Buying An RV – Everything You Need To Know And Look Out For

Buying an RV isn’t just a ‘one size fits all’ kind of deal. In many ways, a campervan is an extension of your personality.

If you like off-roading, then you’re more likely to go for a truck camper or a 4×4 goliath. If beach holidays are more your thing, then a VW California 6 or a self-converted caddy camper might be more your style.

The size of your RV will depend greatly on how much time you plan to spend in it, and also what kind of budget you have. While we would all like to take the โ‚ฌ3-million Palazzo Superior for a spin, many of us make do with second-hand Sprinters and Promasters.

During the course of this article, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to consider when buying an RV or camper van, including how to spot a scam when it’s staring you in the face.

By the time we’re done, you should feel more confident about striking a deal for your future travelling home and know what to look for in a good vehicle! And when you’ve bought said vehicle, check out our eBook on how to build a campervan (shameless plug alert!)

Featured Image Credit: nest.and.nomad

Tips, Tricks, And Things To Consider When Buying An RV

Why Are You Buying An RV?

Determining why you are buying an RV in the first place is the most important step of all. It’s all well and good seeing someone relaxing on a beach while scrolling through your Van Life Instagram feed, but what is it that you want to get out of being an RV owner?

Are you thinking that you might like to get out into nature a little more, explore the local area and camp in the woods? Perhaps you’re considering going on an off grid adventure to the arctic circle or travelling across the Road Of Bones in a gigantic monster camper?

Do you want a camper with a bathroom and a widescreen tv, or would a tiny trailer with a rustic feel suffice? If you’re used to ‘living the high life’, then living the trailer life might come as a bit of a shock.

Once you’ve picked the type of terrain you might be visiting and the style of living you would like while out on the road, then you should be able to narrow your choices down and hone in on a specific type of vehicle.

The Different Types Of RV

Buying an RV - small camper

Most RVs can be slotted into two categories; motorhomes, and towable trailers.

Donโ€™t think that it’s just as easy as picking one or the other though! This is just another fork in the ‘buying an RV’ road.


If you prefer the idea of driving your tiny home, then you’re going to want to plump for a motorhome. They have the car/truck/van element built in and are a self-contained vehicle.

Types of Motorhome include โ€“

  • A Class โ€“ Large touring vehicles a little like the kinds of tour bus you might see a Rockstar trundling around in.
  • B Class โ€“ Your Mercedes Sprinter conversions, or any other conversion that is made within the confines of a pre-existing dimensions of a panel van.
  • C Class โ€“ Cabin chassis with an overhead sleeping compartment. You see a lot of ‘snowbirds’ driving these to warmer climates in the winter
  • Truck Camper โ€“ An off-road truck with a pop up unit on the back, great for getting off the trail
  • Campervans โ€“ A broad range of everything from a micro-camper through to a VW electric campervan
  • School Bus โ€“ A great blank canvas for creating a rolling tiny home
  • The All American RV โ€“ The true king of the road, they type of vehicle you might see cruising down the Highway towards Lake Tahoe.

Towable Trailers

If you’re looking an RV that you can keep in storage or park up at a campsite and leave stationary while you trundle off in your car, then a trailer might be a better option. Not everyone feels comfortable towing a trailer and they tend to raise your fuel costs. They do, however, give you more space as they don’t have to house a vehicle in the build.

Types of Towable Trailer include โ€“

  • Pop up camper trailers โ€“ A pop up unit that sits within a trailer. Small, compact, and expandable to great sizes.
  • Airstream โ€“ Possibly the most iconic trailer of them all. This silver bullet camper is incredibly distinctive and incredibly spacious inside.
  • Teardrop Trailer โ€“ Small but equally as iconic, the Teardrop Trailer has been an off-grid-home to many campers for decades.
  • Fifth-Wheelers โ€“ These trailers are ginormous and are made for people who like a lot of space when they’re out camping. They usually have extendable cut-outs in bedroom areas too and a fully kitted-out kitchen with all the works.
  • Caravan โ€“ The most common towable trailer, coming in a range of styles, shapes, and sizes.

Where Are You Taking Your RV?

A large deciding factor you need to consider when buying an RV is where you are going to be taking it once you head out on the open road.

