tips for purchasing a used motorhome

It's the middle of winter and you probably have some friends who headed south to avoid the ice and snow up north. For retired guys and those who are self-employed and can work remotely, the idea of becoming a snowbird is a pretty attractive dream. While new RV's and motorhomes can be an exciting purchase, getting one that is slightly used can be a great option for those looking to save a bit of money. Just like with buying a used car - the moment you drive the used RV off the lot, your purchase begins to depreciate. Here's what you need to know to make that used motorhome purchase a smart one!

Purchasing a motorhome or RV can be a big investment and that's especially true for first-time buyers, that's why you should know the basics on RV financing. On some levels, it would seem to be a similar process as buying any used car or truck. However, in reality, it has all of the complexities of buying a used car and a house ... all wrapped up in one. Let's take a look at some things you should examine before making a purchase of a used motorhome.

Recreational Vehicles Are Expensive To Maintain

Recreational Vehicles, whether they are motorhomes, camping, travel trailers, or even converted vans and busses that are now used as homes are some of the most expensive vehicles to maintain. This is because there are so many things that have to come together perfectly for it to be in proper working order.

Where this comes into play when purchasing a used motorhome is that you need to consider all of these factors and assess your own abilities to properly maintain the recreational vehicle. For some folks this is part of the fun - a constant game of tinkering, fixing broken pipes and wires and other problems, and the infinite amount of customization that comes with those tasks.

For others, no matter how good a lower price a deal they can find on that used RV - it's better for them to buy new instead.

A New RV Will Lose Value Quickly

On the flip side though, new RVs lose money quickly and no matter what sort of good deal you think the dealer gave you, purchasing a pre owned rv from a private seller that has all the maintenance records may be the better decision from a strictly financial perspective.

However, that's a tough thing to guarantee since the RV lifestyle has all sorts of different types of people from vagabonds and hippies who live out of their RV consistently to the suburban family who only takes the motorhome on camping trips a couple times per year and otherwise maintains it to a "like new" condition.

You simply can't tell though from looking at photos on a RV buying guide online listing used RVs for sale.

That's why it's important to take a closer look at the following tips for purchasing a used motorhome.

Never Buy a Used RV or Motorhome Without Physically Inspecting It

While there are lots of great sites available online to buy a used RV today, there are a lot of factors that you'll need to take into account. This includes not just ensuring that the engine and drivetrain are functioning well but also looking at piping for water and septic, wiring for heating, cooking, and powering appliances, as well as all the elements visible on the surface such as upholstery, dents, dings, scratches etc. 

Ask The Owner For a History of the Vehicle

You will want to know why the owner is selling it and are there any specific disclosures you need to know about. While many previous owners are completely transparent about the good - and bad - parts of the motorhome you are buying, that isn't always the case. That's why it's important to also use tools like FAXVIN to check the history of your new RV or Motorhome. You can even do a trailer vin check on a camping trailer, you don't have to have a motor for the vehicle to have a VIN number. Ideally, the current owner will have a maintenance logbook for you to review as well.

what to know before purchasing a used motorhome

Checklist Of Areas To Examine Before Purchasing a Used RV

Depending on the type of motorhome or RV in question, it may be valuable to engage a mechanic specializing in motorhomes to do a professional inspection. However, here are the most common areas that you should check before buying a used motorhome:

  1. Water Damage - visually inspect the entire vehicle for visible water damage. You should look for both leaks from outside water coming in as well as potential leaks around the sink, shower, toilet, and holding tanks.
  2. Rust Damage - similar to visually inspecting for water damage, rust damage should be a quick indicator of the overall condition of the vehicle.
  3. Mold - inspect all seams, corners, and other areas where mold might have formed. This is not just an issue for the bathroom or kitchen, but also around windows and even cushions since mold can form anywhere that has been exposed to moisture.
  4. Lights and Buttons - examine all buttons on the dashboard and control panels to ensure that they light up, switch on/off, and generally do what they are supposed to do.
  5. Electronics, Appliances, and Outlets - it is important that you check all embedded electronics, electrical systems, built-in appliances, and especially that you check all power outlets as well as the circuit board. You are looking for outright functionality as well as if there seems to be any current stability problems or scorch marks around outlets that might indicate a current or previous issue with surges.
  6. Floors and Ceilings - make sure that you inspect both the ceilings and floors closely. You'll be looking for any warping, sagging, or discoloration that may indicate hidden damage below the surface.

Test Drive The Pre Owned RV Before Buying It

Buying a used motorhome is a significant investment, and it's important to pay close attention to several factors during a test drive to get market value and ensure that the motorhome is in good condition.

