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Tips For Buying A Used RV

Thinking about buying an RV?  I’ve got good news for you – you don’t need to buy a brand spanking new (expensive) RV off the lot.  In fact, there are SO many great reasons to buy a used RV – even beyond just saving money.  My wife Julie and I have been full-time RVing for 3.5 years after leaving our corporate jobs in Atlanta in 2017 to travel and start our own business.  We have now bought 4 used RVs, and we have learned a ton through the process.   Read on for our tips and tricks for buying your first used RV!

Why Buy A Used RV?

Depreciation

New RVs lose their value faster than ice cream melting in Arizona in July.  Just like most other vehicles, you lose a big chunk of it’s value the minute it leaves the lot.  Buying a brand new RV just doesn’t make a ton of financial sense.  On average, you will lose 21% of the purchase price the instant you drive it off the lot.  That’s a LOT. 

Make Money Through Improvements

One of our favorite things about buying used is that you can change the look easily and make it your own.  Save the money that you would spend on a new RV and invest it in the upgrades that you truly want!   We have actually made money on every single (used)  RV that we have purchased over the past 4 years.  The secret is just to improve it a bit along the way. 

  • Our First: Pop up Camper – we bought our very first camper for $1,800, painted the cabinets white and reupholstered the cushions, then sold it for $4,000 6 months later!
  • Our Second: Vintage Class B Van – we bought this adorable vintage van for $6,500, put $6,000 into it (painted cabinets white, replaced the pop up roof, new curtains and other cosmetic changes), then sold it for $17,000 a year later.
  • Our Third: 2002 Class C – We bought “Miles” for $19,000, added upgrades of $5,000 (paint, flooring, upholstery, etc), unfortunately had to replace the transmission for $5,000, but then sold it 3 years (and 40K miles!) later for $29,000. No money lost, and we drove it for 3 years for free!
Our 2nd RV, the vintage Class B van we nicknamed "Vanny DeVito"

RV Technology

The overall technology in RVs hasn’t changed a ton in the past 10-15 years. Recently, there are some minor new innovations in class Bs and As but overall, it’s the same concept.  For example – some of the newest RVs are starting to come with solar, but that’s an easy add on that can be added to any used RV for a fraction of the cost you would spend on buying brand new. 

Tanks, fridges, propane, electrical, furniture – they are all basically the same with perhaps a slightly different look. We have walked into so many other similar RVs that are over 15 years newer than ours and every single appliance and feature has been practically identical.

Minimizing Chemical Exposure

Recently, a shocking number of new RVs have been reported to have dangerous levels of formaldehyde and/or ethyl alcohol as manufacturers cut corners and try to save costs.  These are dangerous chemicals that can cause headaches, upper respiratory problems, asthma and even death.

You can reduce this risk by buying a good quality RV that was manufactured prior to 1999 because these RVs were well constructed, made from better materials and are less likely to leak gasses.  In addition, there are other chemicals that you get exposed to from new furniture, glue, and mattresses that are harmful to your health, and buying a used RV means these chemicals have already had a chance to dissipate.

Avoiding the Shakedown

I can confidently tell you, we have heard of more issues from brand new RV owners than owners of used RVs. The first 1-2 years are the shakedown years. Things move, break, leak and although they are all covered under warranty, it’s still a lot of work to schedule it in. Under warranty doesn’t mean pain free. It may take you months to get your RV into service, get it repaired and get it back. We have heard of many instances where new RV owners had to drive to Iowa just to get their RV repaired under warranty. We can think of many other places we’d rather be on our vacation.

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Where To Find A Used RV

  • Facebook Marketplace
    • Benefits: Probably the best for communicating with sellers, ease of search and no need to pay/create profiles.
    • Drawbacks: You have to be on Facebook
  • com or RVtrader.com
    • Benefits: Lots of inventory, nationwide, you can compare prices of the same RVs across the country to get a sense of what is a reasonable price.
    • Drawbacks: no instant communication – it’s through email/phone
  • Craigslist
    • Benefits: Easy to use, still a decent resource
    • Drawbacks: You have to be a bit more cautious about fraud and fake listings here
  • Online RV Forums
    • Benefits: Facebook groups like the Escapees groups or buy/sell groups are an incredible resource. It’s a very connected community and it’s a great way to buy an RV from someone you can trust.
    • Drawbacks: more time consuming to find the right groups and updated information
  • Dealerships
    • Benefits: Lots of inventory, assurance of a quality check
    • Drawbacks: You may pay more buying from a dealer than from a private party. Negotiate hard – there is always room!
  • Friends / Family
    • Benefits: Let people know that you’re in the market. The best way to pick up a deal is get it before it ever gets listed. The one thing that is consistent in the RV life world is that nobody is ever 100% happy with their existing RV and is always looking for the next one 🙂
    • Drawbacks: May be harder to negotiate or walk away if you are buying from someone in your network.
Miles, our 3rd RV, in which we updated the paint, floorin, and more, earning back our costs when it came time to sell.

