Buying a used RV is often the approach most people go with when they don’t want to spend money on a new unit. However, the used RV market is fraught with many pitfalls that can make your investment a poor one. One of the questions people ask when trying to make the right decision is: how old is too old?
When determining whether or not a used, older-model RV is too old, you need to first consider your RV camping needs. If you plan to stay in RV parks, then 10-years-old should be the maximum limit due to park restrictions. Otherwise, your focus should prioritize the RV’s condition over its age.
The rest of this article will look at all you need to know about buying a used RV and choosing the right one. You’ll find out why the age of the RV isn’t always the most important factor when buying one to start van life.
Why Buy a Used RV?
The reason why you should buy a used RV is the potential to save money. You can often get the perfect RV design you’re looking for at less than half the price of a new vehicle if you’re willing to purchase a model that is three to five years older.
It’s also possible to find great deals on models that are more than a decade old. Getting a used RV often means being able to pay from your pocket. You may not need to get into long-term financing deals.
Additionally, older RVs often come with upgrades, perks, or newer technologies installed by the owners for their use, such as satellite or solar panels. When you pay for the van, you can get all of these included features.
However, these benefits of buying a used RV are only applicable when you’re getting a unit that’s not too old or damaged and literally on its last legs.
What Is the Age Limit for a Used RV?
There is no single age limit for a used RV. In most cases, the condition of an RV’s components is a more important consideration of “age” than the date of its manufacture. A 7-year-old used RV could offer better value than a 2-year-old used RV if the former was rarely used and properly maintained.
It would have been nice to have a fixed age range to go with on this topic, but any RV enthusiast will tell you how hard it is. Determining whether or not an RV is “old” will always include more than simply checking out the year it was made.
You may be wondering why “ten years” often comes up as a limit during these conversations.
It’s mostly because of the 10-year rule applied by most upscale RV parks. The managers often assume that an RV that is older than a decade will have a lot of wear and tear. They think most of these are unsightly additions that can devalue the park.
Even when your rig looks great on the outside, just the older design can make it unattractive for these aesthetics-focused parks.
If you don’t plan on staying at RV parks, then the 10-year limit won’t apply to you. You can go as high as 15-20 years when buying a used RV. However, some parks aren’t very strict with these rules, so if your 12-year-old rig looks to be in great shape and has smoke, propane, and carbon dioxide detectors installed, they will let you stay there.
You can always find out ahead of time by calling in or sending a picture. Remember, most of them will ask to see your registration, so lying is a waste of time.
How To Choose the Perfect Old RV
We’ve established that the date of manufacture isn’t the best way to choose an old RV. So, what are the factors to look at when choosing the perfect RV?
The Number of Miles on the RV
Most 10-year-old RVs that are a good value will have less than 45,000 miles (72420.48 km) on the odometer. This is because, according to data from the University of Michigan, the average RV owner drives around 4,500 miles (7242.048 km) a year.
When shopping for a used RV, you should always look for the lowest mileage. If you find a 12-year-old RV with around 19,500 miles (31382.20 km) on it and a 5-year-old rig that has already accumulated 40,000 miles (64373.76 km), the former will almost certainly offer better value and fewer problems in the long run.
If you’re buying a standard Class A, B, or C RV, you can check the mileage easily. However, you may find it harder to check the mileage on some travel trailers. In this case, it’s best to avoid them and go for models that are easier to verify.
But assuming the deal sounds too good to pass up, there are a few things you can do:
- Talk to the owner. Here, you’ll have to trust that they will tell you the truth. Still, you can throw some test questions into the mix to see if they are being honest or just want to get you to pay for the RV as fast as possible. For example, if they claim 10,000 miles (16093.44 km) on the RV but mention that they visit their favorite camping ground 500 miles (804.67 km) away twice a year, you should be wary.
- Do an inspection. All used RV purchases require in-depth inspection (more on this below), but in a situation where you can’t easily verify the mileage, it’s doubly important. Inspect the vehicle thoroughly before you go ahead with the deal.
The Frequency of Use
Going back to the report quoted above, it highlights that the average RV owner will go camping three times a year for a duration spread over 19 days. Across ten years, this gives you six months of continuous driving.
If the used RV owner says they use the van once or twice a year, it should have a mileage that is well below the average, and the continuous driving calculations should amount to significantly less than six months. Such a van can deliver good value for money.
The Owner’s Maintenance Culture
Most used RV owners looking to sell will insist that they have the perfect maintenance culture. In many cases, that’s not true. So, how do you confirm the maintenance situation?
