The Ultimate Checklist for Buying a Pre-Owned RV

the-ultimate-checklist-for-buying-a-pre-owned-rv

When you decide that buying an RV is right for your family, you may find that the best choice to make is to buy a pre-owned model. However, vetting a pre-owned RV is a little different than evaluating a brand new model – which is why you need the ultimate checklist for buying a pre-owned RV to find the right motorhome for you and your family!

This checklist is divided into the three main phases of the pre-owned RV buying process: Pre-Purchase (Research), Purchase, and Post-Purchase – with everything you need to keep in mind during each phase.

The Pre-Purchase Phase: Researching Pre-Owned RVs

woman on laptop in front of RV.
Research as much as possible before purchasing a pre-owned RV.

It’s important to be diligent when making any purchase, but that’s especially true for RVs. It’s not a small decision and there are many factors to assess. Take the factors below into account before you even consider driving off the lot:

Set a Budget

This may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to walk into an RV dealership and become transfixed by all of the features and upgrades that many RVs offer today. Knowing what you are comfortable spending – and sticking to it – will be critical as you move through the process. Establish your must-haves and your like-to-haves, then set a budget that allows you to comfortably navigate that list while shopping for your RV.

Decide on a Type of RV

Pop-Up, Travel Trailer, Fifth Wheel, Toyhauler, Class C, Class B, Class A — These may all seem like foreign terms at first glance, but choosing the best type of RV for your needs can easily be narrowed down by deciding if you would like to drive the vehicle (Class-B, Class-C, Class-A, or Class-AD), or tow the vehicle (pop-up, travel trailer, or fifth wheel). From there, you can narrow it down again by deciding how much interior living space you’ll need to be comfortable on the road.

Deciding between a towable RV or a luxurious motorized RV can be a tough decision. The distinction between the two options may seem obvious, but deciding exactly which type best suits your needs can be complicated.

When settling the debate of towable versus motorized, there are a few factors that will help you choose:

  • Your current and desired travel lifestyle
  • Planned frequency and style of use
  • Your current and future possessions
  • The maximum tow capacity of your automobile
  • The maximum length you’re comfortable towing
  • The maximum length you’re comfortable driving
  • Desired sleeping capacity

Choose a Floorplan

Coleman Light Interior Floorplan
Explore the interior floorplan of the Coleman Light.

There are quite a few options when it comes to the general layout of RV interiors. Depending on how you’ll use the RV, certain floorplans may be a better fit than others.

  • Bunkhouse. Thanks to the bunk beds located at the rear of the unit, bunkhouse floorplans are ideal for families with young children.
  • Toy Hauler. You will find plenty of space for motorcycles, ATVs, and sports cars within a toy hauler floorplan.
  • Rear Living. A very popular floorplan for those who like to entertain, rear living layouts have the option of exterior cooking spaces and kitchens that make hosting guests a breeze.

Research RV Manufacturers

There are many manufacturers on the market, each with its own special features and conveniences. Narrowing your search down to a select few manufacturers that offer what you are looking for will not only help you during your search but also in the long run.

Read Customer Reviews

The wonderful part about buying pre-owned is that the models have been tested for you already. There are thousands of online reviews from consumers just like you that are road-testing these units every day. Take what they’ve learned, apply it to your own search, and choose the best model for you.

Ask Your Friends and Family

Ready to share your love of camping and RV travel with your children or grandchildren? If you are considering a family RV vacation this year, here are some simple tips to make the camping trip enjoyable for the whole family.
Ask family and friends for advice regarding their RV purchase.

Know someone who already owns an RV? Great! Ask for their opinion or join them on their next camping adventure to experience firsthand what you like – or don’t – about a certain RV manufacturer or floorplan. Having the chance to see someone navigating an RV in-person shows you how it fits into their lifestyle and how it could potentially fit into yours.

Determine an Age Range

When buying pre-owned, you open yourself up to a wider range of available models, which can be overwhelming in the beginning stages of your research. However, not all models are going to offer all the features you want or need. Ask yourself: how old is too old for a used RV?

If having the latest technology isn’t a concern, or you know you would like to remodel the RV, then an older model may be the best fit. However, if modern conveniences like a full-size refrigerator and a big screen TV are at the top of your priority list, then aim for a newer model that fits your budget.

