Whether you’re looking for the perfect vehicle for full-time van living, or a modest rig for weekend excursions, buying used camper vans for sale by owner is one of the best ways to get exactly what you want.
Buying any used vehicle can be intimidating and frustrating. Looking for a used camper van can be especially stressful, particularly if you plan on living in it full-time.
You’re going to want to be as sure as possible that your new home is safe and reliable.
We’ve put together the ultimate guide to buying a used camper van for sale by owner. It won’t be long before you’re out on the road in your dream machine!
Keep reading to find everything you need to know, including what to look for in a van, questions to ask the seller, and where to look for a used camper van.
What To Look For In A Used Camper Van
Before starting your search for used camper vans, you should ask yourself a few questions. These can include:
- How many people will be sleeping in the van?
- Is having a toilet or a bathroom important?
- Is it essential that you’ll be able to stand up in the van?
Once you have a clear idea of your specific needs, you’ll gain the confidence to start narrowing down your search.
Your state of mind is also an important concern as you begin your search.
You should try to stay as objective as possible when looking at used campers and not get emotionally attached to any van too quickly. It’s only natural to get excited, but your emotions can cloud your judgement!
Mileage On Used Camper Van For Sale By Owner
When you’re looking for used camper vans for sale by owner, you’ll most probably want a van with low mileage. An odometer with fewer miles means that you’ll be getting a better quality van with a longer lifespan.
But this isn’t always the case! A used camper van with 150K that has been well maintained is going to be a better bet than a van with low mileage that has been driven hard and not well cared for.
Make sure to do research on the specific van, too. Some vehicles are prone to having issues at higher mileage, while others, like Chevy Astros and Mercedes Sprinters are famous for running like champs well past 200K miles.
Used camper vans for sale by owner range in price from just a few thousand dollars to over $100K. Although sellers can be somewhat flexible with the price, it’s a good idea to know exactly how much you’re willing to spend.
You should always plan on reserving part of your budget as an emergency fund.
Although it isn’t pleasant to think about, things do go wrong with used campers, and you’ll feel much better knowing that you have some money put aside for future problems, should they arise.
Vehicle Age Of Used Camper Van For Sale By Owner
If you dream of cruising the highways in a cool, vintage camper van, there are plenty of older, well maintained vans on the market.
However, you should bear in mind that safety standards were different when these vans were produced. Newer vans have airbags, improved crumple zones, and more sophisticated braking.
If you plan on traveling with small children, you should consider buying a used camper van that has the LATCH system installed for child seats.
Although newer camper vans can have mechanical problems, older vans are more likely to need regular maintenance, including replacement parts.
On the plus side, a vintage camper van can be much easier to fix, and if you’re mechanically inclined you can work on it yourself!
Used Camper Van Resale Value
During your search for a used camper van, you might not be thinking about selling it again in the future! Resale value can be an important consideration, though, especially if you’re going to be testing out van life to see if it’s for you.
You may find that you love your new lifestyle and want to upgrade, or your life may take you in a different direction, forcing you to sell the van.
Either way, there are used campervans for sale by owner that will hold their value.
A boutique van such as a Mitsubishi Delica conversion is a solid investment, and as long as you take good care of it, will sell for close to what you originally paid.
Learn how to build your own van with this detailed van build sourcebook. While the title reflects Sprinter vans, the concepts can be used on any DIY campervan conversion. You'll learn design considerations, how to plumb your van, choosing solar panels, installing water tanks and electrical and wiring systems. A great resource!
What To Discuss When Buying A Used Camper Van For Sale By Owner
Once you’ve found a used camper van for sale by owner that you’re interested in, you’ll need to know which questions to ask in order to get a clearer picture of what’s on offer.
Most sellers will be happy to provide detailed information and additional photos via email. Use your common sense and intuition: if a seller seems evasive and unwilling to answer questions, you’re probably best off taking your business elsewhere.
Here are the most important things to discuss with any seller about their used camper van:
Reason for Selling
This is a great way to open a dialog with the owner.
