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Tips for Buying a New or Used RV

RVSales.com Buying Guide

So you're ready to enter the world of RVing! Congratulations! This guide is designed to help you in several ways: First, to help you identify (if you haven't already) exactly which type of RV would best suit your needs. Next, we'll take a look at the pros and cons of new versus used RVs, how to determine "Fair Market Value" and finally what to look for when you're up close and personal with your potential new RV.

Regardless of what type of RV you're considering, we hope you find this guide a helpful and welcome introduction to the new world of RVing!

Section One: Class A or C, Van Conversion or Towable

RVs come in a plethora of shapes and sizes, but can be organized into seven basic categories:

Class A
The Class A motor home, also commonly referred to as the conventional motor home, is the largest and most luxurious of the motorized RVs — a virtual "home away from home" on wheels. It is fully loaded and equipped for short trips, lengthy vacations and full timing. The Class A RV is entirely constructed on a bare, specially designed motor vehicle chassis.

Class C

The Class C motor home, sometimes referred to as a mini-motor home, provides the conveniences of a larger motor home in a scaled-down version and at a lower price. The Class C is built on an automotive-manufactured van frame with an attached cab section.

Van Conversion

Sometimes referred to as a class B motoer home, it is basically a van that has been customized to include temporary sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities. The small, maneuverable size make it ideal for weekends
away.

Pop-up Trailer

A lightweight unit with sides that collapse for towing and storage. This unit is also referred to as a Fold Down Travel Trailer, Pop-up Trailer or Tent Trailer.

Truck Camper

This small recreational vehicle unit is loaded onto, or affixed to, the bed or chassis of a pickup truck.

Travel Trailer

Travel trailers are units designed to be towed by a car, van or pickup by means of a bumper or frame hitch. The travel trailer provides all the comforts of home and is perfectly adaptable for weekend getaways, family vacations and full timing.

Fifth Wheel

Fifth-wheel travel trailers are designed to be affixed to and towed by a pickup equipped with special hitch in the truck bed. These two-level units can provide the greatest livable area of all towable RVs. Fifth-wheel travel trailers come equipped with all the comforts of home and are perfectly adaptable for weekend getaways, family vacations and full timing.

Individual features of rigs within these general classifications can vary greatly depending on manufacturer and the age of the vehicle. As you can imagine, price ranges also vary dramatically, from a low of about $5,000 to a high of around $200,000, and anything in between. (And fully customized rigs can be over $500,000.)

The options can be daunting; however answering the following questions should give you a good start.

How will you use it?

An RV should take you where you want to go, and let you do what you want to do when you get there. Your needs will be different if you are only going to use it on an occasional weekend than if you are planning to be a full timer. The more extensive the use, the tougher and larger the vehicle will have to be.

When will you use it?

If you travel in the summer, you'll want air conditioning and an awning. In the winter, heating considerations become paramount.

Who else will use it?

Will you be using it alone, or with friends and family? If so, how many people? The size must be able to comfortably accommodate your average number of travelers-but not be so large that it isn't accepted where you want to go.

Where will you use it?

The size of RV you get will also depend on where you want to take it. Would you rather travel the back roads, or camp in a fancy resort? If you want to go into small, out-of-the-way places, a smaller RV is better. If you want more living space and amenities, and prefer larger luxury resorts, then go with the larger vehicle.

If National Parks are your goal, a smaller rig will probably be your best bet, as some parks have size restrictions. Most RV "resorts" will accommodate rigs of any size.

Self-propelled or towed?

There are advantages to owning a self-propelled motor home, such as easier maneuverability and the convenience of being able to tow a separate vehicle. Yet a towed RV, either 5th wheel or trailer, allows you to unhitch the towing vehicle while in camp, as well as use it during the rest of the year when the RV is in storage.

How much are you comfortable paying?

The amount you spend on your RV should be in proportion to the frequency and duration of your trips. Consider sales tax, registration fees and insurance premiums. Be sure that you own it, and it doesn't own you.

If you're new to the RV world, take the time to go to a large RV dealer near you and get familiar with the different sizes and types of vehicles. Imagine yourself sitting, eating, cooking and traveling down the road in each of the vehicles. The small investment of time up front will save you hours during your actual search.

Section Two: To buy new or used, that is the question

No one can deny the lure of a brand new vehicle, whether it's a new car or a new RV. But there are several good reasons to seriously consider used, especially if you are a novice RVer.

Depreciation

Probably the biggest reason to consider a used RV is depreciation. Recent research has shown that a new RV can depreciate as much as one-third over the first three years of ownership. That means you might be able to buy a used Class A motor home in excellent condition for the same amount as a new Class C with many fewer features.

In fact, the used RV market usually offers a large quantity of high quality, lightly used vehicles-for a variety of different reasons. Some older couples buy an RV thinking that they are going to travel full time, only to discover that the lifestyle is not their cup of tea.

Other times, people purchase on impulse, only to find that their harried schedules of little league and soccer leave little time for actually using the vehicle. In either case, you may be able to "steal a deal" on a barely used RV.

The Learning Curve

"I don't know anyone who's been in RVing for awhile that's still in their first RV," say Joe Kieva, author and publisher of RV Know How. "You just know you're going to trade it in." And here is the second excellent reason to purchase your first RV used. According to Kieva, "You learn what you like and don't like by owning one and driving it. The only way to learn is hands-on."

