice and I can only tell you what worked for me and my family. I was self employed and struggling. I wanted to get my family out so we bought a new slide on camper. We are a family of 5 and at the time they were 7,6, & 4 years old. That worked great for 4 years but soon the kids were bigger, the weekends started to happen more often and loading and unloading the camper on the truck for a weekend started to become a chore and deterrent. 12 to 15 times per year and many successive weekends. I also enjoyed a enclosed trailer and it was a big chore to set up behind the rear overhang of the camper. I lost about 50% on this purchase after 4 years.

    I purchased a new diesel pusher. I could just turn the key and go on the weekends. The kids kept the close inside and the refrigerator was all stocked. It took several years to work out all of the “new bugs that the factory missed. I did all the work myself and learned all about Diesel pushers along the way. I drove that for about 125,000 miles. It was a mid grade DP and after 125K miles and 19 years, on mostly California highways, the drive train was still doing great, but the coach was needing attention. I sold it for about 8% of my purchase price. Or as I like to think about a $1 per mile of depreciation

    Last year we purchased a high end DP, used. It needed a lot of work, but after a thorough going over and 3 hours of negotiating, I purchased this Coach used from a private party. It has great bones, great skin, just some repairs that a prior owner was unwilling or not able to perform. Nothing major, just work. After about 10 days of misc attention and repairs, I believe now, I can have 10 to 15 years of life out of this unit and only loose 12 to 15K per year and probably spend $4 k to $ 6 k per years on maintenance (tires, battery’s, general repairs by the manufacturer) with a 10 to 15K mile per year usage.

    I have no regrets. I would do it all over again. But don’t decide purely for financial reasons. All of these are expensive and some days are better than others owning a coach and traveling, but I loved spending quality time, 1 on 1, with the family on our outings

    I will say that this is probably the most expensive way to travel compared to a cabin or 3 week destination type vacations. This “expense” study, does not fit here but a topic that I have debated with other many times over the years.

  • I appreciate what you said about new RVs and how they come with the latest technology and features. Buying an RV is a worthwhile investment if you plan to use it often. I want to buy an RV for my family, so I’ll find a dealer in my area that has amazing and affordable models.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *