Selecting an RV

Buying an RV is like buying a home, not a car…

There’s lots of RV newbies out there as a result of the fire. Well over half of people’s first question when evaluating an RV is “What year?” and “How many miles does it have?” This is not a car, it’s a home that has all the same systems a traditional home has. It really doesn’t matter how old the RV is because even new ones require maintenance too, which costs the same regardless of age.

As a buyer, the 2 top questions should be “Does it have or ever had water damage?” and “Does it have a generator?” The first one is a non-starter. If it has water damage, I walk, unless the damage is minor and it was or can be easily fixed. For some people that may be all you can afford, but know you could regret it due to reduced indoor air quality and the constant stress in wet weather, as the structure will likely leak and further deteriorate.

The generator is a choice. If you know you’ll be plugged in somewhere, then it’s fine to live without. However, off-grid, in extreme temperatures you are going to want heating and cooling. So even though you could live by flashlight if you had to, you won’t want to live in an uncomfortable RV for very long.

The next thing I look for is water leaks from pipes. Turn on the water pump. Listen for the water pump for 5-10 minutes, if you hear it cycle, you have a leak. That could be something that is easy to fix (and not uncommon) or your biggest nightmare. Some leaks go undetected for a long time resulting in significant water damage and mold. If there’s a leak, depending on how well the RV was maintained, and if I can see how to fix it, I may continue inspecting it.

You are going to find stuff to fix in any RV no matter the age. What you need to decide as you find them is whether you can live with it or want to fix it. You will be evaluating systems for water and propane as well as your appliances. You should also ask to see the maintenance records and all manuals. How this is presented may reveal the owner’s care of this RV.

Major items that can be expensive when they go bad in approximate order of value: generator, fridge, A/C, entry door, furnace, water heater, awnings (partial loss), tires…

Another fundamental choice is trailer or RV? Trailers are always much cheaper, but you need a truck to tow it. Most consumer trucks are inadequate because you need a 3/4 or 1 ton truck to tow it. Otherwise count on replacing your transmission in a couple hundred miles. A proper truck-trailer combo costs more than an RV with a motor and transmission. ==> FACT. <==

Consider the HARD fact that RV mechanics will be hard to come by in the disaster zone, so DO NOT buy a trailer if you cannot tow it for service. You could be waiting weeks for a repair, which in some instances isn’t acceptable.

Also regarding the configuration besides a unit with an engine, the other big choice for full-timers is slides. They are wonderful because they add more living space. However be aware of the fact that they can get stuck open or leak. Repairs can be $5k+. If you can accept that, go for it.

Getting back to the newbie’s first question on age and mileage, which generally matter the least. Age could matter in some long term mobile home parks. If I knew for a fact I’d live in one, I’d plan accordingly. For over 90% of RV users, this isn’t going to matter.

What WILL matter is how does the unit look? And this is true EVERYWHERE you go. The age limit exists only because people don’t want to look at junky looking RVs, the age is otherwise irrelevant. In fact, if you have a great unit you are in love with, show some pictures to the park you want to be in and see if they will grant an exception.

One thing that is wonderful with older RVs is that they generally don’t decline in value. For example, a 30 year old RV can have more amenities and look just as good as a 10 year old RV. It can be just as reliable, but you won’t lose much money when sell it. =)

So the last newbie question on mileage. RVs generally are low mileage vehicles because they aren’t used for daily errands. 2-3 thousand miles a year would be normal usage range. Significantly below that tells you the RV sat alot. In that case, I’d be looking for rotten tires, belts and the like, especially if it came from Arizona (which is a common origin due to the retiree population) expect the RV to be well-baked throughout. As a general rule the RV chassis is reliable with regular maintenance of tires, oil, etc.

If in doubt about the condition of the RV you can hire 2 different types of professionals to evaluate it, one being an auto mechanic for the engine and chassis and the other being an RV specialist for the RV home features. If you are a newbie, I recommend if you hire a specialist to inspect the RV, video the inspection, and ask the RV professional to explain how the systems work.

If you can accept before buying the RV that things will break and you accept the challenge to deal with it, you’ll be fine. I’m an RVer with 15 years of experience. I am proud of having learned to fix most things myself and to appreciate the services of others when I can’t. I had no idea when I started how home systems work that I took for granted or how much energy and water is required for my comfort.

Being self contained with all the comforts I want for survival and being mobile is a wonderful experience. I am glad I took the plunge many years ago…. BEFORE my home fire and I have had many adventures to cherish. The few nightmares of ownership were quickly forgotten because nothing compares to the freedom of exploring and always knowing you have a plan B.

Wishing you well in your journey ahead,
~ Kimberly


Almost all content on this website is ORIGINAL research based on thousands of hours of work over the past 4 years post disaster… for FREE! Please credit accordingly, by referring back to this website. Tips welcome, but not required and words of kindness are ALWAYS appreciated.


~*~ Updated Jan. 1, 2019 ~*~
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