Buying used RVs

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TrvlShell

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We are thinking about buying a used Class A (our first time buying a used RV) and have seen a few on RV Trader that we are interested in. When we reach out to the seller to get some more information, what kind of questions should we initially ask (in that "first contact" message) to help us decide if we're still interested and want to see the RV in person? Thanks!
 

Kirk

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I would ask if they can send specific pictures that you might request. Do they have records of the maintenance that has been done in the past? What is the mileage on the chassis and the hours on the generator if it has one? What material is the roof made of? Are you the original owner? Do you have a clear title or is it financed? Has it been stored inside? How old are the tires? Has it been lived in full-time? Are all of the appliances original or have some been replaced?
 

Isaac-1

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Kirk brings up a good list of items, however be prepared for a lot of, I don't know answers. Today I went to look at a motorhome that was for sale by an individual on another forum (Trek Tracks, the Safari Trek owners forum) as a courtesy for a potential buyer that is outside the US as I was passing through the area.

The coach in question illustrates an all too common story out there for RV's on the used private sale market. The seller is a circa 65 year old man, who is selling the coach on behalf of his mother, it was really his father's coach, who passed away about a year ago, and no one knows anything about maintenance history, the coach has been sitting out in the back yard of his mother's house for a couple of years. The guy that is selling it is reasonably mechanically inclined, he just knows nothing about RV's, and lives some miles away from where it is located, while sitting the batteries ran down and died, tires dry rotted and have cracked, and various other things likely need attention (wiper blades, roof sealant, entry steps, etc., LPG/CO detector is alarming with end of life timer) The point being here is the seller does not know all the stuff that has went wrong with it while it has been sitting, just that his parents actively traveled in it until they didn't at some point I am guessing 2-4 years ago. By all appearances the coach seems to be a reasonably unmolested circa 14 year old coach, but I only gave it a once over for the potential buyer to let him know if there were any blatantly obvious show stopper issues, and what I found was a coach that appeared to have been well kept until a few years ago, when it was left to sit outside. No real show stoppers, just a lot of uncertainties that would require more extensive testing, connecting to shore power replacing batteries, etc. filling water and propane tanks, etc to determine, not to mention know knows what on the drive train that might only show up after many miles of driving. About all I can say for sure is that we were able to get the generator started thanks to a set of jumper cables, the microwave oven works, and the roof air conditioner does not (compressor starts, but fan does not blow).

The purchase of my current coach in 2016 is one owner removed from a similar situation, as the couple I bought it from, had bought it 2 years previously from the widow of its previous care giver, who again knew nothing of its maintenance history.
 

Dan_Frisbie

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We looked at dozens online and in local dealerships to decide what we wanted.
Then we went to a locally owned (not chain) dealership and after looking at his stock of new and used, he had an idea of what we were looking for.
As used motorhomes came into his lot or were on his RADAR, he would contact us.
We ended up buying from Carpenter’s Campers because they are 100% local, they help if we have a question or issue, and they have a top notch repair shop.
The staff is very well educated in RVs in general and if someone does not know the answer to my question, he or she will find out.
 

Deb&RickTX

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If the OP doesn't mind, I'll piggyback another question since we're doing the same thing. Does the list of questions differ if it's a private seller versus a dealer?
 

Forester

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Having just purchased a 25 year old class A I can tell you I watched a few videos on used RV inspection before I looked at it to remind me what to look at. I was OCD about water damage and current roof integrity so spent time on the roof and pushing on every square foot of ceiling inside looking for soft spot or discoloration from water. It was solid so moved on to drivetrain and mileage and paperwork on any major repairs or upgrades which he had in the paperwork as well as all the original spec sheets/manuals on the unit. It was a 102 degree day so we all sat inside with the generator and AC on while I looked it over and tried the various appliances, etc.

I was also able to drive it in that heat and pull some long hills on the highway to try and test for over heating, leaks, etc. and it did fantastic as it should have with 40K on the odometer.
I later found 1/3 of the air filter clogged with old hornet nests as well as most of the furnace exhaust fan.
The tires looked new but, were almost 5 years old (check those dates) but, always parked in the shade so I could not find any cracking or other damage. I am wary of them but, it is getting parked after 1,000 miles so if we start moving around I will replace them as well as keep them covered.

Coach batteries were toast and replaced the converter/charger more to upgrade than to repair (thanks to folks here) but, other than that it has been little stuff like burned out lights and deeper cleaning.
I would also pull out all the drawers and check for rot or leakage down low as well, especially under the sink and appliances that vent outside and see if any mice have left behind gifts the owner missed.
I brought coveralls and crawled under the whole coach looking for damage or leaks from tanks, brakes, engine, etc.

For an RV it was relatively inexpensive but, it was still a lot of money to us. Take your time. Hope you find a good one.
 

TrvlShell

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Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences! And Thanks Kirk for the great question suggestions! Great info!
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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If the OP doesn't mind, I'll piggyback another question since we're doing the same thing. Does the list of questions differ if it's a private seller versus a dealer?
Not really. Buyers tend to think that a dealer has (or promises to) "gone through" the RV and made it right, but that is rarely the case. Consider every rig to be "as is" and take nothing for granted. Big items are roof seal and signs of water damage (which may be old & previously repaired), batteries, tires, and working appliances. If it has a generator, try to verify that it actually produces power and runs longer than a minute or two. Of course there is some practical limit on time and access to the RV, but do the best you can.
There are RV buying checklists in the Resources section of this site.
 

