Want to sell your Travel Trailer, Motorhome, or Fifth-Wheel? Click here to submit your free RV camping classified ad.
Before you decide to begin your search for a used RV you can add to your store of knowledge about what hidden defects to look for during your search for your perfect RV. Further down this page, you’ll find our list of 31 Tips on How To Inspect A Used RV Before You Buy It. You can use the tips there to construct your own checklist to take with you when you physically inspect the RV. In addition, you’ll find suggestions below in the Tips For Buying a Used RV section further down this page.
There are three basic options for you to consider when you are ready to begin shopping:
First, you may want to consider buying an RV directly from an individual looking to sell their RV. It isn’t unusual for individuals to be quite motivated for financial or other reasons to dispose of their RV as soon as possible. If you do your homework in advance and have a basic understanding of a reasonable price range for the year, make and model of RV you are going to look at, you may find a genuine bargain and save thousands of dollars when you close the deal.
Once you’ve identified an RV you want to consider buying, go to the NADAguides for RVs website and enter as many details as you can gather about the RV. You’ll be able to get an estimate of the low retail value and the average retail value for the specific RV you’re interested in. You can use the numbers from NADA as a starting point to begin your negotiation with the seller.
You’ll usually find plenty of RVs for sale by owners in your local area by checking the classifieds in the local newspaper, free shopping circulars found in convenience and grocery stores, and bulletin boards. Call local campgrounds and mobile home parks that rent RV parking spaces and ask if any of the residents have an RV for sale. It isn’t unusual to see RVs with a for sale sign parked in lots on busy streets.
You can also view classified ads posted on our website by individuals offering their RV for sale by visiting the links below:
- Campers and Travel Trailers For Sale by Owner
- Fifth-wheel RVs For Sale by Owner
- Motorhomes For Sale By Owner
If you’re in the market for a new RV then there’s no place like an RV dealership to start looking. Fortunately, most people live within easy driving distance to at least one, if not several RV dealers.
The advantages are that even if the dealership doesn’t have exactly what you’re looking for you can have them order an RV built to your exact specifications. When you buy from an individual owner, you’re on your own when it comes to defects and repairs. With a new RV, you’ll have a warranty for a period of time that covers most of the problems you’ll encounter with your new RV.
Individual owners offering their RV for sale will very rarely finance your purchase. Even when you buy a used RV at a dealership you’ll almost always have access to a source of financing through them.
Before you commit to buying from an RV dealership, consider visiting the NADA website and getting the range of values that you should be paying the specific RV you’re interested in purchasing. That way, instead of paying the full asking price you can determine whether the dealer is asking a fair price and you’ll have the opportunity to make an intelligent lower offer for the unit.
There’s a lot of interest in buying a repossessed RV hoping to buy a unit at a rock bottom price. Unfortunately, the repo market is far more complex than you would anticipate. We have a web page dedicated to the topic of buying repo RVs for individuals wanting to understand the process. You can learn more than you wanted to know by visiting our repossessed RVs for sale page.
If you are on a tight budget, and can’t afford a new model RV, you might consider buying a used RV. Before you opt to breeze through your inspection and decide the RV looks great you might want to save yourself lots of money and grief by doing a more serious examination of the unit before you part with your hard-earned cash.
One of the dirty little secrets about RVs, whether it’s an inexpensive pop-up camper or a motorhome priced at $500K, all RVs are fragile beasts. The longer they are on the road or lived in for extended periods of time, you’ll face an ever-growing list of repairs. The repair bill for some projects will you stunned in disbelief. So, do yourself a favor and take the time to identify how much you’ll have to spend for the previous owner’s deferred and ignored maintenance. Using the RV inspection checklist further down the page will go a long way toward preventing a bad purchase.
To get started, first, you have to find an RV to inspect. Here are a few suggestions for finding a used, affordable RV camper or motorhome (the inspection will help with the affordable part):
- Check newspaper listings. Look in the listings of your local or state daily paper’s classifieds. Most towns and cities have a free shoppers circular that is mostly classified listings.
- Check for any consignment lots in your area. RV owners who aren’t interested in having strangers to their homes often will park their RV at a consignment lot.
- Run a “want to buy” listing in the classified section of your local paper.
- Watch for campers parked curbside, in driveways, or front yards with “For Sale” signs posted on them.
