RV 101: Buying a Used RV

January 17, 2012

With the current state of our economy it seems there is resurgence in used RV sales. In many situations it just makes sense to buy used rather than new, for example:

– you only plan to use an RV a few weeks out of the year.
– you want to finance a lower dollar amount for a shorter time period with a lower monthly payment.
– you want to get a better deal. (Used RVs already suffered the brunt of depreciation.)
– you plan to upgrade to a larger or newer RV in a couple of years.

As you can see there are some advantages to buying a used RV, but there are many other factors involved that can change a great deal on a used RV into a disaster. Let’s take a look at what you can do to make the best used RV buying decisions possible.

Buying From a Dealer

When considering a used RV cost is one of the driving factors. The majority of RV dealers use the NADA guide www.nada.com for Recreation Vehicles to determine used RV pricing. Used RV prices are based on the age of the unit, the condition, optional equipment and mileage, if it’s a motorized RV. NADA guides include wholesale and retail pricing for used RVs, and all NADA pricing assumes the RV is in good condition, and proper working order.

Ask to see the NADA price for the unit you are considering purchasing, or look it up on the Internet. For accurate figures you will need to know the make, model, year, options, and for gasoline motorhomes the chassis manufacturer and mileage. You wouldn’t pay full Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for a new automobile or RV, so you shouldn’t pay full retail price for a used RV either. If the used RV you are looking at is in good condition and everything operates properly a fair price would be somewhere between the NADA wholesale and retail price guidelines.

Buying From a Private Owner

Another option is to purchase from a private owner. Some RV owners don’t use their RV enough to justify keeping and maintaining it. One common problem with buying from a private owner is they still owe more than the RV is worth, or they think the RV is worth more than it really is. This is where it is important to do your research before making any offers. Find out the make, model and year of the RV and look it up in the NADA guide online. Remember, the pricing in the guide is based on the RV being in good condition. That means there is no damage and everything on the RV operates properly.

Another consideration when buying from a private owner, is completing all the required paperwork with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Check to see if there are any liens on the title and what needs to be done to clear the liens. Do not purchase an RV that is not properly titled for the state you live in.

Know What You’re Buying

I mentioned a moment ago that the RV needs to be in good overall condition. If you decide to purchase a used RV make sure all of the systems and appliances operate properly, and there is no type of hidden damage that can’t easily be seen. Damage caused by water leaks can be hard to detect and extremely costly to repair. If you are not knowledgeable about RV’s you should take someone with you who is, to thoroughly inspect the unit you are considering purchasing.

It may be possible to hire someone to inspect the unit before you buy it, similar to how you would have a home inspection done prior to purchasing a house. If you purchase the used RV from a dealership they normally perform a Pre-Delivery Inspection (PDI) on the RV, to determine the condition and make any necessary repairs. Most RV dealers will give you a walk-through orientation of the RV, demonstrating that everything is operating properly. I recommend that you purchase an RV training video on the type of RV you are buying and view it prior to the scheduled walk-through. You will have a much better understanding of how everything works and you can ask more targeted questions.


Another factor when purchasing a used RV is warranty. If you decide a used RV is your best choice, check to see if there is any type of warranty available on the unit. If you buy a used RV from a private owner it is normally “AS IS” with no warranty. This is true with many RV dealers too.

Replacing an RV refrigerator or other major appliance can be very expensive. Most RV dealers will offer an extended service plan or contract if the used RV meets the service plan criteria. You can also purchase these plans from RV clubs and reputable RV related websites on the Internet. The age of the unit will factor into the cost of the plan, but you should be able to negotiate with the dealership concerning pricing for a service plan.

It is extremely important to read all of the fine print, and understand exactly what is covered and what is not covered in any type of service plan or contract you purchase. Many times service plans offer different levels of coverage, based on the cost of the plan. You also want to make sure other RV dealers and repair facilities will honor the service plan you purchase. It won’t do you any good if you need repairs while you are traveling and nobody will honor the service plan. In many cases you pay for the repairs up front and get reimbursed later. Check it out before you sign on the dotted line.

To sum it up, when purchasing a used RV, research the product and the pricing, thoroughly inspect the unit for any type of damage, check into a warranty or extended service contract and negotiate the selling price. Now load it up hook it up, fuel it up and JUST RV IT!

For more information on how to purchase, use and maintain your RV be sure and visit www.rveducation101.com.

Happy RV Learning,

Mark J. Polk

14 Responses

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  1. GENE

    This is very good info and we need more of it. It is so easy to be taken this day and age, so all the info you can supply will be greatly appreciated. Thanks. G

    January 18, 20121:06 pmReply
    • Sally

      Use your nose-sniff for mold-sniff the refrigerator-check the wallcovering for rough spots(water intrusion) look for water stains on the ceiling-check outside for signs of delamination-make sure there are no soft spots in the floor. Many things can be replaced or upgraded but the basic structure must be sound.

