13 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Used Travel Trailer
Purchasing a recreational vehicle, whether new or used, is the second largest investment, probably after a house, that many people make in their lifetime.
When you decide to spend such kind of money, you must make wise purchase decisions.
Purchasing a used RV may seem straightforward, but it’s far from that. I’ve witnessed many poor purchase decisions in my time in the RV industry.
And I’d like to offer some pointers on avoiding some of the same RV buying pitfalls. In this guide, I’ll share the top mistakes to avoid when purchasing a used motorhome.
13 Mistakes to Avoid when Purchasing a Used RV
Mistake 1: Making a Hasty Buying Decision
What this means is purchasing an RV without doing any research. Hasty buying decisions are usually common in high-pressure selling environments.
And it’s easy to see why. For example, many new buyers tend to get caught up in the moment when a salesperson tells you statements like, “this price is only good for today” or “once this model is gone, we can’t get another one on the lot like it.”
It’s also important never to go shopping for a used travel trailer, especially when you’re short on time.
Lots of people also buy RVs in shows, where there’s a lot of excitement, only to discover their model is too big, too small, or the wrong configuration for their needs.
In short, a hasty purchase decision for a used RV can be costly whatever the circumstances.
Mistake 2: Failure to Hire an Independent RV Inspector
I highly recommend an independent inspection of your RV before buying. There could be a lot of hidden problems on your motorcoach, and the problem is some dealers can be casual about the condition of the unit just to make a sale.
Understand that RV repairs can be quite expensive, even if you can find someone to do the work. The big ones are usually water leaks and damage.
Before hiring an inspector, do some checking yourself. Inspect every nook and cranny, especially on the floor perimeter, corners, cavities, and hidden spaces. Use your nose to detect traces of mold, especially in closed spaces like cupboards and underbelly compartments.
After you’re satisfied with your initial assessment, visit NRVIA.org to find some local inspectors. They might be expensive, but they will save you a world of unpleasantness and rebuilding to be followed.
Mistake 3: Financing an RV
An RV is a luxury item. It’s not something you need, but you want. So, if you can’t finance your used RV, you need to look at another alternative other than an RV.
Similarly, if your credit isn’t the best, I’d suggest you pass on the used RV purchase until you’re in better financial shape. In my opinion, taking an extra $50k in debt will only make things worse.
My rule of thumb is you should never spend more on your RV than you can afford to wave goodbye to. So, if any part of your purchase plan is to “save money” on an asset, you must stop now because you’ll be disappointed.
Mistake 4: Financing from RV Dealerships
Assuming your credit is good and you must finance your RV, I suggest you stay away from RV dealership finance programs.
Some dealers will finance your purchase but stick up with an outrageous APR and longer repayment term. It puts you in a high-pressure situation, meaning you will likely agree to unfavorable terms.
Instead, I suggest you get prequalified by your bank or credit unit before you head out to the RV parking lot. If they can’t approve you, consider the reasons you’re purchasing the RV in the first place.
Credit Unions, however, are great at financing RVers, and better than banks or dealerships. Check out Lightstream if you’ve good credit. They’ve an easy application process, better rates, longer terms and might even offer no money down!
Mistake 4: Financing an RV as the Primary Residence
If you choose the finance way, don’t try and get paper written as an RV as your primary residence. Never get an RV loan and use the words “I’m going to live in it” because the odds of you getting a loan will plummet.
Banks or most credit institutions don’t like dishing out loans to RVs they believe will not be in the same place most of the year. They don’t want to get in a situation where they can’t repossess an RV they can’t find.
Rather, if you get your RV, transition into a PMB (private mailbox address) address.
Mistake 5: Buying Warranty from the Dealer
Another big mistake I see many RVers make on their used RV purchase is buying a warranty from the dealership.
From experience, the money spent on extended warranty proves to be money through into a black hole. When you need warranty work done, your dealership will let your RV sit in their lot for half a year and do nothing. They’ll usually blame the lack of parts and original parts.
You better grab some tools and fix the RV by yourself. And if you need a warranty, get some from the 3rd party companies. I like the wholesale warranties, as they’re less hassle to get money back.
In fact, just as buying a car, I wouldn’t let the RV dealership talk me into buying the add-ons unless I want to blow my fortune on “convenience”.
Don’t buy a warranty, don’t buy add-ons, and don’t buy absolutely anything from the dealership aside from the RV. Every answer to your need should be a no, period, end of the story.
Mistake 6: Not Visualizing your RV
Another big mistake RVers make is not visualizing their RV. They don’t think about how they’re going to use it.
You must always research, plan, and list what’s important before making an RV purchase.
