Pre-owned Class A pitfalls

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Nichols Worth

Member
Joined
Nov 27, 2012
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11
Location
South Florida
Are there inherent pitfalls in purchasing a pre-owned Class A that has been lived in full time or seasonally?  I see a great deal of pre-owned models with very few miles and low hours on the generator that lead me to believe they either are homes or never get used.  If pitfalls exist, what areas should I be checking (other than cosmetic) that would indicate it was a full time home?
Thanks, Bob
 
Most motorhomes get driven a lot less than cars, so the mileage is low in comparison. The RVIA says 6000-8000 miles/year is typical.

This means that chassis maintenance needs to be down on a time basis rather than mileage and also means that tires will probably die of old age before the tread wears out. We generally figure a tire is too risky to use after about 7 years, but some people get 8-10 years out of them. You can check the tire date code on the sidewalls, but its hard to know if the chassis has been properly maintained if there are no records.  A thorough check by a good mechanic is a wise precaution if you cannot make this assessment yourself.

Low hours on the generator is a warning sign too. Generators need to be run regularly to keep the electrical & electronic components dry and the engine healthy. 30-60 minutes per month under load is recommended.  If you see a generator with low hours, run it for at least an hour under moderate-heavy load (like an air conditioner) to make sure it is in good working order. Just starting it and checking for power output isn't sufficient - it needs a lengthy run test.
 
I personally don't see how a motorhome was used as being as critical as how it was maintained. To Gary's point, there are several mechanical health checks that can be easily performed, and any number of others by competent technicians. Many of those are itemized in the Library here and by searching topics.

There are any number of people on this Forum who spend considerable time in their coaches, some with low mileage, and have some higher mileages on their rigs, and knowing how meticulous they are in their maintenance, I wouldn't hesitate to follow them as the next owner.

I would evaluate the unit's condition as a whole and as to how you intend to use it when making a purchasing decision.
 
IMHO there is a marked difference in RV's depending on if they sat unused or were lived in full time. I would opt to buy a used rig in the middle.

Rigs that sit for months unused will often have problems with macerator pumps, furnaces, refers, etc. simply from sitting and collecting rust and corrosion. You may find rust and pitting on leveling jack cylinders, you might find brake linings stuck to the drums or discs from sitting too long. If not washed and waxed regularly, the paint may have started to suffer from sun or rain exposure. Leaks which would have been noticed in a well used rig may have gone unnoticed and unrepaired resulting in damage. If they sat plugged in to shore power, how many times have the batteries been cooked and then water added only when they thought about it?

On the other hand, rigs that have been lived in full time may suffer from wear. Seat cushions may be starting to sag from constant use. Day n Night blinds only go up and down so many times before the strings wear out and require replacement. Compartment door latches, with those plastic tongue pieces only open and close so many times before breaking. Depending on the mileage, service brakes, engine brakes, turbos, and other parts may be close to the end of their life span. Carpets, door latches, and mattresses may be showing age.

All these items are subject to the amount of care they've been given over the lifespan. There are folks who haven't been able to travel for a year or two who get the oil changed and chassis lubed every year even if the rig has only been driven 30 miles each month to keep things working right. These folks may have the rig washed and waxed every 3 months even though it sits in an enclosed storage building. Rigs in this category are scarce.

Somewhere in the middle is the rig I want. I want one that has been on 100 mile weekend trips every couple of months, with a big vacation once a year. One with older owners that didn't spill milk on the sofa cushions. I want one where the owner wrote in the log book every time he did any maintenance item, when the genset was run, when the compartment hinges and latches were cleaned and lubed. Someone who has a well thought out maintenance plan, one that checks and replaces items when they are worn, but not broken. When you go to look at the rig, the owner shows you the 4 different colors of touch up paint, where the spare serpentine belt is stored and tells you about when the hydro-hot was serviced. When I look in the owners manual, I want to see the notes written in the margin of what small item was different on that rig. If the owners manual is clean and pristine, it wasn't used much, the maintenance probably wasn't done often either.

