RV Depreciation: Everything you could possibly want to know

rv-depreciation

After spending countless hours studying RV depreciation on all different types of RVs at different price points and different locations around the world, I’m ready to geek out with you on some numbers.  To write this article, I analyzed over 200 different RV purchases and their depreciation over time, comparing data with RVTrader and Nada to confirm my results.

I don’t claim that what I’ve put together here is perfect, but if you’re a nerd and want to know for certain whether or not you’re making a good financial decision, I hope this helps.

First, a quick note.  I’m using percentages a lot in this article and I want to make sure I explain what that means.  Suppose there is 20% depreciation on an RV that cost $100,000.  That means the RV is worth $80,000 now.

Let’s Start With the Conclusions

Conclusion #1: Buying a new RV never makes FINANCIAL sense.  Ever.  You can expect to lose approximately 21% of the total purchase price of the RV the instant you drive it off the lot.  There are loads of exceptions to that which we’ll discuss later, but that’s the average.

To be clear, I don’t necessarily think it’s foolish to buy a new RV.  It’s just that you have to make the decision for reasons other than the financial reasons.  Many RV buyers want to customize the RV to their tastes or want it to feel clean and fresh and new–and are willing to sacrifice depreciation for that.  For some RV buyers, you’ve saved your whole life to do this and so it’s more about the experience than the money.  Nothing wrong with that if you have the money to blow.  Not everything has to be a financial decision.

Conclusion #2: The best bang for your buck in terms of depreciation is to buy an RV that is 5 years old which has seen medium use–but do not get one that has seen very little use.  5 years is the plateau point at which the steep depreciation of the first few years levels off significantly.

I don’t recommend an RV that has seen little use because they are very likely to have problems.  Suppose an older gentleman buys a motorhome and then his health declines and he keeps it in storage for two years.  What about that little bit of water left in the hot water heater that spent 8 months corroding before he got it winterized?  What about the slides which haven’t been greased in two years and have been left to bake in the sun in a storage unit?  What about that tiny little crack in the ceiling that he didn’t notice until there was some internal water damage?  You get the point.

Conclusion #3: Depreciation on motorhomes is much more closely tied to the year of the motorhome and NOT the mileage.  Mileage plays only a tiny roll in the depreciation schedule for an RV because most RVs die of failures other than the driving portion of the vehicle.  Gas RVs can easily run 200,000 miles, but rarely last that long before getting significant water damage, etc.

Conclusion #4: About 85% of all new RV buyers pay SIGNIFICANTLY more for their RV than they should.  Most RV manufacturers set the MSRP 30% higher than what they could realistically be purchased for.  I’m not immune to this.  I paid too much for my first travel trailer.  The MSRP was $28,000 and I talked them down to $25,000 and thought I was really hot stuff.

I checked RVTrader.com after I purchased and found that some other dealerships around the country were selling the same travel trailer new for $5,000 less.  If I’d known this, I could have driven to another state to buy, or I could have used that as ammunition to know what the dealership could sell it for.  Lesson learned.  Next time I’ll keep my $5,000.

Conclusion #5: There is no significant difference in the depreciation schedules of a Class A compared to a Class C.  They both depreciate at almost identical percentage rates.  However, several RV salesmen reported to me that used Class C motorhomes tend to sell much faster than used Class As.  This is likely because they come at a lower price point that entices potential travel trailer buyers.

Conclusion #6: There is no significant difference between depreciation of a fifth wheel and a travel trailer for most fifth wheels.  The very high end fifth wheels depreciate a little quicker.

Depreciation on a Class A Motorhome

The following is the average depreciation schedule I determined for Class A motorhomes.  I determined these numbers after reviewing purchases made by 51 Class A motorhome buyers to determine how the RV depreciated over time.

