50 Tips Before You Buy A Used RV

Used RV Tips
Portable Advisor

I think we can all agree..

​Buying a used RV can be stressful time. There are so many factors to consider..When is the best time to buy? Can I trust the seller? Do I need warranty?

It can all be quite overwhelming! 

To help with your stress levels, we have created this in-depth 50 point list covering every part of your buying decision making - from inspection to rv financing. We believe that by following these points, you will avoid the common pitfalls people have made through the years when buying second hand.

Hopefully it saves you a buck or two...or from buying a lemon!​

We have broken down the buying process into a number of important subsections and have created a quick navigation feature below to help guide you through. If you thought you found something useful, please leave a comment, or share with your friends!

Section A: What Are Your RV Goals?

1. How Often Will You Really Use it?

Will you be going on extended trips lasting weeks and months or will you use the RV more sparingly like the odd summer weekend. There is no point shelling out big money on a modern RV with the latest features if it is just going to sit in the driveway for most of year.

It is a big financial commitment and it’s important to not let your enthusiasm get in the way of your judgement!

2. What Type Of Used RV Do You Need?

A very VERY critical question!

There are many types for you to consider – what best fits you and your familys lifestyle and affordability? Click the tabs below for a description of the different models.

  • Class a motorhomes
  • Class B Motorhomes
  • Class C Motorhomes
Class A Motorhome

The biggest and baddest RV and with that the most expensive! Typically comes with full sized bathrooms and bedrooms and multiple slideouts.

Very spacious indeed!

The sheer size need to be considered also as their length will limit the places you can visit!

  • Travel Trailer
  • Fifth Wheel Trailer
  • Pop Up Trailer
  • Toy Hauler Trailer
  • Truck Camper
Truck Camper

An option for those of you who already own a truck – This is a sound choice for those of you who want some fast off road adventures.

You just have to be very comfortable in small spaces!

3. Hire Before You Buy

This tip applies in two distinct ways. Firstly for newcomers, hiring an RV will show you plainly how RV life really is. People can get romantic ideas of how life on the road is but it is something you should experience before investing a large sum of money.

Hiring the motorhome model you see buying potential in also gets you accustomed to the interior, and RV features, when travelling. Often, you will think that an RV has the perfect layout for your family but once you take a trip that same space can become awkward and claustrophobic.

If the dealer won’t let you hire it for a short period, check out your local RV rentals companies for the same model.

4. New Vs Old

This could easily come under the financial section of our list as this decision is as much as about your finances as it is your life goals. 

The obvious advantages of a new RV are plain to see - no wear and tear damage, full warranty and a brand new design. 

These advantages come with a large financial cost however - significantly larger than a RV which is just a few years old.

You will ultimately need to judge whether the added comforts of a new RV can really outweigh the value offered by a used RV.

5. How Far Is Too Far To Buy?

RV Travelling

Decide from the outset how far you are willing to travel for your perfect RV. Will you go local or will you broaden your horizons to include dealerships and private sellers from hundreds of miles away.

A localized search will of course limit your options but a wide hunt can exasperate your stress levels!

Choosing a motor home is a sizable time commitment without adding a 6 hour journey just to see one.

Section B: Inspection

5. Mechanic Inspection

Simply a must!

Before pulling the trigger on your purchase ,have all the systems checked by a reputable mechanic. You may dismay at the cost but trust me its worth it to spot an RV lemon!

6. Tow Capacity

RV weight

If you are going for a towable RV make sure to check the max tow weight of your vehicle. Your owner’s manual will outline this.

Look for the GCWR(Gross Combination Weight Rating) which is the max allowable combined weight of the tow vehicle and the attached RV. This weight includes passengers and cargo. Ideally you should have a test drive with a full cargo to ensure there are no problems.

Also be wary of taking the RV dealers word for it when enquiring about the RV tow rating. Use truck manufacturer data sheets and tables for the tow rating instead.

7. Test Drives – In The Rain!

I don’t need to stress the importance of test driving all potential purchases – I will however encourage you to see how the RV handles any downpours.

A lot of problems can be hidden in dry, calm weather. It is only when the heavens open do you see the leaks coming through the roof or internal piping. DO NOT discover these issues after handing over money and signing the purchase agreement!

