Buying a Used RV: 11 Steps a Smart Buyer Should Take


So you’re ready to purchase your first RV. Maybe you’ve rented one for a week or two and have gotten a sense of what you need and don’t need in an RV. Looking at a brand new RV with all of those features can leave you in sticker shock though. Many of the larger, more amenity-heavy models cost over $100k new, putting them out of many buyers’ price ranges. 

That’s when most buyers start to seriously consider the merits of a used RV. This comes with its own host of challenges, mainly finding one in working order that still fits in your price range and, hopefully, isn’t too far from where you live. Keep reading to learn the steps for how to buy a used RV and some of the important things to look over before making a purchase.

What To Look for When Buying a Used RV

Choosing a used RV can save you loads of money, with many RVs losing half their value in just a few years. Depending on how they’re maintained, you could end up with either a real gem or a dud that’ll need constant repairs. These are a few of the things you’ll want to consider before buying a used RV.

1. Ask yourself if it’s more than you need.

As is the case with buying a new RV, you’ll need to make a list of the features that you need and want in a used RV. The more features included in the vehicle, the more systems you’ll need to inspect and possibly repair. Your budget should include the cost of any fixes and upgrades.

2. Know your limitations.

There are bound to be things that need fixing, and one of the best parts of owning a used RV is that you become intimately familiar with how it functions. Be realistic about what you’re capable of fixing, though; some issues will undoubtedly need to be left to the professionals.

3. Low miles aren't necessarily better.

You might assume that having low miles means less wear and tear on the vehicle, but it can also mean that the RV wasn’t very fun for the last owner. Maybe some issues haven’t been addressed that make it unusable or, perhaps, the previous owner didn’t store it properly during the off-season. Either way, you could be looking at a very expensive repair bill.

Inspecting a Used RV

Buying a used RV isn’t all that different from buying a used car. There are a number of systems that can be faulty, and you need to know how well all of them work before negotiating a price. These are some of the basic things you’ll want to check before buying a used RV.

1. Roof

The very first thing you need to know about your prospective used RV is if there are leaks anywhere. Presumably, you won’t be buying it during a downpour, so you’ll need to look for signs of previous leaks: questionable smells, stains on the ceiling, and cracked caulking on the roof. You should also inspect the windows and walls for any other cracks. A leaky RV will only lead to misery. Unless you’re particularly handy and want to seal it up yourself, don’t buy an RV with a problematic roof.

2. HVAC system

While you’re up on the roof, take the AC cover off, and look for any damage or debris clogging up the system. Inside, check for any leaks, and turn it on to know how well it cools. Bring a thermometer with you to check the temperature. You should see about a 20-degree difference from the outside temperature after the unit runs for 15 minutes. 

3. Plumbing

There’s nothing worse than dealing with a leaky black water tank. Any plumbing problems are sure to rack up huge repair bills if you need to call in a professional. If there’s water in the holding tank, turn on the faucets and flush the toilet. After that, look underneath the RV to see if you can spot any drips.

4. Batteries

If the RV has sat unused for a long time, it’s likely that the batteries are toast. Open the battery box to see if there’s any corrosion on the terminals, and look at the label for a manufacturing date. If it’s older than five years, factor the cost of new batteries into your negotiations.

5. Tires and suspension

Finish up your inspection by crawling underneath the RV. Take a look at the suspension components, and see if anything is rattling around. Any problems around the axle prevent it from being road-worthy. See how much tread is left on the tires and if there are any cracks in the sidewalls. Tires should be replaced every five to seven years, and you can decode the DOT number on the sidewall to learn their exact age.

Finding a Reputable Seller

We all know the stereotype of the used car salesman — sleazy, pushy, maybe a little too friendly. Buying a used vehicle at a dealership can be a painful enough experience, but it’s nothing compared to the Wild West environment of private sales. To get a good deal, you’ll need to do your homework and verify any statements made by the seller before you hand over the money. These are a few tips to help you get a fair deal on a used RV.

1. Novices should avoid Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

This is actually where you’ll probably find the greatest selection of used RVs, but it’s also where you’re likely to get ripped off. Many of the sellers aren’t that familiar with what they have or are selling a vehicle that has gone unused for years. A thorough inspection is needed before you can begin to negotiate the price. You’ll also need to make sure that the title is in order and that the seller can write you a proper bill of sale.

 2. Run the VIN.

Every RV has a 17-digit VIN associated with it, and, for a nominal fee, you can use it to see if the vehicle has ever been in a wreck, stolen, rebuilt, or had recall notices that weren’t addressed. If any of these things come up and the seller hasn’t informed you of them, it’s best to walk away.

3. Use NADA as a guide.

Enter the year, make, and model of any RV into the National Automobile Dealers Association website and you can get an estimated value for it. For the most part, this should be the maximum amount that you’d pay. Mitigating factors like leaks, damaged furniture, or a very motivated seller can bring prices down from there. 

Buy a Used RV from Cruise America

Buying a used RV can be a nerve-racking experience. While not as expensive as a brand new model, it’s hard to tell whether your purchase will lead to great adventures or an endless money pit. 

Fortunately, Cruise America has an excellent selection of used rental RVs for sale. Cruise America RVs have been used for just a few years and are kept in pristine condition, with regular maintenance and inspections after each rental period. 

You couldn’t ask for a better buying experience either, with Cruise America offering free flights to wherever the RV is located through their “Fly and Buy” program. Additionally, if you rent an RV through Cruise America and decide you’d like to buy it, the rental fees can be deducted from the final purchase price.

Contact Cruise America today to learn how affordable your very own used RV could be!