You’ve decided to purchase an RV, great! But, now what?
The hunt for an RV is exciting. You’re not just buying an RV; you’re buying a lifestyle — one where you can leave the concrete jungle behind and find some peace and solace in the great outdoors.
After you visit your first RV dealership, you will quickly realize this is a more significant decision than just walking in and driving away. There is a lot to consider when purchasing an RV. One of the biggest questions is whether or not to buy new or used.
With many factors including budget, family size, and personal taste, there’s no right or wrong answer. Let this guide help you decide if a new or used RV is right for you.
How will you use your RV?
RV’s come in all shapes and sizes. They can be driven or towed depending on what you’re lifestyle demands. It is essential to know exactly what you want out of your RV to know whether or not you want new or used.
Full-time or weekender?
What will your adventure look like? Are you looking to get away on the weekends and vacations to do some cross-country traveling and camping? Or, would you like to RV full time?
Many RVers travel around North America full time—moving from place to place every few days, weeks, or months. Others are looking to downsize to a simpler way of living and prefer to stay stationary at RV parks.
What you’re using your RV for greatly effects whether buying new or used is best for you. If you want to stay stationary at an RV park throughout most of the year, you may not be concerned with whether the RV has a large gas tank, a backup camera, a generator, or—for motorhomes—an engine that’s in pristine condition.
If you’re going to move around regularly, you’re going to want good gas mileage and the chassis to be in tip-top shape. You’re more likely to find both of these things with a new RV.
RV hookups or dry camping?
Water, electric, and sewage are all something to consider when choosing a new or used RV. Do you plan to only stay at campgrounds where you have full hookups? Or do you plan on spending some time dry camping—also know as boondocking?
Dry camping requires a self-contained RV, meaning without any hookups, it will be able to supply you with fresh water and electricity as well as have holding tanks for your gray and black water.
Dry campers may need an RV that features a large battery bank and solar panels to supply power when boondocking for more than a few days. Many older RVs do not have large battery banks or a solar panel system.
If you plan to stay at RV parks regularly, keep in mind that some parks have RV age restrictions. If you purchase an RV that’s over ten years old, many luxury RV parks may not allow you to stay.
So if you would like to stay in more luxurious parks, the newer the RV, the better. If you purchase a seven-year-old RV, you will only get three years of use out of it before you have to upgrade to a newer RV.
New Vs. Used—Repairs and maintenance
You have likely seen an RV that has broken down on the side of the interstate. New or used, problems will arise. It’s best to be as prepared as you can for the inevitable. However, how old an RV is can make a big difference.
All the kinks
When buying a new RV, it is fresh from the manufacturer. It has brand new tires, brakes, plumbing—everything. None of the components have any wear and tear. This can be both a good and bad thing. First, you are significantly less likely to have a wear-related problem such as tire blowouts.
At the same time, you are more likely to have kinks that need to be worked out. New RVs aren’t taken on a camping trip to work out any problems that may be due to a faulty component or a manufacturing mistake.
With so many components, you are almost guaranteed to have a few kinks to deal with. In fact, some people find they have more problems with a new RV than a used RV.
According to Bob Gummersall, the Chief Technical Editor for RVers Online, getting an RV that has has been “broken in” and has had the factory bugs found and fixed, is really the way to go. “The 4-year-old motorhome is probably more operable than it was new,” comments Gummersall.
Both need maintenance, but which will need more?
Some RV owners neglect their campers. Always ask to see maintenance records so you can know how well it has been kept up with, and have the RV checked by a professional. If you buy an RV from the right person, they have already invested time, energy, and money into working out all of the little kinks that came up while they owned it.
Both new and used RVs require regular maintenance. How often and how much maintenance can significantly vary between new and used RVs. RVs that are older than ten years old often need more regular maintenance. Rubber roofs and AC units are notorious for needing frequent maintenance on old RVs.
New vs. Used—On the inside
The inside of an RV can affect your decision in many ways. You may be spending a lot of time on the trails, but one of the points of having an RV is to have someplace nice to come back to.
Health and safety
Used RVs need to be thoroughly checked for water damage including mold, mildew, and soft spots that may indicate damaged wood. These can all make an RV unsafe and unlivable—not only for structural reasons but also the health problems that can come from regular contact with the mold.
It is very rare to find water damage on new RVs. However, it’s not entirely unheard of since some RVs may sit on the lot for several years. When buying used, expect to spend extra time looking over every nook and cranny to ensure there’s no damage.
Layout and design
A 28 foot RV made in 2005 may feel much smaller than a new RV of the same length. This is a result of a lot of tinkering along with the latest technologies. Slideouts have become more efficient and more popular which makes many newer RVs feel comfortable and spacious. Moreover, newer RVs have the latest technologies which can take up significantly less space.