8. Check Government Database For Investigations

Use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to check for any investigations, recalls or complaints against the used RV model you are considering.

8. Is the Manufacturer Still In Business?

The Great Recession of 2008 caused the downfall of many RV manufacturers and knowing who was affected is particularly important for second hand RV buyers.

Defunct RV manufacturers will not be able to provide replacement parts or any servicing leaving you screwed!

9. Animal Space

Where will your pet lie down? Space is a premium in any RV and manufacturers simply do not always consider the needs of animals in their designs.

Make sure there is a comfortable space for your pet to lie down – it’s a good idea to bring your pets to any viewings you have as they will show quickly whether they are comfortable in the enclosed space

Also check out this great article from the guys at GO Pet Friendly for some great tips on RV'ing with pets.

10. Check Out RV Shows

RV Show

RV shows will have countless RV dealers attempting to pitch you a deal. We found these shows a great way of improving our haggling skills as well as getting a good idea of the potential values dealers are willing to go to.

While I wouldn’t recommend making any bids in that brash sales environment, if you really like a model then schedule an appointment and test drive at the dealership with the salesman.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association provide a calendar of all latest RV shows for you to check out..

11. Ask your RV Friends

By the time we took the RV plunge many of our friends were already experiencing the lifestyle. They acted as great mentors on all things RV, not least what model to invest in (or not invest in).

The internet can provide a lot of the info you need but there is nothing like the personal experience of someone you trust to get a really clear picture!

12. Check The Forums

The RV forums can be a goldmine of useful information when it comes to the model you are considering. Use the search bar or browse through the various sections to get an idea of how other RVers have fared with your prospective RV.

Often there will be discussions around common problems with the model. Make sure to check all these issues mentioned and use them to your advantage when negotiating with the dealer or private seller.

Some good ones to check out are iRV2 and RV Network .

13. Tire Check

5 years MAX

That should the oldest tires you are willing to accept. Even if the RV was not used regularly we would still refuse to buy an RV with tires older than this. While other RVers swear by the 7 year rule the dangers of a blow out at high speed makes us conservative.

We would also reduce the age to 4 years if the used RV has been exposed to sun for long periods.

Check out All Stays guide to understand how to read tire age from their date codes. 

14. Size Of Water Tanks

water tanks rv

Consider the sizes of the fresh, gray and black water tanks. Will these tanks be able to handle the demands of all your family on an extended trip. 

What if you are boondocking?

Is the fresh water tank big enough for drinking water, showers and general use. Is the black tank capable of handling the expected waste or would a composting toilet be a good idea. These are all questions that can be answered if you take our advice from earlier in the list and rent!

15. Test That Toilet!

Can everyone in your family sit comfortably on the toilet?

RV Toilet

Can everyone get out of the toilet seat easily?

Is there space to install handles for elderly or disable users?

Crucial questions that you DO NOT want to leave unanswered!

16. Make Videos and Take Pictures of Technical Walkthrough

RV dealers will give you a guided tour of all the technical aspects of the RV upon sale. Things like the black tank, generator and vents require detailed guidance to use correctly.

I recommend taking a video on the phone and handwritten notes of the walkthrough to make sure you understand everything. It’s often on these tours that you will find a hidden issue not apparent from the initial viewing.

It’s a good idea to make this walkthrough a pre-requisite of the sale for private sellers too.

17. Spotting a Lemon

Watch the guys at RV Swap Shop expertly shows the ways to spot a lemon on your RV search.

17. Cooking Plans

Do you plan on cooking family meals in the RV or will you make do with campfires, portable bbqs or local restaurants? If you are a winter RVer I can say from experience that you will want a functioning kitchen area – it just isn’t practical or affordable to be eating outside or at a diner when its cold.

Test the electrics and examine the storage space – cooking pots and utensils can be awkward shapes to store. Ask yourself whether everything you need can fit comfortably?

18. Check The Awning

rv awning

Ensure you unroll the RV Awning fully to inspect whether the mechanism is working correctly and if any rust has developed on the parts. Over the years wear and tear can also cause the awning fabric to rip so inspect the material carefully.

If you think it needs replacing soon after buying don’t pay the dealer to install a new one, you can check out our manual method here and do it yourself. 

