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Shopping for an RV can be overwhelming, and not just because there are so many options. There are a lot of places you can shop. You’ll find different price ranges depending on age, mileage, and other factors. And you need to decide how old of an RV you’re willing to buy.
There’s a lot that goes into purchasing an RV when it comes to floorplan, manufacturer, type, size, and budget. If you’re on a budget, the best way to purchase an RV is through a private party.
Just like a car, they depreciate as soon as you drive them away, so this is a great way to get a good deal. Here’s how you can get started.
Do the Research
Don’t even begin looking for RVs from private parties until you have narrowed down what you want. There are a ton of different options, so it’s best to be very specific about what you want so you can get a more accurate idea of pricing.
There are several ways you can do research. First, determine who your RV is for. If it’s just you and your partner, you don’t need anything very big, but you might want something more luxurious. That’s up to you.
If you have a family, you’ll want to research bunkhouses or mid bunk options. These give your kids their own dedicated place to sleep or play, and some have massive amounts of storage as well.
If you are primarily getting an RV so you can do some outdoorsy fun like riding ATVs. look into a toyhauler so you can bring your toys with you.
You also need to decide whether you want a motorhome, fifth wheel, or travel trailer. Look into each to see what your options are, and then research the best brands so you ensure you get a quality unit, especially since you’re buying it used.
Lastly, actually look at them. You can go to each manufacturer’s website to do 360-degree tours of each floorplan, but also dedicate yourself to going to RV shows and dealerships to walk through them. Doing this will give you an excellent idea of what you like and what you don’t.
It doesn’t matter that you’re not going to purchase from them, and it also doesn’t matter that these are brand new models. This is a critical step in the research process. The more you expose yourself to the options, the faster you can narrow down what you think will work for you.
After you have a better idea of what you want, you can begin doing the research to see if there are older models still available. While there may be slight differences from year to year, the basic floorplan won’t change all that much.
Do searches on specific years, makes, and models to find forums where people talk about their real world experience. You’ll quickly find out what the common problems are, but don’t let those problems intimidate you. You’ll be more knowledgeable when you find a specific RV you like, and you can ask more detailed questions.
During this research, you may also get a good idea of what a reasonable used price for the unit might be, which will also help you negotiate a fair price after you have it inspected.
Read our full guide to learn about the differences between buying a New or Used RV.
Find the RV
After you narrow down what you want, the next step is to find it. When we bought our used RV, we knew the exact year, make, and model we wanted, but if you have it narrowed down to 2-3 different options, that’s fine, too.
Our year, make, and model was hard to find because people liked it so much that they weren’t selling them. It would have helped to have a backup floorplan option that we liked just as well, but we already knew that nothing else was going to work.
It will take patience to find the RV you want. It took us 6 months to find our RV once we had narrowed it down to the model we wanted. There are a lot of RVs out there, but if you’re like us and you know what you want, it may take you a while to find the perfect one. The best way to research RVs for sale is to use the internet.
Sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, RVT.com, and RV Trader are great places to start. However, you can also look at online forums for a particular brand and type, because there will be listings there, too.
Start your search small to see if there’s anything close to you, but don’t get your hopes up. Your perfect rig may be farther away, and it’s worth traveling to get a good deal. Widen your search until you start finding what you want.
You may even get lucky and find a private party who is willing to deliver for a fee. You can talk about this when you find the rig and start negotiating a price.
Going to look at the listings you find is a good way to point out problem areas and ask questions. However, if the rig is farther away and you’re unable to travel there, ask for more detailed pictures, especially if you read of common problems with that specific model.
You may even want to ask for a video walk through or a live video chat so you can direct them to certain areas you want to see.
Ask a lot of them. There’s no question you shouldn’t ask. You have to make sure that the seller is willing to communicate, and you want to be sure they’re not hiding anything. They should seem honest rather than getting frustrated with you.
You can gauge whether they took good care of their RV by the way they act in their dealings with you.
Ask as many questions as you can before you go see it so you don’t waste your time. If something comes up during questioning that turns you off, it could be a sign, and it’s important to follow your gut.