If your idea of a nice holiday is sneaking through a forest to the edge of a secluded lake, then the chances are you’re going to want a small camper the size of a Volkswagen Bus Camper or something like this Citroen Camper Van, as opposed to a huge Fifth-Wheeler or a Thor Class A Coach.

Likewise, if you’re thinking of holiday at a nice, flat, relaxing campsite near Santa Cruz, then you probably want to go with something spacious like an Airstream Trailer or a Class C camper, as opposed to a 4×4 like the Overland Nissan Titan XD.

The type of vehicle you choose will also depend on whether you plan on free camping or ‘boondocking’, or if you’re planning on heading to campsites for your holidays.

What Do You Need For Boondocking?

Boondocking, sometimes known as stealth camping, is parking up in areas that have no camping restrictions and no facilities. These areas are usually found in National Forest, on, vast expanses of land, beach park ups, etc.

Because there are no facilities such as a battery hook up or a water point, you’ll need to look for a camper with a good solar and battery set up. That way, you can keep charged up on the go without hooking up to an electrical supply. 12V charging sockets are always a bonus, and a good inverter will help with any digital nomad work that you have to carry out on the go

The same goes for water. A camper with a bigger water supply is best when living off the grid. Some even come with filtration systems so you can fill up your water supplies from streams and lakes too!

Other things that come in handy when boondocking are places to store gas and a good heating/A.C unit. Of course, If you’re building your own van, then you can always include all of these in your design, but we’ll come onto that in a minute.

What Do You Need For Campground Camping?

Campground camping is more about convenience and relaxation. This may be an unfair generalisation, but campers at campgrounds tend to eat out a lot more than cooking in their vans. They’ll go for long walks, and use their space to relax and unwind in while reading a good book.

If we go with those assumptions, then a spacious living area like the kind that you might find in this luxury trailer would be a nice touch. You should look for a large bedroom with cut-outs, and a built-in TV with a satellite TV or cable TV access. Likewise, a good wet room and an area to store outdoor clothing and gear would be preferable.

Campers that frequent campgrounds don’t go off grid all that much. They rely on electrical hookups for their electricity inside the camper, a service that is provided by most, if not all major campsites.

Campgrounds have bathroom and washing facilities, so you could also argue that a small, self-built camper like a Mitsubishi Delicia would be a nice fit here too. In this sense, your van provides a place to sleep at night and somewhere to store your belongings, and the campsite provides the rest of the facilities that you might need.

See what I meant when I said that buying an RV wasn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of thing?

The Costs Of Buying An RV

Buying an RV - choosing the right vehicle

Getting The Best Price

Getting the best price when buying an RV depends on a lot of factors (doesn’t everything in this list!). Many prices that you see will show the ‘base model’ price, the one that doesn’t have all of the fancy gadgets and systems that you might like for a more comfortable adventure.

For some people, money isn’t a problem. For others, every penny counts. If you’re confident with haggling, then you might be able to get a few things thrown in for free or an upgraded tyre package. Remember that dealers want to make a sale; a few freebies aren’t going to make that much of a difference in the long run.

Like designer brands, RVs have some names that are bigger than others. Don’t be drawn into the label; pick a camper that looks right for you and that has the amenities that you desire. Do some research into the base vehicle of the camper too; that’s the bit that you need to worry about, not who has their company logo tied to the conversion.

Don’t be afraid to buy ex-demo models too. They won’t have been driven anywhere, or not very far at least, and they’ll be cheaper than the brand-new models on the range.

Buying a new van and buying a second hand RV or camper have their own pros and cons, and an obvious price difference.

Buying A New RV or Van

Pros Cons
You get a brand new, shiny RV
straight off the production line.
The cost is a lot greater than buying second hand or self-converting
Never been driven and comes with warranty Optional extras and after-market parts may increase the price
You can create your own custom
build, choosing everything from seat fabric to exterior colour
There may be a delay while you wait for your vehicle to be built

Buying A Used RV

Pros Cons
Much cheaper than new,
and you can still take your time
to find a good deal
No warranty, unless bought
through a reputable dealer
Interior can be changed to your
own specification
Damage to the vehicle might be
cleverly hidden by the seller (check out
our scams section below)
Insurance is usually cheaper
on used RVs
Not a new engine, and you
don’t know how healthy it is

Buying A Used Class B Panel Van And Self Converting

Pros Cons
Design your build from the
ground up
No knowledge of vehicle health
Far cheaper to buy and
build than any RV
Often no warranty
Use natural materials that
lots of mass-manufactured
RVs don’t include.
You have to build it yourself

Our Verdict

If you’ve read any of my articles before, then you already know what my answer is going to be.

