If you’re in the market for an RV, you might be surprised to know that you can save thousands of dollars by buying one used. For some, the very thought of buying a used camper from a private seller, or anywhere else, sends chills up their spine.
I mean, how many times have you heard the expression, “When you buy used, you’re only buying someone else’s problems.”?
This may be true in some cases, but not all of them. In fact, with a little bit of research and knowing what to look for, buying a used RV from a private party instead of a dealership is nothing to worry about. Plus, you just might end up keeping more money in your pocket.
In this article, we are going to cover what you need to know to buy a used camper from a private party. We are taking a deep dive into where to look for great deals on used RVs, what questions to ask the seller, and some tips on inspecting a used camper.
Our goal is to provide the tools and tips that will make your used camper buying experience as smooth as possible. So, if you’re ready…
Let’s jump in…
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- Buying A Used Camper vs. New Camper
- What Is The Best Time Of Year To Buy A Used Camper?
- Where To Find Used Campers For Sale
- 8 Steps For Buying A Used Camper From A Private Seller
- 1. Do Your Research
- 2. Ask Questions About The Used RV
- 3. Make Sure The Title Is Clear
- 4. Inspect The Used Camper
- 5. Negotiate The Price
- 6. Pay The Seller
- 7. Draft A Bill Of Sale
- 8. Get Your Used Camper Insured
- Final Thoughts
Buying A Used Camper vs. New Camper
There are pros and cons to every choice we make in life. Buying a new camper versus a used model is no different.
When buying new, you have a much larger selection of floorplans, interior colors, and other bells and whistles to choose from. Plus, you get an RV where nobody has ever used the toilet, slept in the beds, or used the shower. For many first-time RV buyers, those benefits alone will deter them from buying used.
On the other hand, the price point for a new RV is going to be significantly higher than a used model. For example, we bought our 2018 Kodiak used in 2019. The price of a new 2019 Kodiak was just over $25,000. We paid just under $15,000 for the same model, only used.
For us, the choice was clear. We got a great deal on a barely used camper and saved $10,000 in the process.
What Is The Best Time Of Year To Buy A Used Camper?
In our experiences with buying used travel trailers, we have found that the best time of year to buy a used camper from a private party is during the fall and winter months. There are a number of people that buy a new RV at the beginning of the camping season and then turn around and sell them later in the year.
They all have different reasons for doing this, but the number one reason these folks are looking to get rid of their barely used campers is because the RV lifestyle isn’t what they were expecting.
Maybe the reality of spending the entire weekend at a campground or in the woods with all the critters sank in and it turned out to be too…rustic. Or perhaps the reality of dealing with dumping the waste tanks was just too much to handle.
Another very popular reason people sell their campers during the off-season is because they are looking to upgrade to a larger, or newer RV. Many RV dealerships cut prices on last year’s new RVs to make room for the next year’s models.
Whatever reason an individual has for selling their used camper, you stand a very good chance of finding a great deal during the winter months.
Where To Find Used Campers For Sale
The best places we have found to find great deals on used campers is online. Various online publications give you the opportunity to refine your search based on what type of RV you’re looking for, your budget, and what areas you are interested in looking.
The most popular online resources for used campers are:
- RV Trader
- Local Newspapers
- Take A Road Trip (not a website)
RV Trader is a premiere classified website that specializes in used RVs and campers. Currently there are over 160,000 listing from private sellers and dealerships across the U.S.
RVT is a highly trusted online classified marketplace for RVs and is a great resource for finding budget-friendly used campers. With more than 93,000 listings, there is a used RV for everyone.
Facebook Marketplace and certain Facebook Groups are another place to find deals on used campers. As with any online marketplace, there is always a chance of getting scammed. If you find a deal that just sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Your local and surrounding community newspapers are another excellent resource for finding used campers for sale through private sellers. If you don’t have the paper delivered to your house (does anyone?), then check out their online classified ads.
Take A Road Trip
Last, and certainly not least, take a road trip. There is no better way to look for a used RV than to take a drive with the family. Take the backroads away from the main parts of the city. You are bound to see several RVs and campers in driveways or parked in someone’s lot that are for sale.
And if you don’t happen to find anything, at least you had the chance to spend some quality time with your loved ones.
8 Steps For Buying A Used Camper From A Private Seller
There are a few considerations to keep in mind when buying a used camper from a private party. You will want to do your diligence to make sure you walk away with the best deal possible.
1. Do Your Research
The first step in buying a used RV from a private party is to do your research. There are many different types of RVs available, and researching these options will give you a better idea of what pricing to look for.