Here are just some of the questions you should ask when looking at a private party listing:
- How many owners has it had?
- How has it been cared for and stored?
- How often did they perform maintenance like tire rotations and fluid changes?
- Has it been in any accidents or had any major repairs?
- Did kids use it?
- Has the floorplan been altered, has it been painted, have any updates been made?
- Is the title clear?
- How often was it used?
- What kind of trips did it take?
- How did it perform?
- Are the owner’s manuals still available?
- Does it have a repair history?
- Why is the owner selling it?
- Have animals used it and what kind?
- What is the condition of the paint?
- Are all exterior lights functioning?
- Are there currently any leaks in the roof?
- Have there ever been any leaks?
- Does it have working electric or hydraulic levelers?
- How old are the tires?
- Do the tires have tread and how much?
- Do the tires have dry rot or cracks?
- Does it have a functioning rear view camera?
- Where was the RV when it wasn’t in storage?
- What supplies are included for dumping or hooking up?
- How many batteries does it have, what kind are they, and how old are they?
- Are the batteries connected in series or parallel?
- Is there a warranty on the coach or any components?
- Does it have an inverter?
- Is there a backup battery?
- How many hours are on the generator and how loud is it?
- What kind of engine does it have?
- How many miles are on it?
- What kind of transmission does it have and how old is it?
- When were the wheel bearings greased or replaced?
- Are there any repairs to anything under the hood?
- Where is the fuse box and are all fuses functioning?
- Does it have working air conditioners?
- How big are the grey and black water tanks?
- How big is the propane tank and how many does it have? Do these come with the RV?
- Is there a hot water heater?
- Which appliances are propane and which are electric?
- Do all appliances work?
- How big is the sink?
- Do all the fixtures work?
- Does it come with a washer and dryer?
- Does it come with TVs?
- Are the screens on the windows intact?
- Do the windows open and close?
- Do all water lines function?
- Are there any internal leaks?
- Have there ever been any internal repairs?
- Does it have a hitch for towing?
- Does it have a vacuum?
- What decor is included in the purchase? Mattress, sofa pillows, rugs, etc.
Check the Title
If you feel good about the RV even after asking these questions, make sure it has a clean title. All records should be clear of accidents. If you’re looking at a motorhome, check the VIN to make sure the history looks good.
Unfortunately, even though trailers have VIN numbers as well, there’s no service to check its history, so you’ll have to be more diligent about looking into it. One way to double check is to call your insurance company, tell them you’re looking at buying an RV, and see if they can run the VIN to check for a claims history.
If your insurance company offers RV insurance, they’ll likely be happy to do this for you, because they’ll want your business once you purchase the unit.
Also check to see if the owner has a loan. You may get useful information like whether they’re behind on payments or the RV is at risk of being repossessed.
This can help you negotiate a lower price because they’ll be more anxious to get out from under it. But it can also mean that it’ll be harder to transfer the title if the owner can’t pay the loan in full.
Get an Inspection
I can’t stress this enough. Get a professional RV inspection. This is so critical. You might be tempted to skip this step. Don’t. Trust me and learn from my experience.
I once bought a used RV without an inspection, because the deal was just too good to pass up. There was a reason for that, and I found out too late that it was a poor purchase.
Even with my experience and knowledge of RVs now, I still would never buy an RV from a private party without a professional inspection. It’s worth the money, which is normally about $500.
They will tell you exactly what’s wrong with the RV and advise you on whether you should buy it or not. They may even recommend how you can negotiate a lower price based on the problems they find.
Never use an inspector that the seller offers to pay for. If the seller has a friend, they may be offering to pay for your inspection because they know something is wrong and they don’t want your inspector to find it.
It’s the inspector’s job to look at every single thing in and around the RV to help you make an informed decision. If they do find something wrong, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it. What it means is that you should carefully consider whether it’s a problem you want to deal with. You may be able to knock something off of the price or ask that the seller have it fixed before you make the purchase.
