For seasoned campers, hitting the road is one of the most enjoyable feelings out there. Honestly, RVing has been one of our favorite activities since we started exploring the world several years ago. If you’re looking to get into the swing of campervanning permanently, why not consider getting a more permanent motorhome?
Buying a second-hand RV is a fantastic way to save some money while still getting a fabulous home on wheels. But, of course, it’s crucial to do your homework and make a wise decision.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything we know about what to look for in buying a second-hand RV.
Why go for a Second-Hand RV?
So, why should you opt for a second-hand RV instead of a shiny new one? Here are some of the top reasons to consider this type of investment.
Major Cost Savings
The financial aspect is a significant factor in choosing a second-hand RV, as it offers substantial cost savings.
When you purchase a new RV, it undergoes rapid depreciation, losing as much as 30% of its value within the first year. Opting for a used RV allows someone else to bear the brunt of this initial depreciation.
Plus, owning a used RV often comes with lower insurance and registration costs, further contributing to your overall savings.
For used motorhomes, you can expect the following price ranges depending on the type you get and the condition it’s in:
- Pop-Up Campers and Teardrop Trailers: The simplest and most budget-friendly options, these can range from as low as $3,000 to around $10,000 for models in decent condition.
- Travel Trailers: A used travel trailer can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 depending on size, amenities, and age.
- Fifth Wheel Trailers: These are typically more expensive due to their larger size and additional features. Prices can range from $20,000 to $50,000 for models that are in good shape and not too outdated.
- Class B Motorhomes (Camper Vans): These compact motorhomes are in high demand and can be quite expensive, even second-hand. Prices can range from $30,000 to well over $100,000 depending on the brand, condition, and build quality.
- Class C Motorhomes: A mid-range option between Class B and Class A, you can expect to find used Class C motorhomes priced between $30,000 and $80,000.
- Class A Motorhomes: These are the largest and most luxurious options, with used prices typically ranging from $50,000 to $200,000+, heavily influenced by the level of luxury, age, and the mileage on the odometer.
More Options Within Budget
With a second-hand RV, your budget can stretch further, potentially allowing you to access higher-end models with more features and amenities than a new RV in the same price range.
This means you can enjoy a larger, better-equipped RV without exceeding your budget, giving you more value for your money.
Proven Track Record
Older RV models have been on the road longer, offering a proven track record of their performance and reliability.
You can easily find extensive reviews and feedback from other RVers who have owned the same model, providing valuable insights into the RV’s strengths and potential issues. This wealth of information can guide you in making an informed decision.
Easier to Resell
When it comes time to resell, a second-hand RV offers advantages in terms of value retention. Due to slower depreciation, you’re likely to recoup a larger percentage of your investment compared to reselling a new RV.
Plus, the strong market demand for second-hand RVs also increases your chances of finding a buyer when you’re ready to move on.
Choosing a second-hand RV aligns with the principles of reducing waste, reusing resources, and recycling. By extending the life of an existing vehicle, you contribute to decreased manufacturing demand and waste, making a positive impact on the environment.
When it comes to availability, second-hand RVs offer immediate access, helping you avoid the long wait times associated with manufacturing backlogs that are common with popular new RV models. This means you can hit the road and start your adventures without delay!
Types of RVs
There are a few different types of RVs to choose from as you peruse used options. Here’s a bit of information about the types of recreational motorhomes you might see on the market.
Class A Motorhomes
Class A motorhomes are the largest and most luxurious of the RV family, often resembling a bus in their size and shape. These RVs offer an abundance of space and are equipped with high-end amenities, providing a home-like experience on the road.
These RVs are perfect for long-term travelers or those who prefer to travel in style, with plenty of room for storage and living. However, their size can make them challenging to drive and maneuver, especially for beginners, and they tend to have lower fuel efficiency.
Class B Motorhomes (Camper Vans)
Class B motorhomes, sometimes called campervans, are the smallest motorhomes available. They are easy to drive and maneuver in a variety of settings since they’re built on a van chassis.
These RVs offer great fuel efficiency and are perfect for solo travelers or couples. While they provide less living space compared to larger RVs, they make up for it with their versatility and the ability to camp stealthily.
Class C Motorhomes
Class C motorhomes strike a nice balance between the large Class A and the compact Class B. They are built on a truck chassis and are easily recognizable by their over-the-cab sleeping or storage area.
Class C motorhomes provide a good amount of living space and are often equipped with all the necessary amenities for comfortable travel. They are a popular choice for families and those new to RVing due to their balance of size and drivability.
Travel trailers are towable RVs that come in a wide range of sizes and layouts, making them a versatile option for travelers. They require a separate vehicle for towing, but this means you can detach the trailer and use your vehicle for day trips.
