Tent camping isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re dreaming of full-time life on the road. If you like to camp but still want some of the comforts of home, like a cozy bed and a solid barrier between you and the creepy crawlies, it might be time to buy a used RV.
That’s what I did when I decided camping life would be much easier in a recreational vehicle, better known as an RV. After plenty of research, I bought my used Class C motorhome off Craigslist—and got a flat tire bringing it home. It could’ve been a nightmare, but luckily I had purchased roadside assistance.
While you can’t prepare for every unexpected circumstance, there are some things you can do before you buy a used RV to make the process go more smoothly.
What to Know Before You Buy a Used RV
So you’ve decided an RV is the right choice for you and your family; the next step is determining what kind of RV to purchase. Your choice may be based on several factors, like type, size, and cost. In general, the smaller the RV, the lower the cost, but age and mileage can also affect price. You’ll also have to decide whether you want to tow your RV or drive an all-in-one vehicle.
5 Tips for Buying Your First Used RV
Once you’ve chosen the right type of RV for your personal needs, here are five tips for shopping around and making the purchase. It can take months or even years to hit the jackpot, so be patient but don’t be afraid to be picky! When you come across an RV that meets your requirements, get ready to act fast.
1. Set your budget.
Money is a key factor when you buy a used RV. Granite countertops and custom fixtures are nice if you can afford them, but if you’re on a budget, factory-installed works just fine. Another option to consider is how often you intend to go camping. For most people, spending thousands on something they use twice a year doesn’t make practical sense.
Weigh your priorities and establish your budget from the start; it will help you focus your search.
2. Widen your search net.
There are many ways to find RVs for sale, like dealerships, word of mouth, local Facebook groups, Craigslist, and more. You can start by doing a Google search on RVs for sale within a specific location. But prepared to look everywhere for what you want—I once looked at an RV for sale in an old chicken house covered in bird droppings.
If you’re willing to travel to pick up your perfect used RV, you might find a great deal that’s a little out of the way. Especially if you live in a city, traveling out to a smaller town where there’s less competition between buyers could lead you to cheaper options.
3. Try shopping online for a used RV.
I spent more than a year searching online and at local dealerships before I happened to be in the right spot at the right time. The ad popped up on Craigslist, I called about it, and put down a $500 deposit the next day. It took a few days to get the financing together, but since I’d already done the research and knew what I wanted, I didn’t have any buyer’s remorse.
A word of caution about purchasing online: conduct the transaction in a safe place, take someone with you, and be prepared for the unexpected. I’d inspected the tires on the outside, but an inner tire went flat about 40 miles from home, so I had to call for roadside assistance.
Buying a used RV in person from a dealership offers benefits that buying online from an individual doesn’t, such as more RVs to choose from, access to the repair shop, and the opportunity to chat with others about what makes RV life perfect for them. On the other hand, you might find better deals online. And it’s much easier to get a feel for the market while browsing from your computer, rather than visiting multiple dealerships.
Here are some online resources for buying a used RV:
- RV Trader: North America’s leading website in RV classifieds. Search here for a massive selection of used RVs.
- Craigslist: A go-to for private sellers and shoppers looking for good deals.
- Classy RV: A far-reaching marketplace with listings from all over the world. They also help buyers with financing and inspections.
- FB Marketplace: People buy all kinds of things on Facebook Marketplace these days, including RVs!
4. Check for leaks before you buy a used RV.
No matter which type of RV you’re looking for, perhaps the most important thing to watch out for is any kind of leak. Crawl into the upper bunk, lift the cushions, and look around all of the doors, windows, and seams. Look under the sinks, around the shower, and around the toilet. If it smells stale, musty, or old, chances are there’s been a leak and special attention should be paid to those areas. Also, get up on the roof to see what condition it’s in—look for any cracks that might need to be re-sealed.
5. Take your (new) used RV for a test drive.
Once you’ve made the purchase, expect a learning curve while you discover how everything works. If you’re new to RV life, ask the seller questions and pay attention to the answers. I bought my RV online, then took it to a small campground eight miles from my house where I was able to hook up and clean it from top to bottom. The campground hosts were knowledgeable and friendly, with many tips and suggestions that helped me acclimate to my new purchase.
I’d camped a lot in my life, but didn’t know anything about amps, black water, or RV-quality water hoses. They all play an integral part in keeping you and your family happy and comfortable in your home on the road.
Millions of households across the country own an RV. If you’re looking to join their ranks and buy a used RV, have fun exploring and discovering what’s out there.