Ask for the Latest Receipts
If the owners use the RV regularly, they should have some receipts for the maintenance work done on it. They don’t need to have everything, just the latest ones. The receipts will show you how seriously they take the maintenance and highlight any significant work done that can lead to issues in the future.
Major work done at a dealership is probably nothing to worry about, but any high-cost maintenance ticket done by the owner will need further verification.
Look at How the RV Was Stored
RVs are best stored under a shelter because the elements can be pretty tough on different parts of the vehicle. Tires can rot, and some parts of the chassis can start to fade and become brittle.
The impact of improper storage can make even newer RVs look old.
A used RV that was properly stored and regularly maintained is likely good value for money (all other things considered).
The Inspection Rating
As I mentioned above briefly, physical inspection is very important when buying an RV. You can do it in two ways:
A Standard Eyeball Inspection
Here, you’re looking for obvious signs of abuse and damage. If you find lots of dents and cracks, the RV might be overused and too old for you. Here are a few things you should do:
- Check for water damage around the pass-through and cargo compartments. Open cupboards and closets as well, and go over them with a flashlight. Water stains in any of them could be a sign of bigger problems.
- Look behind the toilet for possible signs of leaks. Used RV sellers with leaking toilets won’t remember to tidy up behind the toilet.
- Go on the roof to check for bubbles, broken seals, and any sign of prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of maintenance.
- Look under the RV and see how things look there. Lots of welded fittings should give you cause for concern.
- Look at the door and window seals to make sure they work.
A Professional Inspection
After you’ve checked out the RV yourself and you’re reasonably satisfied, you should get a professional inspection. Some people jump straight to this to save time and energy. The inspection will cost some money, but you’ll get an honest rating of the vehicle.
The dealership or inspector has no reason to lie about the vehicle’s condition since they are not the seller. You’ll get an unbiased opinion that should give you a clearer picture of what to expect if you choose to buy the van.
Some of them can be harsh with their criticisms, so you may still need to apply discretion after getting their recommendation.
If you find a low-mileage RV only used a few times a year that is in great shape inside and out, it generally won’t matter if it is eight years old or 14 years old.
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Buying Old Luxury RVs
Some people choose to buy old luxury RVs because they are generally better constructed in comparison to similar models of the same era. So, buying such properly maintained old units may look like the safer approach when shopping for used RVs.
However, this isn’t always the case. Luxury RVs tend to deteriorate faster than standard variants because not many owners can keep up with the high maintenance costs. The exteriors and interiors may always look good, but the working mechanisms can bring many headaches.
This is why you can find some of these on sale for $50,000 or less. You should be skeptical anytime you find such low price tags on luxury RVs that sold for $350,000 or more when they first launched. This is especially true if the RV is less than 15 years old.
Properly maintained luxury RVs can last for two decades or more. So, if you’re getting a “bargain” on one so early in its lifespan, you should beware of possibly losing your investment.
Possible Risks Associated With an Old Luxury RV
If you choose to buy an old luxury RV, there are quite a few issues that will gulp more money than the quoted price for the entire vehicle.
Below are some of them:
- Worn out tires
- Engine problems
- Old air conditioners
- Excessive rust underneath the coach
- Aged inverters
- Old airbags that no longer work
- Fogged windows
- Damaged mirrors
- Worn and stained upholstery
- Damaged cabinet doors or drawers
- Steering issues
- Old generators
These are all problems you can fix if you’re looking at just one or two of them. However, imagine a scenario where you have to get a new generator, inverter, and air conditioning unit for the RV. That’s around $15,000 in extra expenses.
If your repairs and refurbishment double the cost of the RV, you should seriously consider your choice. The worst thing about this is that you still can’t guarantee that the money spent on the initial repairs will be the end of it. There could be ongoing problems in the future.
So, avoid old luxury RVs if you can’t vouch for the maintenance culture of the previous owners. Standard models are less problematic and won’t require a ton of money to refurbish and regularly maintain.
For RVs, age is just a number. A unit is too old only if its components are worn out and need extensive repairs. An RV can offer excellent value for money at 15-20 years of age if it has low mileage and has been properly maintained over the years.
However, if your favorite camping grounds apply the 10-year limit and enforce it strictly, it may be best to apply that metric when searching for used RV units to purchase. Otherwise, it’s all about finding the unit with the most solid exterior, interior, and mechanical components around your preferred price range.