Buying an RV: How to Buy A Towable RV Under $5k

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So you’re ready to buy a RV and try it out but you don’t want to spend a lot of money in case you don’t like it. Most brand new RVs such as a travel trailer start at $15k and more. If you’re like we were, we didn’t want to spend that much on a rig we may or may not like or use a lot. Here’s what we did to find a small travel trailer that cost us $3,200.  We already had a truck that could tow the trailer so we didn’t have to spend money on a separate vehicle.

We have tent camped many times and enjoyed being outdoors but as we got older sleeping in a tent became less fun. A friend bought a RV and we went camping with them and thought it was such a luxurious experience compared to tent camping. We started contemplating getting something so I started researching about the different campers and what to look for when buying a used one. We decided to find a camper less than $5k that we could tow with our truck to test out if we liked it.  I knew my truck could tow 5000 lbs or less easily so I made sure I stayed under that weight limit.

We live in Florida which is a RV haven for buying and selling.  It seems like every third person has a RV or knows someone that does.  I started looking on craigslist.com, rvtrader.com and rvt.com for used trailers since our price range ruled out going to a dealer lot.  I would call a potential trailer’s owner and discuss the details below.  Below is a checklist to ask the current owner and some of the answers you may get.

  1. How long have you had the RV and why are you selling? If owner hesitates to answer these two questions be weary. Two viable answers would be If they have had it a long time and not using it or if they had it a short time and didn’t like the RV lifestyle.
  2. Does everything work as it should. A/C, furnace, water heater, refrigerator, stove, microwave, toilet, sinks, propane tanks, holding tanks. The answer at this price range will vary greatly.  Having a functioning A/C was necessary for us in Florida. The older the unit, the more possibility that not everything functions or is even installed. Many times people will take out the AC/DC appliances and install regular household appliances that only work on AC electricity such as the refrigerator. Some propane tanks may be old or removed them entirely because they took out any appliances that ran on propane. You have to decide out of those appliances, which is the most important to you. If you always stay at a campground, then most have showers so a hot water heater might not be necessary and you’ll have electricity to run everything but if you plan on camping in the wilderness without any electricity, then you will need propane or solar power for your appliances.
  3. How old are the tires and when was the last time the axles were serviced? Tires last about around 5 years on a RV regardless of how many miles they were driven. Most start degrading due to the sun and being parked for long periods of time. Axles should be serviced yearly to operate properly.
  4. When was the last time the roof was sealed? A trailer going down the road twists and turns a lot even on the smoothest road so if a trailer roof hasn’t been sealed in a long time, there maybe some water damage.  It may not even be detectable but proper roof sealing should be done at least once a year.  Roof sealant depending on the type of roof you have will breakdown after being exposed to the weather so it’s very important that proper maintenance is exercised.
  5. Has there been any leaks? This answer is mostly dependant on the roof sealing question since water will find any cracks to the interior of the camper.  If you see delamination on the outside of the trailer, be weary as that is a sign that there was a water leak in that area. On the inside trail your hand along the inner walls to feel for any sponginess where the wall doesn’t feel solid since that’s also a sign of a leak and the wood has deteriorated. Same thing with the floor, try to walk around everywhere especially in the bathroom and see if any of the floor feels like it wants to give, which is a sign of wood rot.  If the trailer smells moldy, that’s a good indication that there is or was a leak.  If the owner says there was a leak but it was fixed, ask how is was fixed and what was replaced if there was any damage.

Depending on the answers given by the owner to the questions above, we’d go look at the trailer and inspect everything ourselves.  To find the right trailer for you and your family, you may look at many trailers before finding one that is best for your situation.  Make sure you do a thorough examination and verify that everything works as described.  Any owner that has been honest will not mind you taking your time to inspect the unit.

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If you like the unit and purchase it, there may be things you will have to do to make it road worthy at this price range.  Our unit had a functioning A/C, but an electric only small refrigerator and regular microwave along with a sink.  There was no stove and only a single electric stovetop burner but we knew we would be grilling outside anyways. We had a bathroom that functioned properly but the biggest thing we had to do has retrofit a gray holding tank.  This older unit only had one tank for both black and gray water.  I think the retrofit cost us around $500.  The tires were newer and they had serviced the axles within the past year.

We took it camping with our nieces and nephew to a beach campground on the 4th of July.  We had a great time up until the campground power kicked off and we were left without any A/C for a whole day and night in the hot Florida summer.  We learned the importance of having a generator as a back up and keeping everything in a sealed container since ants had gotten into some food left out on the countertop.  We actually didn’t keep the unit very long since we decided we definitely enjoyed rving but we wanted a drivable RV.  I was too inexperienced at towing and didn’t like the feeling of the trailer swaying behind the truck.  The great thing about buying an inexpensive RV with cash? We sold it quickly for the same amount of money and let the next family enjoy camping with it.  Next article, I’ll tell you how we researched and bought a Class C Motorhome less than $15k.

 

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