Travel trailers offer a variety of amenities, and larger models can rival motorhomes in terms of space and comfort.
Fifth-wheel trailers are the largest of the towable RVs and offer a bi-level floor plan, which provides a spacious and home-like feel. However, they do require a pickup truck with a special hitch in the bed for towing.
Fifth wheels are known for their stability and ease of towing, and they are popular among full-time RVers and those looking for a luxurious camping experience.
Pop-up campers are a lightweight and budget-friendly option for those new to RVing or those who prefer a more minimalist camping experience. They are compact when folded down, making them easy to tow and store.
When set up, they provide a good amount of living space with sleeping areas, a small kitchen, and sometimes a bathroom.
Where to Buy a Second-Hand RV
Where do you find a used RV, anyway? There are actually many places you can find a second-hand RV for sale, from dealerships all the way to consignment lots. Here’s a bit more information about each of these options.
Many RV dealerships offer a range of second-hand options alongside their new models. When you purchase from a dealership, you often receive a certain level of assurance regarding the RV’s condition, as many dealerships inspect and perform necessary repairs on used units before selling them. Some might even offer limited warranties.
However, prices at dealerships can be higher due to overhead costs, and the sales environment can sometimes feel high-pressure.
Private sales, facilitated through online marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or RV-specific sales platforms, allow you to buy directly from the current owner.
This option can offer lower prices since there’s no dealership markup, and the owner can provide firsthand insights about the RV’s history and quirks.
On the flip side, private sales come with less assurance about the RV’s condition, so you must be vigilant about inspecting the RV thoroughly or hiring a professional to do so.
RV Shows and Expos
Attending RV shows and expos can be a fantastic way to see a variety of RVs in person and potentially find a second-hand gem. Some events have sections dedicated to private sellers, while others might feature dealership booths with used options.
RV shows also provide the opportunity to compare different models side-by-side and ask questions in a low-pressure environment. However, the selection of used RVs might be limited compared to other avenues.
Websites like eBay host online auctions for RVs, providing another platform to find second-hand options. Auctions can sometimes result in a lower purchase price, but they also come with a higher level of risk and uncertainty.
Thoroughly researching the RV, understanding the auction terms, and being prepared to walk away if the price exceeds your budget are crucial when participating in online auctions.
Consignment lots sell RVs on behalf of private owners, providing a middle ground between dealership and private sales.
These lots often perform basic inspections and handle the paperwork, adding a layer of convenience and assurance. However, prices might be higher than buying directly from a private seller.
Local Community Boards
Don’t underestimate the power of local community boards, both online and physical, as potential sources for second-hand RVs. Sometimes sellers prefer to deal locally, and you might find a gem just around the corner.
What to Look for in a Second-Hand RV
When it comes to getting a great deal, you can’t just choose the first used RV you see. You should inspect any second-hand RV very carefully to make sure it is in good condition and meets all of your desires.
Here are the main things you need to inspect when considering any used RV.
Examine the RV’s overall condition. Look for signs of wear and tear, and assess whether it appears to have been well-maintained. Check for any signs of damage, rust, or deterioration, particularly on the exterior. The tires should be in good condition, with plenty of tread and no signs of cracking or uneven wear.
Water damage can be a deal-breaker when it comes to RVs. Inspect the walls, ceilings, and floors for any signs of water damage, such as staining, bubbling, or a musty odor. Pay special attention to areas around windows, doors, and roof seams, as these are common spots for leaks.
Ensure that the RV’s electrical system is fully functional. Test all lights, outlets, and appliances to make sure they are working properly. Check the condition of the RV batteries and inquire about their age, as they can be expensive to replace.
Test the RV’s plumbing system. Check for leaks, ensure the water pump is working efficiently, and verify that the hot water heater is functioning. Don’t forget to inspect the condition of the holding tanks and inquire about any past issues or repairs.
Appliances and Amenities
Test all the appliances and amenities to make sure they are in working order. This includes the stove, oven, refrigerator, air conditioner, and heating system. If the RV has additional features like a generator or solar panels, make sure they are functioning well.
Engine and Mechanics
If you’re looking at a motorhome, pay close attention to the engine and mechanical aspects. Check for any leaks or irregular sounds, and inquire about the vehicle’s maintenance history. Ensure the brakes, transmission, and other crucial mechanical components are in good condition.
Inspect the interior of the RV for any signs of wear, damage, or potential issues. Check the condition of the upholstery, cabinets, and other furnishings. Ensure that all windows, doors, and latches are working properly.
