Considering buying a used RV? If so please take a moment and learn from our mistakes.
We purchasing a used 2011 fifth wheel in July 2016, moved into it and became full-timers. It was and continues to be an interesting experience.
We spent a good deal of money on our fifth wheel with full assurances by the salesman that we were getting a great deal. BUYER BEWARE! (I know that “Buyer Beware” is common knowledge buy for us there was a good bit of emotion involved in this purchase. This was a huge lifestyle change for us and we were very much caught up in the momentum of making things happen.)
Before I get into the sale story and lessons learned I will say that I accept full responsibility for the decisions made. This is not intended to be a “salesmen are scum” or a “woe is me” article (although a bit of each might pop up).
The boss and I were shopping around various dealers trying to figure out what we looking for in an RV. We were not shopping to make a purchase, we were trying to learn what it was we wanted and needed.
We stopped at one of the larger dealers in our area “JUST TO LOOK AROUND”. The salesman who greeted us came across as a pretty decent guy. No pressure, very helpful and quick to answer questions. After discussing our wants, needs and budget he suggested we look at a specific fifth wheel on his lot. Fast forward a few days and we bought it!
WHY such a fast purchase? We thought this unit was a home run; it was in like new condition, met all of our needs and was priced $6000 less that we could find the same unit or comparable units anywhere else online. It seemed like exactly what we needed for a price we had budgeted for. We were definitely caught up in the idea of making things happen.
Several times I asked the salesman why such a low price and his reply was something to the effect of “we got a good deal at trade-in and we are passing the deal on to you”. What a great guy (sarcasm). He was quick to point out several times that he was a member of the business owners family and that the business put customers first.! He said it without sounding like a salesman. My logic was that I was in the right place at the right time and “ran into a great deal”. Was it meant to be?
Before going any further I must point out that we had zero camper experience and were pretty caught up in the moment with our recent decision to become full-time RVers. The salesman took full advantage of our ignorance and enthusiasm. He got us hook, line and sinker.
Fast Forward a few weeks….. We moved into the RV and became full-timers shortly after the purchase.
We discovered that the RV leaks and that the back wall of the RV was rotten from water damage (Details Here). This never came up at any point in any sales conversation. It never came up during the purchase when the service guy from the shop gave us our walk through and orientation. It never came up when we pointed out a few minor issues that we identified in need of fixing before delivery (light bulbs, black tank level sensor, missing cover on an outlet).
I believe the dealership intentionally withheld the information to make the sale. After reviewing a video I took of the RV on the day we purchased it I can now recognize significant delamination of the rear wall. At the time I didn’t know what I was seeing and didn’t know to do a “tap test” to check.
The RV was purchased as-is with a 30-day warranty on appliances only. Because of this fact, the leaky RV is now my problem and I don’t expect the dealership to help at all. I never wasted the time to contact the dealership to make them aware of the issue. I made the bad decision, time to take ownership of it. I’ll just focus on solving the problem.
Am I mad….no. Just a bit disappointed in my ignorance. Live and learn!
What’s the point? I suppose the point is that you have a responsibility as a buyer to educate yourself and shop with caution. Bring a friend with some RV experience to shop with you and inspect any used units. Take some time to learn about potential RV issues before going out to look at RV’s. As a first time RV buyer, all of this may be challenging. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Here are a few suggestions of things to consider when shopping for a used RV.
RV SHOPPING CHECKLIST:
- Check all exterior walls of the RV and perform a tap test looking for hollow spots or spongy exterior.
- Look around the entire base of the RV for signs of water leaking from the frame (mildew, staining, rust, fungus)
- Touch and inspect every seam inside the RV. (ceiling to walls, walls to walls, floor to walls.) Inside cabinets and closets.
- Inspect bathroom. Checking for moisture stains or any walls or floors that feel spongy to the tap or touch.
- Have the seller turn on every light, tail lights, radio, TV, shower, sinks, toilets. This will require them hooking to water supply and pressurizing the rig.
- Turn on every appliance and ensure it is working. Including the oven stove and oven. Also, request that each appliance is demonstrated on propane and electric if so equipped. Don’t take their word for it that they switched power sources. Ask them to show you how they did it and know that it works in each configuration.
- Exercise all of the windows and window dressings. Blinds, blinds, emergency exits, windows, doors, hatches, locks, steps, antenna, AC, heater.
- Inspect the roof for obvious damage, repairs, tears or holes. It will be your responsibility after the purchase to ensure the seals are maintained (I recommend EternaBond RoofSeal Sealant) You just want to ensure that any existing problem has not been sealed over or hidden.
- Plug in an electrical appliance to every plug in the RV. Ensure that there are no issues with outlets or power supply.
- Request that the RV be plugged into shore power and turn on all of the interior appliances at the same time and use hot water until you are sure that the water heater is on as well. AC + Microwave + lights+TV + water heater element will trip your breaker every time. This is just the way it is with our RV but It took us a while to figure out. Better to know ahead of time.
- Check plumbing under and around sinks, toilet and shower for signs of water leaks or damage. Check exposed plumbing inside of any storage compartments for the same.
- Inspect the tires and inspect for cracking and damage. This might be an opportunity to sweeten the deal at a dealership. Request new tires as a term of your purchase.
- HERE is a very detailed checklist from another RV blogger that I found online (wish I had it at the time). It has suggestions beyond what I mentioned above.
All in all, we are still pleased with our RV despite its hidden problems. Replacing the water damage became an opportunity to learn a great deal about how my camper is built, sealed, insulated, held together, wired and finished. I am much wiser for the experience.
Repairing an RV is not terribly complicated because of the simplicity in how they are built. Just think of a tree-house on a flatbed trailer frame. That’s about it. I’m grateful that I had the time and means to make the necessary repairs. The repairs were not terribly expensive but took a good bit of labor and hours to complete.
Good luck to you on your RV shopping adventures. Watch out for the distracting enthusiasm and excitement that comes with buying your first Home With Wheels. Take your time, seek wise counsel, and use caution when listening to those lovely salesmen!
We wish you the best! Enjoy the adventure.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Groucho Marx
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