Whether you buy new or used, the key to smart RV buying is knowing the quality and condition of the specific RV you want to buy. We've got lots of good tips and sites here for you.
The following are just a few of the many websites that offer RV reviews. There are a number of sites with owner's reviews, which are generally freer to offer a full range of pros and cons than some magazine reviews. In addition to using the following sites, you can also enter the name of the model you like into your search engine followed by "RV review" to search for reviews of that specific model.
Roaming Times has RV Consumer Reports with detailed information about numerous RVs including owner comments.
These magazines offer reviews. In general only a few reviews are posted on their websites.
Family Motor Coaching is the magazine of the Family Motor Coach Association
RVs go from very simple to very, very complex. Some of the ultra top-end RVs nearly require a full-time mechanic to service their very complex systems. Mechanical problems, whatever the unit, multiply if you're buying used, and many problems aren't readily visible to even the most sophisticated auto mechanic.
That's why StreetWise recommends that you always follow these steps when buying a used RV.
Don't buy an RV without talking to the previous owner!
(If you are looking at a used RV at a dealership and they won't or can't give you the name of the previous owner, look for an RV for which this information is available.) Ask the previous owner:
Where or from whom did you buy the RV?
Why are you selling the RV?
Who was your RV mechanic and how do I call that person?
Did you keep maintenance records, and can I see them?
Did you ever have any insurance claims on this rig?
How long has the RV been for sale? (RV owners are much more likely to negotiate if their RV has been on the market for a long time.)
Don't buy any RV without taking it for an extensive "test drive."
Even if you're not yet an RVer and are very uncomfortable at the wheel or uncomfortable towing, you must do this. RVs are like cars in many ways. you'll feel comfortable in some of them and very uncomfortable in others. If you're really too uncomfortable to do the driving why not bring along an experienced RVer to help you evaluate the RV? A friend or a member of a RV club would do this just to help you. Or, you can retain a mechanic to be the driver (not a bad idea, particularly if you are spending a lot of money on an RV.)
Don't buy a used RV without having it checked out by an experienced mechanic.
If you're buying an expensive motorized rig, this advice is doubly important. You can generally find qualified mechanics by talking with large, licensed RV dealers. If you're doubly careful, don't use a mechanic who works for the selling dealer. Hire a mechanic from another dealership. Having a mechanic thoroughly check the RV may cost you $100-300, depending upon the size and complexity of the rig, but this money is the best money you can spend.
What are the key questions to ask a qualified mechanic? First, tell the mechanic about your conversation with the previous owner. Then ask the mechanic:
How much will it cost me to put this entire rig in good running order?
How many useful hours do the drivetrain and other major mechanical elements have before I need to either replace or rebuild them?
Structurally, what is the condition of the frame?
Generally speaking in the RV world, you get what you pay for. Some RVs are famous for durability; others are noted for their flimsiness. Among the best sources for dependable information are current owners of the RV you're considering. In addition to the RV owner review sites above, here are additional RV chat rooms, forums and rating services. Many chat rooms and forums, incidentally, allow you to post your own questions and concerns even before you buy an RV.
There are also some good inspection checklists that will help you evaluate a rig yourself. If it doesn't pass your inspection, you may wish to cross it off your list before paying for a mechanic to check it out. We also give you a way to check to see if the RV is affected by any recalls.
The RV Consumer Group does an excellent job of rating RVs by highway safety, reliability, and value. The group's site has no advertising, which insures its independence. They charge $139 for a one-year membership to RV reviews. If you are thinking of a major RV purchase, we strongly recommend this service.
Virtually all RVs have "clubs" associated with them. Visit a major RV club event, and you may be able to find owners of RVs that interest you. Here's are links to help you find club events.
RV Owners Clubs and Associations from rvNetLinx.
You can also find clubs by entering the make of the RV and the words "club" and "association" in your favorite search engine.
The RV Consumer Group's membership includes the book How to Select, Inspect, and Buy an RV which has a section on how to perform a "walkabout" to inspect an RV.
RV Inspection Checklist form is included in the RV Consumer Group's basic membership.
Check out recalls for your RV by searching the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Recall Database. You can also search complaints, defect investigations, and service bulletins.