What To Look For When Buying A Used RV Motorhome Or Trailer

What To Look For When Buying A Used RV Motorhome Or Trailer

Buying a used RV can be a nerve-racking experience, but it can also be a way to avoid breaking the bank on a brand-new model. If you know what to look for in your potential purchase, you might just score the deal of a lifetime.

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The more you find out about the RV’s history, the less likely you’ll be to buy a piece of junk. Photo by Greg Gjerdingen/Flickr

Shopping for a used RV

Before you decide to start looking for an RV, figure out what type of motorhome or trailer will best suit your lifestyle. If possible, rent or borrow an RV and take it on a weekend excursion to see what you’re comfortable with. Can you drive a 40-foot rig? Do you enjoy camping in smaller vehicles, or do you need more space?

What floor plan is most convenient for you? When you have what you’re looking for in mind, establish a budget for yourself. Remind yourself of your budget while shopping for RVs and don’t exceed it. This will prevent you from overspending. You can also request quotes from your insurance company to determine what your insurance will cover.

There are plenty of RV listings online, from websites like eBay and craigslist to RVT and Camping World. You can also find classifieds on RV forums like Airstream Classifieds and iRV2. Shop around locally and pay attention to current prices and market values.

Do some research to educate yourself; you’ll feel much more prepared to bargain. Remember that low prices and gas mileage are not always a good sign. Why does the owner want to get rid of the vehicle so quickly? Why didn’t they drive it often? Are there issues with handling? RVchecks offers $25 history reports for some vehicles. The more you find out about the RV’s history, the less likely you’ll be to buy a piece of junk.

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Oftentimes you will pay a much lower price when buying from a private source. Photo by dave_7/Flickr

Buying from a private owner versus a dealership

When shopping for a used vehicle, you have two choices. You can visit a pre-owned RV dealership, or you can buy from a private owner. Private purchases through craigslist or another site are better in many ways since they put the seller and the buyer at the same level of experience.

There is more freedom to negotiate, as the seller is usually eager to get rid of the large RV taking up their yard. For even more bargaining leverage, you can offer to pay in cash and take the vehicle immediately. Oftentimes you will pay a much lower price when buying from a private source.

Alternatively, you can visit a dealer, who will most likely mark up the price for pre-owned RVs. However, if it is your first time purchasing an RV, you might feel more comfortable buying from an RV dealer without having to conduct a full inspection.

Visually inspecting the RV

If you decide to buy from a private source, always ask to take a look at the vehicle. Never purchase a used RV without thoroughly inspecting it!

One of the biggest reasons to avoid buying an RV is if it has water damage. Walk through the rig, checking for mold, bubbling, and rot in all corners. Check for soft spots on the walls and around bathroom fixtures. If you see brown spots on the floor or ceiling, rust on the exterior screws, or dips in the roof, you should probably steer clear.

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Walk through the rig, checking for mold, bubbling, and rot in all corners. Photo via clint623 on iRV2 Forums

Don’t be afraid to peer into cupboards and closets with a flashlight and stand in the shower to check its size. Jump on the floor and push on the walls to test structural integrity.

It’s also important to climb onto the roof and examine the seals. If the caulking appears crumbly or blackened, there’s a good chance that the roof will leak. While you’re up there, check the ladder for loose screws. Remove all vent covers and take a look at the seams underneath. If possible, use a garden hose to spray the roof and windows, then check for leaks inside.

Ask the owner to pop the hood so that you can check the RV’s oil. If there is engine damage, the oil will smell burnt. Check the power cord and battery bank, and make sure the battery is running at 12.6-12.8 volts. If the date on the battery is older than 7 years, it needs to be replaced. Examine the tires as well; the last two digits on the inscription will tell you the year they were manufactured. If the tires were made more than 5 years ago, they need to be replaced.

Testing RV functions

Before purchasing, ask the owner to let you take the rig on a test drive. If they won’t let you test it, don’t buy it! Drive at top speeds on the freeway and practice maneuvering in an empty parking lot. You may also want to have the owner drive part of the time and experience the ride from the passenger’s seat. Check for odd noises or jolts while driving, and make sure that all systems are operational.

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Check for odd noises or jolts while driving. Photo by Oscar Nilsson

After the test drive, make sure to run all other functions and look for issues. Check that all locks and latches are secure, and turn on light fixtures. Run all electrical systems, including air conditioning and heater.

Check awnings for proper function and make sure that no tears are present. If the RV has slide outs, make sure that they are fully operational and without damage. Inspect tanks and water heater for any leaks and check the plumbing as well. Check the water pump and turn on all faucets. Turn on the oven and stove and sniff around for any propane leaks.

If you find a few minor problems during your inspection, don’t panic. You may still get a good deal, though you will have to pay a little extra to fix the issues. Estimate repair costs and add them to the seller’s price to determine whether the purchase is worthwhile. You may even be able to point out problems that the seller had missed and use them to your bargaining advantage.

Questions to ask

One last step you should be sure to follow is to ask questions. Before starting your interrogation, make sure the person who is showing you the RV actually is the owner, not some friend or relative who happened to be available.

The owner’s mother is not likely to know much about the RV and most likely won’t be able to answer your questions. You should also make sure that the RV’s vehicle identification number (VIN) matches the registration and paperwork with the owner’s name. If the owner can’t provide you with the vehicle’s registration, steer clear.

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You may be able to point out problems that the seller missed and use them to your bargaining advantage. Photo by Rawpixel/Unsplash

Asking about the RV’s history can provide you with valuable information about the quality of the vehicle. How many people have owned the RV? If it has been through several owners and is still in good condition, chances are that it will last longer.

Have animals lived in the RV? This is a very important question to ask if you are allergic. Has anyone smoked in the RV? Did its past owners take good care of it and regularly check the safety features? Has the RV spent a lot of time in areas with extreme weather? Ask about warranties, past repairs, and the reason that the owner is selling it.

If you follow these steps when buying a used RV, you’ll find that it’s possible to own a high-quality rig without spending a fortune. If you remember what to look for and what to avoid, your next purchase will be a walk in the park…the RV park.

Read this article from Do It Yourself RV on why you should never buy an RV brand new.



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