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Can You Safely Purchase an RV from a Private Party?

You can purchase an RV from a private party safely, but there are more risks in a peer-to-peer transaction than purchasing an RV from a dealer or reseller.
Can You Safely Purchase an RV from a Private Party?

Private Purchases Pros and Cons

The short answer to the question above is YES, you can purchase an RV from a private party safely, but there are more risks in a peer-to-peer transaction than purchasing an RV from a dealer or reseller. The obvious advantages of purchasing an RV from a private party is that you have a wider selection, so you will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for, and potentially, you’ll pay less for it than you would pay a dealer for the same RV.

The peer-to-peer transaction gives you a broader selection and potentially a better price, but there are more risks in a peer-to-peer transaction, and you should be aware of, and prepared to manage these risks.  If you are aware of them, you can protect yourself from scammers, conmen, and people acting unscrupulously.

The main objective of a peer-to-peer RV purchase is to safely transfer your money to the seller and to have the seller deliver a clear title and the actual vehicle which is the subject of your negotiation. This main objective, it turns out, is also the most challenging part of a private RV purchase.  There are several factors that can complicate this process and each one of these complications creates its own unique risks that will need to be managed in your private party purchase.

a black and white Cruise Lite travel trailer
Travel trailers are very affordable and popular RVs

Peer-to-Peer Purchase Complications

When you buy an RV from the dealer you typically visit the dealer’s lot, and you can see the actual vehicle that you are intending to purchase. You can inspect it before you buy and do your due diligence to research the history of the vehicle if it’s used. When you’re buying from a dealer there are no extra complications with financing, or timing. But these three elements: distance, financing, and timing, each creates risks, that you will need to manage when purchasing from a private seller.

1 Distance

The greater the distance between the seller and the buyer the more complicated the transaction will become. If you see an RV for sale in a publication like RVTrader or on the internet, and the vehicle is located a few thousand miles away it is difficult to thoroughly evaluate the actual condition of the vehicle. You will need to rely on the photographs provided by the seller as well as their verbal description of the RV, which in all candor, they are eager to sell. That eagerness could lead to critical omissions. Perhaps the seller doesn’t want to include pictures of the ceiling liner because it shows evidence of prior roof leaks, so that picture is conveniently omitted. All the rest of the photographs clearly show the attributes of the RV, from the tires to the microwave, but the one critical picture that displays the water damage to the ceiling liner is not part of the photos provided.  Of course, you could travel to the RVs location, so you could personally inspect the vehicle, but that could become a costly and time-consuming endeavor if you need to personally inspect more than one RV.

You could avoid this extra expense, if you could find a used RV in your immediate area that satisfies your criteria but finding the right rig in your immediate vicinity just might not be possible.  To eliminate this risk, you might need to hire a third-party inspector to evaluate the RV when there’s too much distance for you to personally inspect the rig.  A private inspector would be able to confirm that the condition of the vehicle being sold is as it has been described. Hiring an inspector, however, adds extra costs to your purchase and it further complicates the process because you’ll need to locate an inspector in the area where the vehicle is located.  However, short of flying to that remote location, it is the only viable option to confirm the condition of the vehicle. In my opinion, it would be ill-advised to purchase any used RV without either personally inspecting it, or having it professionally inspected. There is too much risk that the vehicle described has defects that were not disclosed, and a professional inspector will evaluate the whole RV, not just the obvious visible components and discover the actual condition of the vehicle.

A view inside a used motorhome looking toward the front from the bedroom
Pictures will give you a sense of the condition of the RV but may not show everything

2 Financing

Another complication in purchasing from a private RV seller that you would not encounter when buying from a dealer is the issue of financing.  Either the vehicle is currently financed, or you may need to secure your own financing, or both financing complications are present in a particular transaction.  If the seller still owes a balance on the RV, the bank will hold the title until their obligation is fully discharged.  If the balance due on the RV is greater than the selling price, then the seller will need to pay the difference to their bank before the bank would transfer the title of the vehicle to you. Conversely, if you need to finance the purchase of a used RV your lender will not release funds until they have the title to the RV which they will use to secure their loan.  If the seller has a lender, and the buyer needs to engage a lender, then this transaction becomes much more complex.  Remember the main objective of a used RV purchase from a private seller is to successfully exchange your money for the title and the vehicle.

