How to buy a used Class B RV

THE BASICS

We are Class B RV people. For those of you new to the world of RV travel, a Class B RV is a camper van conversion. The big names you'll find of Class B campers are Roadtrek, Pleasureway and Leisure Travel. The two other motorized types are Class A (bus style) and Class C (the mid-size motorhome with a boxier style built onto a commercial chassis). We write what we know about (i.e. tips for buying a used Class B RV) - our current Class B camper van is our fourth. The first three were older models and our current one is a new-to-us 2006 Roadtrek 210 in pristine condition with low mileage. A lot of the questions and tips below would apply to the process for buying any used RV, regardless of the class or size. Class A camperClass B camperClass C camper First - and most importantly - determine exactly what sort of traveller and camper you are:
  • Are you comfortable driving a larger unit?
  • Who's going to be doing most of the driving?
  • What are your budget limitations? Obviously, the larger the unit, the thirstier the engine. There's also the question of gas vs diesel fuels (diesel gets better mileage).
  • Are you looking to visit out-of-the-way places? Some campgrounds - some of our favourites, as it turns out - have narrow roads and tight campsites. You don't want to be trying to do three-point turns to shoehorn a Class A into a Class B-sized site. Some older cities like Santa Fe and New Orleans have narrow streets that would be a nightmare for larger motorhomes to navigate.
When we ticked the boxes, we found that a Class B vehicle is our best fit. It's our comfort zone: smaller environmental impact, more flexibility, easier to manoeuvre. We lean toward the minimalist approach (don't need or want TV or toasters). But it's important to find your own level of comfort and to determine what bells and whistles you want. It makes sense to invest a little to save a lot. Rent (or borrow) the size motorhome you are thinking of buying. Take it for a weekend and see if it is a good match for your needs and lifestyle. Last fall, we rented a larger Class C in Florida and it was just too much vehicle for our lifestyle - sure, there was more space inside but we couldn't find parking spaces or back out of anywhere without it becoming a big production. You'll either be smitten (as we were with our Class B) or totally turned off (as we were by the larger Class C). Only you can decide.

NEW OR USED?

Ahhh . . . that is the question. It's a matter of how deep your pockets are, and again, finding your comfort level with the mileage on the odometer. Campers and motorhomes are no different from passenger vehicles: the more miles on the ticker, the more wear and tear, the chance that something will eventually wear out or need to be replaced. Just know that the motorhomes on the road these days can be very expensive new: $150,000 for a decked-out Class B would not be unusual. Class C motorhomes start at around $60,000 and rise rapidly and a bus-size Class A can easily top $250,000. If you're on a budget, it's easy to make a case for buying used. May we suggest:
  1. Start searching now. The more units you see, the better idea you'll have of the different models, interior layouts, price points and conditions. Look online at the manufacturer's spec sheets (they are available for years gone by). We needed standing room (Craig is 6'2") and once I looked at the spec sheets we were narrowed down to just a handful of makes and models. There's a lot of variety on the market. That way, when you find the right unit for your needs and wallet, you'll know right away. Check Kijiji, autoTRADER, RVT.com, local newspaper ads, online discussion boards for RVers and local RV dealers. Keep your eyes open when you're driving around town - some units are parked in the driveway with "For Sale" signs in the window.
  2. Keeping an eye on ads at autoTRADER, RVT.com or Kijiji gives you an idea of what sale prices are for units by year and mileage. It's all part of the education. You can also search online at the NADAguides - although the prices given are tracking U.S. sales.
  3. Talk to other RV owners to ask what they'd wish they'd known when they purchased their first unit.
  4. If buying an RV is a new venture for you, try to bring along a friend who has been down that road before. They'll have ideas for what to look for and a familiarity with the basics of a camper van.
  5. When you find something you're interested in begin with a phone call and a list of questions (see below). If things look good arrange a time to see and test drive the unit. When you call, ask that the camper features be up and running so they can be tested: the propane for the fridge and cooktop, the fridge should be turned on and running, etc. Bring along your full checklist of things to ask and features to test. Take a lot of notes.
  6. Seeing makes all the difference. Layouts vary from one model to the next and you'll need to find the one that works for you. Craig is over six feet, so testing the comfort of the driving compartment, the length of the bed and headroom standing in the living quarters of the van were make-or-break.
  7. Make sure to connect with your insurance agent to get a quote. It's an important budgeting step.
  8. Be patient. Look around and sooner or later the right one will come onto your radar. It took us 14 months of searching to find our current Roadtrek but we looked around a lot, so as soon as we found it, we knew it was the right one.