19. Speak To The Previous Owner

Make contact with the most recent owner of the RV and don’t be afraid to INTERROGATE! Ask them for all the info on why they are selling and what problems they had with the motor home.

rv question

This will be easy if you are dealing with a private seller but you will need to get contact details from the RV Dealership if you’re buying from dealer. If the dealer will not provide info move on!

20. Shower/Bath Size

A common regret I have seen with first time buyers of used RV’s is they didn’t consider the size of the shower or bath before they purchased. Some RV shower designs can be quite small and can make it awkward to stand up straight or turn.

After a couple of weeks on the road this can become extremely frustrating for some people! Take the time to consider this as it can turn into a major annoyance over time!

21. Let The Seller Drive

Make sure the private seller or RV dealer drives for a prolonged time on your test drive. You want to get the feeling of being a passenger while the RV is in motion. You may notice certain annoying issues and sounds throughout the vehicle while driving which may point to bigger problems with the RV.

22. Can You Get Wifi In The RV?

Make sure your potential RV can receive decent Wifi and cellular internet reception throughout the RV. As more and more locations have wifi hotspots and decent cellular coverage outside, your main concern is the access when you’re driving.

Some of the older model designs were not designed with the internet in mind and they can struggle to receive a good cellular signal. Your best bet to check on the test drive.

Check out the article here from RV Mobile Internet for a great overview of what's needed when it comes to internet connection and our RV.

22. Don’t Forget The Substructure/Underframe Condition

RV Underframe

To truly do your research you will need to get on the pavement and crawl! No this isn’t a ritual to earn a discount from the RV dealer.

You need to crawl beneath the RV to inspect the chassis and substructure. If you notice a lot of discolouration and rust then the vehicle may not have been stored correctly. If there are any cracks or the frame is out of alignment there may have been a prior accident.

23. Open That Window!

Check that all windows, cabinets and roof vents open smoothly. Rust can develop on latches in older RV’s making them extremely rigid and difficult to open!

24. Testing For Water Leakages

Be warned:

One of the costliest mistakes people make when buying used RVs is not spotting a water leak.

Repairing water leak damage costs in the thousands as the floor must often be replaced completely. To inspect look for dark spots or stains on the interior roof and wallpaper of the RV especially around plumbing pipes, vents and air conditioners. Sometimes you will see new or uneven wallpaper – be suspicious of this also and inspect thoroughly.

Also look on the floor for those same blotches. If you find the floor to be soft and spongy when you step on these blotches then there is a considerable water damage. My advice is to move on at the sign of water leakage. The damage may not be significant in most cases but the cost of adequately fixing these leaks is not worth the time or money.

Use this informative instructional video below before you're next visit to the dealer so you know exactly what you're looking for. 

25. Do I Need To Winterize?

Are you buying your used motorhome at the tail end of summer or autumn. If your home has cold winters then you will need to add in the costs and work of winterizing the RV.

Often used RVs coming from warmer climates may never have been winterized before as there was no danger of freezing temperatures damaging the pipes but always inspect or have your mechanic inspect for cracks in your examination.

26. Read Expert Books

There are some well written books on the subject which can help your decision making. Here are two recommendations:

Buying a Used Motorhome by Bill Myers 

Buy a Used RV For Sale At a Bargain Price by Dagny Wasil

27. The Low Mileage Mistake

RV Mileage

At first glance, a used rv for sale with low mileage would seem like a great perk.

Don’t get too excited though – proceed with caution.

An older RV with mileage below normal levels means it was not driven all too often. This causes a significant problem for the mechanics of the RV which require regular usage to maintain peak performance.

The salesman will push this low mileage selling point but remember this could cost you much heartache and dollars in the future.

28. Hire an RV Inspection Service

If you don’t feel confident in assessing an RV as a newbie and none of your friends know the industry either, then hiring an independent RV Inspection Service can help you in making a final decision.

Of course you will need to pay for the service whether you buy the RV or not so be selective!

29. Diesel or Gas?

The type of fuel the RV uses can impact your RV lifestyle and needs to be considered. Having experience with both gas and diesel motor homes I am in the diesel camp!

