En español | If you're in the market for a used motorhome or other type of recreational vehicle, fall and early winter can be a good time to buy. While many snowbirds are heading south in their RVs in search of warmer weather, there are plenty of other folks who enjoyed the summer camping season and are now looking to unload their rigs rather than pay to store and maintain them during the long winter ahead. That's good news for you.
Buying a used RV that's still in good condition can save you real money. According to the website RVers Online, after factoring in depreciation, financing, maintenance and other costs, an RV that's three years old can cost about half the price of a new one.
So how do you find a previously loved RV that's right for you? Here are a few tips.
1. Do your homework
It's easy to get caught up in the moment and start fantasizing about the good times you'll have cruising down a scenic highway in your home-away-from-home. So do the research first. Many RVers are eager to share their stories and advice. Popular websites and online forums where RV enthusiasts chat it up and swap advice — and offer tips for buying used RVs — include rv.net (sponsored by Good Sam Club, the world's largest organization of recreational vehicle owners), rv.forum and rvtravel. You can find a nationwide directory of local RV clubs, shows and rallies on rv-clubs, including clubs for owners of specific RV brands, which is a great way to find out more about the make and model you're interested in. If you're new to RVing entirely, you might want to rent one for a week or two to make sure the lifestyle is for you. The website of the GoRVing Coalition provides a directory of rental outlets, dealers and other resources.
2. Know what you want
Most people who sell or trade in their RVs are looking for an upgrade or different model, Christine Bowes of American Family RV in Chesapeake, Va., told me. "It's usually that their current vehicle is the wrong size, or they can no longer handle it on the road, or whatever. That's why we see so many used RVs on the market," she says. In the book Buying a Used Motorhome: How to get the most for your money and not get burned, author Bill Myers does an excellent job of helping readers figure out what type of RV is the best fit for them. He also points out how some used RVs are a better value than others, depending on your situation and the RV's intended use. For example, an older, high-mileage, gas-guzzling "Class A" behemoth might be a nightmare for long-haul travelers, but a terrific bargain for those planning to drive infrequently and park it at a peaceful spot close to home.
3. Search online and on the street
Websites such as RVT.com (formerly "RV Trader"), RVzen.com and CampingWorld.com allow you to search nationwide listings of used RVs by make, model, price and other criteria. Most sites list RVs for sale by dealers as well as individual owners. This time of year, it's also worth cruising through area RV parks and even residential neighborhoods to see if anyone is selling a rig in their driveway. In the past month, I've seen half a dozen used RVs with "for sale" signs on them in our surrounding neighborhoods, including one that looked suspiciously like the 1980s Fleetwood Bounder in the hit cable series Breaking Bad.
4. Determine a fair value
Once you've identified recreational vehicles that meet your needs, NADA Guides for RVs allow you to enter the make, model, year and other details for a used RV and get an estimate of that vehicle's fair market value. While the NADA Guides are commonly used by lenders and dealers to determine book value, keep in mind that you might do considerably better than the estimated value, particularly if you buy directly from an eager seller. Comparison shop for that same used RV online (including on Craigslist and eBay) to see how the book value compares to the pricing of similar vehicles in the marketplace.