Saturday, September 23, 2023


Should you buy a damaged RV and fix it up yourself?

Steve Savage submitted this article to when he was a Master Certified RV Technician with Mobility RV Service.

For the majority of folks, buying a damaged RV and fixing it up themselves is an absolutely terrible idea. Why do I say that? Several reasons come to mind.

First, many units – sold by insurance companies, for example – come with a salvage title. State laws vary as to what is needed to get that title changed to a standard title. I advise folks buying salvage to pay no more than 50 percent of what you would expect to pay for the same unit with a clear title. This is, if you never intend to resell it, maybe. Everyone else has been warned!

Secondly, many shoppers, especially first-time buyers, do not have the remotest idea what goes into deconstructing and rebuilding an RV. The route they most often take is to cover up soft floors with laminate flooring, while attempting to panel over walls that have delaminated due to moisture penetration. There is a saying about putting lipstick on a pig that applies in these situations.

Finally, doing a proper rebuild does not come cheaply, and most of the parts to do it do not come from Lowe’s or Home Depot. It’s sad to see someone come onto the lot hoping to sell something into which they sank thousands of dollars and they find that, at most, it will sell for half of what they have spent on parts, not to mention the time invested.

Cutting to the chase: Just as with anything in life, if you don’t have the skills and knowledge to take on a task, you’ll likely come out better just buying a unit needing no more than a good cleaning. Most RVs that sell very cheaply do so because they need repair and are still priced too high!



  1. I have rebuilt 2 salvage travel trailers. What work that I completed was done to my satisfaction which I have to admit is maybe a little more than the manufactures was. Also rebuilt probably 75% of a Serro Scotty trailer that had considerate water and structure wood rot. Now I am involved in a rebuild of another Scotty trailer. They have quite a following and some can bring in serious resale value as well. I have not done these as a resale in mind, but for my own use. Yes, I eventually sold them, and really don’t know if I had any profit or not. If you go to a dealer to purchase an RV, either new or used, you can almost be guaranteed there will be a monetary loss when the time comes to sell. It can surely be a learning experience, and can bring heartache or can bring joy. If one chooses to go this route, take your time, don’t rush, or and most importantly, don’t compromise on safety. If you run into a problem, don’t just hide it, get knowledgeable help. Good luck…

  2. I have seen several people take old boats and spend a lot of time making them “like new” (I have done it myself). It’s okay if you expect to use it for years yourself. Don’t do it if you expect to make a profit. It may work with houses, but nothing that depreciates.

  3. Getting one that needs structural and cosmetic work can turn into a financial headache real quick as it seems there’s always hidden damage. Buying one that needs mechanical work or tires isn’t always straight forward in it’s needs either. Have the whole unit looked over and all systems checked for proper operation by a reputable RV repair shop. Then get a figure on what mechanical repairs are needed. Add 50% to the total for a cushion as that is usually what the total will end up being. Add up everything and see if it’s financially practical thing to do.
    That’s what I did six years ago. I bought an old motorhome for $300. It had some water damage but nothing that would cause any major issues. I sunk about $2,000 into it and have been enjoying it ever since. So far so good but I just make sure to have bus fare to get home if something major happens on the road.

  4. As someone who has owned and repaired two GMC Motorhomes, if you do not enjoy working on a vehicle of any kind, do not buy a salvage unit of any kind and expect to profit from the transaction.
    Enjoy the experience, but expect cubic dollars, with little return.

  5. “They sank thousands of dollars and they find that, at most, it will sell for half of what they have spent on parts, not to mention the time invested.”

    Your words which include the “Invested”.

    Nobody “Invested” anything. The SPENT their time and money!

    An “Investment” has an expectation of return. As you noted there is virtually no chance of a positive return on investment rebuilding a salvage trailer therefore call it what is is.

    An Expense!!!

    • tell that to all the owner of GMCs from the 1970s, or anyone who restores any “classic” vehicle.

      Yes, a lot of time and money “spent”.

      But, as so often in life, the return is not “material”, but is the immaterial satisfaction, and sheer joy, of the work and the beauty of the restoration at the end.

      It is NOT all about ROI in dollars and cents.

      Joy and satisfaction can NOT be monetized.

      • Here, Here! I bought a 1932 Chevy Pick Up that had no bed and the roof framing was rotted. After many hours of breaking down and rebuilding the engine so it ran, couldn’t find out why I kept running out of gas. I did see a fluid stain under the truck’s cab, and finally found a pinhole leak on the seam of the right side of the tank about two inches high. The gas would seep down the seam and along the frame under the seat. That only took about two months, but when you are 16, and during the summer, filling up every day compared to showing off your new ride is not a toss up. Driving won hands down. Traded that on a new 1973 Chevy Malibu 350 for even trade with a dealer. Saw the truck in a car show in New Hope, PA, 30 years later with a price tag of $22,000. All someone did was paint the engine and body with a new paint job.
        I “SPENT” 3 years, almost everyday, doing something on the truck before I traded it.
        ROI= JOY and PRIDE, scraped knuckles, knowledge & lifelong friends.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.