Just my thoughts,

Ken
 
Rigs that have been lived in a long time fulltime, will often have upgrades and owner modifications.  This can be a huge blessing or a total disaster.

I've seen rigs where beautiful cabinetry was ripped out to make room for cheap pressed wood storage.  Another one had built some extra end tables and bar out of the roughest cheapest plywood they could find, then they slathered it in black paint that did nothing to hide the awful choice in plywoods.

One rig had the bathroom completely removed and a walk in closet in it's place. Mind boggling! 

I saw another one where the owner was color blind. He had redecorated as things wore out, with the most hideous clashing colors and prints  that gave me a headache to look at.

On the other hand... I've seen former lived in rigs that had thoughtful upgrades, like nicer faucets, a custom spice rack, an ultra comfy mattress and custom cabinet and closet organizers. It was highly customized but quite beautiful and the work was spot on quality.

Your best bet is to look at hundreds of used rigs before you buy one so that you are ultimately happy with your final choice.

Buying a used rig is EASY.

Reselling a mistake can be very  costly and time consuming.

Even if you stumble into rigs you like but can't afford, the owner or dealer may be far more reasonable months down the road. So it pays to keep tabs on those rigs you like but can't afford in case they later have a sharp drop in pricing.

I watched a certain person out of sheer desperation discount her rig every month it didn't sell. She started out asking $85,000 and it was in tip top shape but as the months rolled on her financial situation became critical and she kept reducing the price until one day a couple drove away in it for $32,000.  They put it right back on the market  while they used it for tailgating parties.  A  few months later sold it for $70,000.  I thought my friend was going to have a heart attack when she found this out in a round about way.

While a deal like that is rare... it can happen if you've got time on your side while shopping around.


 
I recently bought a 2007 model than only had 2200 miles on the odometer.  I DID have some problems.  Radiator hose clamps were rusted, brakes needed to be overhauled, exhaust had to be replaced and one AC unit failed.  Once I took care of those problems, it's been completely trouble-free for the last 8000 miles AND I got a fantastic deal. 

I think what one other poster said is dead on.  Find one that's in the middle (not worn out and not sitting for years). 
 
Our first rig was 17 years old with 30K miles.  It was used quite a bit 3 different times in it's life (4 when we were done with it) once when it was brand new, then the owner parked it for a few years, then again when the kids started borrowing it, then again a couple of years later.  We used it extesivly for around 18 months before passing the torch to another family.  We had to replace the Generator board and the water heater board, everything else was just maintenance.

Our current rig was 10 years old when we bought it, it had 10200 miles on it. The original owner took it out to the sand dunes 4 or 5 times each year and stored it in his warehouse the rest of the time.  I have found that recreational users tend to put between 1,000 and 5,000 each year on their rigs.  We generally put either just under or just over 5k, with 8-10 weekend trips and one 1 week trip and one 2 week trip each year.

The storage yard where I keep mine has about 50 rigs on it that never ever move, those are hte ones that scare me.

Jeff
 
topdownman said:
I recently bought a 2007 model than only had 2200 miles on the odometer.  I DID have some problems.  Radiator hose clamps were rusted, brakes needed to be overhauled, exhaust had to be replaced and one AC unit failed.  Once I took care of those problems, it's been completely trouble-free for the last 8000 miles AND I got a fantastic deal. 

I think what one other poster said is dead on.  Find one that's in the middle (not worn out and not sitting for years).

What was it about the brakes and exhaust that they had to be worked on after only 2,200 miles?

Much of what's been posted here pretty much applies to anything mechanical.  If it's sit for to long a period of time....especially multiple times over a few years you can be pretty sure that somethings going to need to be overhauled.
 
There are a lot of good used MH's out there. If it were me I would take a hard look at overall condition and odors. Look at key areas where the previous owner may have worked on the MH himself. Find a good mechanic who can give you advice. Any signs of abuse or poor workmanship I would pass!
 
