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How to Buy an RV at an Auction, and What to Expect

Published on June 26th, 2019 by Camper Report
This post was updated on July 23rd, 2019

Buying an RV at an auction can be fun and really exciting, but it’s super easy to get carried away. If you’re not careful, your wallet and bank account could end up reaching empty without even meaning to. Believe me, that is never a fun trap to fall into.

But don’t let that scare you away from the auctions because they really can be a lot of fun. Don’t worry. I’ll let you in on some quick tips on how to get those great deals on an RV and what to expect at an auction.

What is an RV Auction Anyways?

The most important thing to know about an RV auction is that bidding is included. It will not be your simple walk up to a dealer and settle the deal at the starting price of the RV. No, other people will be wanting that RV too, and you’ll likely have to fight for it.

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I like to imagine the scene from Finding Nemo where the seagulls are fighting over one little crab as it gets snapped from one beak to the other. But… auctions tend to have a bit more class than a hungry mess of seagulls, so I don’t think the bidding wars will really get that messy, but you should still be prepared to fight (through bidding) for your desired RV.

Typically, an RV auction is a great way to find an RV for a really great deal for an RV that will be new to you. The most common RV auction will be made up of used and repossessed RVs in a sort of liquidation sale, but it isn’t always so common to be dealing with the original lender as the person or company selling the RV.

RV auctions also tend to be the place where rental companies and dealerships will take their aging RVs and unwanted inventory. But you know how it is, one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure. An “aged” RV could just be one that’s only five years old and never really had the chance to leave the inventory lot. It’s the same with the unwanted inventory.

Most often, dealerships will like to stay up to date with the latest RV trends, and those who want to buy brand new RVs will want to do the same.

That means the used ones–even gently used–will be pushed to the back like hidden gems left for you to find at these handy RV auctions, and you could be the one to get it for a much better price than you ever would have found at the dealership. How exciting is that?

Here’s a little video that talks about the different types of RVs you might see at an RV auction.

As you can tell from the video, there are plenty of options of RVs that you could find that could be varying in condition.

Whether you want to take a chance on one of the RVs that need extensive repairs or just one of the RVs that were repossessed is up to you, but it does leave you with a lot of choices that you should definitely be ready to make once you get to the auction.

Sure, there’s the chance that you could find a lemon of an RV at the RV auction, but the chances tend to be slim and can be even slimmer if you inspect your options and do your research first. We’ll get into tips on how to do that in a bit.

As a side note, you can also run into lots of different types of RVs at your average auto auction as well, so don’t cross the auto auctions off your list when searching for an auction to go to just because it doesn’t explicitly state RV in the name.

One great option for auto auctions that will carry RVs is Capital Auto Auction, and they even have an online auction option if you’re out of state.

Register for the Auction

Alright, before you can get into any of the biddings or even think about buying an RV from an auction, you’ll need to register for the auction first. That’s the only way you can actually count as a valid bidder. I know, it’s a bummer that you can’t just walk in on the auction and bid away, but the registration process actually comes in handy.

Why? Well, public auctions can have all different types of rules and ways of doing things. Perhaps they have different colored lights to signify when the bid has ended or has paused for technical reasons. Don’t you want to know what their different signals mean, so you can know that you’re doing the bidding right?

The registration will also usually include terms and conditions for specific sales as well as different insights on different RVs that are expected at the auction if you’re lucky.

As that is, some RV auctions will allow you to register on-site if you forgot to register online beforehand.

Arrive Early and Check Out Your RV Options

Now that we’ve made sure that you know to register for the auction, we can move onto how to make sure you won’t end up getting a lemon.

The easiest way: arrive early and inspect all of your options. Everyone knows that the early bird catches the worm; in this case, the worm is simply a great deal on an RV.

Most public RV auctions will allow you to walk around both the inside and outside of the RV before the auction actually begins. This is a key thing to take advantage of because it will give you a great chance to make sure the RV doesn’t have any noticeable damage that could potentially cause problems.

Look closely; you probably won’t get to see or hear it run, so if it looks like there’s a problem that could potentially go deeper into the RV than just what you can see, maybe hold off on bidding for that one.

This is also a good time to check out excessive wear and tear on the inside that looks like too much to handle or signs of previous accidents that probably should have been repaired already.

However, if the RV does end up having some wear and tear, it could still be worth the purchase just because it could potentially come at a lower bidding price, and you could even have money leftover from not buying the RV new to spend on some simple fix-ups and repairs.

Really, just be sure to know just how much time you’re willing to put into the RV in the long run, and that should help you to make a clear decision as to whether or not you want one of the fixer-uppers from the auction.

Also with arriving early, be sure to take a look at all of the options and make up a list in your head of best to worst, and figure out which one you could see yourself actually purchasing and enjoying. This way, you’ll have a pretty good plan to go off of when it comes to the time to start the bidding.

