Your first big investment is going to be your RV itself! Now you can buy one outright, or finance one. Personally, I’d prefer to buy one because dealing with bills goes against the “freedom lifestyle” idea.
However, if you don’t have a big savings to make a cash purchase, you may feel you are stuck with a very used, older model (80s / 90s or earlier). If you have to choose between a newer RV with less mileage on it, or something that’s falling apart—then finance the newer model and don’t waste your money on something old and beaten. Here’s why:
- An RV with 150,000+ miles on it is likely to have mechanical problems.
- If your engine goes out while you’re out in the middle of a remote park, you could be in a lot of trouble.
- Just the cost to deal with these situations could outweigh the short-term financial benefit.
- A clunky old camper with a lot of miles might be OK if you plan to boondock and stay in a radius around your city without driving too much. But I wouldn’t take it across the country.
- There could be a lot of other small things that will annoy you about old, used RVs. Just wait until your plumbing gives out—boy, that will be fun.
I still think it’s OK to buy used, but ideally you will want to save some money and purchase a newer model or one that’s less driven. Or finance it.
Where do I Start?
You’ll want to use the following resources: CampingWorld.com, RVT.com and / or RVzen.com. These websites will allow you to browse used RV listings. Of course, you can also check Craigslist and CarMax.
Compare the value to listings on Bluebook or NADA Guides to RVs. You can find both digital and print editions of these resources quite easily.
How do I pick one?
Consider your budget and what’s available. A Class-A gas-guzzler is going to suck if you want to go from Boston to San Francisco. But it might be just fine if you are staying in a radius around your city.
Consider that there are many types of RVs to choose from: Class-A diesels, fifth wheels, travel trailers, truck campers, motor homes, Winnebagos, pop-ups, and more.
This huge A-class RV bus might be a great for a band that’s on the road, but due to the price and expertise needed to drive, it might not be your best option, unless you really want to live in the lap of luxury on the road.
There are too many to choose from and that would be an entire book in itself. The one I suggest after doing my research? I bought, in 2008, a used 2006 Keystone Everest for $18,000. I had no regrets. It had a big spacious living area and I felt like a king. I didn’t trade it in for five years. I had to take it into the shop maybe once in all that time because my A/C gave out, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I am sure it’s still being used somewhere by a happy camper.
However, the Everest is a huge fifth-wheel, and I already had some experience on the road driving big trucks. For my needs, I wanted to go across country and live in some cool locations while feeling at home wherever I went. This is actually a good pick for a family, also—but really if you’re a solo traveler.
I now think it’s better to save money and get something more Spartan like a mini-motorhome. Right now, my favorite is Roadtrek. These are van-RV hybrids that are easier to drive than regular RVs. They’re smaller, but as an outdoors type person you will soon not care so much about the extra space.
Class B RV vans like this one are popular right now for a number of reasons. These are efficient, easy to drive, and old Roadtrek models are not expensive.
You might also be able to find some early 2000 models that are still great purchases but a lot less expensive than what I originally paid. A 2002 Keystone Cougar sells right now, used with around 50k miles, at about $9,000.
(I wouldn’t even shop if it’s over 50k miles, and 100k+ is just asking for trouble!).
The next resource to think about is rvchecks.com. The cost is about twenty five to run a history report on the vehicle you’re thinking about buying. This is important to make sure there are no major flags. For instance, do not buy a used RV that had once been in a motor accident and refurbished. This is just asking for more problems than it’s worth.
Once you’ve decided on an RV, the next step is to physically inspect it. Do not buy a used RV without first making sure it’s in suitable condition.
The first thing to do is ask the seller this question: Did this RV spend much time parked and unused? If so, how long? If he or she responds with something like “Oh, it’s in great condition, I did have it outside for a couple of years but I took care of it” then run away! This means it sat, unused in the weather, for years. It will require an extra $2,000+ in maintenance, maybe a lot more. It could also give out hours after it’s on the road.
Next, you want to physically inspect it. Take it for a test drive, then open the hood. You need to look for the following conditions:
- BRAKES: Try them. Do you hear any sudden clunks or does it not feel completely right?
- TIRES: Are the tires on the RV good to go or do they need replacing?
- PULL: Let your hands off the steering wheel. Is the RV drifting hard to the left or right?
- THE ROOF: You don’t want an RV with leaks. Inspect the ceiling for holes or decay.
- PLUMBING: Watch out for burst pipes or leaks. Not a pleasant surprise after you’ve already bought it.
- ENGINE / CARBORATOR PROBLEMS: If you have a friend who’s a skilled mechanic, ask him or her to accompany you, as they’ll be able to more easily identify problems that you might not be able to spot and before they fully materialize in the RV.
- INSULATION: If you plan to be spending any kind of harsh winters in your RV, then you don’t want to be freezing cold. Make sure it’s properly suited for the winter.
What else should I know?
It’s probably a good idea to take an automobile mechanics class if you don’t know much about fixing or repairing vehicles. This could be a lifesaver on the road, and it could also save you thousands of dollars. A trip to the Jiffy Lube can be awful and cost thousands even for something you could have easily fixed yourself (they never tell you what the real problem is, they bank on clueless customers). So, don’t be a sucker!
When it’s time to make a deal, see if you can negotiate it a little. Sometimes sellers are willing to drop the price if you’re willing to walk away.
After title is transferred, you’re good to go. Congratulations, buying an RV might be one of the more complex and challenging parts of your adventure.