This post may contain affiliate links where we earn from qualifying purchases. Find out more in our disclosure.
Are you ready to finally take the plunge into RV ownership? WAHOO!! Our family just made the transition to being RV owners with the purchase of our travel trailer, but we’ve been carefully scouting out deals and looking for the best prices for about a year. I’m here to share with you what we learned and how we were able to get such an amazing deal on our new-to-us RV.
Consider your timing
RV’s are the most expensive in the spring and early summer, so deals are the hardest to find. Obviously it makes sense, since that’s when EVERYONE is ready to take a vacation and enjoy the beautiful summer weather. The question that everyone really wants to know the answer to is ‘When is the best time to buy an RV?’ We’ve found that the best time to get a good deal on an RV is in January and February. Most RV shows are in the winter, and right around that time, dealers are looking to offload their old inventory. Many of them are willing to significantly slash their prices on RV’s during this time.
It really is all about basic supply and demand.
Another good time to buy an RV is when gas prices are high. Most people will be scared of high costs when gas prices are high, which means demand will go down. If you’re serious about getting an RV, consider buying it when gas prices are high.
It’s incredible how quickly new RV’s lose their value – it’s even worse than a new car. I was blown away when I could find an RV or trailer that was 7 years old and the price had already dropped in HALF! Considering that we have several family members who have had trailers for 20, 30, or 40 years, I know that even if I buy a used trailer, it’s still going to last A LONG TIME. I’d much rather save that $10,000 and buy a used trailer and use that money to take our trailer to amazing places.
Consider buying an RV with cosmetic damage
Are you worried more about function than looks? Then consider buying a travel trailer or RV with some cosmetic damage. We got our RV with some hail damage on it, and we were able to buy it for about half the price of similar used RV’s in our area. Sure, when the sun hits the trailer JUST RIGHT, you can see all the little dings, but otherwise, no one would be able to tell. And yes, I know it’s there, but it actually makes me happy that all those little dings saved me thousands of dollars.
If you’re feeling extra brave, consider buying an RV at auction where you can get a crazy good deal. Many of these are all online, which means that you won’t get to see them first, but the savings may be worth the risk. We bid on a few (but didn’t win any) at Auto Bid Master which seemed quite easy. You can choose what type of damage the RV has (we only looked at RV’s with hail damage), and so many other details.
Don’t forget to Bargain
Yes, much like when buying a used car, there is always room for negotiations on the price of a used RV or camper. Make sure to know how much you can afford and are willing to spend on your trailer BEFORE you start negotiating. One thing that really helped us was to come up with a CASH number that we could pay so that we literally couldn’t go over that number.
Remember, it’s easy for someone to talk you into getting a little bit more financing to pay a higher price, but they can’t talk you up in price if you’re paying cash. Oh, and don’t forget how amazing it feels to own something OUTRIGHT and with NO DEBT!
Fix up an Older RV
Are you willing to put in a little work to get a good RV at a fraction of the price of a new RV? The good news is that it’s a lot of the work required to fix up an older RV is just cosmetic. Don’t believe me? Well my 5 little kids and I completely renovated the interior of our travel trailer in just ONE WEEK! The best part is that all of our kids said that they love our “new” trailer so much more than the actual newer trailers and RV’s that we were looking for from dealerships. They all invested in the process so they quickly came to love our trailer and all the work that we’ve done on it.
Besides, it’s so nice to be able to redo a trailer and get it exactly the way that you want it instead of being stuck with the factory finishes (which are usually far too dark for my tastes). When we fixed up our old travel trailer, I was blown away by how many great options there were that gave us incredibly cheap ways to completely update the look of our travel trailer.
Be flexible on what you want
Unlike buying a new camper or RV, when you buy used, you can’t pick exactly what you want. Trust me, I know. I had picked out exactly what I wanted in a new RV and had even picked out the model at a dealership. My hopes were that I could find the same thing in a used model. After 6 months of looking, with absolutely no luck, we shifted our plans. Instead of choosing EVERYTHING that we wanted, we made a list of what we absolutely had to have.
For us, our major non-negotiables were that we wanted a real bed to sleep on every night that could be closed off from the kids (no dinette beds for this couple), the trailer needed to be under 5,500 lbs dry weight, and it needed to have bunk beds since we have 5 kids. All of those were non-negotiable for us.
Then we made a list of things that we liked, but weren’t deal breakers. We loved double over double bunk beds, we wanted a slide-out, loved outdoor shower sprayers (I have 4 little boys), and we really loved murphy beds for our sleeping area. Guess what? We didn’t get a single one of those things. And that’s okay.
Someday, we’ll get a trailer that has EVERYTHING we want, but that doesn’t have to be today. Right now, the perfect trailer for us was the one that we could get soon so we could begin making memories. We know that we won’t keep it forever, but we’d much rather have something that works well (even though it’s not perfect), than to waste our time waiting for the stars to align.
Don’t just buy the first RV that you look at. Make sure that you look at a variety of floorplans and styles and also compare prices. We found it incredibly helpful to visit a used RV store to look at several different options all in one place.
Overall, dealerships are going to be higher priced than buying from an individual, but that’s not always the case. If the dealership has a surplus on their lot, they’re almost always willing to negotiate to get inventory moving and clear space for new items. We always say, it never hurts to ask, so go in ready to negotiate, but willing to walk away if you need to.
Just like with a used car, it’s possible that you’re buying a lemon for an RV too. Before you purchase a used RV, have someone that you know and trust with great mechanical and working knowledge of RV’s check it out. Don’t know anyone who can help you?
Here are a few things to look for when you inspect a used RV or camper:
Do all the appliances work properly?
Are there any signs of water damage?
Has the trailer been in an accident that the owner didn’t disclose?
What does the roof look like – that’s the best place to spot potential water damage.
Check under the chassis for rust – if there’s a lot of it, walk away.
Make sure the tires are in good shape.
Make sure that all slides go in and out without any problems.
Remember that cosmetic issues are pretty easy and inexpensive to fix, but mechanical issues can get expensive quickly.
Ask for extras
When you’re buying an RV, it’s always a good idea to see what sort of extras you can get included in the purchase price. Some sellers are really firm with their pricing, but they’re usually willing to throw in some extras with your purchase. Things like hoses, generators, leveling blocks, and anti-sway hitches are great things to try and get included with the price that will end up saving you hundreds of dollars later on.
A lot of times, the owner of the RV or trailer you are buying will be happy to include these extras as they really don’t need them anymore. It always helps to ask, and the worst that they can do is say no!