It’s also important to do some serious research on exactly how each system works in an RV. The electricity, plumbing, climate control, and everything.
Remember that everything about an RV is different than a house, and many new RVers usually underestimate how much of an adaptation that is.
So, before purchasing a used RV, acquire basic to intermediate knowledge of everything. What every switch, knob, or valve does. Also, learn how to troubleshoot and fix stuff on the road.
Finally, always carry a basic set of tools, tapes, fuses, and wires. You never know when you’ll need to fix something in the middle of the wilderness.
Mistake 7: Failure to get the Right Tow Vehicle
The other biggest thing to add is you should ensure you’ve the right tow vehicle if you’re buying a used 5th wheel or travel trailer.
Many RVers forget or underplay the importance of researching towing weights and payload.
Failure to get a tow vehicle rated for the travel trailer weight means you’re likely to end up with a high RV loan and a new vehicle loan.
More importantly, if you max out your tow weight on your vehicle, it presents a safety threat.
Mistake 8: Not Saving Extra RV Repair Cash
The thing with RVs is there’s always a repair needed somewhere. There’s at least a major repair every year for used RVs, and depending on the model, you might get horrible gas mileage.
And in normal instances, things will break and go wrong. Remember, a motorcoach is a house on wheels, so wear and tear happen quicker than you imagine.
So, if you think a used RV purchase is expensive, wait until you see the repair bills and everything. Out-of-pocket repairs will sometimes run into thousands of dollars.
Therefore, don’t scrape yourself dry financially to avoid RVing frustrations. Expect to drop some $$$ post-purchase in a full service, checkup, and maintenance.
Set some amount for potential repairs; if you’re lucky, you’ll not need to use all of it. You can spend the saved amount on having more RVing fun.
Mistake 9: Not Renting an RV First
Ever heard jokes about owning a boat? It’s “Bust Out Another Thousand.” And the happiest days of a boat owner? The day they bought it and the day they sold it.
RVs are just land boats.
So, if you’re planning to get a used RV for the first time, I suggest you rent first and see whether you enjoy the RVing lifestyle.
Many new RVers usually fail to rent an RV, and the situation turns out not to be a good investment and experience.
Renting an RV is worthwhile as it lets you know what you want and need. What you think you want and what you want are strangely different, and you’ll probably buy the wrong RV without renting.
After all, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to lobe in an RV without actually doing it.
Mistake 10: Choosing the Wrong Tires
The other major mistake RVers on used RVs make is not replacing the tires immediately.
Usually, the tires on your used RV are just good enough to allow you to drive out of the parking lot to a tire dealership.
If the used RV was in an exposed lot, the tires might look fine, but they’re probably experiencing dry rot from exposure to inclement weather, especially extended UV rays.
So, the first step after purchasing the RV is determining the quality of the tires and replacing them immediately.
And if they’re not adequate and you may want to buy a new one, negotiate that into the price with the dealer.
Mistake 11: Choosing the Wrong RV Insurance
Another huge mistake buyers of used RVs make is not getting RV insurance. Most assume or are ignorant and add their RV to their vehicle policy.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide your RV with full coverage.
So, ensure you get RV-specific insurance coverage from your agent. Usually, travel trailer insurance is done more like a commercial policy than regular auto insurance.
Mistake 12: No RV Title
Sometimes, sleazy dealers of used RVs will try to convince you that your state doesn’t require a transfer title.
Don’t take their word for it. Instead, make a quick call to your local tag officer, and inquire about the rules.
Chances are you’ll require one, and not having a title on a used trailer can be a red flag.
Mistake 12: Making Long Trips
If you’ve just acquired a used RV, I suggest you stick close to home on your first trips. Don’t do long trips.
While it’s fun to go far, make your first trip not so far away from home. You’ll learn a lot and understand how your rig works.
Otherwise, embarking on the long journey may put you at a disadvantage if something goes wrong and you don’t have the skills and knowledge to address the issue.
Mistake 13: Not Securing Everything
Assuming you’ve already purchased a used RV, a huge mistake you could do is failing to secure everything in your RV.
Before you depart, you must always ensure you secure everything. Walk around to ensure everything is also closed and disconnected.
And as soon you put it to drive, accelerate a bit, and slam on the brake, listen for stuff falling, doors opening, or anything slamming or smashing. If you hear a noise, go and secure.
A big mistake most RVers make is to forget to close a random door/drawer or closet that will, at best, make you pull over and, at worst, toss all the shit everywhere.
That’s a wrap for our guide, and the mistake every RVer should avoid when buying a used travel trailer.
Some mistakes aren’t serious, but others can be a dealbreaker and will forever determine your attitude toward RVing.