Do Your Research on the Different RVs Available

If you have a little bit of extra time before the bidding begins, maybe consider researching the different types of RVs on your list of options that you plan to bid for. Check out the NADA values and prices to get an idea of what a fair price looks like for that specific RV.

RV auctions are supposed to get you better prices than what you could find at the dealerships; don’t let it become the opposite just because you didn’t research what the right price would be first.

Another thing to research is the auction website. Of course, you should also do this beforehand in order to know exactly what type of auction you’re getting yourself into and what other people might be saying about the auction, but sometimes, they might have more information about the different RVs for sale.

These little blurbs about the specific RVs that will be at the auction can be super helpful because they could give you some pretty good details about the make and model of the RV and maybe even a little bit of information about its history.

If you do end up finding out a bit of the RV’s history, be sure to pay attention to accident reports, recent repairs, and how exactly the RV ended up getting to the auction in the first place. This type of research can help you to have a bit more confidence with your plan for bidding.

Let the Bidding Games Begin

Now for the fun part: the bidding. The best way to go about the bidding at an auction? Have a plan in mind. I don’t know about you, but it can be kind of fun going back and forth with someone to see who will back down first on the bid. I mean, all you have to do is make some sort of signal or call out a number, and you’ve got your name on the list. How easy is that?

But… easy is not always the best, especially in this situation because easy means getting carried away with the competition of the bidding, and that could mean paying way too much for a single RV. Believe me, you do not want to happen. So, yes, do have a plan first.

Plan it Out

Plan out in your mind exactly which RVs you would consider bidding for and which one is at the top of your list. You probably will not want to waste your time bidding for every single RV offered at the auction just to see how the other bidders will respond.

For all you know, you could end up getting stuck with an RV that you really did not want or need. So please, know when to hold out on the bidding.

As part of the planning, you should also set a specific budget for yourself. Ideally, setting a budget should help you to not get lost in the bidding wars and empty your wallet completely. Know your budget, and once the bidding numbers surpass your limit, just back off the bidding.

If you set an appropriate budget for yourself, most likely, if the highest bid has passed your limit, you would end up overpaying for a used RV anyway.

A good way to set an appropriate budget for yourself is by setting it to that target price that we discussed earlier. Look at what the average price should be of your top RV from the auction lot, and match your budget to it.

You have to remember that the majority (if not all) of these RVs are used or even lightly damaged. If you end up matching the highest bid to the price of a new RV, you’ve definitely overpaid.

Know When to Back Away

As I mentioned earlier, you should also be prepared to back away when the bidding gets out of hand. Please, do not be afraid to back away.

If the bids start skyrocketing because of some sort of bidding war, just make the good decision to back off and let the other bidders battle it out amongst themselves. I know it can be hard, especially if it’s for an RV at the top of your wishlist or even the last one left on your list.

It can be a bummer to walk away from auctions empty-handed, but it’s easier than going home to your spouse and explaining how a bidding war set a drought to your bank account.

Another thing to keep in mind while the bidding is to raise the bid only by small increments. It isn’t at all necessary to raise the bid by $500 or $1,000 at a time.

The only thing that will do is raise the price beyond the worth of the RV way to quickly. So don’t be afraid to work with small numbers–maybe not as low as raising the bid only by a few cents though.

Don’t Let Intimidation Win the Game

On the other hand, you might be the type of person who isn’t too keen on speaking up during an auction if another bidder has already offered a price. Don’t worry, I can tend to be that type of person, too, sometimes. Being shy is nothing to be embarrassed about, and it’s nothing to keep you from buying an RV at an auction either.

I know, some of the auctions can really seem like yelling matches, especially the ones you see on TV, but that isn’t necessarily how all auctions have to go. The most important thing is to just not get intimidated. Just because somebody shouted out a higher bid than yours doesn’t mean that you’ve already lost the deal. It only means that things just got a little more interesting.

Put yourself out there, and raise the bid–not too much, of course, but enough–and let the other bidders know that you mean business. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, or else you will be trampled by the other bidders and not be taken seriously.

It’s okay to take a step back for a second and collect your bearings; in fact, to other bidders, that may seem like you’ve lost interest in the RV and its heirs for the taking, and they won’t raise the bidding price any further. That’s when you can jump back in and set the final bid, win the deals, and crush the other bidders’ dreams.

Okay, that seems a bit harsh, but you know what I mean. Stepping away from the bidding for a bit can slow things down and set a false sense of security over the crowd only for the last bid to end up being yours.

Having a Strategy

Honestly, there is no one bidding strategy that will be the absolute best. It really depends on your personality and what you find works best for you. If you’re one to jump right into the bidding and set the price as low as possible only to see just how much higher it can go from there, go ahead. If it works better for you to wait until the end of the bidding to jump in, then do it.

Either way, the best way to get through the bidding part of the auction is to pick a strategy and go with it. If it doesn’t work for you, wait for the next round of bidding and try something different. No matter what, don’t give up and just try to have at least a little bit of fun.

And lastly, “may the odds be ever in your favor.”

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