Advice needed for a total beginner on what to look for when buying an RV online?

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Junedays

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I've been a gearhead for as long as I can remember. My dad the same. Into drag racing so I'm pretty well versed on engines (gas) and drive trains, having modded and built countless engines...but RVs I feel are a totally different ball game.

It's my first time venturing into the RV world, never even set foot in one.

I'm currently overseas and my wife stateside. We want to do full time RVing(?) once I get back and am looking into buying one online while still abroad.

My questions are...

1)
What are the places online where I could buy one?

2) How can I have it checked and what to check for? Mind you, my wife is not too technically inclined. But she will be the one receiving it.

3) Are there good and bad brands, like cars. Example, everyone knows you can't go wrong with a Toyota.

4) I want to go used. And I don't want to spend a lot of money. What year range should I narrow my searches to? More than what year would be too old or not recommended due to both condition/maintenance and resale value?

5) I'm not sure between a motorhome vs a 5th wheel. Perhaps the following points will lean towards one more:

a) Although we'll be living in it full time, we won't be on the road more than 4-5 times a year.

b) I'm 6'5 and need ample head room all throughout the RV (shower, bedroom, living area...).

c) My wife LOVES to cook so we need a spacious kitchen with conventional home sized appliances. An RV with an indoor as well as an outdoor kitchen would be a plus.

6) Approximately what price am I looking at for the above?

I would have decided on a motorhome right away had it not been that I'm hearing that the above points would be difficult to get on a motorhome and are more 5th wheel territory. But the downside of 5th wheel to me is that I don't want my daily driver to be a dually truck, or anything big.

Best of both worlds would be great, or maybe something else I'm not seeing.

So yeah, that's about it. Much much appreciate your expertise and advice!
 

Mark_K5LXP

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OK, you asked. Take these answers at face value.

1) I don't know, I've never looked online for one (others will chime in).

2) There are inspection services you can hire for pre-purchase review. My experience with my first and only one so far was not stellar. But if you know nothing about the house side of an RV even a bit of information could be useful. Finding an inspector, and one that you can book in a timely manner will be highly dependent on where you need the inspection done. Don't rely on the dealer or seller in any case.

3) Condition and age are the primary quality criteria. They all start off pretty much the same when new and only go downhill from there. One stored in a garage and fastidiously maintained will be in better shape at a given age than one driven hard, put away wet and kept outside. The only way to tell one from the other is a close up inspection.

4) What is a "lot" of money? To some it's $10K, to others it's anything over $1M. The older you go generally the cheaper they get. Once you hit 15 years and up to 20 you can get a good value if you're not highly critical of cosmetics. Past 20 years you're venturing into "project" territory, where you're basically keeping up with decay just to keep the thing going. Forget resale value, just like a 20 year old daily driver car it's not worth much, and can't go down much from there as long as it runs.

5) Highly personal choice, no right answer until you decide what you want to do with it. But given your criteria it would seem a 5th wheel would be something more conducive to being parked more than traveled in. Floor plan is the key, #1, highest priority aspect of whatever you pick. It can be the "toyota" of RV's but if you hate being in it after a week, then it's not going to work.

6) A buck two-eighty. There's no answer here because you haven't decided yet on a motor home or a 5th wheel, and what degree of tolerance you have for repairs and maintenance. Used trailers can generally be gotten into fairly readily but you need a $75K truck to pull it with, unless you already own one. Used-but-good motorhomes are a bit more spendy but come with the truck "included". In addition to the price of admission there's the nearly constant repair and maintenance for any kind of RV, and requires a stiff wallet and perseverance. Nothing to do with heavy truck/trailer chassis happens cheaply or easily. The house side of any RV also has a demand of attention and resources. My description of an RV is a crappy house on a delivery truck, so you get to deal with both. If you're "handy" you can deal with most or all of this, but it will require an investment of time, materials and tools. If you "keep up" with the mechanicals then you will likely enjoy mostly reliable utility and service. With a trailer you don't have to sweat the driveline as much and can concentrate on the house side.

What might be enlightening is to go to an RV dealer and wander through some inventory and get an idea of what features you must have, would like to have, and definitely don't want. As you go then you can begin to formulate your "perfect" choice and then as you continue to look you'll be able to identify "the one" when you see it. Then the adventure begins...