Be alert to any unusual or strong odors inside the RV, as they can be indicators of mold, mildew, or other issues. A musty smell could indicate water damage, while a strong chemical odor might signal issues with the plumbing system.
Documentation and History
Ask for documentation of the RV’s history, including maintenance records, repair receipts, and any warranties that might still be in place. Understanding the RV’s past can provide valuable insights into its current condition and potential future issues.
Consider getting a professional inspection, especially if you’re new to RVing or unsure about what to look for. An expert can provide a thorough assessment of the RV’s condition, highlight potential issues, and give you peace of mind in your decision.
Purchasing a used RV sometimes comes with the need for some additional servicing to ensure everything is road-ready. Here’s a breakdown of potential servicing costs you might encounter:
- Mechanical Servicing: Essential for motorized RVs, expect to spend $150-$300 for a basic service like an oil change and brake inspection. More extensive repairs or replacements can cost upwards of $1,000.
- Appliance Check: Inspecting and servicing the stove, refrigerator, and HVAC system can range from $200 to $500 depending on what repairs or replacements are needed.
- Electrical System: A standard electrical check can cost around $100-$200, while more complex issues, including battery replacement, could climb to $500 or more.
- Plumbing System: A basic plumbing system inspection and minor repairs might start at $100, but major issues could cost several hundred dollars to address.
- Propane Gas System: A professional leak test and servicing can cost between $100 and $300, ensuring all connections are secure and safe.
- Seals and Roof Condition: Re-sealing windows, doors, and the roof typically ranges from $200 to $800, while more significant roof repairs can exceed $1,500.
- Interior Condition: Costs here will vary greatly, but reupholstering furniture, for instance, could start at a few hundred dollars and go up from there.
- Safety Equipment: Replacing or updating safety equipment like detectors and fire extinguishers can cost anywhere from $50 to $200.
Test Driving a Used RV
Taking a used RV for a test drive is a critical step in the buying process, providing you with valuable insights into its performance, condition, and suitability for your needs.
Here’s what you need to focus on to make the most out of your test drive experience.
Before Hitting the Road
Start by conducting a thorough visual inspection of the RV. Check the exterior for any visible damage, ensure that the tires are in good condition, and look under the RV for any signs of leaks or damage. Inside the RV, make sure that everything is secure, and that nothing will shift during the drive.
Check the Basics
Before starting the engine, check the basics. Ensure that all the lights, indicators, and gauges are functioning correctly. If it’s a motorhome, pay attention to the dashboard and all the controls, making sure everything is in working order.
Listen for Unusual Sounds
As you start the engine, listen for any unusual or loud noises. During the drive, pay attention to the sounds or vibrations coming from the engine, transmission, and brakes. Any strange noises could be a sign of underlying issues.
Feel the Drive
Pay attention to how the RV handles on the road. It should steer smoothly without pulling to one side. The brakes should be responsive and bring the RV to a stop without any juddering or squealing. If it’s a towable RV, ensure that it tracks straight behind the towing vehicle and doesn’t sway.
Check the Transmission
For motorhomes, pay close attention to the transmission. It should shift gears smoothly without any hesitation or hard shifts. If possible, drive on a route that includes inclines to see how the RV handles hills and how the transmission responds.
Test the Cruise Control
If the RV is equipped with cruise control, test it out to ensure it’s working correctly. Cruise control can be a valuable feature for long drives, providing convenience and potential fuel savings.
Try Parking and Maneuvering
Find a safe space to practice parking and maneuvering the RV. This will give you a feel for its size and how it handles in tight spaces. If it’s a motorhome, pay attention to the visibility and ensure that you are comfortable with the size and sightlines.
Evaluate the Ride Comfort
Assess the overall comfort of the ride. The seats should be comfortable, and the RV should provide a relatively smooth ride, even on bumpy roads. Any excessive bouncing or swaying could indicate issues with the suspension or weight distribution.
Check the Features
If possible, test out the amenities that can be used while driving, such as the air conditioning, heating, and any entertainment systems. Ensure that everything is functioning correctly and adds to the comfort of the ride.
Do One Last Inspection
Once the test drive is complete, conduct another visual inspection of the RV, checking for any issues that might have become apparent during the drive. Look under the RV again for any new leaks or signs of damage.
Purchasing a second-hand RV is a sensible choice for many, offering greater savings, a wealth of user reviews, and often, a vehicle that has been road-tested and comes with necessary accessories and modifications. It’s about finding that sweet spot between affordability and reliability.
With a discerning eye, a bit of research, and a dash of patience, you’re well on your way to finding the perfect second-hand RV that will be your companion on countless adventures to come.
If you’re interested in learning more about venturing on the road, check out our Beginner Guide to Campervanning in Winter.