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Used campervans for sale by owner: How to buy with confidence

Let’s take the fear and uncertainty out of buying used campervans for sale by owner

Buying a used van can feel risky. It can even feel like a gamble.

Will you get “lucky”, or will your new-to-you campervan be a lemon?

This post will help you reduce or even eliminate the risk of buying a used van.

You’ll also learn where to find the best used campervans for sale and much more

New vs Used Campervans

I’m sure you’ve heard that when you buy a new car, 20% of the resale value is lost the moment you drive it off the lot.

This infographic from Edmonds illustrates the cruel reality of this issue.

This is even more true with RV’s, including campervans.

Since RV’s are not “necessities”, their value can be tenuous.

Most people need a car., while a Campervan is a necessity for very few people.

This difference impacts the sale-ability of used Campervans and other RV’s.

I don’t begrudge anyone who can afford a brand new Campervan, whether stock or custom built to their exact specifications.

The value of a new RV goes beyond money.

But not everyone can watch 25% (or more) in resale value disappear as they drive down the street.

So, for the rest of us, it’s fortunate that there are used campervans for sale by owner available.

Vansage used campervan for sale by owner VW
Our featured image of this gorgeous VW Pop Top is courtesy of the talented Paul Palmer.

Pros and cons of buying used campervans for sale by owner

While there are many advantages to buying your next camper van used, I wouldn’t want to claim that it’s all a walk in the park.

There will be a learning curve and some challenges.

The trick, as much as possible, is to overcome those challenges during the pre-purchase stage.

Let’s take a look at some pros and cons of buying a used camper van for sale by owner.

Pros

Beyond the obvious financial advantage of buying used, there are some lesser known advantages that you can leverage to find the best vans.

Each van has its own special quirks

New vans are often perfect… for a few miles, then its unique issues start to show up.

A “good” seller will be excited to share all the details about their van, including the quirks.

They’ve been though the good and bad times and they’ll help you prepare for both.

This is not the case with a new van.

You’ll take advantage of this Pro by asking lots of detailed questions about each of the vans major systems.

Service history

Many van owners keep repair and maintenance records.

You can use these records to plan for the future needs of the van.

It’s also possible that the previous owner has had to deal with some expensive or very inconvenient problems.

One of my vans had a transmission recall, which was replaced by the dealer.

So when I bought it there were only about 10,000 miles on the transmission. When I sold the vehicle years later the transmission was still in great shape.

Ask for service records from the seller and/or the shops where the had it serviced.

Make and model history

Every make and model of vehicle has a unique history of success and failure.

Unlike a new, untested model, you’ll be able to use the web to do research and help decide on your campervan “platform” (the pre conversion van model) of choice.

This is an enormous advantage because you’ll know some of what to expect in terms of future issues, as well as what to look for when inspecting a van for purchase.

Cons of buying a used camper van for sale by owner

Of course there are challenges when purchasing a used camper van.

Due diligence is your most powerful tool in combating the cons of buying a used van.

At some point, everything breaks

I cringe whenever I hear “I’ve never had any problems with this vehicle”.

While it’s not always the case, this often means there are some surprises coming.

Some owners have their vehicles serviced so often that they’re just not very conscious of problems (chronic or not).

Taking a van in for regular check ups and following a strict and comprehensive maintenance schedule is the way to go.

But for some sellers their mechanic catches and fixes problems before they arise, so they don’t even know to tell you about them.

Point is, no matter how tight and sound a used camper van seems, there will be problems.

So it’s important to know going in that you will inherit mechanical issues.

Budget for repairs and improvements

I suggest planning for this with a repair and improvement budget: Money set aside specifically for fixing and upgrading your van.

You can even go so far as to plan to spend an additional 10% or so above and beyond the purchase price. If you don’t have to spend it, consider it a bonus.

It helps to remember that new vans break, too and that no one is immune from breakdowns.

People are honest, mostly

I’ve found the Vanlife world to be full of wonderful people.

But people are people and sometimes a seller doesn’t share all the problems about the vehicle.

Also, it’s not uncommon for a seller to have a fervent belief that their precious van is flawless. This type of seller will also often over price their van.

Lemon laws usually don’t apply to for sale by owner vans. So you can inherit some serious problems if you’re not careful, and sometimes, even if you are.

For this reason, we suggest that you establish a budget for repairs and improvements of your new-to-you van.

We also recommend a very thorough inspection process (more on that below), no matter how good you might feel about the seller.

A good mechanic will take a cold, unbiased approach to inspecting a van.