Not even new rigs are perfect, and something is going to break eventually. You just have to decide if the problem is a deal breaker for you.
Negotiate a Price
Don’t start negotiating until after the inspection. And even if the inspection comes back with zero issues, always negotiate. It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying from a dealership or a private party. You can talk them into a better deal most of the time. If they won’t negotiate, walk away.
You can use the problems found on the inspection as leverage to negotiate a better deal. Look up how much time and money it will take to fix those things and use that as an arguing point. Whatever you’ll have to put into the RV after you purchase it should be knocked off of the asking price.
If they won’t budge, or they don’t budge as much as you’d hoped, reconsider what you’re willing to pay. It’s up to you if it’s worth the price for the perfect rig.
Draft a Bill of Sale
Your bill of sale doesn’t have to be written by a lawyer or even notarized unless it’s required by the state. You just need to have the purchase in writing and signed by both parties. It should include a description of the unit, price, buyer, seller, and method of payment.
This is a receipt for your transaction in the event that something happens. Keep a record of any funds that are transferred as well, like cashier’s check stubs or money order receipts.
Paying with cash is the best way to seal a private party deal, but if you can’t do that, it’s time to get funding. Make sure the seller will accept funding, because some private party sellers won’t. You’ll also have more negotiating power if you’re paying cash and you may be able to talk them down more.
The bank will need detailed information from you so get ready to provide all of the documentation they need. RV loans are very hard to get, especially when the RV is used and you’re buying from a private party. You won’t have as many financing options either, because very few banks offer these types of loans.
Finalizing the Purchase
Now all that’s left to do is exchange the title and keys. You should exchange information with the seller like addresses and phone numbers as well. The title needs to be filled out correctly or you’ll have trouble getting it licensed at the DMV later. Take pictures of everything for your records.
If your current insurance company offers RV insurance, call them and add the RV as soon as you can. If they don’t, find a company that does. They’ll ask for its intended use and ask what kind of coverage you want.
It’s important to make sure your RV is covered at all times. Some insurance companies will offer plans that cover your RV while it’s in use, but not while it’s in storage. That means if something were to happen to your RV while it was in storage, you’d have to pay out of pocket to fix it.
In addition, some insurance companies will only cover your trailer while it’s hooked up to the tow vehicle, which does you no good if you unhook it and set it up for camping. Get full details on what your policy options are and what they cover.
While most insurance companies don’t have rules against full-time living, you’ll also want to find out how your coverage differs if you’re living in it full-time rather than only using it a few times per year.
If you’re thinking about buying a used RV, there’s a lot to consider. It can be stressful narrowing down your options and finding the perfect rig. These frequently asked questions may help.
Answer: It is possible to finance a used RV when you’re buying it from a private party, but it can be tricky. Not only are loans for RVs harder to find, but the bank may also require additional documentation since you’re not going through a dealer for dealer financing.
You’ll also have to coordinate with the current lien holder if the seller has one. Once you’re approved for funding, the transaction should be pretty seamless.
Answer: Any used RV is going to be cheaper than a new one of the same model. However, buying a used RV from a dealer will cost you more than a private party. That’s because they’ve already inspected it and repaired anything that might be wrong with it.
You’ll have less wiggle room when negotiating with a dealer, but you may also have additional options like extended warranties along with the peace of mind that comes with knowing the RV is in good shape.
Answer: There’s nothing wrong with buying a used RV, but be careful how old you buy. Some RV parks won’t let you stay in their facilities if your RV is more than 10 years old, and some insurance companies won’t ensure it after a certain age either.
RVs also go through a lot when they’re on the road, so they depreciate quickly and older models will have a lot more problems than newer ones. Make sure you know what you’re getting into if you’re buying an older RV.
Buying a used RV can be stressful, but it’s worth the due diligence to ensure you enjoy the rig as much as possible. This is your house on wheels, so there’s a lot to inspect and a lot to think about.
If you do it right, the experience will be very rewarding and all the stress will be a distant memory as you set out on your first adventure.