Search Online

Laptop computer inside a camper
Image: Shutterstock

Much of your search can be done from the comfort of your home on your computer or phone. Search functions allow you to filter by the manufacturer, type, or model that fits your particular search. During your search, compile a list of questions to ask the RV salesperson at your local dealership when you finally do visit.

Request Insurance Quotes

Now is a great time to request insurance quotes from several providers to make sure you’re getting the best coverage for your money. Explore RV-Specific Insurance as well, since regular automobile coverage rarely covers an RV to the same extent. This is also a great time to discover what the insurance plan will cover on your pre-owned RV. This will help you better plan for maintenance and repairs during ownership.

Try using the Good Sam Insurance Agency Quote Tool to get a quote quickly, conveniently, free, and without obligation.

Research and Choose a Dealer

Don’t hesitate to reach out to people you know who have purchased an RV in the past. Their experience will help you a great deal in finding a dealer that you can trust. One of the many benefits of buying pre-owned is that you have so many dealership options to choose from. Unlike new models, most dealers take in RVs on trade or consignment, so they have a great variety in stock at all times.

The Purchase Phase: Buying a Pre-Owned RV

Couple Buying an RV
Image: Shutterstock

Once you’ve set a budget, weighed the pros and cons of various RV types, and completed your preliminary research, it’s time for the purchasing phase.

Determine a Fair Purchase Value

When buying pre-owned, the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) Guide is a great tool for determining a fair price for the unit you have decided is right for you.

Ask Questions

Arrive at the dealership prepared with questions to ask your RV salesperson about the RV you’re interested in. A good sales associate will address any questions or concerns you have about a particular RV brand or the known history of an exact unit.

RV Salesperson with Family
Photo by Camping World

Inspect the Unit

Make sure a thorough inspection of the entire unit has been conducted – mechanical, electrical, plumbing, interior, and exterior including a roof inspection – before moving forward with the purchase. If there are items that need repair, confirm the dealer is aware and has a plan in place to help you resolve any issues.

Determine How You Will Pay

Will you be financing your RV or paying out of pocket? If financing, now is a great time to get pre-approved through a lender on your own, or through the dealership’s choice lenders. Make sure to have everything you need the cover the down payment or the full purchase price at the time you’re intending to make the purchase.

Make an Offer

Prepared with the NADA knowledge you acquired in the Pre-Purchase phase, you should feel comfortable making an offer on your desired unit. You’re one step closer to traveling the open road!

The Post-Purchase Phase: Enjoying and Caring for a Pre-Owned RV

RV Large family Class C
Hit the road for a road trip the whole family will enjoy.

Congratulations! Once your purchase is complete, the real fun begins. Whether you’re a first-time RV owner or a seasoned RV enthusiast, a new-to-you RV is one of the most exciting adventures to embark on. Here are a few things to keep in mind during the post-purchase phase of buying a pre-owned RV.

Develop a Maintenance Plan

RVs require regular maintenance to keep them running safely and efficiently. Even if you resolved any major service concerns during the purchase phase, you should have a plan in place to keep up with routine RV maintenance. Establish what basic maintenance tasks you’re willing to tackle yourself and which ones you’ll defer to the dealer or mechanic.

To Renovate or Decorate? That is the Question!

Whether it’s upgrading the furniture, changing the flooring, repainting the walls, or purchasing new bedding, renovation and decorating will make your RV truly feel like your home away from home.

RV bunkbed twin bed conversion
Make your RV feel like home with renovations or decorations.

Add Accessories

If renovating isn’t your style – or just not your expertise – adding accessories is a fun and budget-friendly way to personalize your RV. You’ll find thousands of parts and accessories to complete any RV makeover at Camping World.

Join a Club

To get the most out of your pre-owned RV purchase, consider joining an RV club (like the Good Sam Club). These clubs come with discounts on campground stays, tools to help you find new places to stay, and service features like Roadside Assistance and Emergency TravelAssist.

Plus, you’ll also be joining a vast network of fellow RVers. Each year, thousands of people come together for RV rallies, camping get-togethers, and other events around the country to share their experiences and general love for all things RV lifestyle-related.


Do you have some good tips for buying a used RV? Share them below!

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