Purchasing an RV of your own is a big investment in your future travels — and a big investment, period. Even a moderately-priced rig can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and unlike foundation-built homes, they do depreciate. (RV stands for recreational vehicle, of course, and we all know the struggle of losing money right off the bat when we buy a car.)
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to ensure your camper values stay as high as possible throughout the life of your RV — or even, in some rare cases, increase them. Not only will taking good care of your motorhome or travel trailer ensure you’ll have a great vacation vehicle ready to go as soon as the travel bug hits you, but it’ll also help you earn back more of your purchase price if you decide to sell your rig down the line.
In this post, we’ll talk about some of the most common things that can tank your camper’s values, as well as strategies to avoid those eventualities and keep them high. We’ll also discuss why RV values are different from home values, even if you’re using your rig as a full-time residence.
How RV Values are Different From Traditional Homes
As we briefly mentioned above, it’s important to remember that RVs are vehicles, not homes, when it comes to their monetary value. Aside from rare cases (which usually involve some significant renovation), your rig is going to depreciate in value as opposed to building equity.
That can be scary for a camper on the market looking to buy a motorhome or travel trailer of their own. It’s hard to put down thousands of dollars on something and know that, for all intents and purposes, a big hunk of that money is just gone.
That’s why it’s important to wait until you find the right rig and do as much research as possible. (One of the very best tactics: head to an RV show or five! You’ll get the chance to walk through a huge number of travel trailers and motorhomes and interface with a variety of dealers, which can give you a much better sense of what you’re looking for, even if you’re not ready to buy.)
However, as much as vehicle depreciation can hurt owners, it can also be a boon to those who are willing to buy something that’s seen a few miles already. Used RV prices are significantly lower than buying brand new, and you can take advantage of this fact by shopping the used market. Along with saving money, you’ll also get a rig that’s likely had a few of its “bugs” worked out; many RVs come fresh from the factory floor with minor issues that only reveal themselves after a few hundred miles of travel. If your rig’s already done that with a previous owner, chances are, she’ll have taken care of the clicking cabinet or sticky window already!
How to Keep Your Motorhome and Trailer Values High
Now, let’s dive into what drives travel trailer and motorhome values down — and strategies you can use to keep that from happening.
Everything gets older, and there’s not much you can do about it. But it’s a simple fact of life that RVs tend to drop in value with each passing year of their existence.
Jim Harmer of Camper Report performed an in-depth analysis of more than 200 different RV purchases and their depreciation, and found that rigs depreciate about 25-26% just three years after their manufacture date. That’s a whole quarter of your original purchase price… gone! (If you pay full price, that is.)
You can’t stop time, of course. But you can get ahead of the game by purchasing a rig that’s already old enough to have seen the steepest drops in its depreciation journey — which, according to Harmer, tends to be about five years old. He also suggests you look for one that has low miles, but not too low… which brings us to the second item on our list.
2. Many (Many) Miles
As in other areas of the auto industry, a high odometer reading can lower your RV’s value. The further it’s traveled, the more wear and tear it’s gone through naturally. But there is a caveat to this story.
As Harmer suggests, if you get a used rig with too few miles, it could indicate that the RV has been sitting in storage for a long time. And RVs are built to move — sitting still for too long can make all manner of things go wrong. Maybe the wastewater tanks weren’t flushed entirely, and some gross liquid has been sitting in them for months. Or maybe the slide-outs haven’t seen a drop of lubrication in over two years and are now permanently stuck in the “in” position.
Just like with a home, when RVs sit empty, nature takes its course and starts breaking things down. So ideally, you want to find a motorhome that’s seen some action, but not too much. (And if you’re trying to keep your own rig’s values up, a piece of fun homework: use it!)
3. Water Damage
Ah, water. We need it for life as we know it… but it’s also one of the biggest banes of an RVer’s existence. Most RV owners know that water damage is the likely cause for their rig’s eventual death, even if you’re as vigilant as possible. (Psst: here’s how to keep on top of potential leaks!) And although small leaks and the resulting rot can be repaired, a leak can quickly turn into a catastrophic problem — and wreak havoc on your RV’s value.
This is why it’s important to keep your RV under covered storage if possible, or at least invest in a quality RV cover. Keeping your rig out of the elements will stop rain from entering if there are any vulnerable spots, of course… but it’ll also help keep your finish fresh and strong and prevent those leaks from forming in the first place.
4. Visible Wear & Tear
It’s a fact of life: human beings are visual creatures. And although cosmetic issues might not mess with your RV’s capabilities, they can still wreak havoc on your travel trailer’s values.
That’s why it’s so important to create and stick to a preventative maintenance schedule, and to perform in-depth cleanings of your RV before and/or after each trip. On a seasonal basis, you’ll want to go even further and do things like clean your RV’s holding tank sensors. And when you notice things like a scratch in your paint job or a torn curtain, don’t wait: go ahead and take care of them today. It’s all too easy to let that stuff go now, only to later discover a huge drop in your used RV’s values.
Where’s the Kelley Blue Book for RVs?
If you’re a savvy vehicle shopper, you’re probably used to checking out Kelley Blue Book for your car’s most up-to-date value. But where’s the Kelley Blue Book for used RV values, you may be wondering?
While Kelley Blue Book doesn’t evaluate RV trade-in values, there is another trusted source that does. If you want a complete picture of the total value of your RV, head to…
NADA RV Values
The place to find your RV’s trade-in value is not KBB, but rather NADA, which stands for the National Automobile Dealers Association. As the name suggests, they valuate cars and trucks, but also boats, motorcycles, classic cars, and — you guessed it — RVs.
You’ll be able to search your rig by type, make, and model, and specify all the options to get the most accurate valuation possible. Of course, at the end of the day, your RV is worth whatever somebody will pay for it… so it might also be worth shopping around for the best buyer.
Finally, keep in mind that in rare occasions, it’s possible to eclipse your rig’s depreciation with extensive remodeling — especially if you have a highly sought-after make of RV, like an Airstream. Well-built vintage campers are increasingly popular from a stylistic standpoint, especially with redone interiors, and customers have faith that these rigs will keep on trucking for decades.
Regardless of your RV’s financial value, don’t forget about its most important value: as a vacation vehicle that will bring countless hours of memories and fun to you and your family! Even though RVs do depreciate in value, some things are worth spending money on — and we can’t think of a better example than travel.
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