Dos & Don'ts Of Buying A Used RV

Getting a Great Deal

  • DO Negotiate
    • Make an offer
    • Make several offers (have a backup plan)
    • Research comparable pricing on RVTrader, Facebook Marketplace, anywhere you can find similar RVs.
    • Negotiate more than just the price – there are other factors to consider when negotiating. Sometimes, price is not the only important factor. You can get other accessories or items included in the sale price that the seller may be able to include. Don’t be afraid to ask, the worst they can say is no.
  • DON’T fall for the scarcity mindset (have a backup plan)
    • Sometimes, you’ll find an RV and think ‘’this is the one’’ and you get emotionally attached to ‘’the one’’ and are willing to pay anything and get it at all costs. That’s not a great point of leverage. Even if you are in love with it, don’t show all of your cards necessarily. Have back up options and be okay to let it go if needed. Go with your gut feel, if something feels off about it, walk away.
  • DO make an RV buying checklist
    • The simple question “Why are you selling it?” can be a powerful question to ask that will let you know if there are any red flags.
    • Check out the RV yourself – never buy it sight unseen. It’s important to test every single system in an RV before purchasing it because this is the main way to spot issues that might become problematic, expensive or even dangerous
    • This is not a comprehensive list, but here are some of the things that we make sure to check over on every RV we look at:
      • Check for signs of water damage or mold
        • Check for soft spots in the floor
        • Check all the ceiling corners for any signs of water coming in and/or discoloration
        • Check for leaks in tanks or water system
      • Sun damage
        • Too much sun can cause cracking of plastic components outside and window sealant.
      • Check age of batteries
      • Tires
      • Maintenance records for motorhomes
      • Rodents and termite damage
        • Check behind drawers, under furniture, behind the walls etc.
      • Turn on and check every appliance
        • Heater
        • AC
        • Stove
        • Fridge
        • Oven
        • Water pump
        • Electrical/Lights
      • DO have a mechanic check it out
        • Engine
        • Propane leaks
        • Appliances
        • Water damage
      • DO look for signs of a good deal
        • Stored indoors or covered
        • Professionally maintained
        • The owner has all of the maintenance records
        • The owner wants to give you a detailed walk through
        • The owner had a RV maintenance checklist that they performed
        • The RV is clean and well taken care of
      • DO get the proper paperwork
        • Ideally a clean title in hand
        • Get a signed, notarized bill of sale
      • How to make the payment
        • Cashiers checks are the most common and safe form of transaction that the buyers will accept although we have purchased our most recent RV using Paypal, it worked great!
      • DO register and insure it right away!
        • Don’t drive it away until you are insured on the RV. You don’t want to pay for it and have it damaged before it is insured.
        • Send in paperwork for title and registration ASAP

In conclusion, the decision shouldn’t just be about buying a new RV or a used RV.  It should be about your budget and what you are looking for to meet your needs.  In general, if finances are important, buying a used RV may make more sense.  Using some of these tips and tricks above will help to ensure you don’t get a lemon – whether you buy used or new.

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Author

Reet Singh SKP# 137007

Reet and his wife Julie left 2 professional careers at a Fortune 50 company in 2017 to travel full-time in their 23-foot RV with their cat Juke and as much outdoor gear as they could fit.  As they travel, they visit America’s best outdoor destinations and bike, paddle, camp, snowboard and hike.  Reet and Julie started an outdoor adventure marketplace while on the road called TripOutside.com that makes it easy for outdoor enthusiasts to book human powered adventures online. 

5 Responses to “Tips For Buying A Used RV

  • Debbie Bullard
    2 weeks ago

    Excellent info all in 1 place!!! I’m saving this article. Ty for your effort! -db

  • Thanks we’re in S. Florida looking for a use Class A or C right now.

  • Susan Passias
    2 weeks ago

    We are looking to buy an RV and this was very helpful.

  • Shandel Santorini
    1 week ago

    Beware of scams on Facebook Marketplace now. They bait you will a low price and have some sad, family story of why they are selling it and get you to make transactions via EBay. They assure you that you will get your money back once it’s been “delivered “ and you change your mind…you will never see the damper or your money again. They often use the same photo in multiple ads in different cities so that is a red flag right away.

  • Penny Heist
    7 days ago

    I fell for something similar to the last scheme. Guy said his camping partner had died and he was no longer interested in camping. Paid $1000 down on a 1986 popup, changed my mind on the drive home. Seller said my money would not be refunded so I was out that $1000.

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