Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life. He shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.
Lower Your Expectations: How RVs Depreciate
Owning an RV is like owning a car; once you sign the papers and have it titled, it is immediately considered to be USED; which to most people means OLD, so you need to accept that you own a used, old thing.
Sure, dealers will show you a sticker price or what they call the list price which is established by the manufacturer. This list price never drops on an RV. Even if you keep your RV for 10 or 20 years, that original list price will always be there for you to see and admire. I say this because the list price is pretty useless other than as a reference number that never goes away.
Sorry folks, but the depreciation of your RV is your new reality, and right when it was sold to you, the book (retail) value of your RV dropped from the list value it had when it was sitting on the lot to its true and constantly dropping value as an old, used RV.
You probably already knew this little fact about depreciation and stuck it somewhere in the back of your mind, long ago.
When you want to know the real value your RV has as a used camper, you can go to websites like the National Automobile Dealers Association or Kelley Blue Book, which list the present values of RVs and automobiles on their sites. These sites are where everyone will go to find out exactly what a camper of your specific year, model, and accessories is really worth if you want to sell or trade yours.
At least once every month, these two companies, NADA and KBB, will put out a new compilation of all RV values in your area of the country, using the prices that local dealers are actually getting for RVs just like yours, even those that are decades older. Using the actual sales numbers in your area, they are essentially setting the suggested price which all member dealers will expect when they sell an RV just like yours.
These sites list other things like the suggested trade-in value if you decide you want to trade your old RV in for another newer one.
I should mention here, in case you didn’t realize it yet, that you should expect the value of your RV to go down every month, even if you aren’t using it at all. And if you are actually using it, and putting significant miles on it, those miles will add to the drop in the expected value of your RV.
Take Care of Problems That Might Drop Your RV’s Value
To get ready for pricing discussions with a dealer you want to do your homework and look up the real value numbers on your PC yourself. Or you can just ask them to print you a copy of the NADA or KBB numbers for you. It doesn’t matter to them because they are assured a profit if they use these numbers themselves.
These numbers are a ceiling, not a floor. There are three kinds of factors that could drop your trade-in value to a level even lower than what is on these websites, and dealers factor those things in. Basic cleanup and repair are part of a dealer's pricing and trade-in plan.
To get a price like the NADA or KBB numbers, dealers will:
- Clean up your old RV and make it look good.
- Make sure the engine (of a motorhome) runs well.
- Fix anything that doesn't function.
Keep in mind factors like this in your RV's actual condition to make sure they will not drop your RV’s value even more. You should take the time to read these potential resale problems and consider where your RV stands for trading.
Vehicle Mileage on Motorhomes
Regardless of whether you own a diesel pusher or a gasoline-powered motorhome, excess mileage on the odometer will definitely drop your RV’s value.
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Sure, a well-maintained gasoline RV, like a well-maintained automobile, will give its owner tens of thousands of extra miles of use, but a potential buyer will invariably balk at purchasing one that has a high mileage reading on its odometer.
It's kind of a myth that a diesel drivetrain is heartier than a gasoline drivetrain, and can give several hundred thousand miles of reliable service before causing problems.
No Free Pass for Diesels
Although diesel drivetrains are designed for heavy use and are well made, they also cost significantly more when you purchase them and cost more to service.
And when a diesel engine does break down, the repair costs can easily run into thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands.
The original situation that led people to buy a diesel-powered motorhome was a large motorhome, often 40 to 45 feet long, with heavier accessories (like custom cabinetry, multiple slides, larger appliances, and larger furniture). Often the owner planned to use the motorhome for towing a trailer full of the owner’s personal gear such as motorcycles, small cars, sports equipment, or retail products that they would sell for their business.
Although gasoline-powered drivetrains don't have the torque to pull the heaviest loads that a diesel can handle, today there are some larger, very reliable and powerful gasoline engines available in RVs up to 40 feet long, and these engines are cheaper than diesels.
Nothing makes an RV more “sellable” than having one that looks like it is new.
From having a great exterior paint job that shines like a new RV, to shiny chrome wheels and new-looking tires, the way an RV looks as people walk by it can do more for driving a sale than other things you might do to show off your RV.
Other simple things, like a cleaned-up engine compartment, clean windows, and blackened window gaskets will also add to the overall look of a used RV.
Just like with a house, if you are selling your RV you want to make its entrance look fantastic.
First, make sure the door and the power entrance steps function flawlessly and quietly—and are clean. The RV flooring that's visible when you open the door, whether it is carpet, tile, or wood, must be clean and should not look worn.
Once inside your RV, the potential buyer should see beautiful cabinetry, clean unstained countertops, and quality furniture and appliances that do not show excess wear.
Other Things a Buyer's Eyes Will Go To
- Living areas. Sofas, chairs, the driver’s seat, and the dashboard area (in a motorhome) must not look overly used or worn. Replace any worn, torn, or damaged furniture; even consider slip covers to hide aged and worn furniture.
- Kitchen area. The whole living and kitchen area must be well lit and the countertops must look open and uncluttered. Put those small appliances and cute knick-knacks away.
- Bedroom area. The bed, mattress, closets, countertops, and lights in the bedroom must not look worn, and the overall area should feel comfortable. If the mattress is shot, replace it, because serious buyers will lie down on the bed.
- Bathroom area. The whole bathroom area should be well lit and the toilets, sinks, showers, and countertops must show well as a whole. Get rid of any clutter.
- Floors. If your RV is carpeted and the carpet looks worn and dirty, consider replacing it with laminate wood for a fresher new overall look. Remember you can always toss a few throw rugs on the floor when the weather gets colder.
- Appliances. All the appliances need to work, because many potential buyers will ask for them to be demonstrated for them, especially the air conditioner.
So in summary, although you may not be able to do anything about the constant decrease in your RV's book value, when you decide to either sell or trade it, there are things you can do to make it look its very best for potential buyers.
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.
© 2020 Don Bobbitt