Buying an RV: New vs. Used

RVs: Should you buy new or used?

This is an age-old debate in RV circles.

A used RV might have all the kinks worked out. It might be constructed better. It’ll be cheaper.

A new RV can be ordered optioned the way you want. It will have a warranty. It’ll have modern features.

What to do?

We’ve purchased two used RVs and one new RV. We learned a few things each time and thought we would summarize those lessons learned here.

RV #1: The Disastermobile (Used)

This was the RV purchase that had us swearing off RVs for life (I know. Shut up).

I had grown up taking RV-based camping trips and wanted that for my own family. Our kids were 3 and 4 - so it was the perfect age to get started RV camping.

Intended Use

We had no long-range or long-term plans for this rig. We mainly hoped to spend weekends in it a few times a year with one or two week-long trips, mostly at Michigan state parks.

Requirements

We needed something that had:

  • A decent-sized bathroom (young kids, potty training, state parks, you know)
  • Enough capacity to tow a CJ5 Jeep I had at the time
  • Safe seating for our carseat-bound children

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We shopped around and bought a small used Class C motorhome. It was a Starcraft brand on a Dodge platform. If you like viewing disasters you can read about it here.

What We Did Right

  • Found a great floorplan that fit our needs.
  • Found a model with securely-mounted steel-framed dinette seats that “flipped” allowing our kids to face forward while in their carseats.

What We Did Wrong

  • Didn’t get it inspected - I was overconfident (aka cocky) in my RV knowledge
  • Didn’t spend enough - we should have spent the entire inheritance on something nicer/newer

What Happened

I spent more time working on this thing than enjoying it. Ultimately after a new roof and a complete new interior we slapped a “For Sale” sign on it, sold it to a neighbor, and swore we’d never buy an RV again.

RV #2 - The 1-Year Plan (Used)

Hoping no one remembered we had sworn off RV ownership, we found ourselves in the market again when the kids were 12 and 13.

Intended Use

This was the RV that we intended to live in for a year while we traveled the USA as a family.

Requirements

All the gory details about choosing and shopping for a fifth wheel trailer are here, but we settled on the following basics:

  • Dedicated beds for everyone (no having to break down tables at night etc)
  • A place to sit for everyone
  • Around 30’ long to be as nimble as possible
  • Towable by a 3/4 ton, single rear wheel truck

We bought a 2005 Rockwood (by Forest River) Fifth Wheel. More details on that rig are here.

What We Did Right

  • Got to know the RV market very well
  • Considered new and used units
  • Kept our target RV size small, light and nimble in spite of people telling us we needed to go bigger
  • Were ready to jump when we found a used RV that met our requirements
  • Paid a fair price, and got delivery and the truck hitch thrown in

What We Did Wrong

  • Didn’t get it inspected (see above. I know.)
  • Didn’t make sure the tanks were empty (gross)

What Happened

The unit had a roof issue that we didn’t discover until halfway through our first year of travel. We couldn’t tackle the repair ourselves so spent what we had saved by not buying the rig new paying someone else to do it.

RV #3 - The Snowball (New)

The “just for a year” trailer lasted over three years. It needed repairs but the kids had grown so much they needed a bit more space. It was time for an upgrade.

We looked at a few used units online. We had stricter requirements this time, fewer units matched. We could widen our search range - but then retrieval costs go up. We were on a schedule so decided to buy new.

Intended Use

We no longer owned a house so this RV needed to be our “fulltime” RV. We planned to keep traveling, just not at the pace of our first year. We’d have some longer stays mixed in with seasons of travel.

Requirements

  • Bigger bunkhouse for the kids
  • Towable by our current truck
  • 35’ long or under

We bought a 34’ 2014 Wildcat (by Forest River) fifth wheel trailer. You can read more about the rig here.

What We Did Right

  • Found an acceptable compromise between needs, wants, weight and length
  • Didn’t need to buy a new truck
  • Stayed nimble at 34’
  • Found a livable floorplan
  • Had the ugly swooshes left off
  • Visited the factory while the unit was being constructed and bribed the employees with fudge
  • Did our own predelivery inspection (PDI) at the dealer before accepting the unit
  • Bought the $100 second year factory warranty vs. the expensive 3rd party one
  • Bartered with the dealer features we didn’t want for accessories we did

What We Did Wrong

  • Didn’t negotiate on the price

What Happened

A dinette chair seat bottom broke and an exterior cargo door had a split in the fiberglass. We called other Wildcat dealers but between waiting lists and “didn’t buy it from us” service fees we gave up.

We had replacement parts shipped to our dealer. The dealer shipped them to us and I changed the parts out.

