There’s no doubt about it, RV living is more popular than ever. Many families are answering the call of the open road with campers, motorhomes and RVs of all sizes and types.
However, you also have to watch your budget when doing so. So if you’re watching your wallet, you’ve probably wondered whether it’s better to buy a motorhome from a motorhome dealer or a private seller?
Most people will tell you that an RV dealer is the safest choice for buying a new or relatively new second hand RV. However, there are also some deals to be had from private sellers who are looking to upgrade or downsize their slightly older RV.
To answer the question of whether it is better to buy from an RV dealer or a private seller, we need to take a closer look at the pros and cons of both offerings.
Buying a motorhome from a motorhome dealer
An RV dealer is one of the best ways to find a new RV with a warranty and a trained service department that will confidently take care of your vehicle if you ever have a problem in the future.
Of course, the sellers work on commission, and you can be sure that additional costs will be added to everything. Especially if you want to customize the model you found with special equipment.
Buying a used motorhome from a dealer
RV dealers like to sell their newer models, but you may be surprised to hear that many larger dealers also have a significant number of used models.
These are often trade-ins from previous buyers who have switched to another model or downsized. The dealer buys their old vehicle and then discounts it to a newer RV that they drive off the lot.
The RV dealer wants to make at least some of the money back by selling the used trade-ins to people like you. The RV undergoes a basic inspection to make sure everything is road legal and in good condition.
Then the price is set based on age, condition and any depreciation factors. This way, you can be sure that the used RV you’re buying won’t have any major mechanical problems that could blow up your investment after a few miles.
Dealers sell used motorhomes on consignment
Some RV dealers also sell used RVs on consignment. In this case, a private seller who doesn’t have the time, patience, or acumen to sell their used RV themselves offers it for sale through the dealer. The sales staff cleans the vehicle and makes sure it is fit for sale, and then tries to sell the vehicle to you for an increased commission.
Sometimes a used RV sold on consignment is a good deal, but sometimes it is so overpriced that it embarrasses you. You need to do independent research to find out if a used RV sold on consignment is a good deal.
Advantages of buying a used motorhome from a dealer.
There are several advantages to consider when buying a new or used RV or an RV on consignment from a dealer. Even if you ultimately decide to purchase an RV from a private party, a dealer is a good place to start your research. Other advantages of an RV dealer include:
The disadvantages of buying a motorhome from a dealer
Buying an RV from a dealer has some advantages, but it is not for everyone. Buying a motorhome from a dealer has some disadvantages, such as:
Buying a motorhome from a private individual
Buying a used RV from a private party comes with its own advantages and potential disadvantages.
Here you are dealing with another person who may combine their price expectations with sentimentality and stubbornness.
There is also a good chance that they are not the most skilled negotiators. Private individuals tend to say things like, “I know what I have, no cheap deals,” or “The price is set.”
If you try to negotiate with them on price, they may stop negotiating altogether and you may have to buy the RV from another third party vendor.
However, there is also the possibility that you will find someone who wants to sell their RV after the kids are grown and they no longer have a use for it. Sometimes these sellers are happy to make a good offer or negotiate with you.
Especially if you tell them how your children will use and love the RV and create their own treasured family memories with it.
But hidden in this segment of good prices are RVs with signs of use. You might have a problem that is not so obvious, or the motorhome has not been properly maintained.
Hidden in many used RVs sold by private individuals is an expensive repair they can’t afford.
They may list two or three modest defects that you would expect in a used RV to give you the impression that they are being honest. Then, when you buy the used RV “as is,” you drive it on the road only to discover an expensive mechanical problem.
Advantages of buying a used motorhome from a private individual.
When buying a used RV from a private party, there are several advantages to consider when shopping, negotiating and ultimately purchasing an RV. These include things like:
The disadvantages of buying a used motorhome from a private individual.
There are some potential disadvantages when it comes to shopping for, negotiating and possibly buying a used RV from a private individual. Some disadvantages of buying RVs privately include.
Other ways to buy a mobile home
RV dealers and private sellers may be the two most common ways to buy an RV, but they are not the only options. A few alternatives for buying an RV might come in handy.
1. Buy a motorhome at auction
Nowadays you can find almost anything at auction, including used and sometimes even new motorhomes. These are usually seized motorhomes or motorhomes where the previous owner could no longer service the payments and the lender.
When you buy an RV at auction, you face the same potential disadvantages as when you buy from a private party because you don’t know how well it has been maintained. Some models could be from criminal seizures and have a shady past. Also, the interior may not be completely clean.
The potential advantage of buying an RV at auction is that you have a chance to get a good deal. Some may have little or no interest in the model you want. Sometimes all you have to do is meet the reserve price and you have a new motorhome for yourself.
The reality of buying a motorhome at auction
While there is a chance that you will find a turnkey motorhome at auction, most motorhomes sold at auctions are some sort of fixer-upper. You should be prepared to find a project motorhome at a good price.
When a turnkey family motorhome is sold at auction, you should expect a fierce bidding war. Chances are, someone like you is also keen on a particular motorhome that their family will fall in love with from day one.
If you have some DIY skills and can find a model you can handle while the bids are still low, you may be able to find a great deal. Although everything sold at auction will be as is with no returns or refunds.
2. Purchase through an online consignment broker
Some online consignment brokers like National Vehicle and others allow you to sell your RV FSBO (For Sale By Owner). They help private sellers sell and market their vehicles on a national level.
They have a variety of online tools to help you find the RV you want. You can then filter by different options, distances and types. You will then receive a large number of online ads that match the search criteria you entered.
These organizations offer a variety of services to private sellers for a very small fee. Since the fee is low, the markup that is passed on to you is also minimal and usually lower than a dealer’s markup. This can make them an attractive alternative to buying from a dealer or working directly with a private seller.
National Vehicle and similar websites also help you, the buyer, assess the value of the seller’s RV. They also have communication tools and can even help you with the financing you need to buy a model from them.
Car dealership vs. private seller: Which way should I choose?
The two most popular options for buying an RV remain going to a dealer or working directly with a private seller.
When you go to a dealer, you have the assurance that you are dealing with professionals.
They are required by law to make sure the RV is 100% roadworthy. Many dealers also offer warranties and extended warranties; you can get service contracts at a great price.
The downside is that you will have to pay higher prices to compensate for the markup and commission. Salespeople can be pushy and may not have the exact make, model or floor plan you want.
If you approach a private seller, you have a chance of finding a good deal. However, some private sellers can be very price gouging.
Especially if the seller cares deeply about the RV, there is a risk that there is something wrong with the RV that the seller doesn’t want to disclose. Ultimately, the smartest thing to do is to buy your new RV from a dealer.
This way you can touch, feel and ask questions about the models you are interested in.
Then do yourself a favor by checking websites like National Vehicle, RV USA and RV Trader to see if you can find a better deal with a private seller.