Tips for Buying an RV in the States
Wondering whether to hire an RV or buy? It’s a good idea to do the exact sums, but there is a general “threshold” of about three months, below which it will be more economical to hire instead of buy. If your trip’s going to be much longer than that, then it's probably worth buying.
If you do decide to buy, there are some tips to follow:
First of all, set your budget. Set a total budget for your purchase. This means factoring in any repairs or alterations, as well as tax and insurance. Then, you have several options:
You can find good bargains by buying privately:
- Keep the original ad (the motorhome must be as legally described).
- Take a witness to oversee the purchase.
- Always check the details of the vehicle against the log book, especially the chassis number and engine number.
- Make sure you check the vehicle’s history.
- Inspect the vehicle well. If you are not mechanically astute, then consider getting the van inspected by a professional. Get a road test and a full inspection with the history check. The cost depends on the size of the vehicle.
- Notice boards in backpackers and hostels are often a good place to look.
You can also buy from a dealer:
- At most RV and motorhome dealers there will be a selection of used and new vehicles in one place, making them a great way to look around at the types of models available and the typical prices.
- Buying from a dealer is typically more expensive than buying privately, but the trade-off is peace of mind as they have a duty to tell you of any problems and the cost of rectifying them. Most dealers offer at least a few months of warranty, usually 3 months.
- If you’re going to buy from a dealer, visit as many as you can to determine which seems to offer the best value for money.
- Many offer buy-back deals which can make life easier for you, but do the sums to see if it's worthwhile.
You can also buy RVs on eBay:
eBay (eBay.com) is actually great place to find RVs for sale in the U.S. You can easily find vehicles in a specific area and price range; most listed vehicles have lots of photos and information, and you can also ask the seller any questions you have about the vehicle.
- Be careful with bidding. Once you make a bid you might win the vehicle and you can’t back out (within the last 24 hours of the auction anyway).
- Always check and test drive the vehicle before you bid by contacting the seller and arranging a meeting before the auction ends.
- Bid wisely - once you have driven the vehicle, set a price that you think it is worth. Set a definite limit and don’t get caught up in a bidding war!
You can also find RVs for sale at motor auctions:
Traditional motor auctions offer a chance to get a motorhome for the lowest price, but also carry the greatest risk. Most vehicles being sold at a motor auction are there either because they’re in an unsellable/unusable state (which should be avoided) or because the owner wants to get rid of it quickly (which can be a bargain).
- Check the details carefully (which will be posted on the windscreen).
- Look around the vehicle, including the underside and inside, before it’s driven into auction.
- Wait by the vehicle until it is started to be driven into the auction so you can hear it running. Check for smoke and steam from the exhaust, any unhealthy noises, and whether it drives straight.
- Decide on a price for the vehicle, and stick to it.
- Remember that most auctions required extra fees to be paid on top of the end auction price so keep this in mind.
Things to Check
No matter where you buy your RV from, you need to inspect and check the same things before making a purchase. This is particularly important if it’s a private sale as opposed to from a dealer, as you’re buying “as is”.
If you don’t know much about vehicle mechanics, take someone with you who does.
- Listen for unhealthy noises when the engine is running.
- Oil leaks are generally a bad sign.
- Find the sticker on the engine that says when the cam belt was last changed, or find it in the service book. If it is due for renewal factor this into the price when you negotiate as it’s expensive to replace.
- Check the radiator is intact and healthy.
- Check for steam and smoke coming out of the exhaust. Both are a bad sign.
- Check for a blown head gasket by looking for white residue inside the engine head or on the oil dipstick, or steam coming from the exhaust.
- Check all of the hoses and pipes are clean, not cracked or rusty.
- Take the time to look over the whole vehicle (including roof, wheel arches, floor, hinges, chassis etc) to check for signs of rust.
- Check the CV joints are intact and not split
Only buy if you’re absolutely sure. Don't buy a vehicle unless you are absolutely sure it is right for you, and the vehicle is sound. If you have any doubts don't buy the vehicle. You can always get someone else's advice before making a purchase, including a professional mechanic.