What You Need To Know Before Buying a Pre-Owned RV

Are you thinking of buying a pre-owned motorhome or travel trailer? That’s such an exciting decision that also comes with a long list of questions regarding how to make the best purchase decision possible.

An RV is a serious investment and buying one should not be taken lightly. Many people opt to buy a pre-owned RV rather than a new one due to the lower price. This practice is fine but there are certain things you should look for to avoid an unfavorable deal.

In some cases, the seller may not be consciously trying to take advantage of you or they end up charging more than the vehicle is worth (whether intentionally or not). Underlying damage may be hard to spot at first but it can wreak havoc on your RV down the road.

It’s important to understand the value of each RV you look at and examine the whole thing for any hidden flaws or issues. Below is a simple guide of a few things to watch out for if you’re in the market for a pre-owned RV. Even less-expensive models cost a lot of money so it’s worthwhile to do your research.

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Dealer or private owner?

If you’re interested in a pre-owned RV the first thing to do is decide where you will buy from. There are tons of forums and resources available for those who want to buy and sell RVs. Your two main options will be to go through an RV dealership or buy from a private seller. Both have their pros and cons.

When you’re dealing with a private seller there are a lot of unknowns. They may not have all the paperwork to confirm records of maintenance, repairs, or upgrades. You’ll find a large range of prices when you go through private sellers which can be good or bad.

The seller could be pricing the RV cheaply because they just want to get rid of it. In other cases, they may mark it up because they don’t have records to show that it’s seen a fair amount of wear and tear. They could also be counting on some haggling so they may price it higher than they expect to sell it for.

As a general rule: Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. 

On the other hand, a dealership is often more expensive but more trustworthy as well in most cases. They’re likely to have documentation on the RVs they are selling as well as qualified mechanics and inspectors who can confirm the condition of each vehicle. Because of this quality assurance, they can afford to make up their prices more than the average private seller. 

No matter who you choose to buy from, it’s worthwhile to arrange a third-party inspection. 

When buying a pre-owned RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Confirm manufacturing year/original price

Let’s talk depreciation. This is not positive for people who bought their RV new and are attempting to sell them. However, it can be a real benefit to those who are in the market for a pre-owned RV. 

If you want to know how to buy an RV without getting ripped off you’ll need to know the average rate of depreciation for RVs. As time goes on, an RV will be worth less and less money. There are many variables to the problem but an RV will usually depreciate between 20 percent–30 percent each year until it’s about 10 years old. At that point, it’s worth 50 percent or less of the original price. 

When you’re looking at a pre-owned RV, always confirm the original year and model. You can then look up the original MSRP and compare it to the asking price. For instance, if someone is selling a 10-year-old RV for anything more than 50 percent of the original cost, you’re probably being overcharged,

Do some cross-referencing research as well. Look for models of a similar size, features, and brand that are listed for sale. You’ll be able to spot if someone is pricing theirs higher or lower than the average asking rate. 

When buying a pre-owned RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a test drive

In many cases, you won’t know if the RV is in good shape until you take it on a test drive. Ask the seller if you can take it out for a short drive. If they say no without a sound reason consider that a major red flag and walk away. 

If buying a trailer, check to see if it connects to the hitch smoothly and if it seems stable on the road. If you’re checking out a motorhome, listen for any concerning rattles or signs of strain. 

Don’t forget to check out the living space as well. Test the kitchen and bathroom faucets, and examine the floors, walls, and ceiling for any signs of mold or warping. Leave no stone unturned during your test/exploration phase. This is a good tip for anyone who wants to know how to buy an RV (whether pre-owned or new).

When buying a pre-owned RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perform an inspection

Now we get to one of the most important parts of any pre-owned RV sale: The inspection. Even if the model is listed for a reasonable price (considering its year) you should still perform a thorough check of the inside and outside. A salesman could be hiding serious issues under the guise of a fair price.

Knowing how to buy an RV without getting ripped off includes not buying an RV with interior or structural damage. These issues will only get worse over time and the vehicle will turn into a money pit. 

There are several important areas you need to check before you even think about buying. These areas of interest include:

  • De-lamination/water damage
  • Mileage (or frequency of usage)
  • Tires (condition and age)
  • Mold
  • Pest damage
  • Window, door, and vent seals
  • Black streaks
  • Awning functionality
  • Condition of slide toppers
  • Engine condition (if applicable)
  • Water heater and pump functionality
  • Roof integrity
  • A/C and heating effectiveness
  • Battery health
  • Outlet number and functionality
  • Overall stability and ability to level
  • Any stains, fading, or other aesthetic damage
When buying a pre-owned RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of these issues are more important than others but all of them could bring the value of the RV down. The most important concerns are anything that has to do with water damage and structural integrity. If you’re dealing with a motorhome, you’ll also need to make sure that the base vehicle is roadworthy and has been well-maintained. 

Almost every RV has some quirks and flaws. Ask the seller about every appliance and piece of hardware in detail. If anything is rattling, blocked, or clogged, you should know about it before you buy. This is partly why a test drive is such a good idea.

Now you have some good base knowledge that will help you know how to buy an RV without getting ripped off. Never be afraid to ask questions or dig deeper. Sometimes even the seller doesn’t know there are issues if they don’t look hard enough!

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The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

—Miyamoto Musashi