  • One year old – This number is extremely tough to determine.  The trouble is that many buyers traded in their RVs to a dealership at the end of one year to get something different, and some dealerships tell you they are paying you a high amount for your trade and then crank up the price on the new motorhome you’re buying from them.  So honestly, this number is nearly impossible to accurately calculate, but I’d guess it’s around 21%.
  • Two years old – 22%.  There isn’t much of a difference between a one year old RV and a two year old RV.  I found the depreciation to barely budge.  They still smell new at this point!  Also, manufacturers typically call an RV a 2019 model when it’s sold in 2018, for example, so it’s tough to know how much use an RV actually had when it’s listed as being two years old.  The gross numbers don’t tell us the complete picture here.
  • Three years old – 26.7% depreciation  (meaning 26.7% of the price you paid new is now gone)
  • Four years old – 30.27% depreciation
  • Five years old – 35.98% depreciation
  • Six years old – 39.54% depreciation
  • Seven years old – 41.15% depreciation
  • Eight years old – 43.16% depreciation
  • Ten years old – 60% depreciation (I noticed a big drop on this one–I guess 10 years old sounds a lot older than 9 years old to potential buyers)
  • Thirteen years old – 69% depreciation
  • Fifteen years old – 76% depreciation
  • Twenty years old – 86% depreciation
  • Twenty-Nine years old – 96% depreciation
  • Thirty years and older – Basically hovers at about $2,000 because the RV still has some value as long as it drives

class-c-depreciation

Depreciation on a Class C Motorhome

The depreciation curve on a Class C motorhome is not nearly as severe as that of a class A.  Why?  Because Class C motorhomes cost significantly less new.

  • One year old – Like with a Class A, this number is extremely tough to determine.  The trouble is that many buyers traded in their RVs to a dealership at the end of one year to get something different, and some dealerships tell you they are paying you a high amount for your trade and then crank up the price on the new motorhome you’re buying from them.  So honestly, this number is nearly impossible to accurately calculate, but I’d guess it’s around 21%–the same as on a Class A.
  • Two years old – 22%.  There isn’t much of a difference between a one year old RV and a two year old RV.  I found the depreciation to barely budge.  They still smell new at this point!  Also, manufacturers typically call an RV a 2019 model when it’s sold in 2018, for example, so it’s tough to know how much use an RV actually had when it’s listed as being two years old.  The gross numbers don’t tell us the complete picture here.
  • Three years old – 26.6% depreciation  (meaning 26.7% of the price you paid new is now gone)
  • Four years old – 28.4% depreciation  (better than a Class A at this point by two percentage points)
  • Five years old – 37.6% depreciation (slightly worse than a Class A by two points)
  • Six years old – 39.54% depreciation
  • Seven years old – 40% depreciation
  • Eight years old – 44% depreciation
  • Ten years old – 51.69% depreciation
  • Thirteen years old – 64% depreciation
  • Fifteen years old – 69% depreciation
  • Twenty years old – 83% depreciation
  • Thirty years and older – Basically hovers at about $3,000 because the RV still has some value as long as it drives

travel-trailer-depreciation

Travel Trailer And Fifth Wheel Depreciation

First of all, I know you’re wondering if a travel trailer and a fifth wheel depreciate the same.  I analyzed them separately looking at dozens and dozens of purchases to find averages.  The answer is that the depreciation schedule is so close that it is within the margin of error.  Therefore, the depreciation schedule is identical for all intents and purposes.

Really, the only difference between depreciation on a travel trailer/fifth wheel and the depreciation on a motorhome is that a travel trailer/fifth wheel holds its value more steadily from 5 years old to 15 years old than a motorhome does.  A motorhome’s depreciation starts to level off at 5 years, but not as much as a trailer.

  • One year old – I couldn’t get proper data to analyze this number, but my best estimate is that 21% of the value is gone as soon as it’s driven off the lot.
  • Two years old – No significant difference from year one since model years are announced a year in advance–helping resale of a two year old trailer which seems to be only one year old to a potential buyer.
  • Three years old – 25% depreciation  (meaning 26.7% of the price you paid new is now gone)
  • Four years old – 29% depreciation  (better than a Class A at this point by two percentage points)
  • Five years old – 37% depreciation (slightly worse than a Class A by two points)
  • Six years old – 38% depreciation
  • Seven years old – 38% depreciation
  • Eight years old – 40% depreciation
  • Ten years old – 45% depreciation
  • Fifteen years old – 72% depreciation
  • Twenty years and older – The price tends to hover between $3,000 and $5,000 depending on how it has been kept up.  A travel trailer generally does not last as long as a motorhome because they are less expensive and so less care goes into maintaining them when old.

 Do NOT Get Ripped OFF!

