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How to Buy the Best Used RV

How to Buy the BEST Used RV

In this blog, I want to share the process I used to purchase a new-to-me, used RV, replacing the infamous “Matilda”. The decision to purchase a new-to-me RV was definitely not a rash one. It took me a couple of years to make the choice to part with my first RV, Matilda, which was a giant lemon! I learned a lot through this process and want to share my experience, along with a few tips and tricks on how to buy the best used RV, while still traveling and living as a full-time nomad.

Being A Nomad Has Its Advantages When Wanting to Buy the Best Used RV You Can Afford

The beauty of being a nomad while looking for a used RV is that I looked for and researched used RVs all across the country and in different seasons. I actually started seriously looking in Tallahassee, Florida when my second, third, or fourth round (I lost count!) of the Matilda issues started. With all the RV troubles, I was at my wit’s end. I just couldn’t’ do it anymore.

( If you missed my adventures with repairing Matilda, check out my video below).

I started looking in May and I learned:

  1. You do not want to buy an RV in the summer. 
  2. You do not want to buy an RV in states where RVing is popular. For me at the time this was Florida.

After doing some research, and looking all across the country, I knew prices were higher in Florida than in other states. I also realized that buying in the summer meant I was buying at peak season when everyone was looking to buy, which drives prices up on new and used RVs. It’s a law of economics: high demand and low inventory = higher prices.

There Are More Options to Choose From When You are Mobile!

As a full-time solo female RVer, I am mobile, and this means I can look at any state to purchase a new-to-me RV. I was in the Oklahoma/Texas region in the fall when I decided to look Northwest, Midwest, and Southwest. I had so many options being in this central part of the country. Using RVTrader.com and Craigslist, I was able to look for the best used RVs to buy. Through all this research, I found my 2005 Itasca Spirit all the way over in Albuquerque. I thought, “Well, I’m headed west, so Albuquerque is my next stop!”

When I arrived in Albuquerque, I took my time inspecting the RV and negotiating the price down. If you don’t know this, never pay the sticker price! You can and should negotiate the price down. I was only willing to pay cash for my new-to-me RV. The beauty of paying with cash is you already know exactly how much you can afford to spend, and there is no need for financing or credit approval. 

Be sure to have enough money set aside for registration, licensing, taxes, and your emergency fund. NEVER ASSUME YOU WON’T HAVE BREAKDOWNS! Breakdowns happen and routine maintenance is a must, so don’t forget to always budget and save for this!

Buying used rv

Negotiating Does Not = Preparing for Battle When Buying the Best Used RV

The negotiation process intimidates most people. The first thing to know and remember: it’s not a fight. Stay calm and confident. Negotiating is about creating a win-win for you and the seller. You have the power to walk away, so remember that! There will always be another RV. And maybe this one just isn’t the right one for you after all! 

How do you know what a fair price is when buying a used RV?

First, do your research! I’d been looking at RVs all across the country for months, so I’d seen a range of comparable RV costs nationwide. Then I looked at comparable RVs in Albuquerque to hone in on the local used RV market

I realized I was too excited about the Itasca and wanted backup. I visited a couple of other dealerships in the area and found a 1995 Class A. The Class A motorhome was in really good condition and it was listed for a lower amount than the Class C. I now had options, and more importantly, leverage! I purposefully told the salesman during negotiations about the Class A down the road that it was a lower-priced option I was seriously considering.

Be Patient and do your Due Diligence! 

It helps to inspect the RV (taking it to a professional for inspection is best), so you know its condition. Use any flaws or downsides to your advantage. “Well it does have that dent in the bumper”; “I really wanted something smaller, so I’m not really sure…” This will show that you’re not committed to that particular Residential Vehicle. The seller might be more willing to come down on price if they think you’ll walk away.

We spent an entire afternoon going back and forth on price. I was very firm with the salesperson and I kept saying, “I have cash, and this is it, this is all I can give you.” Keeping myself from being emotionally invested or reactionary helped me stay calm. I kept reminding myself that in the end, if the price wasn’t right for me, I could just walk away. And I almost did several times! 

Negotiating to buy a used RV
Here are some phrases I used that might help you when you start feeling pressured:                        
  • No, I can’t do that.
  • I’m going to need to think about it more.”
  • You know, I think I’m going to sleep on it.” 
  • I think I’ll look around a little more. I’ll let you know..

The last thing the dealership salesperson wants is for you to leave.  They know once you walk out the door, the chances of them making a sale plummet. So, if you stay calm, they will keep negotiating with you, “working the numbers,” and “trying to get you the best deal.”

In the end, both you and the seller should feel good about the price you’ve agreed on.  

To Trade or Not to Trade-In?

The other part of my process of negotiating was trading in Matilda.

Keep in mind, dealerships will always give you the least amount possible for your trade-in. I mean their first offer will be almost insultingly low. I basically got nothing for Matilda. Sure, I could have gotten more from selling my RV myself to a private buyer, but I wasn’t motivated by the money. I just wanted Matilda out of my life once and for all! I didn’t want the hassle of trying to sell Matilda. It was a peace of mind decision to just trade her in – even if at a loss

Being a solo nomad, there was also logistics of how I would drive two RVs and where I would park them both until I could sell Matilda. I wanted to get on the road, so storing Matilda until I could sell her wasn’t an option for me. It just wasn’t worth the hassle for me at the time. Free time and sanity are worth more to me than a few hundred dollars.

The bottom line is if you have an RV to trade or sell, be realistic about its condition and how much time and energy you want to invest in squeezing more money out of it.

Here’s my vlog on my experience and a tour of my new-to-me RV.

Ask These Questions Before You Buy the Best Used RV

  1.  What kind of repairs or maintenance has been done to the RV? (You can and should ask for records and paperwork, and probe about things like tires, bearings, roof repair, winterizing, and water damage.)
  2. Where has the RV been stored? Weather naturally damages RVs over time. Has it been in covered storage, or exposed to severe weather like the direct sun or heavy snow? Climb up and Inspect the Roof! And look for signs of leaks inside (stained ceiling and walls, bubbles, or warping in the sides of the RV inside or out) 
  3. How often has the RV been used? (Owners who use their RVs regularly tend to maintain their RVs and spot problems for repairs before they become bigger issues. Rarely used RVs with low miles are not always a better option.)
  4. How many previous owners? (This could be a red flag for having continuous repair issues.)

You can also bookmark this page on my website as a helpful resource for buying an RV to live in: https://www.carolynsrvlife.com/buying-rv-to-live-in/

I hope this helps you with researching your next used RV purchase. Good luck and safe travels! And as always, Be Happy, Be Free, and Be KIND!

Haven’t started your RV life yet? Here are a few links to help get you started!

Fun Facts of RV Life

Full-Time RV Living Resources

RV Living Challenges

Full-Time RV Living Q & A

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DISCLAIMER: Carolyn’s RV Life and Carolyn Higgins share her experiences, thoughts, opinions and ideas in this blog post and on this website for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, instruction or guidance. Viewers/Readers should consult with professionals before pursing any actions or behaviors exhibited in this video. Carolyn’s RV Life or Carolyn Higgins cannot be held liable in the event of any accident or injury that may occur as a result of application of procedures and information provided in this video.