By Chuck Woodbury

Buying a used RV is a bit like gambling at the race track: When you win, you could win big. But, there’s always the chance you could lose! Fortunately, unlike at the race track, with a little homework and patience, you can increase the odds of winning dramatically.

When buying a used RV, you gamble that you’ll get a well cared for rig that will serve you well.

A used RV has already depreciated considerably in value, even if it’s still the current year’s model with barely any miles. The fact is, once a new RV is driven off the sales lot, it’s a used vehicle, and its value nosedives. That’s bad for its current owner, but good for a buyer. This applies to all RVs, whether travel trailers, fifth wheel trailers, motorhomes, truck campers, etc.

Buying a used RV makes sense for RVers on a budget. Dollar for dollar they will get more RV for far less. Instead of a brand new 24-foot Class C, the same investment may buy a recent model 30-foot Class A packed with extras. And if the used RV has been well cared for, it may look and drive virtually like new, and reward its new owner with years of service. RVers on a tight budget can often buy a well cared for used pop up trailer for a fraction of its price when new.

The pace of an RV’s depreciation, fast in the first few years, will be far slower in the those that follow if it’s bought used. We’ve heard of RVers who bought a nice pre-owned RV one year and sold it a year later for the same price. Foreign visitors to America often buy a used motorhome when they arrrive here, then travel a few months and sell it for what they paid, or darn close. They come out far ahead of what they would have paid for a rental. Of course, there’s always the chance that the used rig will have major mechanical problems. If so, they could be out a chunk of money. But like we said, buying a used RV is like gambling.

The major downside, then, to buying used is that the rig could be a lemon (click here for a free report to see if the motorized RV you are planning to buy is one). It could have hidden problems that could end up costing a lot to repair. If its roof leaked at some point, there could be rot inside the walls even though there may be no evidence (at least not on a casual inspection). One way to check on an RV’s history, at least the motorized part of the rig, is to research if it has had any major problems. Carfax will provide a free instant scan of thousands of data bases to determine the number of available vehicle history records for a specific VIN. Apply for this free report here.

It’s essential to examine a used vehicle with a fine-toothed comb, whether it’s being purchased from a dealer or a private party. Generally, you will have some guarantee from a dealer about the quality of a used unit. If the refrigerator quits 100 miles down the road, you will likely have some recourse. But if you bought the RV from a private party, you’re goin’ to either pay for the repair yourself or dine on warm food.

The best advice on buying a used RV is to examine a potential rig carefully, from top to bottom, front to back, and inside out. If you’re not an expert on what to look for, hire someone who is. To just take a fast glance and trust what you’re being told is like betting on a three legged horse. You’re cruisin’ for a brusin.”

And have some patience when looking for your rig. Start your search for a trailer, fifth wheeler or motorhome well before you need it. Look at dealer’s lots and shop the newspaper classifieds. Don’t buy something off the corner of a shopping center parking lot. Con artists operate from places like this, and you could get taken for a very bad ride.

The best deals are often on a rig being sold by a private party who bought his or her RV and then couldn’t use it, or who used it very little. Some older couples buy an RV for fulltiming and then discover the lifestyle is not their cup of tea. So they sell their RV, sometimes in just-like-new condition. Other times, people buy on impulse and then discover they don’t have time to use the vehicle. In either case, you may “steal a deal” on a barely used RV.

If you are Internet-savvy, get on the RV newsgroups and bulletin boards and ask the opinion of other RVers on a rig you are considering purchasing. You’ll likely have some helpful responses within 24 hours.

Right after buying a used RV, many owners immediately buy an extended warranty to cover unexpected repairs. Other RVers forgo this expense, however, and take the gamble that the rig will not develop major problems. Those that do buy an extended warranty consider the peace of mind that comes with it well worth the investment.

Veteran RV technician Les Doll has written a downloadable book that provides step by step instructions with photos of what to look for in a used RV. His “Dummies Guide To Buying a Pre-Loved RV” sells for $14.95 and should be, in our opinion, essential reading for everyone contemplating buying a used RV. But for folks who just won’t pop for this modest investment, Doll offers a free preview edition of the book that provides a lot of solid, useful information all by itself. Get this free download.

Another valuable book, available both as a download or in print form, offers step-by-step instructions on how to negotiate with an RV dealer for a new or used RV. Author Bob Randall is a former RV industry executive and sales manager for a large RV dealer. In this book, he spells out exactly how an RV dealer makes his profit, and how much of a price reduction a buyer can demand and still get the deal. Anyone who is planning to buy a recreational vehicle should get this. Read more about the RV Buyers Survival Guide here.

The main thing to remember about buying a used RV, above everything else, is to take your time and do a thorough inspection of the rig you like. These steps alone will go a long way in ensuring you end up with an RV that will bring you great pleasure down the road.

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