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Ask Dave: Should I buy a new or used RV?

Dear Dave,
I’m not sure if this is your field or not but maybe you can steer me in the right direction. We’re looking to purchase our first RV and we plan to go full-time. I have read that it would be better to buy a used one versus a new one and get an extended warranty. Is this true? Thanks for your advice. —Brenda

Dear Brenda,
This is not an easy question to answer as there are so many variables and unit conditions. I conduct an RV Buyer’s Seminar at various shows around the country and this is always a hot topic with much discussion.

First, let’s take a look at the advantages of purchasing new.

Buying a new RV

You have so many more choices in not only the make and model, but the floor plans, options, weight ratings, and more. You can literally customize it the way it fits your RV lifestyle.

Nobody has slept in the rig, used the bathroom, or laid on the couch. So from a sanitary point of view, it’s a safe option. Then there are all the warranties that come with a new coach: the manufacturer’s warranty, appliances typically have a two-year warranty, and some manufacturers have a lifetime warranty. However, you do need to take the unit in every year and have some maintenance done such as checking/cleaning appliance mechanicals and checking all the sealants such as roof to sidewall joint, caulking around anything mounted to the roof, and resealing where necessary. It can run several hundred dollars, but that is much better than a surprise a few years down the road. Another advantage is typically better financing available on new units from some of the financial institutions.

And there are the newer materials that become available such as advanced technologies in roofing material, sidewall, appliances and electronics. Roof coatings have seen a huge leap in technology from EPDM rubber membranes to the new PVC that requires no maintenance. And Azdel composite materials used in the sidewall are half the weight, moisture resistant, and provide better insulation value (R factor) than wood.

Buying a used RV

Price. This seems to be the number one factor, especially with today’s robust RV market. Most manufacturers can’t make them fast enough and some are even sold out for 2-3 years. So there isn’t much negotiating taking place these days. However, I have also witnessed used prices going for more than book value due to the same conditions.



Another factor when looking at a used unit is someone bought the unit and took the shakedown cruise and took care of everything that shook loose! Something that is common in the RV industry is there will be adjustments that will need to be made. I point this out in my seminars as I ask who has ever built a house and when I see hands up I ask: “So, when you got done building the house you had no ‘punch list’ for anything? Nothing for the drywaller, painter, landscaping company?” And they all roll their eyes as we expect a list of adjustments with a home build, but not with an RV—as we expect it to be just like a car or truck. Wrong!

We have the same issues with materials such as wood, fabrics, carpet, seals around just about everything. And then we drive down the road or, even worse, let it sit in 100 degrees and let it bake… or in below-zero temperatures. With temperature changes, materials expand and contract, which means they pull away from sealants and structures.

I do think that today’s RVs are being built at record speeds. Quality has taken a downturn, and supply issues are not helping. That is why it is imperative to spend time doing a thorough inspection and working with a trusted dealer that will do a proper pre-delivery inspection (PDI).

Possible disadvantages of buying used RV

One of the disadvantages of used units is you do not know how the previous owner took care of the unit. If the absorption refrigerator is run out of level, the liquid coolant cannot zig-zag down the cooling unit by gravity as designed and will “pool” to one side. It will start to flake and not run efficiently, or eventually not cool at all. Some rubber membranes must be cleaned and conditioned once a year.

The biggest issue I tell people to look for in a used RV is moisture leaks. Open the interior cabinets and look at the roof to sidewall, the front cap, floors, and run the slides out and check the floor. The problem with moisture leaks is once you see them, it’s usually too late.

My recommendation is to have it inspected by an RVIA-certified technician who has been trained to know what to look for. And have someone with a Sealtech machine check for leaks.

This is the most effective method of checking for leaks as it draws in air and pressurizes the rig. Then spraying a soap and water solution on the outside will show bubbles at any moisture penetrating areas. Locate a testing facility here.

RV totaled due to roof leak

Last year we had a member of the RV Repair Club contact us about working on a 23’ Jayco he had purchased and was experiencing a roof sag. We brought the unit down to the shop and once we removed the roof air conditioner we found the entire roof had extreme moisture damage and was completely shot. A new roof was $8,000 from Jayco and it was FOB Elkhart, IN! And that did not cover labor. He sold the unit for scrap and lost most of his investment.

The air conditioner is “sandwiched” to the roof with spring-loaded bolts and a gasket between. These bolts need to be tightened to a specific torque setting every year as the gasket will compress. The owner was never told this and the results were pooling and eventually a major issue.

Everyone has their pros and cons when it comes to buying new versus used. There are more advantages on both sides, so I’ll open it up to our readers in the comments below for discussion.


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Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

Read more from Dave here

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J J
2 months ago

People often offer the wisdom that you should buy used because someone else has already dealt with the problems. Maybe, maybe not, and you have no idea how they dealt with problems they found. Often you’re just buying a clunker someone decided to cut their losses on. Also, as units get older parts get even scarcer. I know someone who is looking for a Ford engine ECM for their 2010 V10 engine and cannot locate one. They can’t even start the engine right now. Pay me now or pay me later is still the rule.

Carol
2 months ago

I buy used and have the owner set it up for camping and turn on everything! You might need a local campground for the tryout but that’s even better.

J J
2 months ago
Reply to  Dave Solberg

I found my torque in the installation manual because the owners manual never mentioned anything about maintenance other than keeping the filters clean. The torque was 4.4 ft lbs (four point four, not forty four). As Mr. Solberg noted that is just snugged up. Whenever I see someone asking how to fix water from the air conditioner “raining” inside the RV I ask them to check those bolts. Snugging them up sometimes fixes it and those are on units just a few years old.

Dan F
2 months ago

I rebuilt an old camper bottom up .Not easy and took a good solid year. If your mechanically skilled enough, you can really enjoy something for very little 8k total into my project and looks new and paid off. I am not sure i do it again lol the time commitment is the big thing. But I always keep my eyes for something interesting to work on

Bob M
2 months ago

I’ve had bad luck buying my first travel trailer used. Dealers don’t want to warrenty anything. Even if it looks good. That don’t mean anything. I had a nightmare with the fridge. Formica under one cabinet the glue dried out and started pealing off. The one ceiling panel started to fall down. A waterline blew off the outdoor kitchen faucet. The plastic covering the screws for the roof by the rain gutters started cracking and other issues. New rv’s have a warranty to cover issues for a year or two and you can get a extended warranty for some appliances.

STEVE
2 months ago

Even though a used unit may have had all the bugs worked out and repairs made, what’s to stop new problems or even repeat problems from coming back?

Justin Moore
2 months ago

What is the torque for for ac? And or where can one find that? I have the Coleman Mach AC 15k in a 2022 Rockwood Roo

Wayne C
2 months ago
Reply to  Justin Moore

Same question here! This is the first I’ve heard of an annual AC torque check.

J J
2 months ago
Reply to  Justin Moore

Look it up in the installation manual f you need a solid number. The torque for the mounting bolts on my Atwood (Dometic) roof units is 4.4 ft lbs (four point four, not forty four). As Mr. Solberg mentioned that is just snugged up by hand, never cranked down solid. That foam gasket on the roof between the roof unit and the roof needs to be partially compressed, not squashed flat. I usually find one or two of the eight a bit loose each year. “A bit loose” usually will not cause a leak but multiple bolts loose on one roof unit can cause it to rain inside the RV, if you’re lucky…

Betty Danet
2 months ago

For the past 5 years we have been out 8-9 months of the year and we talk to a lot of people. The horror stories about quality and dealing with warranties told by those who bought new within the last 2 years are absolutely mind boggling, the worst being a high end Super C. Before I would have said it was a toss-up since we’ve done both-new in 2008 and 2011 and used in 2016 – with very few issues. Now I would not recommend buying new until QC improves and warranty work is done quickly and done right.

Don
2 months ago

You don’t spend much time on the $$$$$ savings to be had by buying used, Dave. Particularly at the higher end. I bought a 2008 Country Coach in 2016. That rig would have been total unobtanium for us new, as it retailed for almost $700k. But a few years later, having been kept indoors and religiously maintained all it’s life (as most of these high end rigs are) I was able to buy it for about 1/4 of it’s original price. And the annual depreciation now is also a small fraction of what it was in its first years on the road. High quality – low price. That’s a combination that can’t ever be found in a new RV…

SUSAN M
2 months ago

The materials of and in a new RV off-gas fumes for several months. We once bought a new RV. I couldn’t stay in it with the windows closed for those several months. We’ve bought used ever since.

Thomas D
2 months ago

First off, you say this is your 1st rv and want to go full time. Do you know what you’re getting into? I know some that are doing well after 7/8 years. I know some that after 2 years are ready to throw in the towel.
If I were to buy, I’d buy used. Have it inspected well. Maybe even there are inspectors that guarantee the inspection like there is for a house? Every rv I’ve had had issues. You want those found before you go on the road and before you have to pay for repairs. Are you aware of costs. You’ll spend $1000 for oil change and filters if you buy a diesel pusher. Tires I’m told are $1000 each.
You’ll have camp fees , $12000/30000 a year unless you buy into a resort, a cheap one might be $5000.
Try it before you buy it. There are rentals out there

Spike
2 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

“You’ll spend $1000 for oil change and filters if you buy a diesel pusher. Tires I’m told are $1000 each.”

While Diesel Pushers are more expensive to maintain, the above quoted costs are way too high. Even top name brand tires on big DPs aren’t $1000 each. Average is closer to 50 – 70% that depending on brand. I had 8 315/80R22.5 Goodyears installed for approx $5k (w/tax) and that’s on the upper end.

If you do oil/filter changes yourself its not that bad but you are probably buying 5 gallons of oil vs 6 quarts. An oil change at a truck shop may run $200 – $300.

Doing all my own maintenance, I spend $750 – $1000 annually depending on what is due. Amortize tires adds $500 to $800 annually.

Thomas D
2 months ago
Reply to  Spike

My neighbor has a 42 ft Newmar DP. The figures came from him!

tom
2 months ago

Used, let someone else take the hit on the big repairs.

Anne
2 months ago

Buy new unless you are an RV mechanic and want to always be working on your rig. Pay for it in full because this lifestyle is not cheap unless you want to always make do with whatever. Have it inspected before you take delivery from the dealer. No matter what a new rig costs, it will have issues. We have been fulltime in our Mobile Suites for seven years. What would we do differently? Buy a new unit that cost half as much and then buy another new unit in 4-5 years.

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