You’ve made the big decision to buy an RV. That may be the easiest part. Now what?
After researching the many types of RVs on the market, you may have even decided on the type of RV that best suits your needs (travel trailer, fifth wheel, motorhome, etc). But there’s still a very important question lurking out there. Should I buy a new or used RV?
The implications are big, and may even determine how much you enjoy your “new-to-you” RV and the lifestyle experiences you have with it.
Most articles on this topic do not take a point of view on this choice. They simply outline the pros and cons of each. I’m going out on a limb here: My husband and I bought a new motorhome, but wished we had purchased a used one.
Sure, there are many factors that go into this decision. And we ended up with many check marks on the positive side of the ledger for buying new. But for us, the enormous difference in cost outweighed all other factors.
Our Decision to Buy New
So much of the research we did suggested buying used was the way to go. But because we were such RV newbies, buying used felt really scary. What if we inherit a mess? What if we have repairs that we don’t know anything about? We let our fears drive our decision. So we bought new—and even bought an expensive extended warranty for peace of mind.
As I mentioned, there are several pros to buying a new RV. I’ll share those first, and then talk about the cons—including the big one.
Buying a new RV is like buying a new car: It smells good, it’s clean, everything looks nice, no one has used it, and there are essentially no miles on the odometer. It’s really easy to get seduced by that “new coach” scent.
New RVs also come with the latest features, technologies, and interior styles. This can be very beneficial, especially if you don’t want to do a bunch of upgrades on an older model.
Additionally, new RVs come with a manufacturer’s warranty—usually for a year. Many things that could go wrong are covered, however, do your research and understand what’s in your warranty.
Simply put, you are going to lose money when you buy a new RV. It will happen swiftly and fiercely—like the minute you sign the papers and drive it off the lot. Your RV hasn’t physically changed, but it’s now considered a pre-owned vehicle. And the immediate depreciation can be as much as 20%.
Imagine, on the high end, you’ve just bought a $250,000 diesel pusher and made a sizeable down payment with your hard-earned money. Poof! There goes as much as $50,000. I know this is an extreme example, but it’s relative.
I’ve met many RVers who did plenty of research before buying, only to find out within a year or two their RV no longer meets their travel needs. They usually end up being upside down in their RV loan and are forced to keep their RV, or take a sizeable loss to get out of it. Ouch!
And even before you buy new, there’s confusion around the real market value of the vehicle. Everyone knows not to pay the full sticker price for a new RV, but what is the real number the dealer is willing to sell it for? Negotiations can be really awkward—especially if there’s any lack of trust or sales pressure.
If that’s not enough, a new RV hasn’t been broken in yet. Your first year may feel more like a revolving door into the dealership than a carefree highway. That happened to us when we had a slide that wouldn’t open or close merely three weeks into our full-time travels.
Buying A Used RV
To be fair, I have never purchased a used RV. However, I have talked to many people who have—and even others who have bought both new and used over the years. Very few have said they would recommend buying a new RV. In fact, it seems the more familiar people become with RVs, the more likely they are to buy used.
It’s probably obvious that the main benefit to buying used is saving a boatload (I mean, RVload) of money. If you’re patient enough, and do your research, you may even find the exact new RV you want—just a couple years old and with hardly any differences from the new model specifications.
This actually happened to us, but we let it get away. We were so new to RVing that even when we had the opportunity to get the RV we wanted at 30-40% off the new price, we simply weren’t confident enough to close the deal. And a few months later, we bought nearly the same model at new RV prices. Visualize me kicking myself now.
Also, the used RV market is quite transparent and efficient. Online websites such as RV Trader and RVUSA have thousands of listings nationwide for used RVs being sold by dealerships and private parties. By looking at these listings, you can get a general sense for the true market value of the RV you’re interested in. Also, fair market values are available on NADA Guides—similar to Kelley Blue Book values for autos.
In addition to saving money, a used RV is more broken in than a new one. Things that are going to break in the first few years have been fixed. Also, the prior owner(s) may have completed upgrades, added features like newer technologies, or installed satellite TV or solar.
There are many benefits to buying used, but like anything be diligent in your research because there are some downsides, too.
Yes, you could buy a lemon. But you could buy a lemon even if it’s new. If the previous owner(s) don’t disclose something, like water or structural damage, that is a giant RV pie in the face. Be sure to thoroughly inspect the vehicle, or pay to have a professional do it. If the seller is serious, they may share the inspection costs, or even be willing to pay for it entirely.
Depending on where you live, you may have to travel quite far to buy a used RV. But this would also likely be the case for buying new. I’ve heard stories of people chasing around the country to find the perfect used RV, so do your research and be selective.
While you’ll save money buying used, you could still end up paying too much for it. Maybe the owner did custom work and wants to get their money out of it. In this case, you have to decide what you are willing to pay for. Again, do your research on a fair market price and negotiate from there.
One last possible downside is that a used RV doesn’t automatically come with a warranty. Depending on where you buy it, you may need to buy your own warranty coverage.
The Winner: Buy a Used RV
Hear that? That’s the joyful sound of chirping birds because you made a great decision to buy a used RV. If you bought new and disagree with this post, that’s okay. We did, too. To be honest, now that we’ve worked out the kinks, we really like our coach—we just wished we had paid less for it.
We’re mostly happy with the performance of our motorhome, and the interiors are in relatively good condition. Oh, except the torn up couch and chairs from our cat’s claws. Whoever buys this from us someday should definitely negotiate a “cat scratch” discount.
This information is for educational purposes. VIARV shall not be responsible nor retain liability for RVer’s use of the provided information. Prior to making any RV service decision, you are advised to consult with an RV professional.