FEATURES TO THINK ABOUT

  • Type of fuel and rate of consumption.
  • How comfortable are you backing up? A back-up camera may be for you. Some new models combine GPS and backup camera.
  • In our experience, as the bed goes, the trip goes. If we sleep well, we travel well. In our Roadtrek, the back dinette becomes a king-size bed (we keep it in bed mode the whole time rather than switching back and forth). We top it with several inches of memory foam, then a mattress cover, sheets and duvet. The memory foam smooths out the dips and crevices between the couch bed sections. Make sure you can comfortably make up the bed - in some cases it requires a certain amount of gymnastic prowess.
  • Is a shower in the unit important? Or will you be relying on showers in campground comfort stations? Check the one inside and (if equipped) the outdoor shower.
  • Do you need a microwave? We had one in our old Leisure Travel and never used it once.
  • Planning on camping in either hot weather (need an air conditioner?) or cold weather (need a heater?).
  • Make sure to run the Fantastic Fan (or similar ceiling exhaust fan). This is one piece on equipment you want to have in tip-top shape. It keeps things cool and the air fresh.
  • How about a generator? Some people claim they need it for boondocking, but we've spent many days in non-electrical sites and never run down our shore battery. I guess it depends on how many and what kinds of electrical do-dads and gadgets you use. We keep to lights, pumps and recharging our laptops and cameras . . . and that's pretty much it.
  • Space requirements: length of the bed, height inside for standing, size of the driving compartment, inside table space (for working or eating), storage space for clothing, instruments, fishing gear, etc.
  • If you plan to do a lot of cooking, you'll want adequate pantry space and storage for pots and pans. A large enough drawer for utensils and cutlery is really, really nice.

BUYING CHECKLIST

  • Why is the current owner selling? How long have they owned it?
  • Year and odometer reading?
  • Is the body dinged up? Has it ever been in an accident? Ask about any body work (accident related and not).
  • Gas consumption - gas or diesel, miles per gallon? City or highway driving?
  • How has the camper been used - how often, what times of the year, long trips or short trips, everyday driving or vacation travel? According to our mechanic, infrequent use is not necessarily a good thing.
  • How has it been stored - especially over the winter months?
  • Who does the regular maintenance - owner or mechanic? Are there records showing regular oil changes, tune-ups, etc.?
  • Wear and tear on the tires? Check the condition of the spare.
  • Test the batteries - both the engine battery and the leisure/shore battery (the one that runs the interior lights, water pump to the sink and toilet, etc.).
  • Have major mechanical parts been repaired or replaced. This would include transmission, brakes, shocks and struts, timing belt, alternator, etc. Are there any written records of this work that show the date/mileage point and the work done?
  • Run the water systems: turn the taps on at the sink, flush the toilet, run the showers (inside and outside if there is one).
  • Test the propane burners on the stove.
  • Inspect the propane tank and, if required, check the certification date. In Ontario, propane tanks need a clean bill of health every few years or the filling stations will not refill your tank. Propane regulations vary and are different in each province or state. Replacing the propane tank is . . . expensive.
  • Run the generator. Our manual suggests we run the generator for 20 minutes every month. Ask if it has been used regularly.
  • Test the microwave if there is one - you'll need to be connected to a land power source.
  • Turn on the heater and play with the thermostat to make sure that it blows hot air.
  • Turn on the air conditioner (you'll need to be hooked into land power for this).
  • Test the ceiling vent fan. The brand Fantastic Fan is the most common and it moves a lot of air very efficiently.
  • Test all the inside lights.
  • Test the fridge on all settings. We have three-way fridge that runs on 12V, electrical hookup and propane. Chances are you'll be using the propane hookup and the electrical connection at a campground.
  • Inspect the condition of the carbon-monoxide alarm, smoke detector, fire extinguisher.
  • Check the condition of walls, ceiling (have there been any leaks?) and flooring.
  • Check the condition of the cushions - especially on the bed area - and the curtains.
  • Check the outlet valves for the grey water and black water (sewage) tanks.
  • Unroll the awning (if equipped) and check for rips, tears and condition of the mechanism. Did you know the number 1 RV insurance claim is awning related?
The chances are that the unit you're looking at will need some modifications and/or repairs. Best to know what they are right from the start. For a printable version of this checklist, click here: Camper van - inspection checklist