After looking at these numbers for days, I am AMAZED at how many RV buyers get ripped off.  In my analysis, I saw 85% of RV buyers paying SIGNIFICANTLY MORE for the exact same RV as another buyer got for more than $5,000 less.  If you’re buying an RV from a dealership (new or used), be certain to read my guide for getting a good deal on your RV.

Comments

  1. Just started reading your blog. Good information but would have been an easier read in a simple table or pie chart with your comments after.
    You are the first commenter I have read that stated that a RV that has seen very little use over a number of years are probably not a good choice. I am a mechanic and a 3/4 time RVer and agree. Idle time can be the death of machinery and buildings.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. interesting info! for anyone considering a vintage trailer that’s been sat around, the “barn find” , you might think it’s a bargain at a few thousand dollars , just beware, you can treble or quadruple that purchase price to make whole again …bedding, rolling stock, electrical, appliances … it’s a long expensive list even if you do yourself.

    1. hi great info, we are just starting out on trailers, up from a tent, no fith wheel, no holes in truck, and no hybrids, and not too long. so I found a 26 foot Salem travel trailer , asking 7k CAN, I offered 5K Canadian, and they accepted. They say everything works, it has a bunk house in the back, not enough pics on line, but I am gonna see it before we buy it…that said, how do you find out the red book, or blue book value for taxes?
      And what do you know about water tanks, one ad said it had a brand new water tank (1K value)?
      thanking you in advance

  3. Thanks for this!

    My question about your depreciation numbers is this…

    Are you working from “Sales Price” or are you working from MSRP? You note that RV’s tend to sell well below their list price. I was at an RV show over the weekend where 25-30%% discounts seemed to be the norm for the “Sale / Show Price”. If your depreciation numbers above are based on list price for a given model, this would suggest that a new RV at a well negotiated “Show Price” will cost the same or even less than a 3-5 year old similar model… which isn’t too far off from what I’m finding in my search.

  4. I am looking for a wheelchair accessible motor home that has been designed for wheelchair use from the ground up. This is quite different from a motor home which has had a lift installed but otherwise is a standard production unit. Newmar 3911 is one such unit I would love to own. There are very few units of this type new or used in the US and there seems to be very little price difference between new and used so I have to think that they hold their value very well. I don’t think your deprecation schedule is applicable to specialty units of this type.

  5. I have the same question as Steve B above? A good purchase price is usually 30-35% off a MSRP. Do you then mean that 21% first year depreciation should be off this price. In your article you said you paid $5000 too much for your first vehicle. 21% off of a poor purchase doesn’t suggest a realistic depreciation.

    I’m assuming you mean 21% off a good purchase price which is usually 30-35% below MSRP. Thus a 100,000 vehicle should be bought at $65-70,000 and then one years depreciation a year later would mean another $13-14,000 off. Or about $52-56,000 the second year.

    Can you respond… do you agree?

    1. The RV is worth what it’s worth. It doesn’t matter what you actually paid for it — if we have identical 4 year old RVs, yours isn’t suddenly worth less than mine simply because you got a better sale price when we both purchased. So, the percentages are directional and need a proper anchor point. If you think about actual sales price of a given model of RV, the amount people paid will effectively be a normal curve. Thus, the starting point for % depreciation calculations ought to start at the average point. Not the MSRP. Not the amazing deal that 25 people got.

      Let’s take the author’s model: Rockwood 2504S. The MSRP is somewhere in the $28K range. The author paid around $24K. A quick search on rvt or rvtrader shows that, while prices are all over the map, there are bunch in the $20-22K range (list). I have read some people getting this model for as low as $18. There are very few used models of this RV, as it’s only been on the market for a few years, but I’ve seen 2 year old models listed for between $17-19K.

      That’s as good as the data are going to be for this example. Now we need to interpret them. Let’s assume that the mean sales price (OTD, excluding tax, title, registration) is $21K. Let’s also assume that the 2-year old trailers sell for $16.5K. Let’s also assume a linear depreciation over those first 2 years. The trailer loses $4.5K of value in 2 years. That’s 21% in 2 years or closer to ~10% per year.