Some of the best places to find what options are available are RV dealerships and RV shows. Visiting dealerships or RV shows gives you the opportunity to see the floorplans first hand, instead of simply relying on online floorplans.
In our experiences with buying used travel trailers, we have learned that everything is much different in person. For example, the online floorplan might appear to have plenty of storage cabinets in the kitchen or enough room around the toilet to be comfortable, when in reality, the cabinets are much smaller and the bathroom is so small you need to go outside to change your mind.
When you find a model that suits your needs, you can do a basic Google search for the particular model you are interested in. Take the time to read the reviews, check the online forum sites, watch a few YouTube videos, or join various Facebook groups to see what others are saying about the RV you’re interested in.
Trust me, these folks don’t hold back. If they have experienced any issues with a particular brand or type of RV, they are more than happy to let you know.
2. Ask Questions About The Used RV
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. One of the best ways to gauge how trustworthy a seller is by asking tons of questions. If they seem to be short with the answers or seem like they’re hiding something, they probably are.
Some basic questions you will want to ask the seller are:
- Do you have any maintenance records?
- Has the camper been involved in any accidents or had any major repairs?
- Where was the camper stored when not being used?
- How many previous owners were there?
Do you have any maintenance records?
With any luck, the person selling the used camper will have maintenance records showing any repairs, regular maintenance, and upgrades that have been done to the RV.
When we bought our first travel trailer, the previous owner had a binder that he kept showing every little thing that had ever been done to the camper. He was more than happy to hand over the records and walked us around the rig to show us everything that had been done.
Having these records for a used camper shows how well the unit has been taken care of and what repairs, if any, have been made.
Has the camper been involved in any accidents or had any major repairs?
In addition to maintenance records, ask the seller about any major damage or insurance claims that might have resulted from an accident.
Some major damages can be repaired on the cheap and are easily hidden from the unsuspecting buyer.
Where was the camper stored when not being used?
Where a used camper has been stored during the off-season can also tell you a lot about how the rig was cared for. I’m not suggesting that if it wasn’t stored in a climate-controlled, covered storage that it wasn’t cared for. I’m simply bringing to light that you don’t want to find out that the seller was keeping the camper out in the middle of a field for the past 5 years.
How many previous owners were there?
Of course, there are many more questions you may want to ask the seller. The main point is to make sure you do your due diligence and ask as many questions as possible. The answers to the questions you ask will help in deciding if the used camper you’re interested in is the right choice for you.
3. Make Sure The Title Is Clear
If you’ve made it this far into the used camper buying process and you feel comfortable with the answers to your questions, the next step is to make sure there is a clear title on the RV.
If the owner has a loan on the camper that is more than it is worth, there really isn’t much you can do at this point. In addition, if there is no title, you may find yourself on the aggravating side of filing for a lost title.
Either way, if there are any issues with the title, it might be a good time to walk away from the deal.
4. Inspect The Used Camper
When buying a used camper from a private seller, it’s always best practice to thoroughly inspect the rig. Now, there are two ways you can go about this, perform the inspection yourself or hire a professional.
If you want to do a basic RV inspection yourself, there are a few key areas where you will want to pay close attention to.
Water damage is a serious problem and can lead to costly repairs later. Most water damage in a used camper can be easily spotted. But there are certain areas that aren’t so easy to find.
Begin by pushing on all of the exterior walls to check for soft spots. Also, look down the side of the camper for any signs of bubbling or deformation. If you notice any of these signs, there is a good chance that there is water damage hidden in the walls.
In addition, pay particular attention to the corners of the ceiling, especially inside the storage cabinets.
The roof is another area that should be closely looked at. Of course, if you aren’t comfortable climbing on the roof of an RV, hire a professional RV inspector. However, if you are feeling adventurous, carefully climb on the roof. It’s always best practice to wear shoes that are comfortable and have rubber soles to help prevent any slipping.
Check for cracked or damaged seals around A/Cs, vents, or skylights as well as the sealant around the edge of the roof. The front cap of a camper or fifth wheel is another place that is prone to water leaks.
Also check the condition of any plastic vents that are sticking through the roof. The UV rays from the sun will make plastic vent covers and skylights brittle over time.
Check the overall condition of the camper tires. If the sidewalls appear to be cracked, keep this in mind when negotiating on price. Don’t let a little bit of Tire Shine fool you.
There is a DOT date code on the side of every tire. This code will tell you the month and year the tire was manufactured so you’ll know the age of the tires. Remember, it is recommended to replace travel trailer tires every 5-6 years, regardless of mileage.