17 thoughts on “How to buy a used Class B RV

  1. Lisa

    Hi Folks, we’ve firmly decided on a Class B (smaller in that category) but find used ones scarce around Massachusetts and the New England area. Do people ever buy these without actually physically visiting the dealer to test drive, etc? There are some dealers who will pay your air fare if you purchase the van; another we looked at, Classic Vans, is strictly online and will deliver anywhere in the country. Do people actually buy like that? I’ve seen enough to know that we probably want a Roadtrek 170 or 190. Thanks in advance for your reply!

    Reply
    1. Josephine Post author

      Hi Lisa,
      Welcome to the Class B club! You’re going to love it.
      As for finding the right one to buy … I wish there was a fast way but we found that diligence (checking websites and Roadtrek/Leisure Travel/Pleasure Way forums) with a big dose of patience was what was needed. It took us 14 months of searching to find our current 2006 Roadtrek 210 – and it was worth the wait.
      We came up against the same issues you mentioned – not many quality vehicles available in a reasonable price range with low mileage. It seems that as the prices of new ones skyrocket, the prices of used ones are also feeling upward pressure.
      Personally, I would not buy one without test driving. You don’t really know how it feels to drive until you get behind the wheel. And the seller’s idea of “in mint condition” may not match your idea. Steering could be wonky, brakes a little mushy. It may smell of pets of cigarette odours – you just don’t know.
      I would suggest creating a checklist of the points that are most important to you; then keep searching until you find something that ticks most of the boxes. Even used ones are a big expenditure, so when you find one it may be worth a trip to see it in person. (We also kept an eye out when we were on trips all over North America … we were always stopping in at RV dealers.)
      Wish I had a sure-fire shortcut for you. Hang in there, keep checking and when you find the right one you’ll know right away. Good luck! Keep us posted.
      Jo

      Reply
  2. Ridley Fitzgerald

    Thanks for the tips on buying a used RV. My family has wanted one for a long time, but we just haven’t gotten around to it. I didn’t even know that there were classes A, B, and C, so that is good to know. We have a big family, so class A might be best for us.

    Reply
    1. Josephine Post author

      Always happy to help someone who is looking to embrace “the lifestyle.” You’ll find that RV people are friendly and always happy to help. If we can send any other info your way, just let us know. Best of luck finding the right vehicle – our best tip is patience, test drive and research. The good ones get snapped up pretty quickly. It’s not unlike buying house in that regard (the more you look around, the more you’ll know the right one when you see it). Happy RV travels!

      Reply
  3. Sue Baird

    Thank you for such an informative and interesting blog, particularly right now for the check list for prospective rv buyers! As seniors, we decided to buy a smaller class B motor home for the first time to travel across North America for a few months. Here in New Brunswick, there are not a lot of smaller motor homes at dealers so we will be probably travelling to Ontario or Quebec to find an affordable new to us unit. It is so helpful to have a Canadian blog to which to refer since prices and model availability appear to vary significantly.

    Like Eleanor, our dear old dog would have relished road trips but he died at fifteen years of age.