      January 18, 20122:31 pmReply
  2. Willy Woelk

    We have a used R.V. that I got from a “friend” that could not use it anymore! At first I did not know what I was getting, since it would be my first R.V., and did we get a lot of problems to fix, the tires, the entrance door, the storage, etc…I thought at the time we got a fair deal, then I fixed everything on it. Then in one of my trips we decide to stop and visit our “friend” that sold us the unit, when he saw all we done and all fixed, he said that he should sold for much more tha

    January 18, 20122:48 pmReply
  3. Willy Woelk

    Ooops, continue on the above comment… so the “friend” said he should sold the unit for much more than what he did! The comment maybe harmless, but it was painfull to hear it, specially after all that we been thru and done! So I recomend that you never buy it from somebody you know! It’s trouble down the road, believe me, never again…

    January 18, 20122:55 pmReply
  4. Jim Montgomery

    I bought a used Class C motorhome from a dealer having an RV sale at a local mall. The unit was a 2003 that I purhased in 2010. The unit was very clean and I bought it because it was a Winnebago. I am still driving it after two years with no problems. The dealer was more than fair. They even replaced the awning because there was a hole in it.

    January 18, 20125:06 pmReply
  5. JDinFL

    Look inside all you want, but if you don’t check the roof for signs of long-term or even short-term leaks and proper sealants on ALL seams, you still might not know what is hiding in some of the inside walls.

    January 18, 20126:07 pmReply
  6. Peter Hickey

    Thanks for the info. It is concise and comprehensive. Will be in our book as we launch a look at a new(er) RV.

    January 18, 20126:12 pmReply
  7. Joan Arnolld

    I purchased a used Cruise Canada 24′ unit and it was a complete disaster. They had a list of things that I wanted taken care of and when I picked it up most of the items had been done. However, when I tried to start the furnace for a trip south – it didn’t work. The skylight over the bathroom leaked. The unit was inside their garage and they could not start the furnace inside.They were to give me better tires but on further analysis they were just as bad as the tires on the unit at the time of the deal. The microwave would not even pop popcorn. When I tried to have these issues rectified I was told they could not do anything for me. BUYER BE AWARE

    January 19, 20125:40 amReply
  8. Gabe Cicale

    My wife and I have been RVing since 1986 and have never purchased a new RV. We have owned 2 trailers and 2 motor homes, a class C and A. Our experience has been mostly very good with these units. It does take due diligence to inspect and know what you are buying, but there are always good deals out there. There are many RVs for sale that have been “underused” for a variety of reasons. Plus, it is more enjoyable not having a huge payment creating the pressure to use it every possible opportunity. It is supposed to be recreation.

    January 19, 20127:50 amReply
  9. CPT Kirk

    Years ago we purchased a brand new 25′ Forest River ultra-light travel trailer. Never again! Every time we took it out something else broke on it. Owned it for 5 years and sold it for 1/3 of what we originally paid.

    We returned to our roots of tent camping for several years, but it eventually became to much work for us. So, we planned to purchase a new, 4-season, full-sized (no light or ultra-light), 30′ travel trailer. And, we were planning to purchase a used F-150 to pull it. We spent several months shopping around for what we wanted.

    We were on a dealership lot looking around, and out of curiosity went to look at the used motorhomes. That was it! We are now the proud owners of a 2000 Winnebago Adventurer! Purchased it for a little under the NADA price, which was less than the individual cost of either the new travel traierl or the used pick-up!

    Yes, it is 12 years old and possesses 12 year old styling, furnature, appliances, etc. And, because it is 12 years old, it has a couple issues that we plan to fix in the future, and make some upgrades. But, everything works! The dealership was outstanding and helped to educate us on the different motorhome systems and showed us how everything functioned. We are very happy with it! Now, we just need to get used to the 5 mile per gallon gas mileage!

    Buying used can be the right thing to do, but give it your due dilligence and understand what you are getting. Like knowing the used car before buying it, make sure you know the used RV, too.

    January 20, 20125:06 amReply
  10. Jim Panzetta

    Bought a 1985 Class C I saw on the internet. Paid $4500.00 and had to put another $4000.00 in it for hidden problems. Bought it in March 2011, took my first trip in November 2011. Got towed home. Buy from a dealer only, with a warranty.

    January 20, 201210:31 amReply
  11. Barb & Peter Mahon

    We bought a 1995 Class C Gulf stream motor home from Craig”s List. We had searched all over and looked many places. We bought from a private owner and they went over everything about the rig. They were so very helpful and even left the interior added decor for us to enjoy. No high pressure, hard sell from a dealer. The personal touch is the way to go.

    February 19, 20121:56 pmReply
  12. Barb & Peter Mahon

    Bought a 1995 Class C from Craigs List. Bought it in May, 2009 and it has been great. The previous owners went through everything about the rig and were super helpful. They even gave us the RV with the extra decor they put in. We did not have the hassle of a dealer with high pressure tactics, etc.

    February 20, 20123:34 pmReply
  13. Michael E. Rose

    When you are going for buying a used RV then inspect the RV immediately or as soon as possible. Before inspection creates your checklist from all you has learned. Extended warranty is also an important thing to consider. In my personal experience I bought an extended warranty from Warrantech for my RV and I found this warranty very beneficial.

    July 21, 20165:12 amReply

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