The best route to buying an RV, in my opinion, is buying a bare shell and self-converting it. As I write this article, my fellow Van Clan Writer (and girlfriend) Rose is writing an article about Class B Motorhomes. Many of the price tags are averaging out at around $120,000.

I bought an old Vauxhall Movano (an Opel if you’re in Europe, or like a Ford Transit Hi-Roof if you’re in the US) for ยฃ3,000 ($3,925) and spent the same again doing it up. You can check out my Instagram to see the finished result.

Building your own RV is a much more cost effective solution. It does, however, take a lot more time and effort, two things that some people might not have or want to waste. There’s no shame in that either, it’s completely down to personal preference.

How To Spot A Scam

Things to Look Out For When Buying An RV Or Second Hand Van

Whether you’re buying a second hand RV or buying a panel van to convert, there are some tell-tale signs that you can look out for when you’re checking over a vehicle.

I often tell the story about the best quote Rose and I heard while looking for vans. A guy told us that he had driven some sheds in his time, and this vehicle wasn’t one of ’em. In actual fact, the van he was stood beside wouldn’t have even passed shed safety standards. The picture on the internet looked amazing, which is probably because he failed to capture all of the hidden rust spots and poor welding jobs.

Top Tips To Avoid Being Scammed

  • Pull the driverโ€™s seatbelt down and look for any signs of wear and tear. The previous owner might have messed with the milage clock, but you can’t fake the signs of usage on a seatbelt.
  • If the bonnet/hood is already warm when you start the RV up, then it probably has trouble starting. The owner may have just arrived seconds before you did, but it’s more likely that he or she had to leave it ticking over before you arrived so that it would start first time.
  • Put a hand under the exhaust pipe while the engine is running. If you find lots of black, sooty specs on your hand, then there’s an underlying problem that you want to stay away from.
  • Look for any suspicious looking spots that might have been painted over. These are more likely rusty areas, and while some rust is ok, you don’t want to buy a vehicle that you’re going to have to spend lots of money sorting out.
  • Take a look underneath the van to make sure A) all of the parts and components that you would expect to see are there (no gaps where the fuel tank should be etc), and B) that everything isn’t covered in layers of flaking rust .
  • Finally, make sure the previous owner has a history of any replaced parts and any MOT/services that have been carried out on the vehicle.

Dealing With Dodgy Dealers

There’s nothing worse than being pressured into a sale by someone who can smell an inexperienced driver. This happened to me a couple of times, but they soon changed their tune when the friend I brought along with me announced that he was a mechanic for BMW.

You’ll get all the phrases from ‘dealing for dummies’ thrown at you. ‘You won’t find anything better’, ‘you’re getting a bargain here’, ‘you and this van are meant to be’, and so on.

If you feel as though you’re being pressured into a sale, step back and walk away. They might try to tell you that other people are looking at it and that they’re thinking of offering ‘over the odds’ for it, or some other nonsense, but don’t fall for it.

Go with your gut, not your heart. Even if your heart is set on the van you see before you, your gut will tell you whether it’s the right van for you or not. I don’t know how it always knows, but it does.

The right van will come along eventually, and it’s worth waiting an extra few months to find the perfect motor rather than the risk of being conned by someone wanting to make a quick sale.

Vehicle History Report

If you’re still not sure and want some extra piece of mind, then you can do a vehicle history report online. There’s usually a small charge and you need the registration number of the vehicle in order to use the service.

The Vehicle History Report will tell you how many previous owners the van has had, if it’s been in any accidents, how many repairs it has had, and other important factors. Doing a report such as this can help to see if the story the dealer has told you about the RV or van is true.

Requesting Unnecessary Information

Some dealerships will ask to see your driver’s license and social security numbers before you do a test drive. They might even request a copy of them. While you’re out cruising around in a new RV, they could be doing a credit check on you and sending information out to the lenders they work with.

Not only is this morally wrong, but it could affect your credit rating without you even knowing. If a dealer continues to insist that they need a copy, then give them a copy that you’ve made yourself. Write clearly that you don’t sanction any credit checks, and politely find a way to tell them to keep their nose out your personal business.

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