Check The Underneath The Camper
Before crawling underneath the camper, make sure the wheels are chocked so it doesn’t try to roll while you’re under it.
Give the underside of the camper a good look. If the underbelly is insulated, check for tears or other damage to the layer of insulation. If the camper’s underbelly is open, look for any signs of damage or excessive wear to the suspension or any other mechanical parts.
In addition, pay close attention to the bottom of the camper floor. Since there is no insulation, you will easily be able to check for any rotten wood or water stains that may have been covered by new flooring above.
While you’re getting dirty and scrubbing around on the ground, check the condition of the stabilizer jacks. Fully extend and retract the jacks to ensure smooth operation.
If you have access to the waste tanks and plumbing pipes, check for any cracks in the pipes, fittings, or tanks.
Check The Electrical System
When buying a used camper from a private seller, make sure the electrical system is in proper working order. You don’t have to be a licensed electrician to perform a few basic tasks.
Check that all of the lights, exhaust vents, microwave, outlets, etc. are working correctly. For the outlets, you can buy an inexpensive receptacle tester with GFCI checker to test all of the plugs.
All you do is plug in the tester and it will show if the plug is working or not. When the button on the top of the tester is pushed, the GFCI should trip, killing power to all protected outlets.
Test the voltage of the battery with a voltmeter to be sure you’re getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 12VDC. While you’re checking the battery, check the condition of the wires that are hooked to the battery for any discoloration or brittle wire insulation. This is a sign that the wires have been hot at some point and might warrant further inspection.
Be sure to check the condition of the power cord as well. Look for any corrosion or signs of arcing or overheating on the prongs.
Hiring A Licensed RV Inspector
You can inspect many basic functions of a used camper yourself, however, I would highly recommend hiring a licensed RV inspector to do a more thorough and complete inspection.
They are trained to know what to look for and they will perform a more in-depth inspection of the used camper you are looking to buy.
An RV inspector will look at every component of the rig. This includes the propane system, appliances, etc. The inspector will then provide you and the seller with an unbiased, comprehensive report on the condition of the pre-owned camper.
To find an inspector in your area, visit the NRVIA website. From there you can use the interactive map to locate the nearest inspector.
5. Negotiate The Price
Everything is negotiable, especially when it comes to buying a used camper from a private seller. If you’re not sure what the fair market value is, there are resources available. J.D. Power and NADA are two excellent websites where you can research the value of RVs by year, make, and model.
Using these figures and the RV inspection report, you can begin the negotiating process. Use these resources to your advantage.
For example, if you find that the used camper you’re interested in needs new tires or other repairs, you can leverage these issues to your advantage when making an offer.
If you have a motivated and honest seller, you shouldn’t have any issues negotiating a fair price.
6. Pay The Seller
There are several ways to pay the seller for the used camper. The most common way is to simply hand over a fistful of cash. You can also choose to pay with a cashier’s check or use online payment apps like PayPal or Venmo.
7. Draft A Bill Of Sale
A bill of sale is very important when buying a used camper from a private party. You will need this to prove ownership and to get the RV registered and tagged.
You can easily find blank templates online or you can draft your own. Be sure to include the following in your bill of sale:
- Full Name And Address Of Seller And Buyer
- Description Of The Camper (model, make, overall condition)
- VIN And License Plate Numbers
- Mileage (if purchasing a motorhome)
8. Get Your Used Camper Insured
Now that the deal has been made and the title has been transferred, it’s time to insure your “new-to-you” RV. In an ideal situation, you should call your insurance company and add the used camper to your policy before towing it home.
Depending on which insurance company you use for your vehicles, you may qualify for a multi-vehicle discount.
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge you need to successfully buy a used camper from a private seller, you’re better prepared to make a smart and informed decision.
Keep in mind that this isn’t just a simple transaction, it’s your gateway to making unforgettable memories with your family.
As you drive away with your newly acquired camper in tow, remember that the road ahead is paved with endless possibilities. Your adventures are just beginning.
So, buckle up, hit the road, and may your used camper bring you countless memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Safe travels and happy camping.
David is a U.S. Air Force veteran who currently lives on the Texas Gulf Coast with his wonderful wife of 26 years and their two furry companions, Gus and LuLu.
As an outdoor and RV enthusiast, David loves to spend his free time taking road trips and spending as much time as possible at the campground with the family in their 2018 Dutchmen Kodiak 201QB travel trailer