Mark B.
Albuquerque, NM
 

Larry N.

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Buying essentially sight unseen isn't likely a good idea, even if you're buying new, and DEFINITELY isn't if you're buying used. Inspection is a necessity (probably professional for you, since you don't have experience).
.but RVs I feel are a totally different ball game.
You've really hit the mark there.

3) Are there good and bad brands, like cars. Example, everyone knows you can't go wrong with a Toyota.
Although some brands are more entry level, most brands have products ranging from entry level to at least mid-range, with some going beyond, though there are a few higher-end only brands ($1M+) of motorhomes.

4) I want to go used. And I don't want to spend a lot of money. What year range should I narrow my searches to? More than what year would be too old or not recommended due to both condition/maintenance and resale value?
You don't give any indication of your budget range, which fits hugely into answering this question. In used, floor plan and condition are everything, and that varies wildly, even in (originally) identical RVs. Also, the type of RV affects this, since motorhomes are more expensive than trailers, but if you go to a trailer then you also need to budget for an adequate tow vehicle, which is dependent on the trailer you choose.

Some folks have been happy with 20+ year old units, and other's feel that less than 8 or 10 years old is needed.

5) I'm not sure between a motorhome vs a 5th wheel. Perhaps the following points will lean towards one more:

a) Although we'll be living in it full time, we won't be on the road more than 4-5 times a year.

b) I'm 6'5 and need ample head room all throughout the RV (shower, bedroom, living area...).
Point A seems to favor a trailer, probably 5th wheel. Point B you'll want to check in person, since that's something that's hard to generalize. One thing that's possible with a 5th wheel, since you'll be moving so seldom, is to hire someone to move it for you on those occasions.

c) My wife LOVES to cook so we need a spacious kitchen with conventional home sized appliances. An RV with an indoor as well as an outdoor kitchen would be a plus.
This very definitely favors a 5th wheel (a large one, needing a 1 ton+ truck to tow), and may not be achievable in a motorhome.

6) Approximately what price am I looking at for the above?
That will vary a LOT, and some rigs might be $20K or under (probably not desirable) up to whatever you have to spend, so it depends on what your choice is of RV type, size, etc.
 

NY_Dutch

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My number one rule when buying RV's for personal use is that I would never consider one that I cannot touch and inspect myself even if I'm using a professional inspector to verify condition. An inspector cannot tell you if the decor and floor plan feel "right" to you and your wife. Do your research now, but don't commit to anything until you're back stateside and can see prospects for yourself.
 

Ex-Calif

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Hey JuneDays - Welcome aboard - I see you have 3 threads going on basically the same topic. I don't personally care but it can get confusing for people answering.

In my mind there are 3 considerations and the priority depends on you.

>>I want to go used. And I don't want to spend a lot of money. What year range should I narrow my searches to?<<

Unless you are really rich price is super important. So I would recommend searching on RV Trader online in your price range. Pay close attention to layouts because aside from price floorplan is the biggest factor to be happy.

As to how much does an RV cost? How long is a piece of string. I have a 31' Class A. I paid $2500 for it and put another $4000 in upgrades and repairs. It's taken me across the country twice. OTOH - You can buy a brand new 30' Class A and Spend $150k.

I don't understand the need to buy the RV before you return from overseas. If you are ending a military career or something I would consider renting for 6-months. Get something used within your budget and spend a little time fixing it up.

In regards to 5W vs. Class A or something else I would spend a lot of time reading old threads about this around here. It's debated a lot.

For me it's an easy comparison. With a Class A you can arrive somewhere or be on the road and stop and not have to leave the RV in the rain or whatever to "make camp" temporarily. You can also TOAD a smaller vehicle for getting around in. The disadvantage is the if the engine or tranny breaks you are basically stuck and if the RV is older you have a tough decision to replace the engine or scrap out the RV.

With a 5W if the engine breaks you are only dealing with the truck and you don't "lose" your house. OTOH, not everyone wants an F250+ as a get around town vehicle.

Also with a towing situation, you can start with a TT of a smaller length and upsize later. Or if you start big you can downsize later and not have to change the tow vehicle. The final bit on trailer vs. Class A is the usually with an older Class A you lose the first 4-5 feet of space to the driver's station.

