There's no question that there are lots of folks out there who'd like to have an RV, but the upfront price of buying a brand new RV is enough to scare most of them off. Even when the market is down (when many people can't justify the price or the fuel bill), dealers' discounts still aren't enough to get buyers in.
There are plenty of risks in buying an RV used, but it might be worth thinking about buying a salvage RV and fixing it up.
Repair estimates on RVs tend to run pretty high; it may not take much in the way of collision or weather damage for an RV to be considered a total loss and written off by an insurer. Even if the RV can be fixed up and rebuilt by someone with some electrical and mechanical know-how, at that point all the insurer wants is a chance to make back part of the loss on the vehicle.
Buying a Salvage RV
Keep your purchase local if at all possible. If you're making this big an investment, you don't want to have to haul the thing hundreds of miles back home, an expense you'll have to figure into the purchase price's front end. Also, it may or may not be drivable for an extended trip; electrical or mechanical problems could turn the drive into a nightmare.
When looking for an RV, keep an eye out for one with superficial hail or body damage. Just like with a damaged car or truck, suspension problems, a bent frame, driveline issues or steering problems could make the deal go completely sour. Also bear in mind that in cases of a rear-end collision; lots of secondary issues can crop up, sometimes thousands of miles later. These types of RVs make excellent parts vehicles.
Bear in mind the complexity of the electrical and AC systems on an RV. When weighing the purchase, try to get a handle on what problems those systems might have, then weigh it against your own level of know-how in repairing them. It's one of many ways you can get in over your head on the purchase.
Are the vehicle's registration and title issues all in good order? Online auction houses will be able to handle these areas and make sure that the legal part of the purchase goes smoothly. Also remember that title laws vary from state to state, and out-of-state purchases might make things more complicated.
Before you buy, try to get a handle on the repair costs of the vehicle. Get an idea of the costs of parts that will need repair or replacement, if you're planning on taking on the job yourself. Once you get a good idea of these costs, figure that in and use that factor to set your bid ceiling on the purchase. That way, hopefully your RV purchase won't turn into a long-running money trap.
What are you expecting out of an RV? Are you looking for top-line amenities for yourself and your family? Or will it just be something you'll use on occasion? Or maybe you just are looking for a no-frills, slightly rough hunting or fishing vehicle? Bear such considerations in mind when you're contemplating how much you'd like to spend, and how big a commitment of time you want to invest in restoring a salvage RV.