Choosing a used RV means learning what you like and don't like-without having invested so much money that you're stuck upside down in your new rig when you're ready to get out of it. And when you're ready to move up, your used rig will most likely still have maintained much of it's value, giving you a better return on your investment.

RVs Take "Time to Prime"

A new RV is a beautiful thing, but many new owners think that they can drive their new RV off the lot and hit the road for a long adventure. But according to Bob Gummersall, contributing writer to RVers Online, chances are they won't get very far.

"You've got to expect when you drive it off the dealer lot that you're going to have a list of things that need to be fixed before you get it home," said Gummersall. "It's not unusual for a brand-new RV to spend 20 days in the repair shop in its first year. By year two, most of these problems are fixed."

A well-maintained RV that's a couple years old may actually need less repair work than a new RV.

Section Three: Determining Value

When you've got a good idea of the class of RV you're interested in and your price range, it's time to turn to the classifieds and start narrowing the field. A good place to start is an RV-dedicated web site such as RVSales.com. Sites such as these offer a wide variety of private party rigs for sale, as well as helpful tools such as pre-sale inspections, financing, insurance and extended warranties.

Once you've identified several prospects by year, make and model, it's time to get some unbiased pricing help. A good place to start is the NADA web site, http://nadaguides.com. This site allows you to enter information about the RV your considering and then gives you a low retail and average retail price for that vehicle. (Keep in mind, however, that these are guidelines only. The actual price will vary up or down depending on overall condition, mileage and accessories.)

Other options for pricing help are the Kelly Blue Book's Motor Home and the Travel Trailer Guides and the Travel Trailer Guide, which covers used travel trailers, fifth wheels and folding trailers. Both guides should be available at your local library.

Pre-Approved Financing Puts Your Offer At The Head of the Line

One last note on value. You'll be in a much stronger negotiating position with the seller if your financing is pre-approved and you're ready to sign.

Banks, credit unions and independent finance companies all offer RV financing, as well as specialized RV resources. Click here to learn more about financing.

Connect with Seller

Next, it's time to contact the seller. Ask for detailed information not included in the ad. Probe for accidents, maintenance issues and be sure to ask why they are selling the vehicle. Ask if the vehicle has had a pre-sale inspection by a qualified RV service center and if it has been Inspected & Protected. If all goes well and you're feeling positive about what you've heard, it's time to set up a time to personally inspect the rig. (Be sure to let the owner know in advance that you'd like to see copies of all service records as proof of timely maintenance when you're there.)

Section Four: The Visual Inspection

When you've finally identified your top one or two picks, it's time to inspect them in person. It's interesting to note that many people will spend hours doing their research before inspecting a potential purchase, but then fly through the actual inspection in a matter of minutes. Above all else, take the time to do a through inspection of the vehicle. The following steps will help you go a long way toward ensuring you end up with an RV that will bring you pleasure for years to come.

Make Yourself at Home

Look at the "livability" of the RV. Is the floor plan suitable to your needs? Lie on the bed. Is it large enough? Measure the closets. Are the windows where you want them? Can you comfortably use the bathroom? Go inside and see if the door closes comfortably once you're inside. Try the shower stall.

Consider the kitchen and eating accommodations. Are you a gourmet cook who will want to take specialized pans along, or is eating out your idea of heaven? It will make a difference down the road.

Spend the Night

Whether you're buying from a private party or from a dealer, it's a good idea to stay overnight in an RV before making a purchase. This is standard in the RV business, and you shouldn't feel uncomfortable making the request. While staying, try out everything. Ask yourself, "Is this a place I can imagine myself living for weeks at a time?"

Take a Friend

If you know an experienced RVer, take them with you. Someone who's been driving an RV for a few years will know what questions to ask and may be able to point out trouble spots.

Check for Trouble "Spots"

Water leaks are a very common problem in some used RVs. Check to see if the windows have an abundance of silicone or sealant around the edges. Next, check the corner moldings. Excessive sealant is often due to roof leaks. Pay special attention to seals around the vents and seams. Peeling paneling, ceiling stains or "drooping" ceilings are also signs of potential water damage.

When Inspected, You're Protected

Make sure that the RV has been inspected by a qualified RV service dealer. In addition to a complete mechanical inspection, it should include (but not be limited to):

Running Gear
  • Inspection and function of the brake shoes, magnets, drums, wheel bearings, axles, springs, shackles and bolts, tires, break-away switch and any stabilizing jacks installed on the unit

Appliance Check

  • Inspection of refrigerator, stove, oven, furnace, microwave, hot water tank, air-conditioner and generator. Appliances should be operated on all fuels they were intended to work on. The fridge requires a 3 hour wait to insure that it is cooling properly

Other RV Systems

  • Checking the propane system for leaks
  • All interior lights, 12-volt outlets, 110 volt and G.F.I. outlets, converter, battery charger, inverter, fans are functioning
  • Test the water lines, taps, traps, fresh water tank, water pump, gray and black water tank and slide valves for leaks
  • Test window seals and mechanisms, roof vents drawers and cupboard latches for operation
  • Exterior running, signal and back-up lights are all working
  • Check lifter system of a fold-down camper, if applicable
  • T.V. antenna and booster

If the RV hasn't been inspected, have it done before you purchase. Look for RVs with the Inspected & Protected shield, some sellers have had had the inspection done for you through an RVSales.com participating dealer and even offer 90 day/3,000 mile mechanical breakdown protection as part of the inspection. To find Inspected & Protected RVs click here.


Lastly, don't forget to get copies of the owner's service and maintenance records.

Good buying!