Now more modern Class As will have a bed up front that comes down from the ceiling.

Anyhoo - My main advice is to do a lot more of your own research, then ask around here for opinions (no shortage of that) and if at all possible slow down and get your own eyes on anything before you drop a bunch f money.

I could not imagine making my wife buy an RV while I was overseas. Too much pressure.
 

Isaac-1

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Here is another non-answer for you, Take your time and make decisions, you have half a dozen major topic questions there each worthy of its own detailed message thread. Buying an RV sight unseen at a distance can be a nightmare, think of it a bit like buying a house sight unseen, it may look good in photos, but look less good in person, have some major hidden issue, and most importantly have something hate about it that you may only discover in person, ie you hit your head on the TV cabinet every time you get out of the drivers seat.

If at all possible I would suggest waiting until you can shop in person.
 

steveblonde

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No way would i buy an RV online without seeing it in person.
You need to get out and sit in it, move around in the bathroom and bedroom. Move around in the kitchen like your cooking a 5 course meal.
We have looked at 1000s of RVs over the years and 99.9% we have rejected i used to borrow TTs when i was younger no way would i have bought most of them. My dad built them and we hated most of those too.
Its a personal thing - no shortcuts on this ride
 

Henry J Fate

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Be smart and wait until you come back to the USA to begin the process. You could develop leads in the USA while overseas, but only leads without commitment.

If your good with chassis mechanics then your half way there. Each lead will have a different chassis and you should be able to get familiar with each one.

The rest of the RV will be living quarters / systems. Each put together by the builder in different ways but with great similarity. The house systems will take some time to understand. Most of us think of a refrigerator as a common appliance and common design. Not so in most RVs.

Looking into all the systems of RVs would work well for you while overseas and with your chassis understanding, you should do well coming to the USA to follow up or generate good leads.
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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Good answers from Mark, so I'll try not to repeat. Some additional comments...

  • Inspectors can be located via their trade group website, nrvia.org
  • Your gear head background is liable to steer you toward less important factors. An RV is mostly a house and only secondarily a vehicle. And most of them share near-identical mechanicals. Diesel pusher different than gas chassis, of course, but otherwise much alike. The focus should be "I am buyiong a house that happens to have wheels", not I am buying a vehicle wit comfy chairs & a tv".
  • Space is at a premium in any RV - you trade space for one feature for that of another. Even the biggest coach is only about 400 sq ft. If you want a roomy kitchen and full-sized appliances, you will have to sacrifice the space somewhere else. And a big guy like you surely needs a roomy bathroom, king bed, oversize sofa or recliner, etc.
  • There are two "quality" categories to be concerned about. One is design & material/component choices and the other is construction (assembly). The more expensive RVs are designed to higher standards, e.g. better cabinetry, upholstery, maintainability, etc. And they spend more time on the assembly line too. Unfortunately, just about all RVs are subject to random production-line failures, e.g. simple human mistakes, or an untrained worker filling in for a sick expert, or a temporary shortage of the proper item or material. If you buy used, the design quality is the same and most construction flaws have been found and fixed already. If wear & tear has been minimal, it's the best of both worlds.
  • No way to guess right now what price range you will ultimately end up in, but your criteria so far suggests the high end rather than low. The number of dollars needed will depend heavily on your willingness to buy previously owned vs new. Motorized vs towable is a factor too, but the cost of a suitable tow vehicle has to be figured in with the towable category and that is considerable. At least a one-ton truck and maybe even a medium duty (F450/4500 class vehicle configured for hauling a trailer).
  • And DON'T believe the online photos and blurbs - they rarely portray the whole story. You can't detect most signs of water leaks or tell if the fridge gets cold. Online is your filter for layout and such, but there is no substitute for a first-hand look.
 
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Kirk

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It's my first time venturing into the RV world, never even set foot in one.
The best advice is to wait until you get back and then take the wife and visit the biggest RV show that you can find and spend at least a day looking at everything available. For any RV that is large enough for a guy 6' 5" and a wife who does a lot of cooking is going to cost you and most likely more than what you expect. If you spend some time on the RV Trader website you can get some feel for prices. There are some brands that tend to be higher quality when new, but even the very best made RV can be turned into a rolling disaster by abuse and neglect in a very short time. RVs also come in a very wide range of prices and qualities. I will list some of the very top but even these can be a bad choice when used if not properly cared for. They are the standard setters for the industry and among the highest priced when new.

