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How to Search for Your Perfect RV Camper

A class-A motorhome camped in the Keys

A class-A motorhome camped in the Keys

How to Find the Perfect RV for You

If you are serious about purchasing a used RV, you need to be sure you know which camping lifestyle you really want to get into. This is true regardless of whether you are thinking about a simple pop-up travel trailer, or if you have your mind set on a big motorhome filled with luxuries.

To this end, you need to sit down, with your spouse (if you have one), and ask yourselves some pointed questions, such as:

  1. How much money do you want to spend?
  2. How often do you plan to camp each year?
  3. How long will your camping trips be when you do camp?
  4. Are you looking for a simple rough style of camping?
  5. Are you looking for a luxurious method of travel?
  6. Are you looking for a way to travel and explore America?

These basic questions are the ones that you and your spouse must agree on during this, your first phase of establishing your RV search criteria.

Keep in mind that if you and your spouse are not both enjoying your camping trips together, then your life as a camping family is doomed to be a failure.

What Type of RV Do You Want?

Here are the common types of campers sold in the USA.

Class A. These are large diesel or gas-powered motorhomes set up for the owner's comfort on long trips, with lots of luxurious amenities.

Class C. These are medium-sized motorhomes that are designed on the chassis of a commercial truck, usually with the truck's front cabin and the truck drive train left on the chassis. These can be small and efficient or as large as Class-A motorhomes.

Class B. These were originally commercial vans modified with beds, sofas, kitchenettes, and other equipment designed for the frugal camper. The newer ones even have short slides.

Travel Trailer. Travel trailers have been around for a century or more and are towable trailers fitted with amenities for comfort on longer camping trips.

Fifth-Wheel Trailer. These are large, heavy travel trailers that require special towing connections, similar to what is used with commercial tractor-trailers, due to their size and weight. They are usually loaded with great amenities.

Pop-Up Trailer. These are simple and small trailers that have built-in tent-like sections that can be cranked up and folded out to provide a larger living and sleeping space inside the opened coverings. They are often used by ex-tent campers who want a few more comforts than what they had when tent camping in the wild.

Other Designs. Many other designs are used around the USA that are spin-offs of these basic designs described here.

You, as a potential buyer, need to select the design of camper that will match up with your lifestyle and camping expectations.

But once you make this design selection you will then have narrowed down your possible options to only a few million.

Do You Want a New or Used Camper?

That's the next selection criteria for you to make.

RVs depreciate as fast, if not faster, than automobiles in the USA. Thus, you need to consider whether you want to pay the price of a new RV or if you want a used one that is in great shape but will have a lower price due to its depreciated value.

Before you decide, you should consider the fact that a new RV will have a retail value worth at least 20% to 25% less than its MSRP price as soon as it's purchased.

So, if you want to save money and still get a great RV, you should expect significant price savings if you purchase an "almost new" used RV.

And of course, the retail value of an even older RV that's in good condition will be an even more palatable option for your consideration, if you find one that meets your needs.

Educate Yourself About What Is Available

If you just go to your Google search engine and look for "RVs for sale" you will see over half a billion listed to search through.

This is the first problem you need to overcome, the enormous mass of references to "RVs for sale" all across the USA.

You need to make a plan for managing your search and narrowing your choices down to only the best RVs out there that meet your selection criteria.

How Much Do You Want to Spend on Your RV?

Always know the maximum amount you are willing to pay for your RV. This number should be set in stone before you ever go and talk to a dealer or individual seller about what they are selling.

Keep to your price limit. Remember the salesperson will try to get as much of your money as they can.

And remember that if you over-spend on your RV purchase you will reduce what you have left in your budget for your camping adventures.

Even if they offer you financing, you can end up, five, ten or more years later wishing you could get rid of that loan you took out.

Always remember what I said earlier: Your RV will depreciate significantly every year. It's not a matter of if it will depreciate, but rather how much it depreciates.

So, stick to your budgeted price.

Know the Real Retail Value of RVs

There are two major sources of RV pricing that RV dealers use: The National Automobile Dealers Association and Kelley Blue Book. So you need to sign in to these two sites and learn how to interpret the pricing you see for all RVs.

Rather than get into the definitions of the pricing you will see on these sites in this article, you should read another article that covers this in more detail.

Once you know how to use this industry-standard pricing on these sites, you will have the most important tool you need to help you select the right RV for you at the right price.

The Search Process and Where to Look for Your RV

You're now armed with adequate information to start your search process. Of course, you can just take what you know and drive over to your local RV dealer and start negotiating on one of their RVs, or if you know of one that is for sale by an individual you can go to them and also negotiate with them.

Or, if you have the time to commit to your search, you can try one of these sources of used RVs and negotiate with them.

eBay. It costs you nothing to open an account on eBay and they have thousands of RVs listed on their site that other people and even dealers are trying to sell. But, now, you are armed with your own knowledge of the actual values of these RVs, so you can make realistic offers on any you find interesting.

And often, I will just add the ones I am interested in to my "Watch List" and over time I will see if they sell and if they do, how much was paid. This gives me a feel for the true value of any model RV I might be watching. And it costs me nothing but my time.

Consignment Sellers. Many used RV lots around the USA will take an individual owner's RV onto their lot and then sell it for them for a percentage of the sale price, typically 10%. These consignment sellers usually handle everything in a deal, and even negotiate for you with the owner if you make a serious offer.

Web Seller Sites. There are dozens of RV web stores, such as RV Trader, that will list an individual's RV for the RV seller. They will charge you a flat one-time fee of $75 to $200 to put your RV on their site. All you are buying is exposure; they are not involved in any sales.

But, if you're shopping for an RV, it is useful that these sites will display hundreds of RVs whose owners you can contact and negotiate with.

Dealer Listings. All RV dealers will list their inventory on their own website, as well as on eBay and other such sites.

Individual Owner Listings. Many individual RV owners will try to sell their camper themselves and they will typically use classified ads, Craigslist, or just a "For Sale" sign on the window of the RV.

These RVs for sale by individuals are harder to find, but often you can find a really good deal, so a little local research can earn you a great deal.

Negotiating the Pricing and Guarantee

At some point, you will have found the RV that you really want to buy and then you have to close on a successful negotiation.

At this point, you know what the RV you are interested in is really worth, but you need to do two more things:

  1. Perform a competent inspection of the RV so that you're confident that there are no major problems with the RV.
  2. Convince the owner that your offer is a fair one for both of you.

Once the price is agreed to, you need to come to terms on some kind of warranty, even if it is as simple as a 30-day, 300-mile, 50-50 one.

Then, you need to see the title and confirm that it is clear of loans and restrictions, and get the owner's signature on a simple sales contract. You can often find blank sales contracts in office supply stores such as Staples.

Closing the Deal on an RV

Because an RV, even a used one, can cost a lot of money, it is always a good idea to close your deal with some level of protection, such as getting the paperwork notarized, and closing the deal in your banker's office and having them confirm any money transfers that might need to be performed.

Once this is done, you will own your favorite RV and feel great about what you paid every time you go camping.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.