When you buy a used RV for full-timing, you won’t have some of fancy bells and whistles that new RVs have. But the upside is that you’ll kick off your new lifestyle with a lighter debt load and far less worry when you roam.
Of course, used RVs almost always have something wrong, but you can avoid the most costly issues by following these basic tips.
Know what you can afford after you buy
Used RVs save money upfront, but even the best ones eventually need work. Before you decide on a rig, take an honest look at your finances. Even the best full-timing budget has uncertainty.
Do you have the financial cushion to cover regular and unexpected repairs on that rig? Consider the age of the RV and costs of fixing everything from maintaining axle bearings to buying new tires.
Different RV types have different maintenance costs, some higher and some lower. For example, a Class A RV may have more maintenance or repairs than a trailer because it has an engine.
Think about buying from a private party
When we chose to buy a used RV for full-timing, my husband and I assumed that buying from a dealer would give us more protection under state lemon laws.
Wrong! The few RV lemon laws in existence don’t cover pre-owned towable RVs (at least in states where I was looking). Motorhome protection under lemon laws is also extremely limited.
Of course, RV dealers have to stay relatively honest to remain in business, but private parties can be more trustworthy than we give them credit for.
See if extended warranties are right for you
Extended warranties on used RVs are ideal for the RVer who isn’t mechanically inclined (or who just doesn’t want to be). Many companies offer comprehensive plans that will cover you for all incidents, even for add-on items like solar panels.
Others aren’t as generous and exclude anything that wasn’t bolted to the rig when it came off the assembly line. Talk to RVers about extended warranties. Don’t buy until you have a copy of the plan’s exclusions, limitations, and benefits. Then you’ll know if it’s worth adding over $1,000 dollars to your used RV purchase.
Above all else, get the RV inspected
Don’t be more interested in the look and layout of the RV. It`s very important to look behind the walls and under the floor. Never commit to an RV unless you have a knowledgeable RVing friend, mechanic, or RV inspector take an in-depth look at the candidate.
A good RV inspection isn’t cheap but it helps avoid bad RV purchases. Set aside a few hours to check out your strongest RV options. Asking other RVers about RV inspection checklist tips will benefit you greatly and save you money.
You might be thinking that buying new can save you time and worry. Rest assured, it won’t because even the best new RVs can have problems. Stay methodical and open-minded about pre-owned RVs that you see. Choose to buy a used RV for full-timing and you’ll enjoy a whole new level of confidence in your adventures.
See also: What To Look For When Buying A Used RV
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
I see only four tips: Affordability // Private party // Warranties // Inspection. So what is the fifth, please?
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
Well that’s embarrassing! Thanks for catching the typo, it really was just four.
Thomas Seim says
The pluses of buying a used RV are that the defects typically found in a new rig are already addressed. But, as time moves on, this benefit is over-whelmed by things wearing out with age. If the rig is 2-3 years old this has probably not happened, if it is 10+ years old it definitely has. Things like tires. People worry about engines, but they are generally the least of your worries.
Ok, can you think of the worst, most expensive problem you can have with a RV (barring total structural failure)? Answer: water leaks. They will cause more damage than anything else, except a rollover. Inspect the interior for ANY stains around the ceiling and corners; if you see any WALK AWAY! Inspect the exterior for any waviness/bulging. Water infiltration WILL rot the framing used in most RVs (I searched extensively for an RV framed entirely with aluminum and covered with composite sheeting [read NO wood]). This damage will be hidden for a long time before it raises its ugly head.
This should be obvious, but BEFORE you buy a used RV test ALL of appliances for proper operation. Especially pressurize the water lines and test for leaks. You will need a water pressure meter for this. Turn on the water pressure, pressurize everything, then turn OFF the pressure. The system should hold pressure w/o any change for a long time (an hour). If it starts to drop immediately there IS a leak; WALK AWAY at this point!
Is the electrical system up to code? I helped troubleshoot an older RV that kept tripping a GFIC breaker; the only way to get that to stop was to disconnect the safety ground – a NO-NO! That RV could NEVER be made compatible with GFIC outlets found in any decent RV park; WALK AWAY!
