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This page I wrote for my old rv website RVforSaleGuide.com before discovering the Vanabode as the best travel vehicle for long term fun. People still like big rv's despite the much greater cost and trouble to operate, so here's what I know about them.
Used RV prepurchase checklist
This used RV prepurchase list helps you figure out what is right and what is wrong with the rv you are considering buying. Used rv purchases can be tricky. This prepurchase checklist will take some time to work through but will serve as a very valuable resource to assist you in evaluating a motor home, rv, or bus for purchase. Use this GENERAL list along with the more SPECIFIC information on your particular platform of choice found at RV Issues, or Conversion Buses, or School Buses.
Oil Analysis - Ask seller to provide you the records showing that the engine and transmission oil have been analyzed on a regular basis. If they have not done this then the price should reflect this. Regardless of records, you should pull your own oil analysis which can detect: fuel dilution of lubrication oil, dirt contamination in the oil, antifreeze in the oil, excessive wear of internal components (by finding excessive traces of metal), wrong type or grade of lubricants. Some wear is normal, but abnormal levels can give an early warning of impending problems and help prevent a major breakdown later. Early detection will reduce repair bills, reduce catastrophic failures, increase machine life, reduce nonscheduled downtime. For example early detection with oil analysis can allow for corrective action such as repairing an air intake leak before major damage occurs. One of the major advantages of an oil analysis program is being able to anticipate problems and schedule repair work to avoid downtime during a critical time of use.
Rust - When buying a used rv remember - rust cannot be stopped. Rust does not rest. Rust MUST be taken seriously no matter how cheap your rv candidate is. If you think you can sheet metal and bondo your way to a permanent fix, think again. A little rust on the body surface may be acceptable for the price. Do not however, accept structural rust, flaking frames, rusting-out fenders or hood hinge mounts, anything that would be a major problem when (not if) it gets twice as bad as it is now.
Service Records - Ask for service records, original paperwork, and recent repair receipts. Everything in the paper trail will help you determine value and avoid potential problems. It will also reward you with some eye opening information. Oh, you mean you didn't know an engine swap could cost $3,000? Surprised that a brake job with rotors and new lines was $1,200? Receipts and paperwork are very valuable.
Carefully look through the paperwork and avoid the purchase of an rv with no paper trail at all. Look for weird situations. Finding a receipt for an AC charge might be good, if its recent. Come across receipts for an AC charge done three times in the last year and you have a problem with your used rv.
NOTE: If the VIN number on the service records or receipts does not match the vehicle you are purchasing then obviously that paperwork is meaningless.
BUDGET for parts and labor on ANY mechanical part for which you don't have a good history, receipt trail, or ability to inspect. In other words if you can't verify its condition then don't buy the used RV unless you can afford to replace it, part by part. That means: AC, brakes, hydraulic lines, engine compression, transmission condition, steering and front end parts, electrical system from the wiring harness to the gauges, alternator and fuse panels, tires, body, and glass, air compressor buildup and recovery times, and many other items your mechanic can advise you about. Visit RV winterize on how to prepare and store your rv for the winter.
Bus and used rv parts for the major brands are available for even 30 to 40 year old units. More obscure brands, those made in foreign countries and imported, and models with short production spans can present major problems however. Parts availability issues are one of the reasons you sometimes see beautiful $20,000 - $40,000 RV's sitting idle. These are huge complicated machines depending on the proper functioning of thousands of used parts. Be sure you have at least TWO sources for parts lined up BEFORE buying any used RV.
Financing your RV - Many companies offer better financing for certain preferred builders and even certain models, especially those that have the lowest depreciation. The purchase of any used rv for business should not be done without a thorough evaluation of the finance options that are attached to it. Some banks won't finance a commercial vehicle until it has passed a DOT inspection, some offer lower rates for "occasional use", and some charge a higher percentage rate if you plan to "live aboard".
RV Insurance - this can be a real "dream breaker". How will you tell your family that you you got a great deal on the rv for them and fixed it up real nice, but...well nobody will insure it cause it's too old, or the brakes are after market, or there was a recall on it. Rv converters, how would you like to finish your rv repairs with $30,000 in renovations only to learn it's uninsurable with normal companies due to "gross vehicle weight issues".
Do NOT underestimate this part of the process. Get an insurance quote in writing from at least TWO major carriers before signing to purchase a vehicle of any type. Insurance cost is important when comparing two different vehicles also. If the older vehicle costs twice as much annually in insurance costs would it be worth it to buy the newer used rv?