Often, you’ll be able to ascertain how the owner feels about the vehicle by asking why they want to sell.
An emotional response from an owner that doesn’t really want to let the vehicle go can mean that the van has been loved and well maintained.
In many cases, people need to sell their vans to raise much needed funds. It may sound ruthless, but you’ll have an advantage when negotiating the price if you know that the seller needs quick cash!
Maintenance Records and Vehicle History
A used campervan that has been well taken care of should always come with thorough records of its service history.
If the owner can provide records for all of the maintenance and repairs that have been needed, you’ll have a clearer picture of what may need to be addressed in the future.
You might even be pleasantly surprised by upgrades and replacement parts that the owner has already taken care of.
The seller should also be able to tell you about the vehicle’s history, including how many owners it’s had, where it’s been driven, and how it has been stored.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find the unicorn camper van that’s been owned by one old lady and only ever driven on Sundays!
Used Camper Van Insurance
Many camper vans for sale by owner have been self-converted, which raises questions about insurance.
Many in the vanlife community have nightmare stories about converting a van, only to be denied coverage by their insurance company.
It can be really difficult to then find a company that will insure the conversion, and lying really isn’t an option.
Ask the seller about how they have insured the van, and whether or not they have re-titled it as an RV.
The seller will most likely have valuable knowledge about getting insurance for the van, and should also be able to provide you with records and photos of the conversion process.
These records can come in handy if your insurance company asks for detailed information.
Check out this article about how to get insurance for a conversion van.
Every different model of used camper van comes with its own set of vehicle specific issues.
VW Eurovans, for example, have notoriously delicate automatic transmissions, so you’ll want to find one that has an after-market transmission cooler installed.
Make sure to do your research before contacting the seller. You’ll be able to get a lot of information from online forums and vanlife websites that will help you get a feel for the kind of vehicle specific questions you should ask.
How to Get a Mechanical Overview Of A Used Camper Van
You’ve found a used camper for sale by owner that you’re excited about and the owner seems really honest!
The next step is to arrange a meeting, which not only gives you the opportunity to talk to the seller face to face, but also gives you time to check out the camper van and get a good feel for the vehicle.
We like to think that the majority of people selling used camper vans are good, honest people. Nevertheless, it’s always best to meet up in an easily accessible, public location during daylight hours.
During the current pandemic, personal safety is more important than ever, so wear a mask and practice social distancing when viewing the van.
Test Drive First!
It might seem like a no-brainer, but you should always take a used camper van for a good test drive before you commit to buying.
It would be a shame to buy a van that you love only to discover that you hate driving it, so make sure that the seat adjusts to your needs, the pedals are positioned comfortably, and that you like the way the van drives.
While you’re driving, pay attention not only to how the van handles, but also to any noises it makes. Listen for suspicious rattles or creaks. Even if they’re harmless, they could have the potential to make you crazy after hours of driving!
Bring a Friend
For many people, the idea of meeting a stranger and checking out their used camper van can seem intimidating.
It’s always a good idea to bring a friend along to help make you feel more comfortable. Plus, it’s always good to have another set of eyes and ears when test driving the van.
If you aren’t mechanically inclined, try and bring a friend who is. They’ll hopefully have some idea of what to look out for and have some good questions for the seller.
When you’re performing a self-inspection of any used camper van for sale by owner, there are a few things that may raise red flags and should make you wary of parting with your money.
- The price seems too low. Although there are some amazing deals to be had, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is!
- Rust. Make sure to check the entire body for rust. Even a small amount of visible rust can mean that the vehicle will be hard to maintain in the future.
- Dampness and water damage. Use your nose! A used camper van with leaks will smell like mildew. Make sure to test the flooring and walls for dampness wherever you can.
- Electrical issues. Take your time and don’t be shy about testing everything electrical.
- Tires. Check the tires for uneven wear, which could mean that the van needs an alignment, or even that the chassis is warped.