  • Yes the price per litre is higher for diesel (where I live anyway) but its efficiency leads to a lower cost of fuel per mile and therefore better mileage.
  • It is a MUCH quieter and smoother journey with a diesel engine – something you shouldn’t underestimate in an RV.
  • Diesel engines will last you a lot longer than a gasoline engine as they use less revolutions per minute (RPMs) to keep engine running.

Admittingly one major downside of the diesel engine is the carbon emissions which should also be factored in your decision.

30. RV Inspection Checklist

The guys at Changing Gears have created a great inspection checklist which you can check out here. You can even make it into a word document and bring it your next RV walkthrough.

31. Check Dealer History

As in all walks of life and business, there are some shady and unethical RV dealers out there ready to screw us over! Its always prudent to do a quick background check before you enter any negotiations.

Just type the name of the dealership into BBB to get a list of customer complaints. 

32. Check The RV's History

Getting the unique vehicle information number (VIN) should be one of your main priorities. Enter the number here at www.dmv.org to get a list of complaints and reviews.

33. RV Toilets

Check our detailed overview of what to look for in your RV toilet here. 

Section C: Legal and Financial Considerations

34. RV Financing

Thankfully Sandy’s relative is a financial advisor and has always be on hand to help us with our RV loans. We have all seen over the past decade how easy it is to get caught in a bad financing decision.

The first question to ask yourself is: Can we afford this RV? On face value maybe you can but make sure you include all those other fees that will accumulate:

Extra Costs

  • Gas
  • Servicing
  • Storage Fees
  • Toll Fees
  • Insurance costs

Costs build up!

What else could impact the financing?

Your credit score! Check it at www.credit.com . A bad credit rating will impact the interest rates you are paying. Consider waiting for a period of time before applying to allow your credit score to rise.

I would also recommend keeping your RV financing independent of the RV dealership you are buying from.

Leaving everything to the dealership can lead to problems you don’t experience with independent RV finance groups and other banks. They can be known for packaging unnecessary warranties with the loans while also adding ambiguous markups to the loan interest rates.

Finally try to save for a large down payment, in the region of 20% – it will make those monthly payments a more manageable burden over the years.

35. Home Parking Laws

Certain state and local laws put restrictions on where you can park RVs in residential areas. You need to ensure that you have an appropriate place to park the RV before you make the purchase.

An RV that you love could be considered too big to park legally or safely on your residence. Get in touch with your neighbourhood association to confirm their guidelines before buying.

36. Beware Of RV Scams

The internet is fraught with all types of scams and the RV market does not escape the fraudsters. Some of the more prevalent ones occur on Craigslist, Ebay and Facebook.

Keep an eye on this one below on facebook:

rv scam facebook

Below is a helpful video from Matt at Leo’s Vacation Center showing how to spot them on Craiglist

When shopping for old RV’s always keep the old adage in mind – ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’.

37. Research RV Clubs For Discount

Campground discounts.Don't forget about them! They are the big benefit that we have found from joining RV clubs.

Clubs like Good Sam Club and Passport America can get you exclusive discounts on up to 50% on certain campgrounds. Review these clubs offers before purchasing as the savings can impact your budget.

rv campground discount

38. RV Insurance

Before saying yes to your new motor home make sure that you have organised your insurance costs. Why do I need to do this before I buy?

There’s an important reason:

You will find considerable differences in premium depending on the size of RV you are considering – these premiums alone can impact what  used RV you go for. Take the time to shop around the various RV insurance providers to get a realistic price range.

39. Tax Implications

RV Tax deadline

Good news!

The pain of parting with a significant sum of money for your RV can be reduced by someone unexpected..

The tax man..

This cannot be true?!

Well it is.. through a number of tax deductions! Firstly, the interest you pay on your RV loan is deductable from your tax bill if you can show that the RV is your second home. An RV can be interpreted as a second home if it contains sleeping, bathroom and kitchen facilities

A more straight forward deductible you can use is the sales tax you paid for the new RV. Given the amount invested in RV’s, this can be a considerable saving at tax deadline day. For more info on tax breaks for RV purchases talk to your tax advisor, accountant or check out Honey Shellmans RV tax blog here

40. Is Name On The Title?

Ensure that the name on the title deed matches the name of the seller. For private sellers ensure you have seen their identification to match it up correctly with any official sale and registration documentation

41. Repairs In Sales Agreement

Make sure that any repairs that you want carried out on the RV are clearly stated in the sales agreement. Typically, used RV’s will be sold ‘as is’ unless you explicity outline your requirements in the signed agreement

42. Inevitable DIY

Do you HATE DIY? Then maybe put your RV dreams to bed! The fact is there will always be little repairs to be carried out on a RV – the nature of living in a motor vehicle makes wear and tear inevitable. Parts becoming unhinged or paint jobs fade.

