by Chris Poindexter
That’s a tough question, one I address at length in the book. A lot depends on how much experience you have with campers and RVs. What I hate to see are first time buyers forced into a used RV by budgetary constraints. Rookie buyers shopping used units is a cringe-worthy situation for a lot of reasons but there are big discounts to be had for those who can navigate the process carefully.
If you’re new to RVs and RV living, I’m going to stick to the recommendation in the book and suggest you’d be better off springing for a new coach, 5th wheel or travel trailer. Yes, you’ll pay more for something that will depreciate a great deal the day you drive it off the lot. In exchange you’ll get a year’s warranty, which can be a lifesaver especially if you’re on the road. After the initial break in period you’ll have a few months of trouble free operation to get the feel for living and the routine of maintenance. You’ll want to put that time to good use.
If you have some experience with RVs and campers shopping used is a great way to save money. You can find lightly used campers and coaches at a big discount off the sticker price. The exception would be people who financed their campers and haven’t owned them long enough to pay down the depreciation. As much as you might like to help them out of a jam, you can probably do better on price.
Even for someone new to campers and RVs, I’d vote for buying used before going into debt to finance a new one. That means you’re going to need help inspecting the structure and mechanical systems. Every RV park has a mobile repair guy that does most of the work there, a big park like Great Outdoors will have three or four. Ask at the office of your local RV park and I guarantee they’ll have a name they can give you. Normally there’s a fee for showing up but for a camper inspection you can usually get them to quote you a flat rate. They’ll give the major systems and the roof a thorough inspection and can quote you prices on the spot for any work you think the unit will need. If the camper is more than five years old, insist on new tires and don’t forget the spare.
The roof should get most of the attention. If that’s in good shape that will be a good indicator of the overall condition of the entire unit.
If you’re planning on using RV living as a transition to save money rather than retirement on the road, that changes the calculation quite a bit. First, you’re going to be pretty much limited to living south of Tennessee, as most RV parks are closed in the winter farther north. Provided you can find a year-round park, your next quest is finding a camper.
In that situation you’ll want to look for a used travel trailer you can pick up cheap. The lightest, smallest decent looking camper you can find for what you can afford. Since it’s not going to be a permanent road residence and it’s not under warranty, feel free to tear out carpet and furnishings and customize it to your preferences. When you’re done with it, you can scrap it.
The smallest camper I’ve seen anyone full time in was a 17 foot Casita Freedom towed behind a Lexus SUV. Even for a single guy traveling around the country that seemed like tight quarters but he did okay.