What to Look for When Buying a Used Motor home – Learning the Hard Way


We bought our second RV, a full sized motor home, in the spring of 2010. No, actually the second one was another wide-body, longer van that had a higher kitchen area, and an actual toilet, but we changed our minds about that and sold it. We thought we might like to spend a couple of months on the road, so we looked for something bigger, but we didn’t want to spend too much money before we knew if we’d enjoy that lifestyle.

We searched e-Bay and RV Trader, and the local online buy-and-sell where we finally found what we thought we wanted, within our price range.

We drove across town to take a look. It was old, a 1992 Thor Pinnacle, but it was low mileage and seemed to be in good shape. When we went inside the woman told us to take off our shoes because she’d just replaced the baby blue carpet. I wondered at the time how long baby blue carpet would stay clean. I also wondered about the smell of moth balls, but didn’t ask then.

Jim asked questions about the engine and what kind of mileage it got and:

“Do the appliances all work?”

“Yes. I had to replace a part on the fridge, but it worked great the last time I had it out.”

“Why are you selling it?”

“I really don’t want to, but my husband died and for a few years I had some lady friends who would travel with me. I could drive it anywhere, no problem. But they aren’t able to go anymore and I don’t want to go alone.”

“Does the generator work?”

“We only used it a few times. We always were plugged in at campsites.”

“Do the leveling jacks work?”

“We never used them. It was always level where we parked.”

We went home to think about it. She said she needed to know soon because someone from down in the US was thinking of coming up to buy it, sight unseen. Somehow that didn’t sound right, but we didn’t question it.

A few days later we returned with $20,000 cash, prepared to purchase. We took another look around and this time I did ask few questions:

“Why does it smell like moth balls in here?”

“I had mice in the garage so I wanted to make sure they didn’t get into the motor home.” (it was parked in the back yard). “I’ve taken them out now. The smell will soon go away.”

I noticed something I hadn’t noticed the first time. “Why is the hand bar for getting up into the motor home from the driver’s side sitting on the floor?”

“A really big guy was looking at it and yanked it off when he was getting in.”

I think Jim looked under the hood, and checked the tires. We looked in the back compartment and were impressed with the size of it.

We made the deal. She was almost too happy to have all that cash. Were we making a mistake? Were we too trusting? Turns out we were.

At the safety inspection we were told that the tires would soon need to be replaced. They were starting to crack, but they’d be good for a few thousand miles yet. Everything else was good, as I recall.

We took it to the local RV Maintenance Shop where the seller said she had annual inspections done, and talked to them about the fridge work, which they confirmed. They took us through a “tour” explaining how everything worked.  They couldn’t get the generator to run. Then they told us that, even though there was no rust on it, the propane tank needed to be replaced because of its age. They claimed no one would fill it. That would cost $1,000!

We thanked them and left, deciding that what propane remained in the tank would do us for our ten-day maiden voyage, and we would avoid needing the generator.

I gave the motor home a good cleaning and stocked the cupboards. I searched for, and found moth balls hidden in the backs of drawers and cupboards. I used our air exchanger and fans to get rid of the odour.

The day before we were planning to leave, Jim ran an extension cord from the house to the fridge, so it would be cold enough to hold a few food items in the morning. But in the morning the fridge was just as warm as it had been the night before!

Our plan was to drive east through Quebec and then cross the border into Maine, after stopping the first night at my brother’s, just a few hours away from home.

Before we got very far, the coach began to shake. Jim slowed down and it was fine until we reached the same speed and it started again. So we limped into the first city where we could get into a shop right away. The problem was a loose shock stabilizer. Fortunately, they were able to fix it and we were on our way again.

That night it rained. When I opened my eyes in the morning, I spied a wet spot on the ceiling! We went to Canadian Tire for some caulking and an electric cooler, which we filled with a few grocery staples, and continued on our way.

We found a little campground, John’s Camping, somewhere between Trois Rivieres and Deschambault, Quebec that night. We parked beside the man-made pond and were lulled to sleep by the sound of frogs, crickets and loons. That and the sun rising over the pond in the morning were the only positive things of note.  Neither the TV cable, nor the WiFi internet worked from our site. We had to climb up the hill to the office, passing rusted and derelict pieces of abandoned machinery along the way. Our neighbouring trailers looked to be permanent, with strange additions.

 

When we found ourselves at a KOA in Richmond, Maine the next evening, I tried to use the stove, but it wouldn’t light. We figured the gas gauge wasn’t right and we were out, so I had to cook dinner using the microwave. Later, Jim asked the campground manager if he could fill our propane tank, and he said sure, as long as it had no leaks. Well, that saved $1,000! It turned out it wasn’t even empty. I don’t know why I couldn’t light the stove, but it was fine afterwards.

On the first cool night, we were happy to know that the furnace worked, but in the morning we wondered what the terrible smell was. Jim lifted the dining benches, which hid the furnace vent hoses and we were sickened to discover that they were chewed up and full of mice nests and dried feces! We spent a few hours vacuuming, scrubbing and covering the hoses with duct tape!

Thank goodness that was the worst of it for the rest of that trip.

We spent a couple of nights at the KOA in Saco/Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where we rode our bicycles to the beach and ate seafood.

Saco/Old Orchard Beach KOA

Saco/Old Orchard Beach KOA

 

From there we went to Salem, Massachusetts, where we stayed for two nights in Winter Island Park.

Looking out from Winter Island Park

Looking out from Winter Island Park

We caught the tourist trolley the first day, which took us to downtown Salem. We visited the Witch Museum and walked around the harbour where the Friendship ship is moored, but it wasn’t yet open for tourist season.

 

IMG_0713 (2)

 

 

The next day we caught the very inexpensive train to Boston and spent the day doing the City Tour that included a narrated trolley tour and a harbour cruise.

 

Bostonredcoats (2)

Boston Redcoats

 

Our next stop was Plymouth Rock where we spent a few hours, and then drove on to Middleboro for the night.

 

Plymouth Rock

 

 

 

We spent the next day taking care of domestic chores and touring the pretty town of Middleboro.

 

We were in Mystic, Connecticut by early evening the next day. The following morning we rode our bicycles into the Village of Mystic Seaport, a very interesting, restored historic village.

 

 

 

 

Our last stop was to visit with old friends in Bloomfield. We spent the night with them before heading for home.

When we got home, we found a reliable RV repairman and learned that the problem with the fridge was only that the coach had been sitting on a slope in our driveway. The fridge requires it to be level.

It wasn’t until our return from our second trip a few months later  (two months traveling through the US to the Sturgis Bike Rally, San Francisco and up the west coast) that we discovered the loose rust in the bottoms of the storage bins, and consequently the major water damage that had been done to the bottom rails, the floor and the walls!

$2500 later we had the motor home we wanted.

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