Not everything can be handled by a repairman unless you have very deep pockets!


Be prepared for some manual labor or consider a different investment.

43. New Gadget Spending Sprees

It happens to the best of us!

We buy a car and with our excitement we decide to get some cool gadgets at the same time. Don’t make this mistake with your RV! Make sure you spend some solid travel time in the RV before you make any add on purchases.

You will often discover you don’t need half the stuff you anticipated.

44. The Depreciation Decision

rv depreciation

This is an especially important consideration if the used RV is less than 5 years old. Depreciation for RVs can be extremely high in the first 5 years with values dropping to 35% -50% of original value. It tends to level out after this period.

You DO NOT want to ignore depreciation and buy at a time when the price is dropping rapidly – Stay savvy and patient.

Section D: Negotiations

45. Timing The Sale

RV dealers are working in a target driven business and they are normally paid bonuses based on their quarterly sales. The best time to strike a deal with this mind is the end of March, June, September and December. The sellers are likely to be more flexible to your negotiations in order to push deals through before the quarter ends. Of these quarters December is the most advantageous to buy as dealers are focused on maximising their year-end bonus..

Also consider quiet times of the year if you are looking to haggle like just before a big holiday weekend. Busy dealerships makes negotiations more difficult.

I find with private sellers that they do not want to pay for RV storage so, in general, winter time is always a good time to negotiate. I also recommend surveying the price of your favoured RVs over a few months – notice for consistent drops or increases month to month to gauge your offer.

46. The Cardinal RV Buying Rule

used rv sale

Never under any circumstances make a purchase on your first visit to the RV dealer or private seller.

It is the job of the salesman to close the sale and there are many tactics they will use to lock you in. One method is when the dealer creates a sense of urgency about the sale – They will tell you that an offer is ending or that another buyer is about to make the purchase.

The same tactics will be used by private parties. Reserve your judgement and remember this cannot be a snap decision

47. The Dealership Assumption

Many people will assume that buying from a dealership is more beneficial to a private seller. Granted there is a big selection in one place with the dealer and you can negotiate financing but you will often find the better value for money from private motor home owners.

In dealerships you are transacting with professional salespeople schooled in dealmaking. Private sellers are usually less adept at negotiation. They often just want to sell quickly to buy their next RV - Their need for profit is less critical than the dealership.

48. Beware the Extended Warranty!

Some blunt advice...

If the dealer mentions extended warranties, politely decline and say you are not interested.

They are extremely expensive, invariably force you to get the repairs carried out at that very dealership even if you live hundreds of miles away and are usually not backed by the dealership.

Also remember extended warranties do not cover repairs that were needed before the contract was signed.

With regards to external extended warranties, I would recommend reading RV Dreams extensive post on the subject here.

49. Fair Value – Nada Guides

You can use Nada Guides to get a fair value estimate of any RV you see potential in. Simply type in the manufacturer, model, and year and the guide will show you an estimated sale value which you can use as a benchmark in negotiations.

Other sites you should regulary check are RVT.com, Craigslist and autotrader.com (The RV section.

Section E: The Final Pointer

50. Advice For Life!

One thing I've learned from over 30 years of marriage (I swear there are more things!)

Make sure you both agree wholeheartedly on big purchases. 

If a significant sum of money is being spent, then you need to be in agreement from the start that you are making the right decision.

If one of you isn't sure and you go ahead and buy anyway, it can create big problems down the line if things don't work out.

This is especially true for RVs as you can literally be living in your mistake for long periods of time!!

Make a collective decision and reap the collective rewards!  

About the Author Rick Rose

Irish-American husband, dad of three and gadget enthusiast! Sandy and I have been RVing since the mid-nineties after embracing the boondocker way of life. We now practice what we call the 'Portable Lifestyle' - the ability to ‘get up and go’ and explore new places throughout the year while maintaining our income.

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