See our rv quick reference chart which shows all popular types of motorhomes and bus conversions, complete with a list of advantages and disadvantages of each. Whether buying from an individual, municipal government, used camper dealer, or used rv dealer, you have a number of things to consider.
First, you have to decide which type rv you want (see navigational links on the left that appear on every page) then you decide budget and begin research on the individual units you are looking at. Just because an rv is being sold at an auction doesn't mean it's a piece of junk. Usually due to insurance reasons most have been maintained quite well. Many agencies have to sell due to decreased enrollment in a project or funding changes. Sometimes it's just their policy: no rv's over 8 years old or over 200,000 miles, etc.
Trying to save a few dollars on the foundation is dumb. If you need to skimp do so on the cosmetics later. The church kids or tour group aren't going to care if they sit on vinyl or leather, but have a breakdown due to faulty brakes, and they'll never forget it. Your spouse may not mind the cheap bed mattress you put in, but if the rv won't start, you won't be using the bed at all.
With fuel costs steadily rising and disposable incomes falling, park model trailers are an increasingly popular alternative to conventional RV ownership, resort vacations or site-built housing. Mounted on wheels and built on road-worthy single chassis, they are ready to go where you want to be, whether your destination is an RV park in your favorite city or that perfect piece of land far off the beaten track.
With no expensive automotive components, park models are significantly cheaper than RVs, yet they can be easily moved when it's time for a change. With their upscale appearance, size averaging 400 sq/ft, and amenities, they can rival the best resort accommodations for the price.
Now you have access to an auction list or an inventory of used rv's, or an individual rv in mind. 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 $13,000? Surprised that a brake job with rotors and new lines was $1,400? Or that a tire mounted and balanced cost $400? Receipts and paperwork are very valuable, as rv sales is not all there is to the puzzle. Carefully look through the paperwork and avoid the purchase of any 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. Of the receipts don't have the rv VIN on them how do you know the receipts are for the rv you're looking at.
Rule of thumb when checking into rv sales for one tenth the original price. BUDGET for parts an 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 it's condition then don't buy the 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.
Some people want to build their own rv. It is possible to buy a used school bus for $5,000 that originally sold for over $70,000 or a nearly indestructible stainless steel passenger coach for 10% of the original price. See truck sales for options on converting and making your own rv from a tractor trailer style shell. With such a great bargain to begin with, you really shouldn't purchase anything but the best foundation you can afford. You may later choose to spend $10,000 to $30,000 or hundreds of hours of your time on converting or customizing the rv. Do you really want to build on a shell that has a bad frame? Do you really want to invest so much in an rv that has a bad engine or transmission that you must constantly fight with?
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. If the rust is just a little, it'll grow quickly by the time you're done investing a lot of your time and money. A little rust on the body surface may be acceptable for the price. Do not, however, accept structural rust, heavily 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, will make you very sorry.
Service Records - If you're buying from a middle man and he can't produce it, you may have problems, possibly serious ones. If not, he'd be proudly displaying the records. Check how long since the engine rebuild - they last about 75 -125,000 miles, depending on whether they are driven stop and go in the mountains or over long stretches of flat highway. Records are important in rv sales.
Leaks - Look for ANY signs of leaks, particularly from Automatic Transmissions. Some Allison transmissions used in rv's have weak front seals and leak when the transmission gets really hot. Don't buy an rv with a leaky transmission. A replacement Allison can cost $5,000 parts and labor. Leaking brake components or hydraulic systems can be expensive to repair also.
Transmissions - try for an automatic unless you have a real preference. Older standard shifts are MUCH harder to sell because many older coaches are purchased as conversion candidates. Retirees mostly buy motor home conversions and they don't like to shift. Allison makes the best transmission systems.
Wheels - make sure they are not bent, twisted, heavily scratched (this could make it difficult to balance), or rusted badly. Make sure the lug nuts tighten properly and do not look crooked or heavily rusted.
Insurance - Check out these highly rated insurance programs for those with good or average driving records. RV travel can be especially confusing and difficult in certain conditions, especially into Mexico or Canada. When you plan on taking your RV on the road, it is important to be sure you have the right auto insurance. In many states liability insurance is required, which means that traveling from state to state in an RV that is uninsured could ruin your trip. Your vehicle may even be impounded, which would crush touring multiple states.
Accidents - Anytime rv's or motorhomes get into trouble accident wise I think it is a good idea to get an attorney involved. Motorhomes are especially vulnerable to vicious and unwarranted traffic related suits. An accident attorney can help you claim compensations for medical expenses, medical care, punitive damages, loss of income, pain and suffering, and more.
Engines - get the biggest engine you can afford, especially if you are adding conversion weight to the vehicle. There is NO substitute for size (raw cubic inches) I don't care what the ads say. My car has a 440 in it why would you buy a huge rv with a 318? Initially the single most important issue you should start with in your journey for more information is to stay focused on rv sales.
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