Due Diligence – Purchasing a Used RV

Coming to the decision to (finally!) purchase an RV is exciting, and downright scary!  Once you’ve committed to the idea it’s time to settle in to some good old-fashioned due diligence on the vehicle you’re looking to acquire – especially when you’ve decided on purchasing a used model.  Whether it’s a last-year’s “gently used” demo vehicle or one that’s seen a few presidents come and go the research you need to do will follow the same process.  Our team has put together a checklist of sorts to help you as you navigate the 101+ things that could possibly be wrong with your prospective purchase.  Follow these steps and you’re sure to maximize enjoyment of your used RV and make memories for years to come while minimizing time in the shop!

First Things First – Pick a Budget

A deceptively simple step, it’s nonetheless mandatory.  Don’t stroll into a RV dealer and end up being hypnotized by all of the doodads and whizz-bangs featured by most RV makes today. Knowing your max budget including insurance and other expected costs will be vital as you move through the diligence period.

Will you be paying or financing out of pocket? If funding, now is a terrific time to get pre-approved through a lending institution by yourself, or to look into your prospective dealers’ financing options. Make sure likewise to have everything you require for a deposit or full purchase rate.

How old is okay?

When buying secondhand, some of the hot features you think of as must-haves won’t be available on older models – is that something you can live with (or better yet, are you able to efficiently retro-fit such options)?  If technology isn’t really as much of an issue to you, or if you understand you want to renovate and customize your RV, then an older model may be the very best fit. However, if modern-day benefits like a big screen and a full-size fridge TV are top on the priority list, then a newer design within your spending plan is what you ought to focus your efforts on.

What Kind of RV are you considering?

Toyhauler, Pop-Up, Class B, Fifth Wheel, Class-C, Class-A … These may all seem like foreign terms right now, however selecting a type of RV can quickly be narrowed down simply by selecting if you wish to drive the thing (as in a motorhome), or pull it (pop-up, travel trailer, or fifth wheel). From there, you can narrow it down some more by choosing how much space you will require to be comfy. Other considerations:

  • What is the maximum tow capability of your auto? Do you have a “tow package”? (Pull-behind)
  • What is the maximum length you’re okay with backing up and pulling? (Pull-behind)
  • For a Motorhome: How big is big enough (without being too big)?
  • Sleeping Capacity
    • 2-4 Sleepers: Pop-Up, Lightweight Travel Trailer, or Class-B
    • 5+ Sleepers (don’t forget pets!): Class C, Class A, or a 5th-wheel
5th Wheel Trailer

5th Wheel Trailer

Research the major brands

There are numerous producers in the marketplace, each with their unique functions and conveniences. Narrowing your search down early to a select couple of manufacturers that provide exactly what you are trying to find will assist you in the long run.

Check Out Customer Reviews

The fantastic part about purchasing pre-owned is that everybody has tested the models for you already. There are countless reviews on the web from customers, just like you, road testing these systems every day. Take exactly what they have actually found out and apply it to how you select the very best model for you.  Forums are going to provide you with the most down-to-earth, honest experiences of real-world owners, along with sound advice.

Request Insurance Quotes

This falls under being aware of all related RV ownership expenses, but here again you’ll find differences in the costs of insurance for an older vehicle vs. a recent model.  Now is a good time to gather insurance quotes from a range of providers to ensure you’re keeping within your overall budget. This is likewise a good time to find exactly what the insurance plan will cover on your new (used) acquisition. This will help you better prepare for upkeep and repair work down the road.

Dig Deep into that Dealer

This is likewise a terrific time to pull in advice from neighbors or friends who’ve bought from the local RV dealers. Their experience will help you ascertain if one is a trustworthy dealership. One of the numerous advantages of purchasing pre-owned is that you have many dealership choices out there. Unlike brand-new models, the majority of dealers will have consignment and trade-in vehicles on the lot, to boast a larger stock on hand. Once you’ve narrowed down dealers, try to determine how they treat their customers and what kind of service used buyers can expect.

Figuring out a Fair Price

The NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) Guide is contested by many as being misleading for first-time RV buyers, but people who are aware of available options find this to be an excellent tool for identifying a reasonable price for the rig you have your eye on.

Research your Future Rig’s History

When you have discovered a RV that you have an interest in, you can– for a small fee– identify typical details associated to service records, remembers, and accident repairs. You will need the VIN # for the unit, then the RV’s history can be found here.

Get a bunch of questions answered via email before going to the lot

This is also a great way to feel out how the dealership treats customers.  You should have dozens of questions about the vehicle that strikes your fancy; don’t rely on hoping to get them all answered in one fell swoop at the RV dealer.

