Questions to Ask When Looking at Used Camper Trailers (From Individuals)

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When we looked into buying a used RV several months ago, I came across a great deal that was only an hour and a half away. Because it was so close (I live in a small town, so anything within a few hours is close), I did not ask a lot of questions.

The seller had listed his RV as being in excellent condition. How many questions could there be to ask?

Here’s Kelly Blue Book’s description of excellent condition:

  • Excellent condition means that the vehicle looks new, is in excellent mechanical condition and needs no reconditioning. This vehicle has never had any paint or body work and is free of rust. The vehicle has a clean Title History and will pass a smog and safety inspection. The engine compartment is clean, with no fluid leaks and is free of any wear or visible defects. The vehicle also has complete and verifiable service records. Less than 5 percent of all used vehicles fall into this category.

Wow. Excellent condition sets a pretty high bar. Unfortunately my visit took that bar and chucked it into the Grand Canyon.

So we pulled up to look at the RV in Nashville, Tn. The man selling it was waiting for us, but said his driver was late. His driver? This guy never even drove this thing?

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The Monaco Diplomat we were looking at.

Apparently, he knew nothing about the RV. He just let his driver valet him and his country music clients to events. That was problem #1. The seller had no clue on RV maintenance and who knows if his driver ever even took care of it.

True, you can sometimes find better deals if the owner knows nothing about what they are selling, but I’ve found that to cause more problems than it is worth. It’s better to find an owner that knows what they are doing, but realizes they are giving you a deal because they need the RV sold.

It’s better to find an owner that knows what they are doing, but realizes they are giving you a deal because they need the RV sold.

As I walk up to the motorhome I can quickly see see it was stored outside from the faded paint. There were also dents, scratches, rust, you name it. I walked on the roof and there were cracks all around the roof sealant. This thing was a Mona Lisa. It looked great as we were pulling in with the car, but once I got closer, it was a huge mess.

The inside of the RV was no better. I could see where one of the slides had gotten hung coming in and a parts of the wood had broken off. The slide had also leaked at some point because there was evidence of water damage inside the walls.

The carpet was ripped up in the cockpit area, there were cracks in the tiles, but the back bedroom was the worst…

This was apparently party central for the clients he was driving around. The giant mirrored closet that spanned the back part of the RV  had been shattered and was just waiting to fall on the ground in pieces. Someone had obviously been thrown into it.

The carpet was almost too disgusting to walk on. There were so many stains of different colors, it was hard to tell what the original color was. On the side of the bed there was supposed to be a wooden night stand. It was ripped out.

As an added mechanical bonus, there were cobwebs and rust around many of the mechanical areas and the water heater was busted so water spewed out when we tried to test the water.

I think you get the point. The seller’s idea of excellent was not exactly my idea, or Kelly Blue Book’s idea of excellent.

We walked away from this 5 year old high-end Newmar diesel pusher shaking our heads. Luckily, we had only driven an hour and a half, but asking the right questions still could have saved us time before we made the trip.

Some sellers are dishonest. Some are naive. I believe this seller one was a combination of both. Regardless, you need to protect your time and your pocketbook so here are a few questions you can ask on the phone, text or email.

These are not the only questions to ask, but they are the ones  that have helped me discover whether or not (1) the seller knows their rv (2) the seller is honest and (3) the RV worth the drive if it’s not close.

Are you the only owner of the RV? 
I usually start with this one because it paints one of the broadest strokes on whether or not this RV has red flags. If the RV is 8 years old and has only had one owner, that is a great sign. If it is two years old with 3 owners, that is a red flag.

There are lots of reasons an RV could have changed hands quickly and had nothing wrong with it, but I would still keep my ears up.

The ideal answer you want to hear for this one if it is at least a few years old is “Yes. We’re the only owner and have always taken care of it. We’ve done regular maintenance on the roof, engine, etc etc and it has been covered. We used it xxx times a year, but we recently had xxx happen as a life change, so we need to sell it”

You want someone who knows there is maintenance with an RV even if nothing is wrong yet and you want someone who has used their RV. Letting an RV sit unused for more than 6 months can actually be harder on an RV than using it on a semi-regular basis.

What is the worst scratch or ding on the outside of the RV?
This one helps you see if the seller’s idea of “excellent” matches up with your idea of “excellent”. You don’t want to freak out about the RV having any scratches or dings, but you may need to be concerned if it has major scratches and dings. Most any RV over a year old is going to have some sort of scratch or ding. It’s part of getting on the road.

Are there any rips or tears in the carpet, flooring, couch, or seats?
Again, we are trying to get an idea of the owner’s sense of care for their RV. If they have babied it like their own child, it’s a great sign. If they tell you there are rips all over the couch where their dog frequently laid down and the drivers seat has a huge tear down the middle, you have another flag.

Many RV owners take pride in their RV interior. They keep the carpet repaired and clean. They keep leather furniture wiped with protectant to keep it from cracking. They repair any broken tiles.

What’s the big deal if an owner has not fixed broken tiles? If an owner has skimped on the cosmetic maintenance, they have likely skimped on roof, tire, and engine maintenance. That is not always the case, but like the other questions, it can be a sign.

Also keep in mind, you are buying for resale. Unless you total this thing, you are almost certainly going to be selling it one day. If a leather seat or couch is ripped, you are either going to have to knock down your price to account for that or you are going to be putting money into repairing it which ain’t cheap.

How old are the tires?
When looking for a motorhome, I was amazed how many owners didn’t know how old their tires were. If you are looking at travel trailers or most 5th wheels, the tires are not as big of a deal. You can probably get them all swapped out for $500-$1000.

However, if you are looking at a diesel pusher with a rear axle and tag axle, those tires could cost you $6000! That’s a lot of money.

The general rule is you want to swap out your RV tires every 5-7 years. If you protect your tires, you can see up to 10 years of life, but if you are not sure on previous maintenance, 5-7 years is a good bet.

used-camper-trailersVery few RV tires will wear out because of tread, the sidewall is what goes out first. You want to look at the DOT codes on he side of the tires to find out when they were made. Also look for dry rot on the sidewalls. This can be a sign that they are near the end of their life.

All is Not Lost
If you’ve found an RV you are in love with, but it has some red flags, all is not lost. Even if the condition of the RV is not what you expected, sometimes a deal can be made. With the motorhome I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I slept on it and actually still made an offer.

I lowered my offer by 10% to cover the cosmetic work on the inside of the RV. I also required the seller to leave the RV at Camping World for an inspection. If there was less than $3,000 in repairs found, he was to take that out of the selling price as well.

I would pay the inspection cost as long as the non-cosmetic repairs were less than $3,000. If they were more than $3,000, I would still pay half the inspection (which would be about $150), but I the rest of the deal would be off the table.

The seller accepted everything except he only wanted to spend up to $2,000 in repairs. It frustrated me a bit that he would not own up to the repairs and offer to do the full $3,000 if it was needed, but I also understand he may have needed the money.

In the end, I just didn’t trust the guy so I walked away for good. If you get the feeling the seller is dishonest, it’s not worth it no matter how good of a deal it may seem.

What about you? Do you have questions you’ve found to be helpful when you’ve looked at buying used RVs? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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