      What’s key is that a 2-year old trailer has a fixed value of $16.5K. Now, if you overpaid, then your depreciation rate is higher; if you got a smoking hot deal, then you may see almost no depreciation. The used market will drive to a market value faster than the new market, for a number of factors that the author already described (economics, supply/demand, emotions, geography, etc.).

      Like most other things in life, the resale value also depends on the model, scarcity, demand. If you just want a 30′ trailer with a slide-out dinette and a queen bed, there are about 5,000 versions of that floorplan. It’s a buyers’ market. Models will depreciate faster. Supply/demand tips in favor of the buyer. Simple economics.

      The author’s trailer is unique. It’s a 4,700 lb trailer with a slide-out dinette, bunk beds, queen bed, and is only 25-26′ long. I can count the number of manufacturers offering this configuration on one hand … and still have fingers left over. Is it unique because it’s innovative and the rest of the manufacturers haven’t caught up yet? There are more competing models in 2017 than there were in 2015, so that would indicate a soft “yes.” Or maybe, it’s a unique floorplan because nobody wants it. You have to make that call in your case. The former means that it’s likely to hold its value and be easier to sell. The latter means that it won’t hold its value and may be difficult to find a buyer.

  6. I bought my class A DP new in 2014, with the plan of selling and upgrading in 2019, I look at the difference in purchase price and resale price plus maintenance costs the same way I would consider these costs if I were leasing. If I were leasing this beast and the lease terminated, I would turn it in and get nothing monetarily, but I would have the memories. At least I get a return on my investment, and if I lose a small sum due to depreciation, I’m still getting something back and will be able to upgrade to a better model. All this haranging about depreciation can be minimized by choosing a model with a better build and maintaining it (keeping good maintenance records too), after all, this is an investment in life experiences, not just math 101. You guys write these articles and waste all that time sitting at a PC doing research, when you could be out here enjoying life. I have no regrets. No I’m not trying to paint the FT lifestyle as all peaches and cream after all it is real life. It is the penny pinching bean counters and lawyers that suck all the enjoyment out of life…….

    1. Settle down Rory, people like their beans and don’t want to feel gypped……

      1. I’m with Rory. It ain’t worth a hill of beans if you can’t enjoy life in your RV.

        Experience the world and buy what you can afford.

        There is no race and no disgrace, because sooner or later you will perish. Enjoy the memories whilst you can.

        That means now !!

  7. SteveB and DanS – I have the same question as you do, but I think the answer must be 21% off a good purchase price because otherwise he’s saying you could re-sell it for 21%-22% off MSRP after 1 or 2 years, and I don’t think there’s any chance that will happen. If MSRP is $100K for an RV you should pay about $70K to $75K new and if you sell it after 2 years you’d be lucky to get $60K. The author posted answers to the first 2 questions and then he stopped replying so I’m answering his question.

  8. What are your thoughts about buying from a (well known) RV rental company whose RVs (are said to have been properly maintained) may have high mileage and usage but fairly short on years? That’s the direction I’m leaning. Thank you.

  9. Looking at a Coachhouse Platinum II 2018 no satellite dish 2 TV’s twin beds 1 slide out diesel Mercedes chassis. Direct from the factory $165,000 basic package I need to find out if it has screens. Concerned over all fiberglass any thoughts. I can’t find any reviews that are negative.

  10. Sadhana-amrit – A class b is a van conversation for lack of a better description.

    I enjoyed this article on depreciation and the figures are close to what I’ve read in other places, especially with 5 years being a plateau. On a side point, having just finished up researching one ton dually trucks, I found you can save on average 22% purchasing a one year old used truck with under 20,000 mile on them. Many have less than 10,000 miles. And that was comparing the MSRP when new against what the same build of truck was selling for a year later on a dealer’s lot.

    There are other reasons one might consider purchasing a new RV. We are planning to fulltime in our RV so our needs might be different than someone else. Every now and then there are valuable changes between RV model years that might make one more interested in the newer trailer. For example, the Heartland Bighorn fifth wheel went to a whisper quiet air conditioning system in 2017 and then worked during the year to improve the system. If one bought a two year old Bighorn (2015) they would not see much of a difference between it and the 2016. For trucks, there was no changes between the 2016 and 2017 Ram but huge changes in the Ford.