It was corrosion from sitting outside in a gravel lot.  The slack adjusters were not working properly so they were replaced along with the clevis pins and air cans.  The tailpipe had a pinhole where it was welded to the muffler.  I replaced the muffler with an Aeroturbine.

JCZ said:
What was it about the brakes and exhaust that they had to be worked on after only 2,200 miles?

Much of what's been posted here pretty much applies to anything mechanical.  If it's sit for to long a period of time....especially multiple times over a few years you can be pretty sure that somethings going to need to be overhauled.
 
I think the trick is to try to find one where everything is working on it when you buy it.  Granted it is used and things fall apart as time goes on. If you get a decent deal used, in many cases, the future repairs and maintenance will still be cheaper than buying and maintaining new.

It's easier to upgrade an old rig more to your liking, because you are replacing old stuff with new stuff. If you start customizing a new rig, then you are replacing new stuff with new stuff, and not gaining much ground there.

New rigs are not maintenance free and some folks end up tethered to the dealer until they get all the warranty mess sorted out.

In my case, I opted to pay cash for a used rig with zero financing. My repairs, maintenance and upgrades have been far far  cheaper than payments on a new rig.  Also as things need repairing, I am able to upgrade to my liking.  For instance many motorhomes come with cheap faucets and I wanted a nice retractable faucet with single hand controls.  If you switch this out in a new motorhome, you are yanking out a new  faucet to put in a decent one, but in my case I was tearing out a 15 year old  faucet to put in a new fancy one.

On used rigs the engine schedule is typically out of whack, because the mileage isn't that high per year. You just have to use some common sense and try to locate a decent mechanic (very hard to find!) I find a pretty good shop for my engine, I went in with my list of work, which they did, but they also wrote down a punch list of suggested repairs and maintenance.  I crossed off the ones I could do myself and the rest we talked about and I pretty much went with their recommendations.  I had to postpone a few items (my budget needed a new infusion first)  but still, I was extremely lucky. The engine has been purring along taking me places without complaint.

The biggest pitfall I see is the folks that advertise their rigs that need"minor" repairs then claim you can do them all real cheaply. If they were that cheap to repair, the owner would do them before selling it. But some RV owners are clueless about their rigs despite owning them for years. It's understandable that many do not do their own work, but some never think to get a 2nd opinion on "major" repair estimates  that may not be major at all.

Some RV  places create MAJOR repairs out of minor ones.

Even when you need repairs on a used rig, I have learned  to shop around.  Some places will only "repair" things by forcing a new replacement on you. Others are willing to repair the existing equipment. For instance when my air conditioner fan died overnight, the first 3 shops I talked to refused to repair the fan, insisting I needed a whole new AC unit because mine was old.

The 4th place, couldn't repair the fan but  replaced it with a used fan very reasonably and the AC has been working fine for 2 years now. Yes, you read that right, a used fan.  He was willing to rip a running fan out of an old unit he had out back that had a dead condenser. We both came out ahead on this deal.

Recently when my furnace refused to start one day,I  popped the cover off the thermostat and brushed out the dust, but it still wouldn't start.  I checked to make sure the propane tank was working (everything else lit up fine.)  I took off the furnace cover and stared at it a good long time...  Well, um, that was the extent of my repair knowledge on furnaces!

Many dealers and repairmen would have you believe that equipment can be fine one day and completely dead the next requiring a brand new replacement. While this might be true in a few cases, sometimes a wire is loose or something needs cleaning or it needs a minor part.

One shop wanted $299 for what they called annual furnace maintenance and I would have to leave my rig with them for several days. Apparently they don't like to work with fulltimers and can't schedule a repair to start at a specific time. "Just leave it here a few days and we'll get around to it".  I wasn't about to uproot my dog and I to relocate to a hotel because of their lack of  organization.

The next guy I talked to, popped the cover back off the thermostat, cleaned the contacts, started the furnace and said "Well, that's fixed now!  What else you want me to do?"  I was so impressed, I gave him my entire punch list and he ran around fixing and diagnosing. Most things he repaired in just a few minutes, others needed a minor part he had to track down and repair later.
 

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