In our opinion, learning how to buy a used RV, so you can skip buying a brand new rig is a smart choice. It allows you to avoid the huge amount of depreciation that happens as soon as you drive a new RV off the lot. We also find that the biggest issues have almost always been addressed in used RVs.

Of course, there are some things you should know about how to buy a used RV if you’ve never done so before. Here are our top tips for making such a purchase.

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Avoid Scams

First and foremost, when learning how to buy a used RV, you’ll want to learn to avoid scams. Fortunately this is easy enough to do, but it’s still good to go over safe practices.

Never Buy Sight-Unseen

Never ever purchase an RV you have not seen in person. It’s very easy for a person to hide water damage and other issues in photos and videos. On top of that, there are some scams out there that involve asking the buyer to send a deposit upfront before they come to see or pick up the RV. This is never a good idea and you should run away from such requests.

Follow Safe Showing Practices

When you do go to see an RV, make sure you do so safely. Set up a meeting time during the day when the sun is still out. Take a friend with you and let somebody know where you are going and who you’re meeting. If you can, ask for the RV to be brought to a public place for the showing.

Pay Safely

The best way to pay for a used RV is by bank-to-bank wire transfer. If you aren’t comfortable with that, pay with a cashier’s check or certified check. Never give a seller your bank information or credit card information.

Get Bill of Sale and Title When Paying

You should receive a bill of sale and the title for the RV at the time of payment. If the seller does not have these things in hand, walk away without giving them a dime, and don’t hand over any money until you see they have both papers and are ready to hand them over.

Trust Your Gut

A lot of the time, when something is off, we can feel it. Trust those feelings. If anything ever feels off during a transaction, you can and should stop right there.

Inspect the RV Thoroughly

The next thing to know when learning how to buy a used RV? How to inspect an RV. Inspecting the RV carefully will allow you to make sure it’s free of major problems that could cause you headaches down the line.

Watch for Mold

First, check the whole rig for mold. When you walk in the door, smell the air. A musty or mildew smell is a good sign that there is water and/or mold somewhere. Even if you don’t smell anything, look in cabinets (especially in the corners), in the corners of the RV, along where the wall meets the floor, the walls around slides, and behind and under furniture (including under mattresses and all beds) for signs of mold.

Inspect the Walls and Ceiling

Check the walls for signs for water damage. Feel for mushy spots and look for discoloration. Start at the bottom of each wall and inspect all the way up. Pay particular attention to any walls beneath windows.

Don’t forget to check inside cabinets and along the ceiling as well (especially around potential water entry points like the A/C unit). Brown spots, wet spots, mushy spots, and saggy areas are all signs of water intrusion.

Go Over the Floors

The floors will also need to be looked over. You’ll want to check for weak or soft spots, especially near doors, in corners, and near toilets, showers, and sinks. Don’t forget to look under beds and in closets as well. Any spot that feels less than sturdy is likely to be damaged and could also be harboring mold.

Crawl Underneath

Our next tip for how to buy a used RV? Head outside and crawl underneath the RV to look for signs of damage. Leaks from the bottom of the RV are a bad sign. An open or sagging underbelly could also be a problem. You’ll also be able to see any damage caused by tire blowouts while under the RV.

Walk the Roof

While you’re outside, get up on the roof to check for water damage. If the RV includes a built-in ladder, the roof is likely walkable, meaning you can get up there and feel for soft spots. If there is no built-in ladder, you might want to feel around from the safety of a ladder—moving the ladder as you go—so you can test the whole roof.

In addition to soft spots, you should also be looking for damage to the rubber membrane, cracked or peeling sealant, and damage to the vents, skylights, or A/C shroud.

Open Storage Bays

Open every single storage bay on the RV. Stick your head inside and smell for moisture, mold, or mildew. Look for soft spots on the walls and floor, and check for discoloration that could signal water damage. You’ll also want to look around each bay door, checking for signs that water might be leaking in.

Check the Tires

RV tires are expensive. Therefore, it’s good to know if you might need to budget for them right off the bat. Check the tires before buying a used RV. Look for damage, worn treads, and check the expiration date. If it seems like you might need to buy new ones, ask for a reduced sale price on the RV to help cover that purchase.

Test Electricity

Next, you’ll want to test the electrical system in the RV. Start by running the lights, fans, and fridge off of battery power to ensure the system is working properly. Next, plug into shore power and test each electric appliance to make sure it is in working order.

These include:

  • TVs
  • Microwave
  • Air conditioner
  • Electric fridge
  • Electric water heater

Note: The fridge and water heater are hard to test in a a short amount of time. You may want to ask for these to be turned on in advance so you can see that they are working when you arrive. If the fridge was emptied prior to this request, ask the owners to place a water bottle inside when they turn it on, along with an ice pack or tray in the freezer.

Check the Propane

The propane system will also need to be tested. Ensure the propane is open and then turn on each propane appliance to make sure it is working. This is another super critical step when it comes to how to buy a used RV.

These include:

  • Stove
  • Oven
  • Fridge
  • Water heater
  • Furnace

Note: If the RV has been sitting for a while, the propane appliances may not light immediately. Try purging the system by holding a stove knob in the “light” position for several seconds before attempting to light it.

Use the Water System

Obviously, you’ll also want to test the water system. First, put some water in the fresh tank and turn on the onboard water pump. Allow the system to come to pressure and then listen for a few minutes to see if the pump runs when no tap has been turned on. If it does, this signals a leak in the system. After listening, run each tap using the onboard water pump.

When you’re sure the pump is working, move on to the city water connection. Use a fresh water hose to connect the RV to a potable water spigot and test all of the faucets while on city water. While the system is pressurized, check under the RV and under the sinks and toilet for leaks.

Run the Generator

Another tip for how to buy used RV is to check for an onboard generator. If there is one, turn it on to make sure it starts up easily and continues running. Plug in to the generator and make sure it runs the appliances and sends power to the outlets as it should.

Go for a Test Drive

Of course, if you’re buying a drivable RV, you’ll also want to go for a test drive. Listen, look, feel, and smell for anything that seems off. Make sure you can get going, stop, and turn without issue. Drive on a bumpy road to feel how it handles.

Pop the Hood

If all seems well during the test drive, pop the hood to take a look in the engine bay. Look for obvious leaks and smell for odd smells. Leave the engine running with the hood up and listen for unusual noises.

Hire an Inspector

If your personal inspection doesn’t turn up anything wrong, there is one more step you should take: Hire a professional inspector. This does cost a little bit, but it is so, so worth it to know you aren’t buying a used RV with issues. Have an RV inspector look over everything they can, and if you’re buying a motorhome, have a trusted mechanic look over the engine, transmission, etc.

Know the RV’s Value

The last step when learning how to buy a used RV? You’ll want to make sure you know the value of the RV you are purchasing to ensure you don’t overpay. Some options include looking at the NADA guide, using National Vehicle’s RV valuation tool, and checking RV Trader and other RV sales websites to see what similar rigs are going for.

Buying a used RV can feel a little bit scary. That said, as long as you know how to buy a used RV carefully, you can be fairly confident that you will walk out of the sale with an awesome little home-on-wheels that will take you on a number of amazing adventures!

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