Vansage used campervan for sale by owner rusty VW
Image courtesy of Martin Pettitt

How to decide on the best used camper van for you

So many different makes, models, builds, years, mileage, features…

How can anyone be expected to choose the best campervan to purchase?

We’re currently working on a comprehensive post about how to choose the right van for your needs.

That will be published soon, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions to get you started

  • Start with a list of your needs: High roof? Fully built out? Raw and ready for conversion? Room for the family? 4X4? Easy to park?
  • List all the features you need in a van and compromise as little as possible. This will help you make logical vs emotional decisions.
  • Do careful research: Read forums, Facebook groups, blogs and YouTube to find info about the makes and models that best fit your needs.

Again, our complete guide to choosing the best Campervan make and model for your unique needs is coming soon.

Where and how to find the best Campervans for sale by owner

Gone are the days of waiting for the weekly paper or driving to car lots hoping to get lucky.

The web has opened a world of possibilities for finding vans.

We’ve included some of the better web resources for finding used campervans for sale by owner.

Once you’ve decided on a make and model or two that will meet your needs, you can use the search functions on these sites to find a great deal on your next van.

A word about dealers online

Since this is a post about working with owners to buy a used van, we won’t talk about how to work with dealers.

However, it’s important to understand that when you search online, you’ll find many results from dealers.

Unfortunately, dealers use fake ads to entice buyers into the showroom. This is a common tactic they’ve been using for decades and it’s very frustrating.

When you see a van listed by a dealer that seems to-good-to-be-true, it definitely is. Don’t waste your time.

Ebay can be a great source for used Campervans

There are always many used Campervans for sale by owner on Ebay Motors.

Many dealers use Ebay, so if you’re dead set on avoiding them, you’ll have to search carefully for by-owner vans only.

In the image below I simply chose the “Cars & Trucks” category on the left and then searched for “Camper Van”, which returned more results than “Campervan”.

You can customize your search by distance from zip code, “Buy it Now” vs “Auction”, specific brands, mileage, transmission type, fuel type and many more options.

My custom Ebay search

You can click to see current vans for sale on Ebay based on my search for “Camper Van” in the “Cars and Trucks” category of Ebay Motors.

Vansage Ebay Search used campervans for sale by owner

How to search Craigslist for used camper vans

While you can click the links titled “Cars and Trucks” and “RV’s and Camp” under the “For Sale” link, it’s better to click “For Sale” and then fill in the search field with your particular search terms.

This saves time and avoids distractions from finding the vans you’ve carefully researched and made decisions about owning.

Fill in the search field, hit enter and then click the “Owner” button on the left to eliminate the dealers.

Vansage Craigslist Search for used campervans for sale by owner

I performed a search in the “For Sale” field for “Sprinter 144” to see all the vans in the Seattle area that match my criteria. I also clicked the “Owner” button on the left to remove dealer results. Then I unchecked “Select All” and only checked “Cars & Trucks” and “Recreational Vehicles”.

Valuable resource to find, test drive and buy used vans on Craigslist

We wrote a post about Campervans for sale on Craigslist and it includes some valuable tips such as

  • Personal safety tips when using Craigslist
  • How and where to safely exchange money and title
  • Craigslist seller red flags
  • Test driving, inspections, and more

Our Campervan for sale: Craigslist buying guide is a must read companion to this post.

Facebook pages for buying a used Camper van

Aside from the many Campervan related Facebook pages, there’s one that you will find especially valuable called Class B Camper Vans for sale.

Another good one is Vandweller buy sell trade

Even if you don’t find your particular van on Facebook, you can get a feel for the market, ask questions and be part of communities focused on buying and selling vans.

There are many Facebook groups and pages specific to Camper vans and Vanlife. I suggest that you try a few and find some that work for your needs.

Conversion Trader specializes in used Class B RV’s for sale

Conversiontrader.com is new to me but I like that it’s Class B specific.

They have many good vans listed for sale, the navigation is clean and simple and the images are great.

They also have a Facebook page.

Recap

  • Remove the doubt and uncertainty from buy used campervans for sale by owner
  • New RV’s lose over 20% of their value immediately
  • Pros include make and model history, quirks worked out by previous owner and more
  • Cons might be that the seller doesn’t share all the vans problems or just doesn’t know them
  • Get an inspection prior to purchase to be clear on the used vans condition
  • Take the time to decide on the best van for your needs before shopping
  • Craigslist, Facebook and Conversion Trader are great sources for used vans for sale by owner

Thanks for reading

Please comment below with your experiences or suggestions for finding used camper vans.

 

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