Like with anything, the interior of an RV can go out of style quickly. Of course, you want your RV to feel comfortable and inviting. It’s easy to find a new RV with a modern style to match your taste. On the other hand, if you don’t feel at home with the dated wallpaper and carpeting you may find in a used RV, you will have to spend the time and energy updating the style.
Features and Technology
One of the most fun things about looking at new RV’s is discovering all of the newest technology and features they are equipped with. The latest technologies can make traveling and camping even more fun and convenient.
However, a lot of the time you’re paying for features of convenience and not a necessity. Automatic leveling jack systems, motorized awnings, and remote-controlled window blinds are convenient, but not necessarily things you cannot go without.
Many used RVs will also have these features, but they may not be the latest updated version. This depends on how old the used RV is. An older RV may have a monitoring panel which shows you a rough estimate of how much water, battery power, and propane you have.
A newer RV monitoring panels may give you precise measurements as well as estimations on when you’ll need to recharge or fill up based on your usage history.
Keep in mind that the more features an RV comes with, the more problems are likely to arise.
New Vs. Used—Price
For most, the price will be one of the biggest factors in choosing their next RV. While older RV’s can be much less expensive, you’ll want to keep in mind the amount of maintenance you will want to put into it.
Maybe you even want to remodel an older RV, don’t forget to budget for that. A brand new RV can feel like the beautiful new toy that has been missing from your life for so many years. But, that missing puzzle piece can cost you.
Whether you have good negotiating skills or not, you may still lose out when buying a new RV. Although new RV’s can cost as much as a house, they depreciate like a car. RV groups like camperreport.com, and outdoorsy.com, estimate a staggering depreciation of 20%-30% of the sticker price as soon as you leave the lot.
People often sell their RV’s hardly used after only a few years of use. Maybe they want to upgrade, or they decided the RV life wasn’t right for them. Buying a used RV with minimal wear may be a money saving opportunity.
Before you begin negotiating, it’s important to figure out financing. Your financing options will vary depending on many personal factors including your income and credit score.
With a used and less expensive RV, you may have fewer loan payments or none at all.
However, when purchasing an older RV, it may be more difficult to find financing. According to bankrate.com, because of depreciation with a new RV, “there is a high risk of getting upside down on an RV loan, which means more is owed on the RV loan than the vehicle could bring in if you sold it.”
When buying new, there is the added bonus of having a warranty. Repairs can get expensive quick, and a warranty could be helpful to make sure any problems that arise are covered. If you want to buy used, your RV likely will not come with a warranty. This means any trips to the mechanic will come out of your pocket.
If you have a plan on how you can save and pay for unexpected repairs, you may still save more by buying a used RV. This is because the lower price you pay on a used RV could make up for not having a warranty.
Insurance is another expense to consider. Keep in mind your insurance rates could be much higher on a new RV versus a used RV. Protecting your dream is important, and it’s also illegal not too. So be sure to add the extra insurance costs to your budget if purchasing a new RV.
With an older RV, your insurance rates could be much lower—especially when it is paid for outright. Lenders typically require you to purchase full coverage insurance so that they get reimbursed for the loan in the case of a loss.
The hunt for an RV can be exciting but also seem exhausting. Never settle for something that isn’t exactly right for you. New and used, there are lots of different RVs out there, and you can find the right one with a little searching.
Even though purchasing an RV can be fun and exhilarating, don’t get too caught up in the buying experience. You could end up going in for a modest lightly used RV and walk out with the largest RV with every bell and whistle.
It may take time to find exactly what you’re looking for. Hunting for used RV’s gives you the opportunity to find exactly what you want even if it isn’t in production anymore. On the other hand, you can also custom design a brand new RV.
So, which should you choose?
No one can tell you what the perfect situation is for you. Like your home and your car, an RV should fit your specific needs and lifestyle. Many RVers having bought both used and new suggest that purchasing a lightly used RV that is in excellent condition is the better option. But for others, buying the perfect brand new RV is the best choice regardless of price and depreciation.
As you can see, there are many things to consider. Maybe the idea of having something in pristine condition is more appealing—something without the fuss. Or perhaps you want to put a little work into your RV making it your own. Either way, there is no right or wrong option, just what works best for you.
Your best option may be to find a happy medium. An RV that it isn’t brand new off the lot but is only a few years old and has all of the things you see as essentials.
Consider the pros and cons and figure out which fits your needs best before walking into the dealership. It can be fun to look around at the different RV’s. But if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for, you will be flooded with options and thrown off course.
Enjoy and take your time choosing the right RV. Just remember: you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy an RV, and that’s pretty close.
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