Cabinet door hinges have pulled apart, the screen door latch broke, the main door latch fell apart - stuff like this I have just fixed. It’s easier than trying to work through the warranty process.

We’re now out of the main warranty period (the roof has a 7 year warranty but the terms state you are supposed to have it inspected yearly, so we’re out of that too).

The rig has held up well, through water crossings and being dropped.

Yea, dropped.

What’s Your Plan?

If you’re shopping RVs - are you shopping new or used?  Why?  Tell us in the comments below.

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12 Comments Buying an RV: New vs. Used

  1. Picture of Jema Anderson Jema AndersonFebruary 15, 2016

    It seems there is no right answer. Sorry to hear your first two were challenging!  Our friends just had their Forest River fifth wheel’s frame break. Of course, no one is claiming the flaw. One thing that seems to be consistent with the purchasing process.

    Being in a place where we are ready to get something new to us, we are looking at possibly buying a used one from a dealer.  But honestly, it is so hard to decide.

  2. Picture of Kimberly LoomisKimberly LoomisOctober 28, 2016

    One of things holding us back is the expense of purchasing the RV…I wish it wasn’t so scary to jump in!

  3. Picture of Jeffrey TrapnellJeffrey TrapnellDecember 22, 2016

    Really enjoyed following you across Instagram and learning from your “experience”. 

    We gave it a try and ended up with a 26 TT with bunks for our girls (11 and 12).  But with maturity comes the need for their privacy so we are looking again.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge. 

    We think we are needing bunkhouse with a door and when the girls are older, turning the bunkhouse into a storage room; bikes, inflatable kayak, fishing poles etc.  Have you given any thought to “when the kids are gone” and what would you change?

  4. Picture of Jeffrey TrapnellJeffrey TrapnellDecember 22, 2016

    thank you.  Looks like I need to keep reading. 

    I like your comments about helping others get unshackled from the golden handcuffs.  What a great niche job with real BTDT knowledge.

    We have talked about a vagabond lifestyle and working part time in places like Amazon or at large community resorts where the need for seasonal workers and the mobile lifestyle accommodate.  Life in the desert, on a beach, back in a mountain meadow needs to be balanced with some “give back” and community. 

    `tip of the hat to all

  5. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkDecember 22, 2016

    That’s the hope! We’re not sure yet if it’s a job or just a service. Maybe with a Class B if we could get parking in the driveway and food it’d be enough.

  6. Picture of CathyCathyJanuary 06, 2017

    We are in our 60’s, retired and looking to purchase our first rv trailer.  After much research and   attending an rv show our biggest question is this:  Do we spend $21,000 on a 3 yr. old Lance that has been meticulously maintained or spend less than or equal to that amount on a lesser quality but brand new unit.  The used Lance is being sold by a private individual.  They said that after having 4 or 5 different rv’s over the years they are sorry they didn’t just start with a Lance because of the quality and workmanship.  Any thoughts?

  7. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkJanuary 06, 2017

    We’re not familiar with Lance campers. Like anything used - I’d have it inspected and not pay over NADA.

  8. Picture of StaceyStaceyJanuary 26, 2017

    Maybe this is obvious, but I’m new to this.  Who would ideally be inspecting the used unit?

  9. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkJanuary 26, 2017

    Hi Stacey - just like there are home inspectors, there are trained and licensed RV inspectors. Use the Googles to find one in your area.

  10. Picture of KathyKathyMay 12, 2017

    My. Husband is. Interested in. Buying. Another. Camper class A from a person that is. Used 2008 its 40 feet long, there will be no warranty or. Garrenty on it because we are buying it from. A home owner. I don’t belief. My. Husband. Did. His. Research enough and I don’t want to lay out 70.000 for something that may not work .

  11. Picture of KimKimOctober 26, 2017

    Sorry to hear about your tribulations with the RV purchases. I consider my husband and I to be very lucky in our used purchase. We purchased a used KZ Spree 2009 5th wheel bunkhouse model. We sold our 3000sf home and ditched suburbia! We have been very pleased with our purchase. The trailer is apparently made extremely well. A husband and wife that worked for the FBI were the previous owners. They kept meticulous records and did a couple of professional upgrades. We made it through hurricane Harvey high and dry. I did purchase an extended warranty plan through Good Sam’s Club for $400 - and I am really glad I did. We had to have the black tank replaced and a busted flange under the toilet replaced. All covered under our extended warranty. I think the extended warranty is a great investment, especially if you are buying used and living in it full time. We don’t travel, but are permanently parked in an AWESOME RV park!

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