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.

Which Costs More: Hotels or RV Traveling?

There was a time in America when almost every American of retirement age dreamed about buying a cheap RV and traveling across the country, never having to worry about all of the expense and taxes involved with property ownership combined with the promise of being able to see this great country that so many of us have yet to fully explore.

 

And while that dream may have slipped from the mainstream a bit, there is still a vibrant subculture throughout America that is determined to get behind the wheels of a relatively inexpensive RV and just taking road trip after road trip clear across the nation.

 

At the same time, more people are figuring out that hotels can be an inexpensive alternative to RV travel when it comes time to hit the road. There’s almost always been this age-old battle between those that feel that over the long-term investing in an RV is cheaper than the hotel rooms, and vice versa – with fans of hotel convenience saying the RV R.O.I. is just to far out to appreciate. If you find yourself mulling over this debate in your mind hopefully we are able to shine some light on the subject for you in this quick guide.

 

Thinking about staying in hotels?

 

If you’re thinking about traveling around the United States in your car, staying in hotels, and eating out, there are some not-so-obvious expenses you’re going to want to consider.

 

For starters, let’s assume that you are driving a vehicle that has been purchased for $20,000 with about 20,000 miles on it already. You have to look at annual maintenance costs of about $900 over 15 years, a fuel consumption on average of about 30 miles per gallon, and total operating costs that are going to come in at just about $.33 per mile.

 

Then you have to consider the average hotel room rate of about $121 per day and then factor in spending about $60 a day at restaurants and you’re looking at a daily expenditure of about $181 when you decide to stay in hotels and eat at restaurants on your road trip.

 

What about traveling by RV?

 

If you are purchasing a used RV for about $80,000 with 20,000 miles on it already and maintenance costs of about $1700 over a decade and a half, you’re looking at spending about $.78 per mile. RVs will get you a lot lower level of fuel economy, so you’re probably looking at about 15 miles per gallon – which bumps operating costs up to about $.96 per mile.

 

On the flipside, however, the average campground rate is about $25 per day and most people can get away with spending $30 a day on groceries for meals you’ll prepare inside your RV. This gets you to a daily expenditure of about $55 when you decide to buy your own small RV.

 

As you can see here, if you’re going to be spending extended amounts of time on the road you probably aren’t going to want to do so staying in hotels nonstop. This is definitely the more expensive way to travel, even if purchasing the RV upfront is going to cost about four times as much as it would to purchase a $20,000 used car.

 

Many readers are interested in lengthy periods of travel and hitting many destinations on the way.  If that sounds like you then you’re probably more inclined to go the RV route.  However, if you’re still figuring out if road-tripping or spending vacations (or even retirement) on the road is going to be your thing, then going the hotel route is a much smarter way to try out the lifestyle before plunking down the cash for a major vehicle purchase!