With prices for recreational vehicles (RVs) trending up and many manufacturers unable to keep vehicles in stock, buying a used RV can be an attractive option. And while getting a second-hand camper instead of a new one can save you a good deal of money, it comes with some drawbacks and other things to consider.
In this used RV buying guide, we’ll walk you through the process of finding and buying the best RV for your needs. We’ll also tell you what to look out for along the way.
Buying A Used RV: What To Know Before You Start Shopping
If it’s your first time buying a second-hand camper, the first step in the process is to identify your needs. There’s a whole world of options out there, so this will help you narrow your choices down.
Before you start shopping for RVs, consider the following:
Your budget should be your first consideration. The costs of RVs range from just a few thousand dollars for small, simple teardrops to over $1 million for palatial Class A motorcoaches. Also, financing is both more difficult and more expensive with RVs than it is with cars or homes, so that should factor into your decision.
Number Of Passengers
The type of RV you need depends largely on how many people travel with you. Some of the larger class A campers and fifth-wheel trailers have a sleeping capacity of 10 or more, while some Class B motorhomes and teardrops can sleep two at most.
Some people use their RVs for the occasional weekend getaway. Others spend months at a time living in their campers on coast-to-coast boondocking trips. Features like a wet bath or functional kitchen are practically a necessity for full-time RVing, but weekend campers may not need them.
Drivable Or Towable
Towable RVs are much less expensive than drivable RVs, which are mounted on their own truck or van chassis. However, you’ll need a vehicle with the towing capacity to pull them. To get a true price comparison between a drivable RV and a towable one, consider whether you have an adequate towing vehicle or what buying one would cost.
Different RV brands have different reputations for quality and customer service. Issues with RVs are common, especially as they get older. Finding a brand that offers customer support through service centers and parts service is even more important when you’re buying a used RV.
Used RV Buying Guide: Types Of RVs
After you’ve gotten a good idea of your needs, the next step is to figure out which class of RV best fulfills those needs.
Class A Motorhomes
Length: 25–45 feet
Typical price when new: $50,000–$200,000
Good for: Large families and full-time luxury travelers
Class A motorhomes are the largest and most full-featured drivable RVs. As a result, they also come with the highest price tags.
These large luxury RVs typically feature mechanical slide-outs that expand living space, leaving ample room for full-size furniture. Each Class A is usually equipped with a master suite and adds sleeping space for others with bunks and convertible sofas.
You’ll also find well-equipped kitchens with appliances similar to those you’d find in many homes. Multiple-burner stoves and large refrigerators are common features for this class of campers. If you want a house on wheels and you have the budget to support it, a Class A motorhome should be your first consideration.
Class B Motorhomes
Length: 17–24 feet
Typical price when new: $80,000–$140,000
Good for: Solo campers or couples traveling full time
Despite their name, Class B RVs are the smallest in the drivable category. These RVs are typically built on a transit van chassis such as a Dodge Ram ProMaster or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. While they are compact, they offer enough amenities to make them suitable for long journeys and full-time living. Their small size also makes it easier to get them in and out of RV parks and campgrounds.
Amenities in Class B campers usually include small-but-functional wet baths and equally compact-but-useful kitchens. Most often, a Class B motorcoach offers a queen bed or larger via convertible bench seats or other furniture. Some feature additional sleeping space with pop-up bunk areas.
Class B RVs are built in much the same way as many “van life” RVers build their custom campers. So if you’re buying a used RV in this category, you’ll have plenty of options to draw from when it comes to upgrades.
Class C Motorhomes
Length: 21–41 feet
Typical price when new: $50,000–$100,000
Good for: Small families traveling full time
Larger than Class B motorhomes and smaller than Class A motorcoaches, Class C RVs are a happy medium between the two. They offer enough space for small groups or families but are more fuel-efficient and maneuverable than their Class A counterparts.
You’ll typically find amenities in a Class C RV that are similar to those in a larger Class A. That means a reasonably spacious wet bath, a well-equipped kitchen, and a few sleeping options to complement a master bedroom.
Length: 25–45 feet
Typical price when new: $25,000–$125,000
Good for: Full-time RVers who want large towables
Fifth-wheel RVs–also known as “fivers” in the RV world–are essentially the towable equivalent of Class A motorcoaches. They’re named for the locking mechanism that keeps them attached to the bed of a truck. A fifth-wheel RV is a good choice for someone who wants the sprawling floor plans and features of Class A RVs but in towable form.
As a result, you’ll see similar features on a fifth-wheel RV and its drivable counterparts. That means a large kitchen, spacious bathrooms, and plenty of dining and seating space. Due to the overhang that is part of their design, most of these trailers have a loft-style section that typically contains a master bedroom or bunk area.
Length: 12–35 feet
Typical price when new: $18,000–$75,000
Good for: Weekend RVers and full-time traveling couples
Travel trailers are usually smaller and have fewer features than fifth-wheel campers. As a result, they’re often less expensive.
While these towables may lack the huge living spaces and ample seating of fifth wheels, many are still very livable. Wet baths and plumbed kitchens are still common in this category. Additionally, many sport the same kinds of advanced entertainment systems and climate control as larger RVs.
