Buying a Used RV or Camper: 11 Tips to Help You Avoid Getting Robbed and Buying a Lemon

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Buying a Used RV or Camper: 11 Tips to Help You Avoid Getting Robbed and Buying a Lemon

My late father, served in WW11, grew up during the Great Depression was very frugal and could stretch a dollar. He encouraged me to spend my money wisely. One of his constant messages growing up was to never buy a new vehicle and buy used, thus allowing someone else take the huge hit for depreciation.


Purchasing a new RV or camping trailer can be a very expensive purchase. Buying a new RV or camping trailer never makes good financial sense. The depreciation can be over 20% the moment your drive it from the dealership. If you have the money to waste- then that’s your decision.
During my 30 years of experience in and around the car business, selling my first car at 16, a 69 Camaro and selling roughly two-thousand vehicles, including RVs and campers, I have found that buying a vehicle that is 5 to 8 years old is usually the sweet spot. By doing this you are allowing the previous owner to absorb the huge hit of depreciation.
When considering purchasing a used RV, it’s vital to know how what to look for so you don’t end up buying someone else’s problems or what some people refer to as a lemon.


“I encourage my customers to first know what type of camper or motorhome that meets their needs,” said, Lisa Nobles, owner, along with her husband Daryl Noble of Cedar City RV Sales in Lebanon, Tennessee. “They should educate themselves to find their best buy, after all that RV or camper may be one of the most expensive purchase they will ever make with the exception of their home.”

It is very common for a used recreationalal vehicle to sit in storage for many months or years. Some campers and motorhomes may even only be used a few days each year, only to be used in the summer.


1. Consider Renting before Buying

Owning an RV or camper trailer can be costly. Consider renting as a viable option. Renting will average about $150 each day. When you lease a recreational unit you may be spending $500 to $800 for a few days, but if you purchased the RV or camper-It’s Yours and your stuck with it. If you rent it you can always take it back.

If you’re only going to use it a few days each year, leasing an RV or camping trailer would be the most economical way to go. You’ve heard the old adage of a boat purchase? The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells a boat. When you factor in the insurance cost, maintenance cost, wear and tear and depreciation, in many ways that holds true.

2. Should I buy my RV New or Used?

Much like I wrote about earlier. You may decide that buying a new RV or camping trailer may be the decision you feel is right for you. I would suggest purchasing a used unit and let someone else take that huge hut for depreciation.

3. Always Check for Roof Leaks

Motorhomes and camper trailers are notorious for roof leaks. Always pre inspect the roof for any leaks. You certainly don’t wat to be out camping and the rain downpours and you have several leaks. Try to inspect the recreational vehicle during a heavy rain to avoid possibly purchasing a unit with a roof leak.

4. Install the right Tires for your Motorhome or Camper

The last thing you want to encounter with your new or used RV or camping trailer is a tire blowout. A blowout can cause significant damage to your unit or worst case a fatal accident involving you, your loved ones and others on the highway. Make sure you choose the correct tires that can carry the weight capacity. The pounds per square inch (PSI) are a critical factor in your tire selection.

5. Consider a Roadside Assistance Plan

The best known insurance agencies specifically for RV’s and campers is Good Sam Club. They carry specialized insurance policies for first time RV’ers and camping trailers. Most insurance coverage will include some type of roadside assistance. You will a bit more piece of mind knowing that you have a good insurance policy in case of emergencies.

6. Pick the Right RV and Camper Size

RVs and camper comes in a variety of lengths ranging from as small as 15 feet to as large as 40 feet in length. The length of your RV or camper will determine where to park your unit while not in use and what kind of campsites you’ll be allowed to occupy.
Also consider if you have room in your driveway to park the unit. If it’s a larger unit it will obviously be more difficult to park and store.

7. Consider Purchasing a Slide-Out

I personally like my units with a slide-out, in my opinion, a slide-out is well worth the extra money. The additional 3 feet in width can make a big difference in making your home feel much larger.

8. Perform a Thorough Inspection

If you’re not comfortable performing an inspection, then consider paying for one to be performed. Make sure they not only inspect the roof like I mention above, but the floors as well. The floors should be free of any weak and soft spots.
Look under the unit for any loose trim or crews missing. Inspect for any rust. Any visible signs of rust and corrosion could indicate water is starting to get in.
Inspect all the appliance and make sure they are operating correctly. Often times the cut-away areas will develop leaks. Inspect cabinets for signs of water leaks.

9. Never purchase a Used RV or Camper Sight Unseen

Although I have sold hundreds of vehicles online I never have never been comfortable purchasing a unit online without first inspecting the vehicle.
You can always place a caveat with your deposit that if you find damage or issues of a certain amount that you can back out of the deal.
Most reputable sellers or individuals will allow you to inspect the unit before you complete the transaction.

10. Don’t Overextend Your Budget

Always have a budget and stick to it. Don’t get caught up in spending more than you can afford. Consider what your needs are. How many will be staying with you? How much water will you use? How many beds are needed? What amenities do you need?

11. Gas or Diesel?

If your purchasing a camping trailer, then this obviously doesn’t matter. A diesel engine will cost more than a gas burner, but produce much more power that will come in handy if your pulling a trailer. If you are planning on pulling a large trailer or a vehicle I would seriously consider purchasing an RV with a diesel engine.

Conclusion: I always recommend a buyer to do his or her research and shop around. By spending a few hours online researching a buyer can often know more about a product that the salesman themselves. As I’ve grown older and reflect back on the times I spent camping with my wife Felicia and our two sons, they were times that were well-spent and have no regrets. As we all grow older, especially for men, if we’re honest we often spend way to much time trying to make money and accomplishments. With these great accomplishments, come great sacrifice, sadly, at the loss of valuable time with our family members. Good luck RVing, be safe, have fun with your family, make memories and relax and go seek an adventure!

Mike Sparks

Mike serves in the Tennessee State Legislature and represents the areas of Smyrna, Lavergne and north Murfreesboro. His hometown of Smyrna is home to Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corporation, Smyrna Airport and Motlow Community College, the fastest growing college in the state. He’s the former owner of Mid Tn Autos in Smyrna, Tennessee. Mike and Felicia j=recently celebrated 30 years of marriage. He has authored 3 books, Learn the Car Business for Fun and Profit, Learn To Barter and How to Do More With Less During Tough Times. He is also the cohost for Rutherford Issues , the Smyrna Edition radio show via WGNSradio.com, 100.5FM and 1450AM. You can contact Mike at Mikesparkstn@gmail.com or call 615-525-3198

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