What to Look for When Buying a Second-hand Motorhome
One of the first things you will probably notice when looking to buy a used motorhome is how well they hold their price. They are actually somewhat of an anomaly in the vehicle world. Motorhome values depreciate significantly in the first year or two, in common with all new vehicles, but after that value and prices can stay stable for many years and on rare occasions even appreciate. This means that buying a second-hand motorhome is likely to mean a substantial investment, even on older models. So how can you avoid ending up with a lemon?
Vehicle and mechanical checks
In the main this will be no different to the checks and safeguards you would ensure when buying any second hand vehicle. The big difference is that typically motorhomes will stand unused for longer periods and this in itself can cause extra problems with component corrosion and moving part seizure. As a general rule, because they are used mainly for recreation purposes, motorhomes will have far lower mileage than transport vehicles of a comparative age.
If you have no mechanical knowledge you will need to employ the services of some-one who does. Engines will need a thorough check as well as looking over the chassis and vehicle base. Tyres on motorhomes are particularly prone to accelerated deterioration because of repeated sun exposure in one part or continued pressure on one section of tread where the motorhome has stood in one spot.
All motorhomes over 3 years of age must have an annual MoT, so ask to see the paperwork concerning this and any service history.
Be sure to test drive any vehicle you are interested in. Different makes and models vary considerably in their handling. Also be aware that you are likely to be test driving the motorhome unladen which may feel very different once it is kitted out and packed for a road trip. Ask lots of questions concerning this, and other driving experiences related to the vehicle, of the previous owner which may help you.
Many motorhome shells are made of plastic or fibreglass which is easily cracked or damaged through impact with overhanging branches and hedges on roadsides. Harsh weather conditions can also crack these surfaces. Check the exterior thoroughly for any such damage, which although usually just cosmetic, could compromise the van’s ability to remain water-tight. Areas around seams need close attention.
Interior living areas
Depending on the age of the motorhome and how much it has been used, expect slight to extensive signs of wear and tear. Some of these are easily and cheaply replaced while others mean a big layout. Check such things as window seals, roof lights, plastics on toilet bowls and sinks for signs of cracking, catches on lockers and doors, including the fridge, the stability of internal walls and the state of soft furnishings.
Be particularly vigilant for signs of damp. Check for mould on soft furnishings, damp areas in cupboard corners and damp under and behind sofas and beds. Some damp is not necessarily a sign of leakage and is almost inevitable but extensive damp could signify a big problem.
The motorhome floor should feel solid and even to walk on. Any lumps or sponginess is a sign of delamination and usually spells trouble.
Unless you are dealing with high end motorhome models, most beds and sofas are not made to the same standard as that likely to be found in a house. This means they can quickly become uncomfortable, lumpy or compressed. Professional re-upholstering or foam replacement for motorhome beds and sofas can run into hundreds of pounds so be warned.
Have a check for any signs of suspect DIY. Most people will make a few little changes to their motorhomes but, just as in a house, this could mean greater convenience or impending disaster.
Having said all this, don’t necessarily dismiss older vans with cosmetic damage. You may be able to negotiate a far lower price, replace the items yourself and still be in pocket at the end.
Interior habitation equipment and systems
The interior living systems will include electrics, gas and water. A well cared for motorhome will have had habitation checks on each of these systems carried out annually by accredited professionals and owners will be able to show you the paperwork concerning these. This may be your only guarantee because it isn’t always possible to see any of these systems up and working.
Motorhomes which have stood a long time without being used or that haven’t been ‘winterized’ properly may be more prone to system(s) damage.
Quite how much you are prepared to accept without physical evidence is entirely up to you. Be aware that many facilities in your van will need one or sometimes all of these systems working to function – running water from the taps, heated water, gas fire, lights etc. Additionally, where these systems have been neglected you are not only looking at costly replacements and repairs but sometimes risking your personal safety.
And the rest…
Warranties – If you are considering a motorhome less than 3 years old you may find that several warranties for appliances are still valid. In some cases warranties extend far longer.
Road tax – If the motorhome you are looking to buy still has a long road tax then you could be saving yourself money.
What is included in the sale – Be very clear on what is and what isn’t included in the sale of the second-hand motorhome. Some sellers will take certain things with them to be used for their next motorhome such as leisure batteries, mains hook-up lead, detachable awnings, gas bottles, fire extinguishers, levellers and so forth. Replacing these items can run into hundreds of pounds.
Private sale or dealer? - There are advantages and disadvantages with both. You have more protection if you buy through a dealer but you will usually pay higher prices. Private sellers often include all sorts of beneficial extras with their motorhome but so too may reputable dealers. Beware of dealers masquerading as private sellers in order to side-step their legal obligations.
Availability of parts – Some older models of motorhomes may have been manufactured by a company no longer in existence. If this is the case then sourcing parts may prove tricky and/or expensive. Certain things are generic and will fit across a range of motorhome makes and models while others are very specific.
Take you time and do your research – You will be glad you did. Compare lots of different motorhomes for sale to determine price guides for your personal budget. Be prepared to spend time travelling to find your perfect van and accept you may have to look at many before you find ‘the one’. Find out if any models you are looking at have known problems for certain manufacture years.
Finally, ask lots and lots of questions of your potential seller. Most motorhomes are sold because the owner is upgrading or because what they need in a motorhome has changed. Typically speaking motorhomers are enthusiasts and those selling for genuine reasons will often be more than happy to tell you all you want to know.
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