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How To Buy A Used RV

Posted on March 4, 2014

So you are in the market to buy a used RV.  Here are some tips that will help guide you in making a good decision and not one that you will regret. 

Tip #1.  One of the first things you want to do is take a look at the roof of the RV.  Has the roof been maintained?  If the roof is clean, free of black splotches and all the sealant is free of cracks.  It is a good sign that the owner paid attention to detail and took good care of his RV, because most people ignore the maintenance of the roof.  If the roof shows signs of neglect think carefully before making your purchase.  You also want to look at the roof on the inside of the vehicle.  Are there any discolorations on the roof fabric or paneling or is the paneling pealing where the roof line meets the wall.  In addition, look around the windows for any sign that the paneling is peeling.  These are all signs of a current or past water leak.

Tip #2.  When you go inside the RV for the first time, what does the air smell like?  Does it smell musty, if it does that a sure sign of mildew?  This means that there is or has been a water leak.  You will need to identify where that leak is or was located.  If it was in the roof this can mean a very expensive repair depending on how big the leak was and how long it existed.  If the leak was in the plumbing, it is less of a problem, but you still want to know where it is or was.  Water leaks can cause a lot of problems with dry rot.  So you want to have a very good idea what the problems are or have been.  One quick way to check for water leaks in the plumbing is to turn on the water pump and run the faucet for a moment and then turn the faucet off.  Then listen to make sure the water pump stops running, if the pump does not or short cycles this means that there is a water leak somewhere in the plumbing.

Tip #3.   How does the upholstery and carpet look?  Does the carpet show signs of high traffic?  Does the leading edge of the cushions on the sofa, chairs and front seats of the motorhome look like they are worn?  This gives you another idea of how much usage the RV has been through.

Tip #4.   Lift up the stove top and see how clean it is under the top.  If there is a large accumulation of grease this is a sign of heavy usage.  In addition, check the inside of the microwave is it clean, is the roof of the microwave clean?  Again this gives you an idea of how much use the RV has been through.

Tip #5.   Open the cabinets; are the leading edges of the cabinets worn?  How about the drawers do they slide in and out on their guides smoothly?  How about the bottoms of the drawers do they show signs of excessive use?   This again is another sign of how much the RV has been used.

Tip #6.   Does the air conditioner and refrigerator work?  Check the refrigerator if you smell any ammonia smells coming from the inside of the unit, this is a sign that it has a leak in the cooling unit.  Or if you look at the back of the refrigerator and see a yellowish residue this is another sign that the refrigerator has a bad cooling unit.  This is not a deal breaker, but it is a repair that will cost you around $800.00 for a rebuilt cooling unit installed (single core unit).  Or if you want to replace the refrigerator you are looking at around $1500.00 installed for a 6 or 8 cubic foot unit.  In addition, keep in mind that if the roof top air conditioner does not work, if it is a Freon or compressor problem, you are looking at replacing the air conditioner.  This is a $600.00-$900.00 repair.  If it is a basement model the Freon leak or compressor can be repaired, but the cost is considerably more.  Finally, while the manufacturer recommended maintenance will run you around $100.00 every other year for a roof top unit.  The maintenance on a basement model could be as much as $500.00 because the unit has to be removed, service and then reinstalled.

Tip #7.   Does the furnace and water heater work?  These appliances are less expensive to repair and parts are readily available.  The main thing you want to check for is to see if the water heater shows any signs of leaking from the tank.  If it does you are looking at replacing the water heater.  A new water heater will cost you somewhere between $350.00-700.00 depending on features.  Here at RV Supply Center, Inc. most appliance repairs are 1 hour labor plus the cost of the part(s).  In addition keep in mind that if the microwave/convection oven does not work most of the time you are looking at replacing the unit instead of a repair.  Microwaves/Convection ovens generally cost somewhere between $150.00-300.00.

Tip #8.   If the RV has a generator you need to make sure that it runs and produces 110V power.  The most common cause of generator problems is from lack of use.  This lack of use causes the fuel in the carburetor to turn to varnish which leads to having to replace the carburetor.  This can be an expensive repair.  Onan generators, which is the most common RV generator, there carburetors can cost between $269.00-350.00 on the current models.  These carburetors cannot be rebuilt and your only option is to replace them.  A good way to see if the generator is producing power and running well is to run the generator with the air conditioner on.  If it has a problem running the air conditioner either the A/C has a problem or the generator has a problem.

Tip #9.   If you are buying a 5th wheel or pull trailer you need to find out when the last time the wheel bearings were repacked and the brakes adjusted.  This is often one of the most neglected areas of a 5th wheel or trailer and yet it is vital to the safety of those towing and others you share the road with you.  If the wheels have not been serviced you could easily have to spend up to $1500.00 in repairs.  The cost of a bearing repack and brake adjustment is $35.00 per wheel.

Tip #10.   If you are looking at purchasing a motorhome you will want to check under the hood and look for any signs of fluid leaks.  Also check the fluid levels and as you do check to see if the fluids look clean.  In a gasoline engine the oil should be clear with a slight brown hue.  If it is a deep black it has been awhile since it has been changed.  The transmission fluid should not be brownish, but clear with a red hue.  If it is brownish the fluid is burnt meaning that transmission has gotten hot.  In addition, check the coolant it should look clear with a hue of green, yellow, or red.  Do the inside fins of the radiator show any signs of mineral build up.  This build up reduces the flow of the radiator and reduces its ability to cool.  Finally, if the vehicle has set for a long period of time you might want to be mindful that seals (transmission, oil pan, wheel seals) can dry out and you may have leaks once you start using it.

If you will follow these ten tips you will reduce the possibility of buying a used RV with significant problems.  Here at RV Supply Center, Inc. we offer a RV Systems Check, it is a three page check list that provides a very thorough inspection of the RV.  This systems check costs $255.00 at our current labor rate.

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