- Drive through local RV and Mobile Home Parks and watch for RV’s with for sale signs posted on them.
When you find an RV you are interested in purchasing, don’t fall in love with it and be too eager to buy. You could regret a hasty decision for a long time. If you aren’t familiar with the functioning of an RV, bring a friend along who is. The chances are excellent that there will be one or more (usually more) components not working that will have to be repaired.
Keep a notebook with you when you do an inspection and make note of every fault. You’ll find problems, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. RVs can be repaired and you’ll use your inspection checklist to negotiate a price on your terms.
It is a good idea to have the owner with you while you inspect the RV so that he or she can observe your inspection notes. When you have completed your inspection you’ll likely have a lengthy list of repairs needed. This will be your leverage to make a low-ball offer on the trailer. After all, you will either have to pay for the repairs or live with them as is.
If the RV owner doesn’t accept your low offer, don’t worry too much about it and go on to the next RV. Give them your name and telephone number and tell them to call you if they change their mind.
Let two or three weeks pass and call them back to see if they have sold the RV yet. They may be very happy to hear from you and accept the offer you made. If you are really interested in the RV, offer a slightly higher price this time. If they don’t accept your offer, don’t worry about it and call them back in another three or four weeks.
Sooner or later, you’re going to pick up a genuine bargain on an RV. You’ll have possibly saved quite a bit of money and in the process learned some negotiating skills. Still, the one thing you can count on when buying a used RV is that no matter how comprehensively you’ve examined the unit, the odds are excellent that one or more major components will fail in the near future.
Here is a suggested checklist of components you should test before you buy:
1. Does the trailer jack work? A replacement jack will set you back enough to make you blink in surprise.
2. Do the propane bottles need updating and inspection? This can be costly if the bottles need to be replaced. Generally, if an RV propane tank is older than twelve years, it will have to be reinspected every five years. Also, it is mandatory that the propane tank have an OPD valve. If you don’t know what an OPD valve is, the official description is “Overfilling Protection Device”. If the top of the valve doesn’t look like the picture to the right, it will have to be replaced.
3. Check the hoses leading away from the propane bottle for cracks and splits. You do not want a leaking propane connection. Check the nut that screws into the propane tank. Is it worn? If so, it may need to be replaced.
4. The LP Gas regulator is usually located just a few inches away from the propane tanks. You’ll see the hoses leading from the propane tanks into a device with one pipe at the bottom of it that runs beneath the RV. Regulators begin to leak when they are approximately ten years old. For your information, leaking propane is not a good thing. Don’t hesitate to replace the regulator if it is leaking.
5. Batteries are often dead, or not too far from dead, in an older RV. Check and make sure it still works. If the bulbs inside burn bright, the battery(s) may still be in decent condition. A heavy-duty replacement battery will consume most of a hundred-dollar bill or more.
6. Does the converter still work? What’s a converter? Well, it is a device that recharges your battery and converts regular household electrical current from AC to DC allowing your 12-Volt fixtures and appliances to operate. Test this by plugging in the electrical cord and unhooking the battery (unhook the battery before you plug in the RV power cord to prevent electrocution). If the 12-Volt lights and water pump still work, the converter is still working. A bad converter will set you back a few hundred dollars.
7. Do the stabilizers beneath the trailer still let up and down? You’ll be glad to have stabilizers when you park in an area with constant wind gusts like the south Texas coast.
8. Are the tires still in good condition? Check for cracks and splits and look at tread depth on all tires. Putting a round of fresh, safe new tires on the RV can set you back anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand depending on what kind of RV you’re purchasing. Towing with bad tires beneath a heavy load is the mother of all bad ideas.
9. It is absolutely mandatory that you understand the condition of the braking system. Have the owner hook up the RV and allow you to tow for a short distance and test the brakes. Brake repairs are expensive. Your life and the safety of your vehicle and RV depend on the RV brakes functioning properly every time. You can spend breathtaking amounts of money on brake replacement and repair.
10. Does the doorstep let up and down easily?
11. Can you open and close all outside compartments easily? Do the gaskets need to be replaced? Worn or missing gaskets permit air and moisture to penetrate the RV.
12. Make sure that all the windows open and close easily. latches can rust shut. Are the screens on the windows and vents rusted or torn?
