If you're thinking about buying an RV, deciding on whether to buy a new or used RV can be an agonizing decision.
Trust me, you aren't alone.
Buying new is expensive but easy. You don't have to worry about mileage. There is no need to have it inspected. And you don't have to worry if something breaks the first year or two that you own it.
But if you are leaning toward buying a used RV, you might wonder when an RV is too old.
Note: In this article, we use "RV" for coaches, travel trailers, and campers.
Why People Buy New RVs
- Pride of ownership
- Brand new and never used
- Includes manufacturer's warranty
- Less risk of buying stuck with a lemon
Why People Buy Used RVs
- Cheaper to buy
- The RV has gone through its warranty repairs
- Expensive upgrades are pennies on the dollar
- The RV may have a style that is no longer available
- Some people feel older is better
When Is A Used RV Too Old?
I wish there was a date and year that I could use to answer that question. Some people would say 10 years is too old while others would say 20 years. But the answer isn't that simple. Let's dig into it.
How Many Miles Are On The RV?
The University of Michigan did a study on recreational vehicles. And they found that the average RV owner drives 4,500 miles a year. That's average, but many owners drive far less than that amount.
A 10-year-old RV with 30,000 to 45,000 miles or less isn't unusual. With a Class A, B, or C coach, you can check the mileage. But there isn't a way to check the mileage on a travel trailer.
Figuring Out The Miles On A Travel Trailer
Here are some suggestions when shopping for a used travel trailer:
- Ask the owner how many miles are on the trailer. This is a case of trust but verify if you can.
- During your conversation, ask about where the owner has camped. If the owner says there are only 5,000 miles on the 10-year-old trailer that's great. But if they camp twice a year at their favorite campground that's 500 miles away. There's a problem. The owner underestimated the mileage. The trailer actually has closer to 20,000 miles. (2,000 miles x 10 years)
- Do a good inspection. A trailer with a lot of miles will show wear and tear from road use.
How Often Was the RV Used?
The average RV owner camps two weeks a year. That's 5 months of living in the RV. If an RV has only seen a few months of use for the last 10 years, it will look dated, but otherwise, be in great shape.
TIP: The age and condition of the RV can hurt you if you want to stay in an RV park that has a 10-year rule. More about that later.
Was the RV maintained when not used?
When considering a used RV, you need to know how the owner maintained it. Every seller will tell you their maintenance is the best. That is often not the case. So how do you check for yourself? Ask the seller about how the RV was stored and then inspect it.
How Was The RV Stored?
Weather is hard on RVs. Storing them beneath a shelter is best. But that is seldom possible. Being outside, the sun bakes decals until they are brittle and crack. Paint and decals fade. Curtains and exposed furniture get sun-damaged. Tire crack and rot.
These things can make even a newer RV look old. If the RV was stored outside, ask if it was waxed and washed at least once a year.
Do A Walk-Around Inspection
In a walk-around, you're looking for obvious damage or abuse. Beyond looking for obvious damage, look for evidence of leaks. Water leaks in an RV are a nightmare. Here are some suggestions when inspecting an RV.
- Open pass-through and cargo compartments. You are looking for water damage.
- Look around the toilet. You especially want to look behind the toilet. People will often forget to clean behind the toilet and that's where you can find if it's been leaking.
- Open every closet and cupboard. Take a flashlight and look up inside the cabinet. We've found RV's that looked great, but the cabinets or closet ceilings or walls had water stains.
- Check the door and window seals.
- Get on the roof and look for broken seals, bubbles and lack of maintenance
- Crawl under the RV and see how things look.
Ask For Receipts
RV owners may not want to talk about repairs to the RV. If they kept receipts, it's a good way to look through them for anything significant. If you do find repair work, did a dealership do the work? If the owner did the repairs, you'll want to dig deeper.
Hire A Pro
If you've found an RV you're considering, take it to a dealership for an inspection. It will cost a few hundred dollars, but it's a good investment. Because you're bringing an RV to them, they know you aren't buying from them. So they should give you an unbiased opinion.
Beware Of Vintage RVs Unless You're Handy With Tools
So you've found an RV you want and you've checked it out. Hopefully, you've had a pro inspect it. But it isn't just a few years old; it's decades old. Sometimes the difference is whether an RV is "old" meaning it looks like it's one day from the RV graveyard, or "vintage" meaning it's been renovated and has new safety equipment installed, including new propane lines and fittings. As a general rule, walk away from vintage RVs that haven't been renovated.
Has The RV Been Recently Renovated?
Old RVs look cute. I love them. They have the cool look of yesteryear. But unrenovated RVs are a lot of work. They will need new appliances and furniture. The bathroom and kitchen will need upgrading. Propane lines and electrical will need repair or replacement. And that's the shortlist.
Old RVs And The 10-Year Rule
If you don't plan on staying at RV parks, the age of your rig doesn't matter.
But RVs over 10 years old run into problems at some RV parks because of their age. It's known as the 10-year rule.
Some park owners and managers assume that an RV over 10 years old may put fellow guests at risk. I've talked to RV park managers about the 10-year rule. Their biggest complaint with old RVs is appearance and potential propane leaks. And some parks don't care how pristine the rig looks, they won't allow it in their park.
But some RV parks will accept older RVs if they are in great shape.
The best way to find out if a park will accept your RV is to call and ask. You can also email them and send photos. Be honest, because most parks will check your registration.
Warning: don't assume an RV park will let you in when you show up. Check first and save the trip if they turn you away.
When looking at used RVs it's more about the condition than the actual age. There are 20-year-old maintained RVs that look great. And there a 2-year-old RVs that are a wreck. We've seen them both.
Buying a used RV can save you a lot of money. But you have to check it out first. Plan on spending a couple of hours going over it. Pay attention to evidence of water leaks. Don't just kick the tires. Get down and check them for cracks. Get on the roof. Crawl underneath. Inspect then inspect again. Buying the wrong RV can cost you a lot of money and frustration. Take the time to insure you're buying the right one.
If you want to stay at RV parks, consider buying an RV that is only a few years old. Otherwise, stay in state parks or boondock. Buy what you can afford and enjoy camping in your "new" RV.