Tips, advice and questions to ask when buying a used travel rig or home-on-wheels
Finding a well-cared for, gently used RV, motorhome or campervan in this day and age can take some sleuthing. Of course, the elation you will feel when you discover the most perfect, practically unused, too-cheap-to-be-real rig can make up for it. But when purchasing a used campervan, motorhome or RV, don’t forget to get the rig checked out by a qualified mechanic (at the minimum) or the original manufacturer (if they’re still in business).
There are several ways to find the used travel vehicle of your dreams. For instance, you can check the classified section of your local newspaper. But you’ll probably be more successful scouring the Internet for the perfect affordable rig. (At the end of this article, we’ll link to several websites that specialize in selling used recreational vehicles.)
Whether you are buying brand new or gently used, experts recommend you rent or borrow the type of vehicle you think you want to buy before taking the plunge. In fact, figuring out what type of travel rig is best for the needs of you and your family is an important step in itself. Do you want a travel trailer? A specific brand of motorhome? A class B camper van? A class A RV motorcoach (travel bus)?
Once you’ve made the decision of what type of vehicle you want, find one to try out for a weekend or longer before committing tens of thousands of dollars to buy one yourself. Decide on a floor plan and make a budget for things like camping fees, fuel, repairs and other miscellaneous costs that RV and motorhome owners must pay. Knowing these expenses will help you better understand the limits of your budget when shopping for a used campervan, RV or motorhome.
At any given time, there are over a million used travel vehicles for sale in North America. Finding the perfect one takes diligence and patience. You may not find exactly what you’re looking for in the first month of looking, but eventually the right rig will come along and you’ll be ready to pounce.
Whether you’re trying to score the deal of a lifetime or just not get scammed, here are our suggestions for buying a used RV, motorhome or campervan.
DOs and DON’Ts of buying a used RV
This “new-to-you” trailer, campervan or Class B RV could be your dream rig or your worst nightmare if you buy a lemon. Here are our best practices and tips to follow when buying a used rig:
- …follow your nose. What’s that smell? Is the rig riddled with mold? Tell-tale signs include musty odors, black or brown discolored growths on the ceiling, walls and floors, and water damage. A leaky RV is not something you want to tackle as a new owner. If you see evidence of water damage, walk away.
- …take it for a test drive. If a campervan, RV or motorhome is what you’re pining for, get behind the wheel yourself to test drive it and have the owner drive too so that you can concentrate on the mechanical sounds and oddities the rig may be experiencing.
- …check for rot. Check the roof for stability and inspect the rig’s walls—inside and outside. Give them a strong push to see if they flex. Significant give in the walls could be a sign of rot.
- …inspect all systems, features and appliances. Turn on all electrical systems and test the AC/heater. Check that all latches, locks and doors function as intended. Try slideouts (if equipped) and awnings. Pressurize plumbing to check for water leaks and test the water pump by opening the faucets. Open the propane tank and sniff around for a gas leak.
- …check online for reviews. Scour the Internet for any vehicle-specific weaknesses or issues. You may discover an Achilles heel that might turn you off from buying your “dream” rig. Read any reviews you can find and comb through online forums for what other owners are saying about this vehicle make and model.
- …research the average selling price. Have a solid understanding of what the rig is selling for on the used market. This can save you from being ripped off. Have a clear understanding of what price people are asking for the rig versus what price is actually being paid.
- …get the rig inspected. Ordering a professional inspection by a mechanic may cost you a few Benjamins upfront, but it beats a hefty repair bill later after you’ve signed on the dotted line. Sometimes, the mechanic’s findings can open the door to haggling on the price.
- …buy sight unseen. Be skeptical about purchasing a used camper without seeing it in person, especially from a private seller. If you can’t ask a friend or family member to check the rig out in person, at least allow for an inspection before the transaction takes place.
- …judge the rig solely on miles (if applicable; few folks track mileage on a travel trailer). It’s better to buy a rig with 200,000 miles that was extremely well-cared for than a rig with 100,000 miles on it that was “ridden hard and put away wet.”
- …let nostalgia make your decision. That classic Airstream travel trailer may seem really cool and vintage, but realize that it will lack many modern amenities. Think hard before dumping a ton of cash into a trailer, motorhome or campervan that’s more than 20 years old as newer rigs will have updated safety features like better brakes, airbags, crumple zones and less metal fatigue overall. Understand the downsides of buying an older model and the features you won’t have.
- …go above your budget. Set a limit to what you’re willing to spend and stick to that budget. If the rig is 7 or 8 years old, a bank may not allow you to finance it, so check with your preferred loan institution before committing to buy something without the cash to back up that commitment.
- …get scammed by private sellers. If possible, purchase a used RV, motorhome or campervan from a reputable dealer. Many dealers offer some form of used vehicle warranty and peace of mind by getting the rig inspected by a certified professional. This step is highly recommended for first-time RV buyers as it can make the entire experience a bit more enjoyable.
- …sweat the small stuff. Don’t fret too much about the condition of the batteries or tires as those things can be replaced, but be sure to inspect them as the condition may be used to negotiate the selling price. If possible, test the refrigerator and hot water heater as those items can be expensive to replace.
Once you’ve taken possession of the rig, we suggest practicing how to maneuver it in and out of tight spots and setting it up before hitting the highways on a road trip. Remember, to try not to get too attached to the first or second RV you tour as it can sometimes take months (or even years) to track down the right home-on-wheels for you and your family—at a price-point you can’t pass up.
Where to find used RVs, motorhomes and campervans for sale
If you’re in the market for a gently used camper van, motorhome or class B RV, we invite you to start your search by browsing our current inventory for sale at Classic Vans. We typically stock several types and models of rigs, and you can arrange to have a private visit to our dealership at your convenience.
Classic Vans is a family-owned business that’s been in operation for over 30 years. As America’s #1 conversion van dealer, we offer the best conversion van buying experience with our easy, low-cost nationwide delivery to anywhere in the USA and Canada!
If you are looking to sell or trade-in your camper, we also buy used rigs. Simply submit some basic information—such as your rig’s make, model, year, mileage, condition, location and other comments— and we’ll be in touch!
A few other popular websites to search for your dream used rig include: