RV Shrink: Buying a rental RV – Good idea?


Dear RV Shrink:
We are in the market for our first RV. My husband thinks we should buy a used rental Class C motorhome. I am in favor of buying used, and have studied used rental websites, but they seem to want the high dollar for the motorhomes they are culling from their fleets. Are these units a good deal? Am I missing something? I want to enjoy traveling and not have to constantly worry about repair problems. Should we be considering new instead? —Confused in Cleveland

Dear Confused:
Everyone has their own comfort level, so one answer does not fit all. With that said, I will give you my personal opinion and you can use whatever feels good to you. 

I personally would never buy a rental unit. They are usually bare-bones units as far as options. RV rental companies do not want a lot of convenience options that create additional maintenance issues. For instance, most do not have a ladder to access the roof. One of the reasons rental companies leave the ladders off is to eliminate renters from using the roof as a patio. If you do find a unit with a roof ladder, check carefully for leaks. 

The salespeople will try to convince you that these units have been serviced after every use, therefore they are in much better shape than private owner RVs. This could not be further from the truth. Renters have had no ownership respect for these units. Many do not even know how to use them properly. Pull up to a dump station and watch a family of RV renters trying to figure out how to dump the grey and black water tanks, and fill the fresh water. This will give you a great perspective on how much training goes on before a rental leaves the lot. 

Mileage is important, but not as important as how those miles were applied. In cowboy terms I would say most rental units have been “rode hard and put away wet.”

It always seems like a good idea to be the first owner and start out with something brand-new, but owning a brand-new RV has its downsides. We have several friends who have purchased new RVs in the past year. Since all their experiences have been identical, I have to assume it is the norm. Every one of them has spent weeks, not days, in warranty service facilities trying to get all the systems working properly. If you buy new, plan on spending quality time with service employees.

If I were buying new I would plan my purchase around a convenient time schedule to make sure I could get two or three service appointments at the factory level before the warranty expired. That means constant shakedown cruises for the first year. To buy an RV and let it sit, while the clock is running on the warranty, is a huge mistake. The old saying “Use it or lose it” should have been coined for an RV warranty.

So, that leaves us with buying a used unit from a private seller. That would be my choice. It takes a lot more leg work, thought and logistics, but if you shop hard enough and smart enough you will find exactly what you want for a whole lot less money and hassle. You’re not just buying an RV, you want to be buying good habits from past owners.

You will often find that private sellers have added many amenities that now have no value to them. This value is passed on to the buyer at no upcharge in many cases. Meeting a seller and inspecting a rig can give you a lot of insight into how a unit has been cared for. This is an important piece of information you are never going to glean from a sales lot.

The last two motorhomes I purchased both came with extensive maintenance documentation that assured me precautionary service had been performed and an indication of what systems had been repaired or replaced. The seller had spent his time sitting in a service facility getting the unit functioning properly – so I didn’t have to. 

With all this said, life has no guarantees. You could still have issues no matter how careful you are during the buying process. Knowing what to ask, what to look for, and what to expect will be your first line of defense. 

Beauty is only skin deep. Falling in love with a floor plan and decor is a good way to get skinned. 

Next week I will discuss this issue from the renter’s perspective, as RV rental use has actually spiked this year. —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-books, including Book 2 in his two-book series: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.



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Jennifer Willner
6 months ago

This article is fantastic advice. I wish I had read it before we purchased our RV! However, we did do our homework and looked at many, many private party sellers’ RVs before we settled on a one year old rental unit purchased and then sold by RV Country. This particular Class C was immaculate and had rather surprisingly, many extras. Like a satellite antenna! We were hard pressed to tell that it was even used, except for the 19k on the odometer. We’ve had a few issues, who hasn’t had issues? But they’ve been minor and we’ve figured out how to fix things ourselves and 6 months later we are still very happy with our rig that was previously a rental unit. Every single unit is different amiright? I feel we were pretty lucky! We also take exceptionally good care of our RV so when we go to upgrade, it will still look new. Good luck everyone! RVers are the BEST people.

Steve Foth
8 months ago

However, buying a rental unit from someone who lists their unit on Outdoorsy or RVShare is a good idea IMHO. These are people who have taken care of their unit and take pride in it while renting. I know because I do.

Gene Bjerke
10 months ago

My second RV (a Pleasure Way) was a three-year old unit from a rental that had been sent back to the manufacturer to be reconditioned. We had to install a generator, and it needed new shocks and alignment (about $1500). After that it was fine and we drove it for about a year until we traded it in on a larger unit. What appealed to us was that it had been gone over by the factory (who obviously didn’t deal with chassis issues).

Donald N Wright
10 months ago

I regret buying a rental Aliner from the RV dealer who was renting it. It had been damaged, and the dealer half repaired it. They sold Aliners but could not repair them, bought parts at the Home Depot. Camping World bought the dealership, and have been cleaning up the mess ever since.

Bill & Judy
10 months ago

Even buying new you can plan on repair expenses, hopefully less, than buying used. If you’re fortunate, you may have a warranty or can purchase an extended warranty, which I highly recommend, regardless of new or used. There will always be something that will need attention.

Marthella Leamon
10 months ago

We watched as a couple with a rental RV filled their fresh water tank with non-potable water. We politely told them that the water was not for consumption and they said it didn’t matter to them they used bottle water. Sure wouldn’t want to rent that RV after seeing this happen. I wonder how often this happens with rental’s.

10 months ago

I’ll add my two cents. Our first rv (1996 24-D Tioga class C) was a former rental that was purchased by someone we bought it from. It was well equipped with a generator and full kitchen facilities so it was far from just a stripped down model. It was a great unit that we kept for five years….and sold it for nearly what we paid for it.

10 months ago

When we visited Australia for 6 months we rented 6 class C “camper vans”, 5 of them from Apollo. They were all very basic and all VERY poorly maintained. At one location we had to wait as our camper van was late being returned. While waiting in the sign up area we overheard a German customer listing out to the booking lady all of the problems he had had over the last two week with the camper van. He had made a “report” for her which she had no interest in at all, she just kept repeating to the guy that they did not give refunds. The guy was not looking for a refund he was just trying to get across that the camper van needed attention. My wife and I sat there thinking, I hope ours is better than that one. Guess what, when we got to our first nights camp ground we both could list out on our camper van all of the things the German guy had said to the bookings lady. It was obvious to us they had just washed the camper and sent it out again.
Dr R.V. Shrink, your reply was 100% spot on.

10 months ago

We purchased our Phoenix Cruiser as used from the factory. It was traded in on a new one by previous owner. Factory put new tires on it (minus the spare :-(). Have had absolutely no problems that required a “shop” mechanic to repair.
After 4 years, battery replacement and oil changes has been it.
I would buy from this source again, and buy the same brand again.