Is the propane system safe? Again, put a gauge on it, pressurize the lines, then shut off the source. Look for a pressure drop; if any occurs WALK AWAY!
Does the 3-way fridge work ALL 3 WAYS? That means does the freezer FREEZE? This will take some time to test – insist on it! Have the owners turn it on the day before you look at it so it is down to temperature. Bring a thermometer to check it – if it doesn’t get down below 10F WALK AWAY!
Check for unusual odors and smells. A musty smell indicts mold; if you smell this WALK AWAY!
Check the condition of the tires and when the wheel bearings were last serviced (this is for trailers). Most owners have NEVER had them serviced. Look for unusual tire wear; if the wheels are out of alignment the tires will wear unevenly (less or no tread on one side of the tire). If you see this WALK AWAY!
Frankly, I find it surprising that the article made no mention of these basic items – it demonstrates either a lack of understanding or a superfluous article.
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
Thomas your additional insight here is helpful, thanks. You’ll find more information like this throughout RV Life by searching the website. Unfortunately with readers’ short attention spans, had we made this piece longer (for example, by including the 494 words of advice in your comment, in addition to the 543 already written) very few people would actually make it to the end of the piece. Many RVing topics like this are just too large to be addressed in one article.
Carolyn Stabenow says
Hahaha! Love it. I actually read it to the end, but you are right, we like shorter articles. I am new at this and looking into full time but rhes long articles with so much detail and info scare me. I need one piec at a time or it’s to overwhelming. Don’t have much money, but I am looking for class c, small fairly new wirh warranty to cover all these issues. Please folks, keep it simple for us unsure, single woman newbies..
Thomas Seim says
So, do you actually think real problems will keep it short, sweet and simple?
THANK YOU!!!!- Thomas. I have saved your comments as i plan to search for a used RV soon. I knew to look for water damage but clueless about the other items. I appreciate your details!
Laurel Dufer says
I used Car Fax, Gives information on failed smog testing and helpful information. Bought a 1996 Class C 4 years ago from a private party, Also, private party had all records on repairs and maintenance. warranty information on all the appliances,
You can save a fortune buying used instead of new but there are some precautions. #1. Be realistic about your repair skills. I’m a full timer who bought used but I also have the skills to fix problems. Be honest with yourself. #2 water damage. These can be incredibly expensive to fix. Don’t even consider buying one with major water damage. Site down the sides, site front and rear for ripples or bulges.That’s delamination and you don’t want it..Look inside especially around the slide outs.Look for any discoloration or signs of water leaks. Again, a very expensive repair. Get up on the roof looking for signs of water leaks or anything unusual looking. Turn the AC units on before going up and listen to them, again look for signs of water leaks. Open cabinets, windows and corners looking for water damage.Water leaks are the single biggest RV killer. Inspect carefully.
Through the magic of depreciation, you can often get “more” RV for your money. A few years ago, I purchased a 12 year old Blue Bird Wanderlodge, 42′ with DD Series 60 engine. The previous owner provided me with his maintenance logs and receipts — and it had relatively new tires and otherwise was in generally good shape. The advice I received from a user group of that type of RV was to “hold out” about $10,000 for “unexpected repairs” and “desirable changes” to the RV.
After bringing the RV home (Texas to California via Denver), I noted that the engine ran a little hot. Unexpected repair: new radiator core — I chose to upgrade to a more-modern design radiator core rather than “boil out” the old radiator. Cost (with about 25% spent on the chassis AC) came to $4,000.
I also “remodeled” the forward salon, removing sofas to install an office with filing cabinets, computer desk etc. (I’m self employed and could work on the road.) Cost $2000 or so — (also installed new bamboo flooring).
There were a few other expenses for maintenance items and other improvements (such as a new AM-FM radio with iPod connector). The overall estimate of $10,000 was not far off from what I spent.
Note that the Wanderlodge is a “high end” RV. My purchase price was only $120,000 (in 2006) but the coach had features that brand new coaches at $300,000 to $400,000 did not offer.