A gray and white Class B+ View motorhome
Class B+ motorhomes are a popular choice amoung new RVers

3 Timing

With potentially four entities involved in the transaction, (seller, seller’s lender, buyer, and buyer’s lender) it highlights the third major complication in this type of transaction and that is timing.  Verified funds needs to be available to the seller and a clear title needs to be available to the buyer. Preferably these two events occur simultaneously.  But what if you transfer funds into the seller account then discover that they don’t have (or never had the title).  Conversely what if the seller delivers the vehicle and title, but the funds were drawn on forged cashier’s check. Conmen are very good at what they do, which is to find a way to separate you from your money, which might be done, by selling you a stolen RV or by paying for a real RV with a forged check.

The examples above illustrate the importance of timing in a private RV sale. The safest way to complete a peer-to-peer RV sale is to simultaneously transfer the full purchase price via certified funds to the seller, in exchange for the vehicle and the title. The vehicle should be released, and the title should be signed over to the buyer as soon as the funds are verified by the seller’s bank but that is not usually possible with an RV that is currently financed or going to be financed.

A beige and white Fun Finder Travel trailer pulled by a van with recreational gear on the van
There is an RV for every lifestyle.

Example of What Not to Do in a Peer-to-Peer RV Sale

Case Study:
In our travels, we met a couple who purchased a used RV after driving several hundred miles to meet the seller and inspect the Class A motorhome. They arrived on a weekend, and the banks were closed, but after thoroughly inspecting the RV, talking to the owner, and going for a test drive, they decided to purchase it. However, during the inspection process the seller told the buyer that they were in the process of getting a new title since the original title was lost.  At this point, this transaction had all red flags waving.  The banks weren’t open so the only way the buyer could pay for the RV was with a personal check. More red flags: the seller should have seen that as a warning.  Furthermore, since the seller didn’t have the title, the buyer couldn’t verify that the vehicle was free of any leans or other financial incumbrance, or, for that matter, that the seller actually had a legal right to sell the RV.  It should also have raised a red flag with the buyer, that the seller was willing to accept a personal check. Who accepts a personal check for over $50,000?  Everything about this transaction was a huge risk, but the buyer and seller had quickly connected with each other and in a very short time both men trusted the other.  The problem with trust, however, is that it’s the stock and trade of conmen. The better the conmen are at conning others, the more you are apt to trust them.  This entire peer-to-peer transaction was laced with risk.

As far as this article goes it would be more impactful, if I were to tell you that this entire transaction was a fraudulent misrepresentation, but the good news is that the men’s trust was well-founded.  The RV purchase went through without a hitch once the seller was able to secure the new title from his state’s DMV. It took several months to obtain the new title, but the buyer never felt like he was being conned and fortunately he wasn’t.  It would be, however, a huge leap of faith to engage in any transaction with that many red flags waving. These two men were doing business honestly, and it’s fortunate for them both, that neither was a conman.

A Better Way to Purchase

Fortunately, there is a better way to engage in a peer-to-peer RV purchase rather than deal with all the risks associated with distance, financing, timing.  National Vehicle is a private organization that helps private buyers and sellers overcome all the inherent risks in private sales.  This company represents private RV sellers by helping them properly value their RV and creating and placing ads in all the most searched publications. They also facilitate RV sales by helping buyers secure financing, arranging for RV inspections when needed, arranging for the smooth and timely transfer of funds in exchange for the title and vehicle, and if needed, they help buyers with the transportation to their location.

National Vehicle does this for private RV buyers and sellers, all day, every day, and that’s all they do, so you get all the experience, knowledge, and security of dealing with professionals, like going to an RV dealer, but the advantages of a larger inventory from which to select your perfect RV, and the advantage of better peer-to-peer pricing.  National Vehicle only charges seller a few hundred dollars for this service and they do not charge buyers anything.  Buyers might need to pay for the inspection and transportation, but as a buyer, you won’t have to waste your time locating these services.  Working with these professionals speeds up the private party RV purchase and takes the risk out of the process for both the seller and the buyer.  If you want to purchase an RV from a private seller the best way to prevent conmen from taking advantage of you is to search for your RV through National Vehicle’s inventory and work with these professionals to complete your private purchase.

An airstream trailer would be a good private party purchase. this one is set up on the shore of a lake with a sunset in the background
Airstream trailers are a popular choice and hold their value better than some other trailers.

Author: Peggy Dent

I am an author, writer, and full-time RVer, traveling around the US and Canada. I’ve driven more than 130,000 miles in a motorhome, over the past 20 years, and I'm currently writing for the RV industry.