I see the question of buying a new or used RV on social media quite frequently. I am writing this article to capture my thoughts and research on the topic. Ultimately, it is a personal decision that the buyer(s) will have to make. However, being informed can help you make the best decision for your needs and desires.
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The first factor, most of the time, is the price. There is no doubt that a used RV will be less than a new one. Just like anything on wheels, an RV will depreciate very quickly once it is driven off the lot. According to a New York Times article, the average new RV loses 25% – 40% of its value almost immediately. They also report that good brands hold their values for the next two years, but drop after that and be worth 35% – 50% of their original values after 5 years.
Here’s a comparison from the NADA guide of four 2021 RV models: a 5th wheel/toy hauler, a diesel class A, a class C, and a travel trailer. The used price is the national average used sales price for a 2019 model.
|RV||Price New 2021||Used Price 2019|
|2019 Heartland Cyclone 4200||$101,577||$59,900|
|2019 Tiffin Phaeton 36GH||$310,697||$227,250|
|2019 Winnebago Aspect M-30J-Ford||$109,991||$80,600|
|2019 Keystone RV Cougar Series M-29 RBK||$38,085||$23,850|
The depreciation over two years for the 4 RVs averaged 33%. The 5th wheel/toy hauler had the highest depreciation at 41%. The diesel class A and the class C, both had a depreciation of about 27%.
To offset the depreciation a little, many dealers will discount below the suggested retail price. Sometimes you can get large discounts on new RVs at RV shows such as the one in Hershey, PA, and the RV Super Show in Tampa, FL. Many times these discounts can add up to several thousand dollars, but you have to be patient and seek out the deals. You can also get discounts off of the suggested prices of used RVs, but often they will not be as significant as the discounts on new RVs.
Numerous reports, and my personal experience in buying our RV, indicate that many people trade-in or sell their RVs after the first 2 years of ownership. This leaves a lot of RVs available in that sweet spot of depreciation of 2-3 years old. Many will be only slightly used and in great shape.
Condition of New and Used
Most people think that a new RV will not have any problems. That is definitely not the case. I know that in our first year after purchase, we had a lot of warranty work done. We also fixed a lot of minor things ourselves to avoid the hassle. These vehicles are assembled in a “factory” and then put on the road to travel at highway speeds and through rough campground roads. Anything that was not tightened down or had faulty parts should be discovered in that first year. Many dealers will recommend taking that weekend “shake-down” cruise to discover any immediate problems. Needless to say, the first year of owning a new RV requires patience and consistent inspection and repair. Especially since you want to take advantage of the original warranty, and identify any issues before it expires.
With a slightly used, 2 year-old, RV, the problems with the manufacturing should be resolved. This will leave you with only routine maintenance, assuming the RV was taken care by the previous owners. If you are not buying it from a reputable dealer that performs a thorough inspection, take it to someone who will. This will allow you to identify many of the problems before you decide to purchase.
Try Before You Buy
One thing that you can do to save money is rent an RV first. Now why would I say that renting will save you money? Because it will help you avoid a mistake. It is very easy to get excited when you see a new RV for sale at a show or dealership. Unfortunately, it’s not quite so easy to find the things that might annoy you after a few months or even try out a floor plan to see if it really works for you. Companies like Outdoorsy are brokers between private RV owners and people who want to rent. Kind of like AirBnB for RVs. The great thing about that over a company that owns and rents a fleet of RVs like Cruise America is that you have so many more options of RV brands, models, and floor plans. So you can choose one similar (or even the same) as the RV motorhome, fifth wheel, or travel trailer you are thinking of purchasing and rent it for a few days or more to see if it really suits you.
We looked for many years before purchasing our RV. I still feel like we made a mistake. We purchased a new 2015 Heartland Cyclone 4200. The first year was just as I described above. We had several items that needed repair, tightening down, or replacing during the first several months. We even lived in the maintenance bay at the dealership for a few days while they performed warranty work. Within just 3 short years, our RV was worth 41% less than when we bought it but was still in fantastic shape as you can see in this video. We took good care of it and made sure all of the maintenance is performed. It was in almost the same condition as it was when we purchased it, but the market value has dropped by almost half. We could have saved a lot by purchasing used.
It’s Up to You
In the end, it comes down to personal feelings and convictions. I know there are some that will never want to put their butt on the same toilet as someone else or sleep in a bed that has been slept in by someone else. For them, purchasing new is worth the peace of mind. Also, the fear of something going wrong with a used RV (especially without a warranty) is a factor for some. There is no need to judge anyone’s reasons for their purchasing decisions. It is how they feel about it that matters.
Want to Learn More?
If you’d like to learn more about saving for your RV purchase, budgeting for the RV lifestyle, earning an income on the road, and minimizing expenses on RV travel check out our book Full-Time RV Finance (available on Amazon).