Buyer Beware: Tips & What To Look For When Buying A Used Motorhome

used-rv-motorhome-for-sale.jpg Buying a used motorhome can be a bit scarier than the risks that come with buying a used travel trailer. 

With a motorhome, you’re also taking a much larger bite into your budget. Which is why it’s even more important that you know exactly what you’re getting when you’re looking for a used motorhome to buy. 

With some 10-year-old motorhomes commanding upwards of $50,000 (or even more), being very selective is to your benefit. 

Parked Motorhomes Decrease In Value

The one common denominator with most used recreational vehicles is that they spend a good part of their time setting still.  Some will spend 10 to 11 months of the year in storage, only to come out for a few weeks in the middle of summer. 

Because of their limited use, it’s not unusual to see many used RVs on the sales lot — often 10 or more years old with 20,000 or less miles on the odometer.  At first, this seems like a good thing for the potential buyer. When, in fact, this is both good and bad. 

Obviously, wear on such things as engine internal components, brakes, transmission, and rear ends is minimal.  Plus, motorhomes are more or less designed with a 100,000-mile lifetime expectation, so you should be good to go for many years to come. 

But there is another factor that comes into play here:  Time.  The worst thing for any piece of mechanical equipment is to leave it unused.  It is important that the inner workings get put through their paces on a fairly regular basis.  That’s why leaving a motorhome parked and unused is one of the most damaging things you can do.

Location, Location, Location

two-rvs-parked-for-long-time.jpg The degree to which time has affected a particular motorhome depends greatly on where it spent that time while being parked. 

For example, if you’re up north (like Minnesota) and your motorhome has spent most of its time buried in snow while parked in the yard, then your investment has already started to slip away. 

What it all comes down to this this:  More time parked and less time used will result in a motorhome being worth very little. That is, without costly repairs and upgrades to get the RV back up to speed.

Plus, parking a motorhome on grass (rather than on blacktop) results in moisture being wicked up into the rig, rusting it from the bottom up.  Brakes will become stiff, frames will rot away, and floors will become spongy.  After a few years in a row of being parked this way, the motorhome will pretty much be worthless. 

If, on the other hand, the motorhome is parked for long periods of time down south (like Arizona), it will suffer from the effects of high heat and sun damage.

A motorhome that has been left out in the sun while stored will have a faded and chalky exterior.  The interior upholstery will be sun bleached and brittle from the ultraviolet rays.  Plastic will become brittle, and what was once white will now be a dull yellow color.

North, South, East, Or West?

What it all comes down to is this: Neither of the above situations is very appealing (high heat & massive sun -vs- freezing cold, snow & moisture). However, if I had my choice, I’d take a southern unit every time. You can remodel an interior with minimal skills.  However, replacing a drivetrain takes special talents and a whole bunch of money.

The best approach is middle of the road…

Don’t be turned off by normal mileage — it usually means the motorhome has been driven appropriately and has been properly maintained.  If the previous owners truly cared about their investment, the motorhome was kept under cover during periods of nonuse, and it was probably taken out and driven now and then to keep it in good operating condition. 

This will show in the overall condition of the motorhome. 

What To Look For In A Used Motorhome:

  • inside-a-class-a-motorhome.jpgAre the colors bright and crisp? 
  • Is the interior clean? 
  • Are the fabrics soft and pliable? 
  • When you crawl underneath the motorhome, is the frame still black, the color it was from the factory?  Minor rust discoloration is okay, but a thick coating of brown oxidation (rust) is a sign of improper storage.
  • When you first start the motorhome, do you see a small cloud of blue smoke that clears away quickly?  This is an indication of leaking valve guide seals and excessive oil consumption.  A sign that rubber gaskets have hardened due to lack of use and Father Time. 
  • Look for signs of leakage at the seam between the engine and transmission.  Any sign of red indicates a transmission front seal leak.  The only way to cure any leaking seal is to disassemble and replace it.  Forget additives; this is a serious investment.   Running out of transmission fluid between here and there will cost you a fortune.  Never do a temporary fix, except in an emergency.
  • With the level of financial risk involved, I wouldn’t be bashful about having a compression test done to the engine.  As long as all cylinders are about equal, you’re probably in good shape. 

Of course the same issues you would find in an RV travel trailer still apply here, as well.  Run the slide outs all the way out, check all appliances for proper operation.  Hook up a water hose, and pressurize the water system. 

Finally, be sure the price tag is in line with the condition of the motorhome.  Even fixer-uppers need to be sold.  And fixer-uppers can be a smart investment, as long as the price matches the condition of the vehicle. 

Remember, you’re in the drivers seat.  Recognize those things that are deal breakers, and don’t be afraid to point them out to the owner of the motorhome.  There are gazillions of used motorhomes available.  Who knows?… The best used motorhome might be the next one you see. Then again, you may not find it until you’ve looked here, there, and everywhere in between.

Much like buying a house, the process of buying a motorhome can be time-consuming.  But it’s in your best interest to do your homework.  Take good notes. And c
ompare the pro’s and con’s of each motorhome that you’re interested in.

Here’s a Used RV Buyer’s Checklist which summarizes a lot of these points.

