Finding a Bargain


Selecting an RV is decision that will affect your life more than most other purchases, especially if you plan to live in it full-time. Everybody's needs are different but the best strategy is to spend a few weekends visiting some local RV dealers and getting a feel for what the different types of RVs have to offer both you and your family in the way of drivability, comfort and convenience.

When it comes to prices, if there is one constant in the RV world, then it is that they depreciate faster than just about any other vehicle on the market. A big Class A that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars a few years ago can be bought for a third of that and can easily be found in close to mint condition.

If you're looking for a Class C and happy to go back a few model years then the bargains are plentiful. Start looking on Craigslist to get a feel for the market in your area but you shouldn't have much trouble finding a mid to late nineties Class C for under five thousand dollars.

Don't be put off by the year of manufacture. Unlike a car, a twenty-year-old motorhome typically has low mileage and very few signs of abuse.  Also, with the exception of some now having slide outs, very little has changed in Class C design over the years so the amenities are still there but for a lot less money.

One thing changing and not for the better, is that many of the late model vehicles used as a base for the motorhomes are prone to some very expensive mechanical problems. Many of the issues stem from auto companies trying to squeeze out gas mileage figures beyond the limits of the engine. Manufacturers are under pressure to outdo each other with improved fuel economy numbers but for larger vehicles, these estimates are nothing more than a dream.

Stock vehicles are bad enough but when you modify them for use as an RV, the equation changes so dramatically that the numbers mean nothing. Even though this is a fact well known and accepted by the industry, you will still see unethical salespeople pushing RVs and pointing to the automakers website and suggesting that these EPA estimates apply to the vehicle that they’re trying to sell. They don't and they can't, because the coachbuilder just added thousands of pounds of weight to the vehicle that the manufacturer could not possibly predict or factor in.

Bargains on older travel trailers are also plentiful and in much the same way as the other classes, very little has changed apart from slide outs. This holds true until you go back to the early eighties and then the pendulum starts to swing back the other way. The travel trailer is a little different in some respects because unlike motorhomes, a market exists for vintage models and not just with travelers.

Older pull along types from the fifties and sixties, even as far back to the thirties and forties can command prices that would shock you. Old, beat up and often gutted, the so-called Canned Ham variety have become popular with collectors. There are clubs for enthusiasts and like vintage cars; some of the owners put a tremendous amount of time and money into restoring the old trailers to their former glory. Collectors are not interested in models from the seventies and they are the favorites of knowledgeable full-timers. There are exceptions, but the models from this era are tough. They are also usually better insulated making them a good choice for spending a lot of time in.

With any RV, older motorhomes, you want to make sure that it hasn't been in an accident. It may have been through a few owners and the person selling either may not know, or may know but not want to disclose the history. The quickest way, just like buying a used car, is to check the bodywork with a paint thickness tester. The little manual ones work just as well as the fancy electronic ones.

Another source of used RV's is eBay or eBay Motors and sometimes you can still find a bargain if the person is keen to sell. Final prices on eBay tend to be higher because unlike a free classified site like Craigslist, the seller has to cover the fees that eBay and PayPal will charge when it sells and those fees can be quite expensive on an item costing thousands of dollars. The prices for older travel trailers on eBay are higher than what you can often find locally because the seller is better educated as to the collectible value of what they are selling. In the local classifieds, the same unit is an old, falling apart trailer that's taking up space in the yard. Often, you'll see them advertised as a hunting trailer, hunting camp or needs work. Look on eBay and you’ll see it described as vintage, unique, and a highly sought after collectible. There’s a big difference in the description and a huge difference in the price.

Driving around your current neighborhood is also a good idea because there are plenty of RVs for sale sitting around in yards or out the front of the house with signs on them. There are usually quite a few where the owner hasn’t gotten around to posting them online.

Don’t forget used car lots as a good source of a bargain. They might be a lousy place to buy a car but a used car dealer can be an excellent place to pick up a cheap RV. The main reason for that is that many of the smaller independent dealers will take just about anything on wheels as a trade. They do that because they make all of their money on the deposit and the monthly payments attached to the car that they’re selling. Anything extra they might make on the traded vehicle is a bonus.

The other good thing, depending on your circumstances, is that the dealer will always take payments. If you approach them, without being arrogant or pushy, many dealers will let you pay it off in a small number of interest free installments rather than their regular arrangement. The alternative, as they know very well, is to leave it sitting there taking up space until a cash buyer comes along. There isn’t that many RV buyers looking around in used car lots so they’re eager to sell to the first person who shows any type of interest and if that means holding the title for a few months then so be it.

Regardless of what you’re looking for in an RV there are always plenty of good deals around if you’re prepared to take the time to sniff them out.