Since you asked, some of the very top brands of travel trailer are:
Bowlus Living Vehicle Airstream
and in fifth wheel trailers:
Luxe New Horizons Spacecraft Mfg.
and class A motorhomes:
Newell Coach Marathon Coach Liberty Coach
and class C motorhomes:
Renegade NeXus RV Dynamax
 
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Junedays

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No way would i buy an RV online without seeing it in person.
You need to get out and sit in it, move around in the bathroom and bedroom. Move around in the kitchen like your cooking a 5 course meal.
We have looked at 1000s of RVs over the years and 99.9% we have rejected i used to borrow TTs when i was younger no way would i have bought most of them. My dad built them and we hated most of those too.
Its a personal thing - no shortcuts on this ride
Thanks for your input. Care to share why? What do you look for?
 

Kirk

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Care to share why?
When you buy online you are depending on pictures and statements of the seller but in nearly all states you buy use in an "as is" condition with no warranty of any kind. It is very easy to take pictures from the most advantageous positions or to photo edit them.
 

Skookum

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I definitely don't agree that one can't go wrong with a Toyota ;) They make junk too, just like every RV manufacturer and motorhome chassis manufacturer, with few exceptions. In my own adventures, you need to be looking at the purchase as both a house and a vehicle, and evaluating each according to their own criteria and condition. That statement is geared more towards a motorhome purchase, obviously..

Sites like RV trader are great for finding local inventory leads. I would never buy without seeing (and inspecting!) in person, first.

I own an older motorhome so have some experience there. Older MH's often suffer from a neglected chassis. They're more expensive to maintain and things like tires are $$$$. It's not uncommon for owners to neglect things like brakes, power steering, cooling systems. It all sounds minor until you have to foot the bill. You definitely want something that has been taken care of. If you know vehicles, you'll know.

With anything, time and outdoor exposure returns stuff to dust. I wouldn't reject something older and lower-cost if it's been stored indoors and lovingly cared for. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you'll find stuff less than 10 years old, 5 years old that's been beaten to snot. Let someone else buy those ones...
 

Isaac-1

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To add a bit to that as the owner of a now 20 year old motorhome, I bought my current coach mostly online from a private seller a thousand miles away in 2016 for a bit over $22,000, though I did not pay until I got there to pick it up, so worst case if it had been substantially not as represented I could walk away and only be out maybe a couple of thousand in airfare (it was an $800 for a 1 way plane ticket bought on less than 5 days notice to get there). In my case I had the advantage of walking through another coach of the same brand and floor plan, just a few years older that had been for sale near my house, and liked everything about it, except that it was an absolute money pit, the seller seller listed it for $9,900, had dropped it to $9,000 by the time his schedule and mine synced up for me to view it even though it was only 3 miles from my house, and was at $4,000 or make offer when I walked away. Online photos looked good, which just goes to show what can be hidden with selective typical web resolution photography. This included poorly color matched low quality repairs to the back bumper (just out of frame in the photos), peeling paint down the entire drivers side (no drivers side photo), water spots on ceiling throughout, missing planks from the real wood floor in the kitchen, not to mention the same tires were on it from when he had bought it 7 years earlier, generator, refrigerator, dash air conditioner, water heater all did not work, ... I could easily have spent $20,000 on it and in the end had a motorhome worth maybe $10,000. By contrast the one I bought had over $10,000 worth of parts alone added in the preceding 24 months including new refrigerator, tires, batteries, 400 watts of solar panels, 2000 watt pure sine inverter, new seating, carpet, $3,000 of suspension upgrades (track bar, safe-t plus, SuperSteer Bell cranks, ...), not to mention I had 2 years of online owners forum posts made by the seller to look at to show how he cared for the coach, spent over an hour on the phone with him in which he certainly talked the talk on maintaining it (he was a retired industrial electrician by trade, though he had moved into doing environmental water quality work before fully retiring). Even with all that there were things that had been neglected, such as the running and side marker lights many of which had burned out bulbs, corroded sockets, etc. , simply put did not drive at night, so had failed to keep up the maintenance on those items.
 

