Buying a used RV can save you a boatload of money. That is, if you know what you are doing. Sure, we have all heard the horror stories, but with some careful preparation, buying a used RV doesn't have to be bad.
Before we jump in, let's make sure that you have read my RV 101 series. If your time is limited, be sure to at least read:
RV 101 - How To Choose The Perfect RV
RV 101 - Types of RV's
I hope you will read the entire series, but if you are short on time, these two articles should get you up to speed.
Now, let's jump right in. My husband and I bought our RV used in 2014. We learned a ton in the process. Here is my cheat sheet for finding the right rig for your personal camp style.
Step #1: Locate Your Options
Nowadays, you are not limited by your local RV market, but it doesn't hurt to jump right in and check your local newspaper and nickel ads. I suggest you look at the local and state newspapers online to save time. If they don't offer full online classifieds, call the paper and find out which hard copy issue will have the most listings. Newspapers are cutting back, so save time by calling and asking where to look.
Craigslist can be an excellent resource if you use a Craigslist sorter. Visit SearchTempest and set up your preferred options. Are you willing to look all over the U.S. or just within 200 miles? Let SearchTempest know and it will do all the work for you. The results will compile and you can keep your eye on the RV market in a flash.
Many people recommend buying from an individual rather than a dealer's lot. There are several reasons for this. A used RV has a history that only the former owner knows about. The more reliable information you can gather upfront, the easier your life will be. Dealers need to move volume and they are more likely to tell you things about the RV that aren't true or aren't researched. They haven't owned the rig and in most cases driven the rig. Keep that in mind when talking to a dealer.
RV's get limited use, so it's unusual to see many used rigs on a sales lot.
Consignment lots are another option. PPL Motorhomes and MotorhomesOfTexas.com are two examples of higher end consignment programs. If an owner doesn't want to deal with the sale, they will often work with a company to oversee the process. This may give you the best of both worlds. You can still ask questions of the owner, but get the professional experience of dealing with an RV lot.
Look for signs on RV's around town or in campgrounds and ask your friends to look as well. Be sure, though, to tell them exactly what you are looking for so you don't waste a lot of time!
When searching for the right rig, consider the season. Truck campers and trailers often sell best in the Fall for hunters. This means owners may be less willing to drop the price.
The Southwest can be a great place to locate used RV's come Spring. By March, many snowbirds are considering selling rather than hauling their trailer home. Watch for deals in states like Texas, Arizona, Southern California and Florida.
Step #2: The First Look
Once you find an RV you want to look at, guard your heart! You do not want to appear over eager to buy. Instead, approach the RV as step two of your research phase.
Bring a clipboard and use your checklist as you inspect the RV. Make notes of anything that isn't right. Not all problems are a bad thing, but writing down things you see will help you in the negotiation process.
Always have the owner with you when you inspect the RV. Ask a friend or family member to come with you, as well. Two sets of eyes are much better than one.
Remember to consider the miles, the interior wear, the storage history, etc. Each of these factors can contribute to the true condition of the rig. Just because a coach has low miles does not mean it hasn't experienced heavy wear. It's also important to know what you are buying. A traditional diesel Motorhome's engine, properly treated, is good for at least 100,000 miles. A motorcoach/bus conversion has 100K RV Odometer and an engine that will go one-million miles or more. Know what you are looking at before you make an offer.
Step #3: Your Offer
Know your budget and stick to it! If you find "the rig," make a low offer to the owner (nothing insulting). You should know what the value of the RV is and offer factoring in repairs or damage. You should also call your insurance agent and find out the exact price of a policy on your potential RV.
Make your offer contingent on a full inspection by a licensed professional. If the owner won't accept your offer, don't worry about it. Move on. There are tons of RV's in the U.S. and you are sure to find something else you like.
Wait three weeks and if the rig is still for sale, call the previous owner and see if they have changed their mind. You never know what an owner may say, given time to think.
Sooner or later you will find the right RV. Keep searching and don't settle too soon.
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That's it! Those are my top 10 tips for buying an RV. Oh, and don't forget to test drive the unit. I guess that's an obvious one, right?