Curtis Carper

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

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  • Curtis

    Rkkearneyskorner, Sounds pretty straight forward to me.  My only thought would be stronger is better, don’t scrimp on the strength of the structure.

  • Nancy

    Thanks Curtis for your good advice.  What are the main pros and cons when trying to decide between purchasing a used class A or C motorhome?

    • Curtis

      Nancy, It’s a matter of personal preference.  A class C is easier to get in and out of the cab but may have the bed overhead where you have to climb up into it.  A class A sits the driver higher and offers a better view.   Plus it’s easier for the passenger to get up and go get the driver a soft drink.  My wife and I prefer class A’s for the roominess and view.  

  • AZ Patty

    Hi Curtis, I am dipping my toe in the used RV pool and am quite nervous about the whole thing. I would like a Casita but then I would have to buy a tow vehicle, as my little Kia Soul wouldn’t pull a wagon, so with the new Casita and tow vehicle, that’s over my budget. In your opinion, what is the best RV manufacturer? My budget is around $20,000 and would like something at least 2000. Is this possible?

    • Curtis

      AZ Patty, Tough question with no right answer. I like the Casita trailers for a number of reasons. Small yet well appointed, and because of their two piece construction much less apt to leak. Leaks and water damage are the biggest problem with today’s mass produced RVs. If you find a second hand Casita and a second hand small truck (Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, etc.) that would be a very cost effective economical combination that should work well for you. I think you should be able to find both for under your $20,000 cap.

  • Bill Davis

    Hello Curtis, My wife and I
    are looking for a used Travel Supreme class A motorhome, something between
    2005-2007, any concerns or advise with this manufacture? And any particular model
    you recommend?

    • Curtis

      Bill Davis, I’ve only seen 1 maybe 2 Travel Supreme rigs over the years. Hardly enough to form an accurate opinion on a specific brand or model. The best advice I can give is once you’ve gotten past the emotional part of finding the “Just Right” RV then get serious about investigating it’s history and condition. Leaks, how it was maintained, where it was parked, rust, ect. Not until you feel comfortable that the mechanics and condition of the RV meet your needs do you start talking price.

      • Bill Davis

        Great advise, I was in the emotional state a
        month or two ago, now moving into the reality state! Reading you’re “Tips
        & What To Look For When Buying a Used Motorhome” I’ve realized I was on the
        right track for looking in the southern states and taking my time.

        Is there any one or two manufactures you recommend?
        I have a budget not to exceed $150k.

        • Curtis

          Bill, Not really because to some extent it doesn’t matter. All brands use the same appliances, fixtures, and often the same running gear. It’s more important to look for things like double pane glass, quality construction, and so on. Then nit pick the condition of the unit. Remember things like dry rotted tires will cost thousands to replace and adjust what you’re willing to pay to reflect that or similar issues.

          • Bill Davis

            Thanks Curtis, you’re advise has been very helpful!

  • Marc Mccarson

    Hi Curtis: I am on my second TT (2011 Northtrail 24RBS) but really want to make the switch to a motor home. Locally I am eyeballing a 1998 PACE ARROW VISION MOTORHOME – listed for sale at $13000 by a reputable independent RV Sales and Service business. Your tips in the Buyer Beware: Tips & What To Look For When Buying A Used Motorhome article will be a great help. Anything about the Pace that you can pass along?

    • Curtis

      Marc Mccarson, Only that the Pace Arrow has been the mainstay of the Fleetwood lineup for many years. I’ve always considered them a quality RV.

  • Ratz Asstime

    My wife and I are in the market for a Winnebago Rialta. The first one we found was near Des Moines and I decided that, in spite of a relatively new motor (about 25k miles) and transmission, the amount of frame and chassis rust was a deal-breaker. I suspect that any Midwestern RV will be a problem, storage and rust-wise, but I’m about ready to move to Phoenix or Las Vegas for a winter just to hunt for our RV!

    • Curtis

      Ratz, Yes, a mid-western Rialta is apt to have rust because smaller RV’s are often used as second cars year around. Going to the southwest may be your solution but beware dry rotted fabrics and plastic due to extreme sun exposure.

  • Jeanine Ruby

    Thank you so much Curtis – we are just beginning the process of looking at and finding an RV to purchase. We hope to be full times in 3 years when we retire early. Your information is wonderful and so very helpful. We’re leaning towards a diesel Class C. I had no idea the odometer reading / life of the motorhome could vary so much between gas and diesel. You helped us make up our minds. We’ll be following your advice.

  • Anton King

    Good info’ there Curtis. Thanks. Even though I’m looking in the UK a lot of what you said still applies.

  • Sheri Card

    My friend is looking at a 1998 VW Rialta 22RD it says it has 115020km on it for price 28,956 in Ontario Canada what do you think? Any help would be awesome.
    What to look for when test driving and viewing it.
    Thank You

    • Curtis

      Guest, That comes out to about 71,500 miles, and if you are talking Canadian dollars, that comes to $22,875 U.S. That said, NADA Blue Book for the base unit, without adding for any options, average retail is $8,550. I think the numbers speak pretty loudly.


    LIST FOR $8,000 WITH 46000 MILES.