Lou Schneider

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Something that doesn't show up in online photos are smells and odors. I'll reject anything that was owned by a smoker or has musty odors. My current Sunnybrook trailer was advertised as being non-smoking, smelled nice and fresh when I looked at it and is fine with normal ventilation. But if I close everything up for a few days it has a faint aroma of pipe tobacco when I return. I suspect the dealer I bought it from gave it a smoke removal cleaning like they do when someone smokes in a "non-smoking" hotel room before putting it on display. At least it wasn't cigar or cigarette smoke.

When I was in my 30s I purchased a Class C motorhome that was owned by someone who smoked and liked to fry fish on the stove. The only thing that convinced me to buy it was that everything mostly worked and the $400 "must sell now" asking price.

It took scrubbing down all of the interior surfaces with ammonia and water, stripping out all of the carpets and tossing everything made of cloth before the stink went away.

I threw a couple of cans of head gasket sealer into the gas tank, put an air mattress and sleeping bag in the overhead bunk and headed out on a 625 mile marathon run to Quartzsite. Since I no longer had any curtains I hung black trash can liners in the windows to provide some privacy. One of the Forum wags promptly named it "Le Trashcan" and the name stuck. Looking back, I guess I was just a few decades ahead of the current "van life" movement.

It made it to Quartzsite and back fine and I used it for another year or so until the radiator exploded while climbing up Highway 50 towards Lake Tahoe on a 100 degree day. I limped it home and traded it to the guy who owned the storage yard in return for a year's free rent for Winnebago that replaced it.
 

Larry N.

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The final bit on trailer vs. Class A is the usually with an older Class A you lose the first 4-5 feet of space to the driver's station.

Now more modern Class As will have a bed up front that comes down from the ceiling.
I lose maybe two feet back from the bumper in the front of my class A -- the windshield and dash (much less loss than in a class C if you don't neede that potentially water-leaking front overhead bed, or than the tongue on a TT) -- but the rest is lounge chair area, since the pilot/copilot seat swivel around to face the rest of the living area, and are comfortable, even having electric footrests. We certainly don't need the complexity (or utility) of a drop-down bed, and we have couch and dinette for emergency/auxiliary beds (never used so far).

I definitely don't agree that one can't go wrong with a Toyota
Neither do I. I had a gorgeous 1970 Toyota Crown that I bought new. It was nothing but trouble. On one trip it threw a rod, then a year later, reverse went out in the transmission.
 

Junedays

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Much appreciate your insightful replies guys. Thanks again!

Regarding the price. At this point I haven't really set a budget because I have no idea how much what I'm looking for costs. Is it 5k? 50k? 500k?? I need a reference point, and then I can determine if it's something I can do or not. So for instance, whats the average price of a used 5th wheel that's in good condition (I don't mind 15 or 20 years old as long as it's in good condition), that's at least 35 feet with at least 2 slides, rear bedroom, spacious kitchen...and everything else I described in the OP? What's the average for similar when it comes to Class As.
Being into cars, I have a good idea what one could expect to pay for the kind of cars I'm interested in, what would be too good a price to be true, what's a steal, what's average, what's a rip off...etc. I'm sure it's the same deal with RVs.

I'd also love to know what I can expect to pay for a 1 ton truck. Used. Let's say no more than 10 years old, in good condition.
 

Kirk

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I have no idea how much what I'm looking for costs. Is it 5k? 50k? 500k?? I need a reference point, and then I can determine if it's something I can do or not.
The best way to do that is to visit one or two of these sites to see what such RVs are selling for. RV Trader ~ PPL used RVs ~ AutoTrader RVs for sale
You can set up the search based on the criteria of what you are looking for and so narrow things down. It is very important to also allow funds to have a professional do a complete inspection on anything used that you consider just to make sure that it is what you believe it to be. Most used RVs need new tires as people do not usually buy tires just before selling and quite often there will be other maintenance needed. If you spend some time on these sites you should be able to get an idea of what it will cost to find what you wish to buy and to get an idea of what it will cost.
 

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