Kirk

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Something that I'd add to Gary's post above is that I doubt a dealer is very likely to be aware of any maintenance records kept by the previous owner. What that owner may have left them in the RV, the cleaning crew very likely removed them and the salesperson you talk with probably wouldn't know what they were about. When buying from a private seller, try to find one who shows a personal pride in his RV and how well it was kept. That type of seller may ask a bit higher price but it is likely to be worth it and less risk. And get a professional inspection before you close the deal on any used RV.
 

Deb&RickTX

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I'd expect a dealer to say "It's in mint condition, owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays" or the RV equivalent. Sure, right. In the initial contact to a dealer, long before visiting, I'm thinking of asking how they got it. The office person answering those requests might actually be helpful. If it's a trade-in, I'd like to talk to that dealer and find out about the owners. If they upgraded, that could be a good sign. If they got rid of it because it was too much trouble, run away. But I wouldn't expect to get much useful background from a dealer. I'd have a longer list of questions for a private seller. In a perfect world, we'll find a single-owner private seller coach that's been lovingly maintained. But any will be professionally inspected. I know what I don't know.
 

Kirk

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Gary RV_Wizard

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Planning a road trip next summer, what do you suggest to buy, because I can't afford to buy a new rv ?
Whatever the budget is, you want to find an RV that was well-cared for. There are excellent 25 year-old rigs out there, but you need to search hard to find them (unless you get super-lucky early on). Condition is more important than brand name, but the higher-end brands are sometimes more likely to have received good care & regular maintenance (simply because the owner could better afford it).
 

JudyJB

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Also, you need to let us know if you have a pickup truck and want to just buy a used trailer, or if you want to buy a motorhome. BIG difference.

Also, how many people are you traveling with? Ages? Sizes? How long a road trip and to where?? Are you traveling with three Great Danes or one tiny dog or no pets at all??
 

Zulu Kono

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We are thinking about buying a used Class A (our first time buying a used RV) and have seen a few on RV Trader that we are interested in. When we reach out to the seller to get some more information, what kind of questions should we initially ask (in that "first contact" message) to help us decide if we're still interested and want to see the RV in person? Thanks!
I wouldn't ask them any questions through email
or text, but get them on the phone or in person.
Once you're actually talking to them,
just ask them to tell you about it.
Do a lot of listening and very little talking.
Jot down questions as they come to you based on what they tell you.
If they don't have much to say, it's probably because they don't want
to tell you about it, which means you probably wouldn't want to buy it.
If they're vague and/or fast-talking you (e.g., I've got three other people coming to
look at it today) they're probably shysters, and I would end the conversation abruptly.
What you want is someone who has nothing to hide, knows their
rig intimately, and will tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly.
 
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Reinigm

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I bought my 2003 Class C from a young guy without knowing he flips MHs. He is a detailer by trade, and can make any RV look great before he sells it, which he did in my case. The woman who owned it before him was the original owner and kept all her maintenance records in a book. That was helpful. It was in good condition overall, but found out after the first good rain (unusual in So Cal) that the roof leaked. Had the roof resealed, but it did have some small soft spots. So I ended up adding about $8K in repairs to get it to where it is now. Total expenditure including sales price is now sitting at $31K. Mileage at 74000. I was a first timer too, so I relied on my mechanical experience building street rods and classic cars. That mechanical expertise had no bearing on this application though. When you finally get to that point of buying, have a qualified inspector look it over. About $300. Well worth the expense.
 

TrvlShell

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In the first response to my original question, one of the questions Kirk suggested was "Do you have a clear title or is it financed?" This isn't something I would have thought of and is great question. Which got me wondering, what is involved with buying an RV when the seller still has a loan on the said RV? How is the title transfer handled in this scenario? And is there anything else we would need to be aware of? Thanks!
 

Zulu Kono

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In the first response to my original question, one of the questions Kirk suggested was "Do you have a clear title or is it financed?" This isn't something I would have thought of and is great question. Which got me wondering, what is involved with buying an RV when the seller still has a loan on the said RV? How is the title transfer handled in this scenario? And is there anything else we would need to be aware of? Thanks!
The involved parties, i.e., buyer, seller, and lienholder,
would assemble, most likely at the financing bank or credit union.
The buyer would pay the lienholder directly,
then the lienholder would sign off on the
title and pay the seller any difference,
assuming they don't owe more than the selling price.
Once the lienholder signs off on the title, it's clear.
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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Only rarely can you get the lienholder to sit in on the transaction and bring the title documents to release the lien. Generally that will happen only if the lienholder is local. In the more common case, a check is made payable to the lienholder and seller and delivered to a representative of the lienholder, usually a branch bank. They cash the check and when it clears, they release the lien and send either a formal lien release document or the title itself to the seller. Then the seller delivers the title to the buyer. This can take several days. In the meantime, the buyer has only a bill-of-sale (notarized?). If the seller isn't fully trustworthy, arrange for an escrow agent to hold the balance of the money (if any) until the title is delivered.

Obviously the preferred method is for the seller to pay off the loan and remove the lien, so that he has title in hand at the sale. Even if he has to borrow money short term to do that. Not always practical, though, so the buyer may have to compromise.
 

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