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An RV or motorhome can be a ticket to a world of adventure. The open road, the places to see – it’s all there for the taking if you have to access to a good vehicle. But for travelers on a budget, the upfront cost of a vehicle can be quite prohibitive.
Purchasing a new vehicle can sometimes mean years in debt, and isn’t always the best option. There are plenty of used RV retailers, but even there it’ll take a large amount to take a vehicle home with you. For drivers with a seriously slim budget, sometimes the idea of an RV can seem eternally out of reach.
If this last sentence describes you, then I’ve got some great news: if you’re willing to put in some time, and come down on your standards a bit, it’s completely possible for you to find a free RV or motorhome in your area. This is not an article about a get-rich-quick scheme or a strategy for playing the lottery; we’re just going to look at some common places where you might be able to find a functioning vehicle that won’t put a dent in your budget at all.
Your ability as a repairman
Before you get too deep into the idea of looking for a free RV, the first thing you’ll need to decide is how much time and effort you’re willing to put in to do repairs on any vehicle you pick up. There is no secret marketplace where retailers unload perfectly functioning RVs without charging – the options we’re going to look at here often have pretty serious issues which will need to be addressed before the vehicle can go out on the road.
How much experience do you have doing cosmetic or functional repairs to an RV? Do you have access to a trusted repairman whom you could hire to do some of the work? What’s your budget for replacement parts and additional labor? These are all questions you’ll need to answer for yourself before jumping in to any free RV.
The level of your experience and the amount of time and money you’re willing to sink into repairs will determine which of the options we discuss are best for you. I know for some folks the idea of putting in the work it will take to get an RV back out on the road seems daunting, but I can also tell you from experience that there’s no feeling more magical than when you bring a vehicle back to life all on your own.
If that’s a feeling you’d like to experience, you’ll have a lot more options when it comes to free RVs.
Your goal: rent, own, or resell?
Another question you’ll need to answer right away is what you intend to do with any vehicle you’re able to pick up for free. You might be hoping to just get a few weeks or months out of an RV, or maybe you’re looking to find a long-term home on the road. You’ll need to analyze any RV you come across based on different criteria depending on where you land.
If you don’t expect a vehicle to last long, you can come down a bit in terms of the quality you’re looking for and the repairs you’ll need to do. Obviously, you can’t skimp on any important safety gear, but maybe you’ll worry a bit less about cosmetic elements that you otherwise might repair.
The other route you might be thinking about is reselling for a profit. As you know, used RVs can command a serious price if they’re in good working order, it’s possible you can make a profit by taking one off the junk heap and bringing it back to life.
If that’s the route you want to go down, you’ll need to know a whole lot about any repairs or additions you intend to make before you embark on a project. Sit down and make a detailed budget, making sure to leave yourself some wiggle room in case things go wrong. There’s nothing worse than embarking on a project only to learn later that you won’t be able to break even, so learn as much as you can about the RV and the parts you’ll need in advance.
It’s also important to have an end-buyer lined up well in advance. Ideally, you’d have one in mind before starting a project like this. You won’t make any profit at all if you can’t move the merchandise, so take that step seriously.
Looking for a free RV
Once you’ve decided what it is you want and what you’d like to do with it, you’re ready to begin looking around for your free RV. Let’s take a look at several different places where you might find such a vehicle, and what situations might make it possible.
Your best bet: transportation
The single most common circumstance under which you might find a free RV is not one where you’ll actually get to own the vehicle. That’s probably not what you were hoping to hear, but this can be a great situation if you’re simply looking to use a motorhome for one specific trip.
RV retailers and owners frequently find themselves in situations where a vehicle needs to get from one part of the country to another, and when that happens they frequently look to find a driver who can make the trek. In some circumstances, the owner will pay a driver for the service, but in a lot of cases, I’ve seen the driver is simply transporting the RV in exchange for getting to use it for a few days.
Talk with local RV retailers and owners and see if they have any upcoming transportation needs. If there’s a trip that you’d like to take, you might just have yourself some time in an RV free of charge.