    I’ve talked to a couple people who have three and four year old units they travel in during vacations. One has a 2015 Bighorn that he wants to sell in two years. He thinks it’s worth more than what it actually is. Especially as in the past three years more and more of them are being built and eventually they all will enter the used market.

    Here is another example I would think might influence the selling price of a used unit that has to do with supply and demand. If one was to buy a used unit when the market is saturated with used units then the “depreciation” schedule could actually look worse than now.

    In my own state of Missouri the number of persons turning 60 years of age as a percentage of the population will level off in 2020. Beginning in 2010, according to census data, the percentage of the population turning 60 each year doubled because of the baby boomers. Lets assume it is from that age segment, 60 and above, who are many of the persons buying luxury fifth wheels like a Heartland Bighorn for retirement travel. It makes since there will be a peak in sales by 2020 and then a flood of used units coming to the market. This is just an example and might or might not work out to be true. However, I believe it to be a safe assumption given RV sales are soaring and those thousands of units will be on the used market. Hence, the “depreciation” schedule may look worse because at some point there will be more used units on the market than those wanting to buy one.

  11. Thanks for this. I think however you may not have indexed the numbers for inflation. Over the longer run this jacks up the $ amount of depreciation significantly as the value of money falls, adding a “real” dimension to cost of ownership.

    If you Google “value of $x 2007 dollars expressed in $ 2017” you will gain an idea of the double whammy.

  12. Do the class B RV’ S depreciate at the same percentage as the class A and C? My mom is looking to sell hers and I want her to get a fair price and yet not be asking to much for it either.
    Thanks

  13. You may have answered this in your article Im not the sharpest knife in the drawer, OK, are your numbers are off MSRP or what they payed? We all know that you can expect to get 25 to 30% off MSRP with out even asking for it then you deal. So are your numbers off MSRP or purchase price?

    1. You can read my response a little higher with more detail. But a % depreciation figure should be based on an average street price.

      The value of an RV (or anything else) doesn’t depend on what you paid, how much you have left on your loan, etc. If you got a screaming deal, you may not see much depreciation for a while. If you massively overpaid, you’ll have more depreciation. If you bought in Colorado and then move to Indiana, you’ll see a big bump in depreciation just based on geography and market prices. And, so on.

      Percent depreciation is just a guideline and not a hard rule. Lots of other considerations, too.

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  15. Thanks for this article. It is useful and to the point. I found your discovery of a significant additional loss of value from 9 (or 8) years to 10 years mightily interesting because I suspected it from the asked prices I observed. I plan to buy a class A of 10-15 years as soon as I sell my condo and off we go :-).

    1. Mike, do you have pets? i have five cats. My husband wants to have a two year vacation touring the united states and haul cats behind in a trailer. i am new to this and am not sure if it is a good idea for cats. also, the money will be coming from the sale of a house. if you have any ideas, please reply back. thx.

  16. my husband wants to buy a fairly new RV and then buy a trailer to haul five cats. he wants to use the money from a house of ours that he wants to sell. i think that going from buying a house to buying an RV would be a very wrong move. can you comment on this please. and also i do not think that throwing five cats in a trailer and hauling them around without supervision is healthy.

    please advise.

    1. he wants a two year tour of the United States. he does not want to work a full-time job during this time.

  17. Is 5500 too much to pay for a 1975 Dodge Holiday Rambler that is in very good condition everything works propane recently certified no leaks and road ready? Any thoughts?

  18. Is 88k too much for a 2016 Baystar Sport 2702 Newmar, 5,300 miles with 3 year warranty ? ?‍♂️ Can you help

  19. This is my dilemma trying to sell a like-new 2016 Leisure Travel Van (full options), 15,000 miles in September 2017. MSRP 134,000, I paid $121,000 new. Dealer paid factory $71,000. 2018 units are back ordered 10 to 16 months, very few used units on dealer lots. Using your depreciation, bank loan. and insurance total loss data my unit is worth about $94,000. RV dealers and brokers offer me only $60,000 to $75,00 cash or $85,000 to $88,000 trade-in. LTV dealers are buying 2018 units from factory for $82,000 and booking orders at $121,000 and higher. That’s a real world 18 month cash depreciation of 35 to 50 percent for me and other LTV owners. Buyers beware.

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