Tips on Buying a Used Motorhome

April 1, 2003
Filed under Lifestyle, Resources

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I received a letter from a friend yesterday, asking for advice on buying a used motorhome. Actually his inquiry was for the benefit of his son, who knows little about motorhomes and has shallow pockets. Rather than address the question in a return letter to my friend, I’ve decided to answer it here so others who are in similar circumstances might pick up a useful tip or two.

I wouldn’t advise taking my words as gospel, but during more than 40 years in the RV business and some half million miles on the road, I have developed some opinions that might be useful. As with new motorhomes, the used market contains an incredible variety of offerings. You can find 2-year-old bus conversions for nearly a million dollars, or you can find 30-year-old low-enders for $2,500 – and there’s everything in between. A used-motorhome buyer has to set a price limit on what he/she can pay and then shop in that range.

To get an overview of what is available, a prospective buyer should do some basic research about what is on the market and what prices are like. There are numerous sources for that information, beginning with RV Search (rvsearch.com) and this magazine’s classified section. RV Trader, which is available at some newsstands, and classified sections in most newspapers also advertise motorhomes for sale.

There are two excellent price guides: Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) and the N.A.D.A Appraisal Guide (nadaguides.com). Usually they are available at public libraries. Banks have them, too. By noting both wholesale and retail prices for various years, you can get some idea of what fits your pocketbook.

Some people claim that one should always buy from a private party because individuals sell cheaper and are more likely to give honest information, but don’t believe it. True, there are sometimes great buys from wonderful private owners, but there are also some high prices and/or defective rigs offered by not-so-wonderful others. If you buy from a private party, you have no recourse if you end up with a lemon. However, if you are a reasonably good judge of people, you can avoid the pitfalls that can be encountered with dishonest folks. Although many used motorhomes are advertised advertised in periodicals, most aren’t. The only advertising many get is a FOR SALE sign in the window when parked in someone’s driveway, parking lot or other place where passersby can see it. Obviously, it behooves a motorhome shopper to stop and check out those opportunities. Sometimes there will be a sheet with information about the vehicle — including the price — taped to a window. Usually a phone number is included, so it’s relatively easy to get additional information.

Now is a good time to visit motorhome dealers’ lots. Many have an oversupply of non-slideout older models that they are offering at good prices. Often it is possible to get a limited warranty for a brief period, which is an advantage over buying from a private party. Also, a dealer can usually offer financing regardless of the age of the unit.

To a certain extent, when you buy a used motorhome, you buy a pig in a poke. But there are many things to look for that will reduce the odds of getting unexpected problems.

Following is a list of some things to look for.

  • Body exterior: Look for dings, paint scrapes, pitted siding, rock chips on the front cap and windshield, faded paint, loose trim and cracked and/or delaminated fiberglass. If it looks great, it probably is; if it looks well used, it probably is.

  • Mechanical: The fewer miles, the better; oil should be clean and the engine should look cared for; transmission fluid should be pink in color and should not smell burned; minimal tire wear; no suspension sagging; good brakes and lights. Ask to see the maintenance log if one is available. Take a test drive to check power, transmission, brakes and suspension. If you aren’t mechanically inclined, ask a friend who is to do the checkout with you.

  • Interior: Anyone should be able to tell if the living quarters of a motorhome have been abused or not. A rig can have low miles but high occupancy, resulting in a worn interior. The condition of the upholstery, paneling, cabinets, drawers, bathroom, drapes and other obvious features tell a story. Make sure all appliances work and appear to be well maintained. If the interior looks well used or abused, it probably has been; if it looks clean and nice, it probably is.

My final word of advice: Take your time. There probably is a used motorhome out there that is just right for you, but you have to do your homework and legwork and be patient.

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