How to Buy a Used RV

After attending all the RV shows in his area and drooling over the latest model of his dream recreational vehicle, the would-be owner comes back to reality and realizes a new RV is out of the realm of financial reality. But he still wants to buy an RV. Maybe he’s upgrading or changing type of camper or maybe his growing family needs more room, or, conversely, he doesn’t need as much space. Perhaps he is a novice, taking his first foray into the RV lifestyle. Whatever the reason, he is ready to buy a used RV.

Where to Find a Used RV

Used recreational vehicles can be found in many different places and the buyer should do his homework by checking out as many outlets as possible before he makes such a big purchase. There are number of different ways you can do this:

  • Newspaper ads – many folks hoping to sell their RV will advertise in local newspapers.
  • Consignment lots – Those buyers not wishing people to come to their homes to check out their RV often take it to a consignment lot where buyers can inspect the vehicle and negotiate a price.
  • Be on the alert for RVs parked on lawns, in driveways, and other locations in residential neighborhoods sporting For Sale signs.
  • Drive through campgrounds, eyes peeled for recreational vehicles for sale.
  • Online- Check online for RV dealers and for sale by owner websites like National Multilist which claims to be the largest for sale by owner website for RVs among many other things. Criagslist and ebay both feature listings for used RVs.

Recreational Vehicle dealers often sell both new and used RVs. Limited warranties are often available and the buyer should look into that if he is considering purchasing his previously owned RV from a dealer.

Tips for Negotiating to Buy a Used RV

The potential owner has found the perfect used RV for him. He has contacted the seller and set up a meeting to inspect the camper for flaws. The seller, hoping to get his asking price or close to it may not be forthcoming in telling the buyer what is wrong with the RV. For his part, no matter how much he wants to drive away with this particular camper, it behooves the buyer to find out what is wrong with it. A used RV will always have imperfections. Asking to see the title before negotiations begin is also a must.

Then,with notepad in hand he does a thorough inspection, writing down the things that will need to be fixed or replaced. He may make an offer right then but it is a better idea to take his list home and determine how much money it will cost to fix the RV’s defects. With that information in hand he is ready to make his offer.

The buyer may choose to make a low offer. The owner doesn’t accept. Is that the end of their negotiations? Probably not. The buyer waits a week or so and gives the owner a call to see if he has sold the vehicle. If not, the buyer makes a better offer – probably his final offer as he is willing to pay only so much for this particular RV. If the owner accepts, the buyer drives away happy. If the owner declines, the buyer walks away and continues his search for a previously owned RV, secure in the knowledge he will find the perfect one at a price he wants to pay.

Should You Buy Used RV Privately or Through Dealership?

This question comes up inevitably when you are looking for a used camper. There are pros and cons to both so lets look at them closely-

Benefits of Buying a Used RV Through a Private Sale

There are numerous points that make buying an RV privately a terrific choice-

  • Low Cost – Private sale prices are usually 60% to 70% of dealership prices for similar units. Where a dealer may have a rig listed at $9,999 plus tax, similar rigs in private sales may be $8,900, $7,900, or even $5,999. The possibility of saving several thousand dollars is an attractive proposition.
  • Save Money on Options – Even if the used unit sold privately lacks features or options found on a similar dealer unit, the savings in purchase price can allow the buyer to add those features or options and still have money left over. For example, a dealership has a 26′ fifth-wheel with a 50W solar panel installed, priced at $9,900. Suppose that an almost identical model is available privately for $7,900. Even paying the asking price with no bargaining, if the solar panel and installation costs $1,200, the private sale still leaves the buyer $800 ahead.
  • No Sales Tax – In many jurisdictions, private sales are not subject to sales taxes, which can shave a significant percentage off the final bottom-line price of a used RV.
  • Easier Financing – In tough economic times, a buyer may not be able to finance an RV new for $25,000 but may find financing through a home equity loan or a personal loan or even regular credit for a cheaper amount such as $8,000 for a used caravan.
  • Fewer Fees – Buyers at a dealership may be surprised to find additional charges such as a Documentation Fee, an Inspection Fee or the like added into the final price. A private sale has no such “hidden fees”.
  • Greater Room for Negotiation – A dealer has to have a certain bottom line for overhead and commission and may not want to discount the asking price significantly (although this will vary with the time the unit has been on the lot, the season, a need for cash flow, etc.). A private seller may be more willing to haggle or compromise in exchange for, say, cash payment on the spot.

Disadvantages of Buying a Used RV Privately

Anyone buying from private individual relies on the integrity of the seller. It may be argued that the same applies to a dealership, and certainly dealers may be reputable or shady. But consider the following points

  • Dealerships are likely regulated through laws or bylaws regarding their sales and marketing operations; individuals likely are not.
  • Dealers are often part of a professional organization that sets ethical standards for doing business and offers recourse to customers if the dealer violates those standards. Individuals selling RVs will not be part of any such organization.
  • Individual sellers may be quite knowledgeable about their particular unit and its benefits to them as owners but may not have the overall knowledge of the RV industry, RV construction etc. to offer a buyer.

When buying a used RV from a private seller, the principal of caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”) applies. The buyer must do due diligence before closing the deal. Do all the appliances work? Were modifications done by the previous owner done properly? How old are those new-looking tires? Does the owner have documentation for those “new batteries” installed last year? Are all service records available? Even after the purchase, tests may be required to ensure that all mechanical systems are sound (brakes, LPG pressure test, water pressure test) and that the unit can meet all current certifications for roadworthiness and occupation.

Although there are some risks with a private sale, recreational vehicles change hands privately each year in large numbers, and generally speaking a good unit sold privately will be the best bargain for the RV buyer.