We owned the coach for 40 months, traveled 36,000 miles through (parts of) 26 states and achieved our goal of finding a place to “retire to.” While our plan to “full-time” didn’t work out (due to the “great recession”) we were unable to sell our home. However, we did make trips of 3 to 4 months at a stretch, returning home for doctor visits, and to over winter in mild California weather.
The magic of depreciation hurt a bit when we sold our Wanderlodge (RV prices generally were in the tank due to the great recession) but it was time for us to sell it.
Eventually, we purchased a Sprinter Van based Roadtrek RV, and we still regularly use it for shorter trips (generally 3-4 days up to a couple weeks). The advantage of the smaller RV is ease of driving on narrow, back roads, and it’s small enough that we don’t tow a car with it.
Boats and RV’s depreciate like mad the moment you drive them off the lot. You can save a fortune in buying a used RV but like anything else there are some precautions. You will save the most in buying for an individual rather than a dealer but be careful. Here are the drawbacks” 1) Individuals will not be able to arrange financing so expect to pay cash or have to arrange your own financing 2) Individuals may not be honest about the RV’s condition and once sold you really are on your own. 3) Do not hesitate to have your candidate RV inspected by a professional RV technician/inspector..Their inspection fee could be the best money you could spend and prevent you from buying a nightmare. 4)When buying used vs new be prepared to make some repairs. You can save a fortune buying used vs new but go into it with your eyes wide open.
After 50plus yrs travelling in Caravans.
I’d never buy a new one again. A lot of people buy a van. do the lap then settle down again.
There are a LOT of recently new vans on market.
Used. Tested out. any faults (Mostly) repaired and often extra’s.
Previous vans all new.
My last 2 vans have been second hand. and much better value for money than new.
Roadstar 6.5mtrTandem Semi offroader. 4 yrs old. 1 1/2 laps. $77k new. Cost me $41.5k
had for 13 yrs, did 9 plus laps in it
Never missed a beat. and VERY comfortable. SAFE to tow.
This one. Coromal offroader 1998 18ft 6in Tandem….. New?..
price paid $12k.
Insurance value $19.800k.
He a Canadian here on contract,
.Teenage kids came over. Bought van for kids to live in in drive.
Never used on road for over 6 yrs.
Basically study room. TV and 2 beds
I’m just overlaying lino flooring with 300szq cork tiles.and
installing a HWSPorta Potti LED lighting.
total cost under 13k and a very nice. Light go most places van.
And if I never use. Not too much money involved.
It has less than 10000 km’s under the wheels. Single beds. New tyres.
Kids gone. he wanted out of drive.
Just missed a 16ft 6 Evernew. 1998 again.
Lived in garage from new. Travelled 65km up road once a yr for family visit.
No spare beds in house. Cooker, fridge, Microwave still had plastic covers over them.
never used. Just used as a temp bed for old couple 2 weeks a yr.
Had LESS than 2000km under wheels.
Really was a NEW van inside. $12.500 asking.
If you want a smaller van. there are dozens of such.
Evernew/coromal/Regal on market down South
A lot hardly used. and real cheap. Just cost of fuel to collect.
And any van over 6.5 mtrs is really wasted space.
I’ve had from 12ft6 rear door to a static 28fter.
Off road work. 12ft 6 in MAX.
For travelling in comfort.17ft 6in to 18ft MAX.
.Living in full time. 6.5mtrs covers everything a normal couple needs.
Anything bigger just costs more. heavier to drag WITH a bigger tug.
and collects MORE crap on travels.
These dealers really do have latest van buyers conned regarding size requirements.
Bigger is not best. only more exxy and clumsy.
while requiring larger tug to tow it.
My all time favourite van for living and travelling in
was a Compass. 17ft 6in Pop top off roader..
Air cond. Ext shower. Porta potti and single axle.
went everywhere and comfortable as. People commented on internal size.
and towed with a std 1999 Navara dual cab..
Robert McHenry says
Purchased our new to us 07 Fleetwood Discovery with full wall slide and 30k on odometer for 89k on consignment. Not a scratch on her! Do my own work so have saved thousands doing my own work. Great writeup/ comments.
Mark Finnesgard says
We purchased a 2003 DP for 40k and spent 25k to get it up to snuff.
We’re can you buy a 250k MH for 65k?