Inspect the Unit

Make certain you have actually done a comprehensive evaluation of the entire unit – mechanical, electrical, interior, outside, seams and plumbing– before moving forward on the purchase. There are some nice “100-point inspection checklists” online that we don’t need to replicate here.  Inquire into warranty life and what typical repairs might cost at the dealership since most have shops on location and do a large amount of maintenance work for their customers who’ve purchased from them.

Lay Down your Offer

Prepared with the NADA knowledge you obtained in your diligence phase, and armed with the real-world experiential advice from friends and forum experts, you should feel pretty good at this point with making an offer on your dream camper. While we could write an additional article just on this topic here is one tip you MUST keep in the back of your mind: don’t be afraid to walk away if anything during the negotiation/purchase process doesn’t sit right with you.  Another rig will indeed come along!

Should You Buy a New or Used RV?

should you buy a new or used rv

Just saw a used C-Class motor home go up for sale on a local Facebook yard-sale page and it was gone within 2 hours!  This was a 1988 (yes, as in 30 years ago) Fleetwood Tioga Arrow model that, from the pictures included, looked to be in very good condition for the age.  37,000 miles on the engine and the seller said everything runs fine. Exterior appeared as though this vehicle was garage kept and all the fixtures were original but surprisingly free of typical wear and tear – the owner disclosed a leak towards the front passenger side, but that is something that honestly all used RV shoppers should anticipate when purchasing an older trailer or coach.

The best part: the seller was only asking $1,000!  For the lucky buyer, as long as he could drive away with this old Fleetwood he was in a can’t-loose situation.  This would be the ultimate project RV for a father-son team, or just a super-cheap way for a family to get its feet wet with RV vacationing. The Facebook ad and the “SOLD” label tagged to it 2 hours later inspired us to review this old debate: whether to buy new or used when you’re in the market for an RV.

Now, understand that $1,000 drivable RVs are NOT the norm.  We did some scouring of craigslist and motor home trading sites looking for similar deals and this offer was definitely the rarity.  We actually found another 1988 Fleetwood Tioga Arrow for sale in similar good condition, but this one was $10,000, more like we expected.

So for you, is used the way to go?  On the one hand, today’s brand-new RVs are better appointed, more mechanically sound, definitely more fuel and energy efficient, and all around better designed than the RVs of even just 10 or 15 short years ago – but on the other hand, they can cost $100,000 or more and small fortune to own and operate compared to used RVs you can often times pickup for a song.

At the end of the day, you’re going to have to really think about how you expect to use this RV, how often you expect to use this motor home, the kind of budget you are bringing to the table, plus a host of other factors that will inevitably play a major role in the type of RV that you end up investing in.  Some considerations:

Purchasing a real fixer-upper

Finding a true fixer-upper in the RV community is not as challenging as a lot of people think it’s going to be, although be prepared to travel a distance if you want access to the best deals.

There are plenty of people with RVs that are 10, 20, 30 or more years old that require quite a bit of work to get up and running and to fully customize with all the creature comforts you are expecting today who are ready and willing to move them for only a few thousand dollars – even if they do move quickly.

vintage white and blue rv

Of course, you’ll have to factor in the amount of money that you need to spend on upgrades, on renovations and repairs, and regular maintenance. You also need to think about operating costs, as these vehicles will inevitably be a lot less fuel-efficient than today’s RVs.

This is the kind of RV perfect for those that don’t expect to get out in their RV all that often and really want something that’s more of a project than anything else.

Purchasing a relatively new but still pre-owned RV

If you have a slightly larger budget, finding an RV that has been built in the last 15 years or so is probably the way to go.

You’ll be able to find a vehicle with relatively low miles on it, relatively minor maintenance and repairs that need to be made, and most of the style and comforts you are hoping to find already installed and ready to rock and roll.

You’ll still have to shell out quite a bit of money for something like this – often around $30,000-$70,000 or more – but your operating costs will go down significantly and you won’t have to do a lot of work to get the vehicle suited to your liking and ready to go down the road.

This is ideally suited for people with a decent down-payment saved and want to take trips in their RV on a semi regular or routine basis.

Purchasing a brand-new RV

If you have the cash and/or credit to swing it, you really can’t go wrong with buying a brand-new RV – though for certain models you should expect to spend the same kind of money you might have spent on a small single-family home!

new class c motor home interior

Today’s modern RVs are essentially traveling homes on wheels, with literally EVERYTHING you could ever hope to get out one. These vehicles have luxury features like giant beds, showers, flatscreen TVs, gas cooking ranges, and so much more. They will set you back a hundred thousand dollars or more (and sometimes a lot more than that), but for a retired couple longing to permanently road trip, or someone that’s going to be living out of an RV on an almost full-time basis and this is definitely the way to go if you have the dough to pull it off.