Before you embark on a trip like this, make sure you understand exactly what’s expected of you in terms of timing and care of the vehicle. Ideally, you’ll get something in writing that spells out exactly what you’re signing up to do. You’ll also want to understand who’s insurance covers the trip, just in case something goes wrong.
As I said, this is not the best possible situation since you don’t get to keep the RV after transporting it, but if you find the right opportunity then this can be like a nice free vacation.
Family, friends, neighbors
First of all, there’s no need to venture far afield to find your free RV. One of the best ways you can find a deal like this is to pay attention to your own existing network of friends and family who own RVs. Folks will want to unload their vehicles for any number of reasons and if you find the right person, they might part with it for free. You can also check facebook groups.
When dealing with someone who wants to get rid of their RV, make sure you understand why they’re making this decision. It might just be a lifestyle choice or some other benign reason, but it could be because of some hidden damage with the vehicle itself. Make sure you get to perform an inspection and take a test-drive if possible.
When dealing with someone you know, it’s also important that you always be up-front about your intentions with the vehicle in question. If you plan to resell the RV in the future, make sure to share that information right away. It’s possible that your friend simply doesn’t have the time to broker a sale, and they might ask you to work with them to make it happen.
This is probably the least reliable method of procuring a free RV because you’re completely relying on just happening to know someone who finds themselves in a position where they need to get rid of their vehicle. You can help your odds by making sure that the RV owners you know are aware that you’re willing to help out in this kind of a situation, and by keeping up with them to learn about upcoming plans or lifestyle changes.
Your local RV dealer
Your local RV dealer is really focused on selling their stock, not letting them go for free. So that means even cars that aren’t in great shape they’re trying to sell. But over time, every dealer encounters something that they just can’t move, or that has some terrible defect meaning it’ll take a lot of work to get back on the road.
Maintain a strong relationship with your local RV retailer and it’s possible you’ll eventually find such an RV. When something like this comes up, don’t get your hopes up too much. We’re talking about an RV that even sales professionals couldn’t sell, so there’s probably something very wrong with the vehicle.
That being said, if you can take a motorhome that would otherwise have gone to the junkyard and get it back on its feet, that will be quite an accomplishment.
Speaking of scrap yards, they are also often a repository of RVs that are headed out of commission. Talk with your local scrap dealer and ask them to let you know if an RV ever comes in. Often you’ll find that these vehicles are beyond repair, but every now and then you’ll come across one that can be salvaged.
With a deal like this, you’re going to have a lot of logistics to think about. It’s entirely possible that the RV you get won’t be mobile at first. If that’s the case, make sure you have a plan to get it to your garage, and that you consider the cost of a tow when deciding whether or not to proceed.
Another thing to consider with RVs in this situation is the availability of parts. More than in any other place we’ve looked at so far, you’re likely to find really old RVs sitting in the junk yard. If you can, make an inventory of all the parts you’ll need and make sure you can still find somewhere to pick them up. Having to fabricate custom parts will really put a dent in your budget, so it’s best to avoid if you can help it.
Finding other owners online
So far we’ve looked at specific people in your area or your social circle whom you can talk to and potentially find a free RV. One thing that would be really helpful, though, would be to cast a much wider net and interact with many more RV owners all at once. To do that, we’ll need the Internet.
First, take a look at sites like Craigslist, Freecycle, or your favorite RV-owner forum to see if anyone is already looking to unload a vehicle. For all the reasons we’ve covered already, people all around the country might be looking to get rid of their motorhome or at least find someone to transport it from A to B.
If a search like this does not yield any results, you can be proactive by making your own post to let people know you’re available to handle their unwanted RV. I’d stick to the same sites already mentioned as they’ll give you a good chance of being seen by someone who might be interested.
When it comes to any internet transaction, it’s important to exercise caution and common sense. Make sure you have a chance to meet with the person you’ll be making the deal with, and try to set up an inspection of the vehicle before you commit to anything.
Finding a free RV is rare, but it does happen. For any number of reasons, an RV owner might find themselves with a vehicle that they either can’t sell or need to have transported. If you talk to the right people and find yourself in the right place at the right time, you might just be able to own or borrow an RV free of charge.