How to Buy a Used Motorhome
The old saying of ‘an ounce of prevention’ is very true when looking to buy a used motorhome.
With the costs of new motorhomes as they are, for those of us on a tighter budget, buying a used motorhome can be a sensible solution to getting into the great outdoors without having to dig ourselves into a financial hole. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking at the used market. Unlike buying a used camper trailer, there are more mechanical issues to look for. Let’s examine what all of you should know when looking to buy a used motorhome.
Unlike a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel, when buying a used motorhome, you need to take into account the mileage on the drivetrain. Ask the exact mileage on the odometer and follow up with asking for maintenance logs. If the seller can’t produce any, this should be a red flag.
Most modern motorhomes are built using a Ford drivetrain, either one of the bigger gas engines, with the Triton V10 being very popular, or a diesel variant. This is a good thing as these are popular engine platforms for heavier trucks and machinery. Parts availability is good, as are competent mechanics to work on them. Before you buy a used motorhome, be sure to take it to a mechanic for inspection, and look for one who understands RVs. Some motorhomes have motor accessibility that is very different from trucks and other equipment.
Another popular engine platform for motorhomes comes from Mercedes-Benz. There are two things to take into account when looking at a Mercedes engine. They have a reputation for longevity, and needing specialized mechanical ability to repair. Part availability can be an issue, too.
Some things you can look for yourself when first looking at a potential motorhome are things you can check on your own car, too. Check the oil. If it is black and gritty, that means it hasn’t been changed, which begs the question of what other maintenance steps have been overlooked? If it smells burnt, that can come from other engine issues, and usually means the engine is due for a rebuild. If it is cloudy, there is water or coolant in the oil, meaning the gaskets are bad and there is major damage. Also listen for knocking sounds, or intense clicking from lifters, all of which can be bad.
Once the engine is warmed up, check the transmission fluid, usually a secondary dipstick to the rear of the engine compartment. See if it too smells burnt, or is dirty. When you road test the motorhome, make sure it shifts smoothly and that the RPMs don’t run too high at normal speed. Transmission repairs are never cheap, so don’t buy a headache if you don’t have to. On that same road test, listen for thumping in the wheels that can indicate a bad tire, or brake issues. Grinding noises can come from bad wheel bearings or axles too. A new tire or a brake job wouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker in my book, but it would be a negotiation tool for sure.
The Back Half
Now on to the camper portion of the motorhome. There are a few things to keep in mind, some of which we’ve talked about briefly before. Check for indications of leaks, as water damage is a common complaint about used RVs. With motorhomes, this can be more of an issue because there is less flexibility with the heavier motorhome than a travel trailer, which can actually move around more when being towed. Do your research and look for models that have good reviews to begin with.
You should climb up and inspect the roof for sure. Look for evidence of sitting water, which could indicate a sag in the roof. Also look for sun damage and for cleanliness. If there’s a lot of dirt and grime up there, ask the seller about it. It could be just be a recent thing, like dusty conditions, or it could be a sign of neglect. Also climb underneath and take a look at the bottom side of the motorhome. You’re looking for signs of leaks, cracks and general road-worthiness of the whole unit.
It’s important to note that you should take all of these steps whether you’re looking to buy a used motorhome from an individual or a dealership. Sometimes dealers take vehicles in on trade and don’t do much to them before trying to turn around and sell it. If it has been inspected, ask for copies of all service records and a list of everything inspected. If you have no experience with the dealership, ask to have it inspected by your mechanic as well. All are steps that can save you hassles down the road.