This test drive is more than just looking for things that are wrong or may have been omitted from the RV or previous owner's history. Instead, it is as much about how comfortable you are in driving the vehicle. Afterall, if you feel overwhelmed, or the seat is too firm ... or too soft ... it doesn't mater how much of a good deal you've found on this used RV, the vehicle may just not be right for you to take on a long road trip.

Here are a few things to focus on during your RV test drive:

  1. Mechanical Soundness: Check the engine for any abnormal sounds. Strange noises on older RVs could be a sign of a mechanical problem. The motorhome should start easily, idle smoothly, and not show any warning lights on the dashboard after startup.
  2. Smooth Ride: As you drive, the motorhome should handle well. It should steer easily and not pull to one side or the other. It should also accelerate smoothly and brake without shuddering or making noise.
  3. Suspension and Alignment: Pay attention to how the motorhome handles bumps and turns. Excessive bouncing or leaning could indicate a problem with the suspension or alignment.
  4. Transmission: If it's an automatic transmission, it should shift smoothly without jerking or hesitating. If it's an old RV with a manual transmission, the clutch should engage and disengage smoothly, and it should shift easily.
  5. Visibility: Check all mirrors to ensure that you have good visibility around the entire vehicle. Many motorhomes have backup cameras, so make sure this is functioning properly as well.
  6. Tires: Check for even tire wear, as uneven wear could indicate a problem with the alignment or suspension. Also, be sure to check the date of manufacture on the tires, as tires more than 5-6 years old might need to be replaced even if they look good.
  7. Brakes: The brakes should stop the motorhome smoothly and evenly. Listen for any squeaking or grinding noises. Also, the motorhome should not pull to one side when braking.
  8. Comfort: Pay attention to the overall comfort of the ride. Are the seats comfortable? Is the ride smooth? Does the driver's area feel cramped or is there enough space?
  9. Functionality of amenities: If it's safe and possible, try out the various systems in the motorhome during your test drive. Test the air conditioning, heat, lights, windshield wipers, horn, and any other features to ensure they are all functioning as they should.
  10. Leaks and Smells: Be aware of any unusual smells that could indicate a problem. A musty smell could mean there is a water leak somewhere. A burning smell could be a sign of a mechanical problem.
  11. Noise Levels: While on the road, listen to the level of noise within the cab. Excessive noise might point to issues with insulation or possible mechanical troubles.
  12. Exhaust: Check the exhaust while the engine is running for excessive smoke or unusual smells which might indicate engine trouble.

Lastly, regardless of how the test drive goes, it's always a good idea to have a trusted mechanic inspect the motorhome before you buy. They can often spot signs of potential problems that you might miss.

Make A Fair Offer And Hope It's Accepted!

If everything checks out then it's time to make an offer on the vehicle.

  1. Research: Start by doing comprehensive research about the make, model, and year of the motorhome you are interested in. Look at similar listings online to understand the average price. Websites like NADA Guides, RV Trader, or can provide a range of prices that are considered fair for different types of RVs.
  2. Inspection: Have the motorhome inspected by a trusted mechanic. This will give you a clearer idea about the condition of the vehicle and any potential costs for repairs or maintenance. This can give you leverage when negotiating the price.
  3. Understand the Seller's Motivation: If the seller is in a hurry to sell, they may be willing to negotiate more on the price. If they aren't in a rush, they may hold out for a higher price.
  4. Make a Fair Offer: Based on your research and the condition of the motorhome, make an offer that you feel is fair. Don't be afraid to start a bit lower than your maximum budget to leave room for negotiation.
  5. Negotiate: Be prepared for some back and forth with the seller. If they counter your initial offer, consider whether their counter-offer is reasonable based on your research and the condition of the motorhome.
  6. Consider Additional Costs: Remember to take into account other costs associated with owning a motorhome, such as insurance, storage, maintenance, and fuel. These should factor into your offer.
  7. Documentation: Once you agree on a price, make sure to get everything in writing. This includes the agreed-upon price, any included warranties or guarantees, and the condition of the motorhome.
  8. Financing: If you are financing the motorhome, ensure that you have pre-approved financing in place. This can give you more leverage in the negotiation process, as it shows the seller that you are a serious buyer.

Remember, negotiating can be a process. Be patient, and don't be afraid to walk away if the deal doesn't feel right.

Purchasing A Used Motorhome Can Be An Exciting Experience

Purchasing a used motorhome can be an exciting experience and hopefully these tips and advice that we've shared above are helpful. One of the biggest mistakes that we see people do with many rvers today is that they get so excited to find pre owned rvs online at a price they can afford and so they purchase it sight unseen.

While that can work just fine with travel trailer or a regular car or truck, an RV or motorhome is a much different scenario.

There's a good chance that everything will work out fine even if this is how you prefer to shop, but even though it can be time consuming to test things out in person, generally speaking, you'll save money in the long run by checking out any red flags that you might be wondering about with other systems in the RV's history.