13. Open and close roof vents and make sure that vent fans run properly.
14. Fire up the hot water heater and make sure it works. RV water heaters often will have to be replaced every three years if the unit is occupied full-time. Find out when the current owner last replaced the appliance. Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a replacement water heater.
15 Test the refrigerator on both the gas and electric settings. Repairs can be expensive and you are going to want to use both the gas and electric options. Watch for frost beginning to form in the freezer to confirm that it is cooling properly. Make sure the door will latch and lock securely. When you are on the road, you don’t want the fridge contents strewn through your RV. Replacing an RV refrigerator is a major expense.
16. Check the furnace. Does it blow hot air? Don’t wait until it’s thirty degrees outside to find out. Replacing the furnace is quite expensive.
17. Crank up the air conditioner. Does it blow cold air? If it has a heating element does that work as well? Replacing the air conditioner is a very costly event.
18. Turn on the water tap without being hooked up to city water. Does the water pump work?
19. Check out the toilet. Does it flush properly?
20. Hook up the city water. Check for leaks inside and outside the RV.
21. Inquire about the condition of the wastewater valves. Better yet, if the RV is hooked up to a sewer drain, open and close the valves to make sure they work.
22. Check the cooking range and oven. Do all burners function? Does the oven burner function?
23. Do all interior cabinets and drawers open and then latch securely? If not, you may have your belongings scattered throughout your RV when you are in transit.
24. Check for soft spots on the floor, particularly in the bathroom area. The plywood may be rotted through.
25. Is the flooring in good condition? How about interior walls?
26. Make sure curtains are not dry rotted. Can they be easily cleaned? Are the blinds still in good condition?
27. External lights – Test the external running lights. If you tow at night, and it is very likely that you will, you’ll want to make sure that the rear taillights are operable. Simply hook up to the tow vehicle and turn on the headlights. You’ll also want to make sure that the brake lights work, that the right and left turn signal lights work, and that the backup lights work. If there is a problem, it could be a faulty bulb, or the bulb fixture simply needs cleaning. Otherwise, you may be faced with an electrical problem.
28. Test exhaust vent fans to make sure they work. Typically you will find them in the living area, over the cooking range, and in the bathroom.
29. Does the TV antenna crank up and down easily? Better yet, find a hobby and skip TV.
30. Be prepared to do an extensive inspection for leaks, beginning with the interior of the unit. You’ll often find soft spots in the floor at the edges of the walls. Likewise, you will also find soft, crunchy places along the seams of the ceiling and especially around slide-outs. Sometimes the moisture isn’t from a roof or plumbing leak, but from excessive condensation, if the RV has been lived in during the winter months.
Next, you’ll want to look for gaps in the seams where the exterior metal or fiberglass panels are joined. It’s common for these joints to separate and large amounts of water can penetrate through the gaps.
Inspect the seam that joins the roof and the body of the RV. Small holes and cracks are common in older RVs that haven’t had regular roof maintenance. Water seeps through these holes and is frequently the source of “mystery” leaks.
If the roof is coated with dirt and grime it would be safe to assume that at a minimum you will need to clean and seal the roof. Look for cracks, rips, holes, and tears in the roof membrane. If the damage isn’t too extensive you can repair the problems, clean the roof, and apply the appropriate sealant. Paying a dealership to service the roof can be outrageously expensive. Generally, if you have time, patience, and stamina, you can do the job yourself for a couple of hundred dollars or less assuming the roof doesn’t have to be replaced.
31. Find out when, if ever, the wheel bearings were last packed with grease. If the RV has been parked for an extended period of time you should automatically be prepared to have the wheels serviced. Choose to ignore the issue and the wheel bearings could fail, a wheel seizes up, and you risk a catastrophic event that could potentially destroy your new RV and cost you or someone else their life. At the least, if a wheel bearing burns out, you’ll spend enough on repairs to make you nauseous.
Keep in mind that whether you do the RV inspection yourself, or hire someone to do it for you, there will be issues hidden from view. Like all machinery, an RV is a mechanical device that requires ongoing maintenance and replacement of worn components.
If you don’t have the confidence to do the inspection yourself, you should take a knowledgeable friend with you or hire an inspector once you’ve settled on the RV you really want to buy. You can see if a professional RV Inspector is near your area by visiting the NRVIA website (National Recreational Vehicle Inspectors Association). To get a feel for what an RV Inspector should be looking for during their examination of the unit take a look at this RV inspection checklist that a professional should be following.