    Happy travels!

    Sue
    PS You need not reply unless you know of another preowned Road Trek 170 or 190 for sale.

    Reply
    1. Josephine Post author

      Hello Sue,
      Thanks so much for your kind words.
      We are on the road again – this time for six weeks – leaving in a few days and will be blogging on this site from the road. Our goal is some of the U.S. National Parks in the west. We’re getting pretty excited!
      It took us a very long time to find our current used Roadtrek. We did come across one other Pleasureway that would have also been perfect, but were just a bit too late – someone else got to it before we did. This is all to say – they are out there. Patience is key!
      We did look out of province (although we ended up buying close to home) and I have a few tips for you. Recognize that regulations and requirements may vary from one province (or state) to the next. For example, Ontario has a requirement for a propane tank inspection and approval every five years. I don’t believe that is the case in most other provinces. Also – we were told that Quebec does not have the same safety standards process/requirement that we have here in Ontario. That could have created a problem for us if we’d bought an (uncertified) vehicle in Quebec and then found out it did not pass the required safety check in Ontario.
      I am always (compulsively … old habits die hard) looking at websites like autotrader.ca, Kijiji.com and RVT.com for used Class Bs. If I see something that is what you’re looking for, I will pass the info along.
      Safe travels,
      Jo

      Reply
  4. Mike

    I have owned a Safari Condo and 2 different Roadtrek 200s. All 3 have been excellent units.
    The Safari Condo is quite unlike the other B-class campers. Much more “open” atmosphere, not enclosed like the others. It’s very much a modern Westfalia, with good old Chevy reliability! Of course, the downside is lack of bathroom/shower.
    The thing about Safari Condos is that they have a cult-like following, and are rarely available outside of Quebec where they are built. We picked ours up directly from the factory and sold it back to them 2 years later for not much less than we paid originally!

    Reply
    1. Josephine Post author

      Thanks for the great info, Mike. When we were looking for our Roadtrek I saw ads for one or two Safari Condos but did not really know much about them. After reading your pointers, I would definitely take a look at them the next time we are in the market. So far, we really like our new Roadtrek 210. So, hopefully, we have many miles ahead of us before we are looking again.

      Reply
  5. BARBARA J MCARTNEY

    I’m looking for a gently used, under 50,000 miles, 2011 or newer pop-top camper such as a Safari condo or sportsmobile penthouse less than 19′. I don’t want a Volkswagen or Mercedes.. I’m planning long cross country trips this year with my dog. I will set up a mini-office where I will continue to work at “home”.

    Unfortunately, I am moving out of my rental August 31 so I don’t have leisure to shop and there is nothing in my area (near Niagara Falls) so I need to shop by internet- a risky idea. How do you approaching making offers? With dealers? With Owners? Also, when you can’t find a model in NADA such as a safari condo how do you know what is a reasonable price. The used SCs seem awfully pricey considering they are simpler than Roadtreks etc.

    I haven’t bought an RV since a Class c 20 years ago so I’m a little rusty 😉 Any advice or thoughts appreciated!

    Reply
    1. Josephine Post author

      It took us more than a year to find our current Class B. A lot of patience and regular Internet searches. The sites we found the most helpful were Kijiji (I looked under each province), autotrader.ca (the RV section) and RVT.com for the U.S. and Canada.

      The more you look, the better an idea you will get of what the current prices are like. Might help to jot them down and soon you’ll get an idea of asking prices out there. We also found that prices dropped slightly in the fall and were higher in the spring and early summer.

      We used a list of questions on our first call to dealers or private ads (see the suggested checklist on our website). Know which items are important to you – things like accident history, mileage, propane certificate (a must in Ontario but not necessarily in other jurisdictions), integrity of the body/rust, condition of the kitchen appliances, etc. For us, interior standing room was the number one issue – if Craig could not stand in it, it was off our list right away. This winnowed the list of possible makes and models down to about four or five.