Arrange a Professional Vehicle Inspection
If you’re really interested in a particular used camper van, you should make an appointment for it to be inspected by a professional mechanic.
You shouldn’t need to spend more than $100 for an inspection, and having more detailed knowledge about the vehicle will be worth every penny.
Make sure to choose the mechanic yourself, and if possible, find one who has experience dealing with the specific van you are interested in.
Often, the mechanic will find issues with the vehicle that the current owner wasn’t aware of, and this can give you bargaining power with the seller if you still want to buy the van.
Where to Look for Used Camper Vans for Sale by Owner
Gone are the days when buying a used camper van for sale by owner meant searching through newspaper classifieds and having to buy speciality trader magazines!
Nowadays, the process of searching for a used camper van still takes a lot of time, but you have free access to listings all across the country from a range of different resources.
As your search progresses, you’ll quickly get a feel for what’s out there and how much a specific model usually sells for.
Find Used Camper Vans For Sale By Owner On Facebook
There are a number of Facebook groups that have been created for users to buy and sell used camper vans.
Campervans For Sale (Class B only) and Class B Camper Vans Classifieds are great resources. You’ll find people from all over the country selling used camper vans, and often they’ll be willing to deliver the vehicle.
These groups are great places to get a feel for what’s out there, and you’ll also find a lot of interesting discussion about used camper vans.
Find Used Camper Vans For Sale By Owner On Craigslist
Craigslist is a fantastic resource when you’re searching for a used camper van. Make sure to use the filters and only search for used campers for sale by owner.
Try multiple searches with different iterations. For example, if you’re looking for a used Sprinter, try entering “Sprinter conversion, Sprinter conversion van, and Sprinter camper van”.
If you’re committed to buying a very specific type of used camper van, searchtempest.com is a valuable tool that allows you to search multiple Craigslist areas at once.
It’s definitely worth noting that Craigslist is notorious for scams and dodgy dealers. Always have your wits about you when searching on Craigslist, and never agree to send money to sellers before meeting them.
Conversion Trader and Vanlife Trader
Conversiontrader.com and Vanlifetrader.com are quite similar. They are great places to find used camper van conversions, and both sites have plenty of filters to help you narrow down your search. Vanlife Trader even has a filter for the number of seats with seatbelts.
Although there is some crossover with Conversion Trader and Vanlife Trader – sellers often list their vans on both sites – it’s definitely worth checking them both out on a regular basis.
Beautiful used conversions show up for sale every day, and you’ll be able to email the seller directly.
RvTrader Used Camper Vans For Sale
RvTrader.com is a long-running website with thousands of vehicles for sale. You’ll need to use a lot of filters, and it can be a little difficult to separate used camper vans for sale by owner from those for sale by dealer, but RvTrader is a valuable resource.
Sellers will often only list their used camper for sale on RvTrader, so spend the time searching. You might get lucky and find your ideal camper van!
Pros and Cons of Used Camper Vans for Sale by Owner
Searching for a used camper van for sale by owner takes time and can be a stressful experience. You may feel like you’ll never find the van that’s right for you.
However, if you stay positive and are willing to be flexible, then chances are you’ll find a unique van that you can call home.
Here are some of the pros and cons to consider when buying a used camper van for sale by owner:
Conclusion on Used Camper Vans for Sale by Owner
Not everyone will feel comfortable buying a used camper van from a private seller.
Some will feel that the risks are too great, and the frustration and stress that can be involved in the search just aren’t worth it. But if you’re the kind of person who relishes a challenge and is willing to put in the time, there is a van waiting for you somewhere!
We hope you’ve found this article on used campers for sale by owner useful. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below!
Looking for something new instead? Check out these gorgeous new VW camper vans!
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Nicholas Marshall is a writer, photographer, and musician who currently lives in a ‘97 VW Eurovan with his wife and six-year-old daughter. Since selling their house and hitting the road, Nicholas and his family have meandered through the Western States. Van life has been everything they hoped it would be: challenging, rewarding, relaxing, and exciting.