Because travel trailers are often significantly lighter, you can tow some of them with smaller vehicles than you’d need for fifth-wheelers. That could mean getting a cheaper truck if you need to buy one, as well as better gas mileage.
Length: 7–18 feet
Typical price when new: $12,000–$80,000
Good for: RVers with outdoor sports gear
Though they’re similar in size to travel trailers, toy haulers are designed to carry large equipment. People who like to add outdoor sports to their RV travels will want to look at this category first.
The defining feature of these towables is their “garage” space. This space is designed to hold big gear like surfboards and even small vehicles like ATVs, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes.
However, manufacturers have recently gotten creative with this space. Now, many toy haulers let you convert the space into a deck or screened-in porch in just a few steps. As a result, these towables are an excellent choice for the outdoor enthusiast.
Length: 8–10 feet
Typical price when new: $5,000–$20,000
Good for: Solo or couple campers
Teardrop trailers, named for their aerodynamic shape, are the smallest campers on the market. That’s why they’re almost always the most affordable. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly comfortable for camping trips. Depending on your needs, a teardrop trailer may even be suitable for full-time living.
While many teardrops can be rather spartan on the inside, you’ll still find a comfortable bed and some practical storage space in them. Some of these trailers even manage to fit a wet bath inside.
Teardrop trailers are the ultimate budget choice. They’re less expensive, and many are light enough to be towed by midsize SUVs and even some crossovers. This means many people can use their daily drivers as their towing vehicles and get far better gas mileage than they would if they needed to use large trucks.
Used RV Buying Guide: What To Look Out For
Buying a used RV comes with different considerations than buying a new RV. Again, campers experience problems at a higher rate than cars do, so you can expect that a pre-owned RV likely has issues that will need attention.
Here are some of the most important factors to think about as a used RV buyer:
- Exterior condition: You can expect a used RV to have dents and scratches, but look for signs of an accident. Large dents or major broken pieces could indicate a bigger problem underneath.
- Interior condition: Wear and tear on the interior is expected, but pay attention to signs of water damage. Leaky sealant and plumbing issues can be expensive for RV owners.
- Mileage: Drivable RVs have a limited number of miles, just like cars. Anything with more than 100,000 miles will likely need frequent upkeep and repairs.
- Warranty: Some RVs warranties transfer from the previous owner, but others don’t. Understand all the details about a warranty if one applies.
- Awnings and slide-outs: Mechanical awnings and slide-outs are two of the most common sources of issues in RVs. Test them on any camper you consider buying.
- Maintenance: Ideally, you can get the maintenance records for a used RV. Knowing what went wrong and when can be a good indicator of what problems you might face in the future. This is especially important with drivable RVs.
- Appliances: Important appliances like refrigerators and water heaters wear out over time. If you don’t have the budget to fix or replace them, make sure they are in good condition before you buy.
- Electronics: Older RVs may lack many of the modern touches that have made campers more comfortable, such as advanced entertainment systems and efficient heating and cooling systems.
Where To Buy A Used RV
Just like with buying a new RV, you have a few options for sourcing and purchasing a used RV.
Using local classifieds on sites such as Facebook and Craigslist can be a good way to find a private seller for a used RV. But while you may be able to score a seemingly great deal this way, you have little recourse if things go wrong. Inspect any private-party RV thoroughly and, if possible, get it checked out by a professional. If it seems like too good of a deal to be true, it probably is.
RV dealerships sell used RVs, as well as new ones. While this can be a little more expensive and sometimes more stressful, it’s also a good chance to form a relationship with an RV dealer. Most will let you test drive vehicles, and they often have service centers attached. Since you can pretty much expect to have problems with an RV–especially an older model–this relationship can be critical to keeping your RV running in top shape.
Buying a used RV online is the easiest way to compare deals and find the make and model you want. However, unless you’re shopping for options close to you or are willing to travel, it can be difficult to see an RV in person. And when it comes to buying a used RV, an in-person walk-through is critical.
How To Finance A Used RV
Financing an RV is more difficult than financing a car. RV loans from any source typically come with higher interest rates and different loan criteria than auto loans because RVs lose their market value quickly.
Your first option is to use a traditional lender. However, you can’t use a car loan or a mortgage to finance a camper purchase. You may be able to get a personal loan to help you pay for an RV, and some lenders offer specialty RV loans.
Another option is the in-house financing offered at some dealerships. While this may be a more readily accessible option, it typically comes with much higher interest rates than you’d find at a bank or other lender.
Used RV Buying Guide: Bottom Line
There are certainly some drawbacks to buying a used RV versus a new one. But if you take the time to find a good, reliable option and don’t mind a little more maintenance, the right used RV can be a fantastic deal.
Do your research. Buying an RV, used or otherwise, is a major financial decision for many people. It’s in your best interest to treat it that way.
Here are the seven steps to buying a used RV:
- Identify your needs.
- Choose a class of RV that fits those needs.
- Search locally, at dealerships, and online.
- Find and compare RVs that work for you.
- See the campers in person and test them if possible.
- Find financing if you need it.
- Make your purchase.