      I am not familiar with the Safari model, so can’t offer any advice on the price points. Ask questions and research. Soon you will get a clear idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each model, the availability, price range, etc.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Again, thanx for the quick response and like you said, it’s been mostly learning & patience. I’ve been looking for that “perfect” RV for about 2 years and although I didn’t know it at the time, the very first one I looked at was exactly the kind I’ve decided to be what I want (Pleasure-Way Lexor). Acting on what you suggested, I guess I’m just gonna have to bite the bullet, and take a road trip or two (I kinda knew it was inevitable but I just hated spending that travel money on a “maybe”). Again, thank-you for your input and it’s not necessary to reply but I will keep you posted.

    danny-s

    Reply
  7. Danny

    Thank-you for the quick response and the helpful content. Another question, as I search for a Class B, it appears I may have to shop beyond and even way beyond my home town (St. Louis, MO) to find what I’m looking for (Pleasure-Way Lexor). Since I’m an inexperienced 1st time buyer, I’m a bit hesitant to to do one of those “fly ‘n’ buys” since I wouldn’t know what to look for or how to evaluate the condition of the RV once I got there. Do you have some personal experience you could share with me on that matter?

    Thanx in advance (again)

    d.

    Reply
    1. Josephine Post author

      Because used Class Bs seem to be in such high demand, it is a bit of a game – and a lot of research and patience to find one. We sold our 1996 Leisure Travel last summer and have just bought a 2006 Roadtrek 210. But it took 14 months of methodical searching (Kijiji and Autotrader.com across Canada and RVT.com across North America). The more we looked – and yes, it did involve some long travel and disappointments – the better an idea we had about what was out there, prices, condition, things to be sticklers about, etc. Not that much different that looking at houses.

      An RV is a big investment, whether new or used. I would be hesitant to purchase sight unseen. You may have to give in to doing a little travel to see one that looks great in the ad before you make a final decision. That would be the wise way.

      Listings with dealers may offer a bit more assurance. But, you still need to arm yourself with the right questions to ask beforehand. And you may need to travel to see one once you’ve narrowed it down by asking all the right questions.

      My best advice would be to be patient and ask a lot of questions. My observation has been that prices rise in the spring and early summer and tend to drop a bit in the fall.

      Let us know how it works! Be patient and you will find the right vehicle for you. I thought we were looking for the impossible, but after time and a lot of searching we found a beauty that checks all our boxes. It was worth the wait. Thanks for writing.

      Reply
  8. danny s.

    My wife & I have determined a “B” Class is for us. We want to travel the back-roads of America (state highways as much as possible – both letter & number sized), boon-dock along the way until we arrive at a specific destination where we’ll check into a Holiday-Inn or Best Western and stay there a week or two or more while we explore the big city, or trek the smaller ones. That being said, advise me about safety accessories I should consider (a) for nite time driving (i.e. additional front lighting to illuminate the roadway ahead of us; additional lighting on the back – red or orange colored tail lights to enforce my presence to drivers behind me {we visit Florida frequently via the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and I’ve copied other travelers and affixed an orange colored flashing lite in the rear window of our car when experiencing thick fog or heavy rain} Lastly, what about outside security camera’s and lighting when parked over nite to illuminate the area and to see who’s outside my van while my wife & I are inside it? Thanks in advance for your thoughts and please don’t think I’m unreasonably paranoid – The World Trade Center, Oklahoma Federal Building, Orlando, FL, Dallas, TX etc etc etc

    Reply
    1. Josephine Post author

      Hi Danny,

      We park in well lit parking lots — like Walmart or Lowes — and we’ve never had any problem. We always ask first to get permission. Many of these lots for boondocking have regular store lot security. Use your best judgement – if an area doesn’t feel safe, don’t stay there. Move on to somewhere else to boondock or find a campground.

      More stuff on your Class B is more stuff to go wrong — then there’s the additional weight.

      That said, you can’t be too visible at night — so good idea with the tail and fog lights. We’ll look at adding those.

      Thanks for writing. Enjoy your travels!

      Reply

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