Friday, April 2, 2010

Finding and buying a great Vanhome

Finding a good used class B RV or camper van that will work as a suitable vanhome is a surprisingly difficult task, finding one that is also a great deal financially is really a challenge. It is a challenge that can be overcome however! This is probably my longest blog post ever, but if I can help anyone with their vanhome purchase I will be thrilled!

Some pointers on searching:
The first thing to remember when searching for the right rig is that diligence is going to pay off. Make a list of sites to check, even bookmark them in their own folder and check each of them if possible once a day, otherwise as often as you can. When a good deal shows up, it doesn't last long and you don't want to miss your chance.

In lists where you are doing text searches, Craigslist for example, try several varied search strings like "camper van", "van rv" "van motorhome", if you aren't getting any hits at all, broaden the search even more. In some areas you might just be able to try "van" without having to wade through too many results. When I was hunting for Taj, I had a preference for Dodges and searched daily for "Dodge van" on Craigslist. That is the search string that led me to her actually. It was not listed as a Roadtrek rather a "Dodge Motorhome Van". The last method is to search by brand names you might be interested in. It can be productive to try them spelled incorrectly too for example "Roadtreck".

There are also programs available that can automate your searches and email you responses daily. Craigspal comes to mind but there could be others, definitely worth a check via your favorite search engine.

Resources to check: specify your location multi location Craigslist search site multi location Craigslist site

Questions to ask:
Before wasting too much time digging around in a vehicle, it is a good idea to make sure the seller is able to release it to you. Ask if the title is free and clear and on hand and be sure it's VIN matches the vehicle you are looking at.

Find out about the history of the vehicle, what kind of use it has had(local weekend trips, summers across the country, live-in, daily driver etc). Also find out where most of it's life has been. A rig that has been lived in obviously has had more intense continued use and therefore wear on all the appliances etc. A weekender should have much less use and the summer roadtrip rig, somewhere in between. Knowing where the rig has spent most of it's time will give you a heads up as to what kind of damage to really watch for. Wetter climates could mean mold problems and rust, sunny climates tend to do more UV damage to tires and rubber components as well as sun damage and fading to the exterior finish.

Ask about leaks. Water leaks concerning both the plumbing system and roof allowing rain etc, propane leaks, oil & transmission leaks, tires leaking air, and any other leaks the seller can tell you about.

Ask if there are any known electrical problems now or in the past. If there is a coach battery and or inverter, what their capacity and age is, where they are located and how they are monitored.

Do all the appliances work? Would they be willing to show you how to operate them? If there is a fridge, does it work on each power source(lp, 110V electric, 12V)?

Ask about maintenance, any receipts or records they may have, manuals etc that might come with the purchase, when the last oil change was, what oil they have been using, what air pressure they keep the tires at and if there is anything else they can tell you or that they feel you should know about the van.

Ask them what their typical fuel mileage has been, how long the LP can typically last before refill, what the capacities are for the various tanks, fuel, water, waste etc.

Finally, ask them if there are any problems you should know about and why they are selling it. It also couldn't hurt to make a checklist of these questions before you go to see any perspective vans.

What to watch for:
When evaluating and inspecting the potential vanhome, one thing that will give you a great perspective is to sit quietly in the various chairs and on the bed etc and imagine yourself "out there living". Can you picture where your stuff will go? Do you think you can be comfortable over the long haul with the space it offers? Does it have a good vibe? It is important to feel good about these things since this is more than just buying a vehicle, it is a home!

You can really get a feel for how something has been taken care of by noticing the tiny details. Wear is going to happen with use, but excessive wear, stained carpet, many scratches indicate a owners who aren't very careful and may have had the same disrespect with more important aspects of caring for your potential future home. If you see upgrades, for example, an added shelf or light, was it carefully mounted or just slapped in place with little thought?

If the van has holding tanks check to make sure the toilet seal works by testing it with a couple cups of water. Pour them in when you start checking the rig over then when all else is done, look again, the water should still be in the toilet.

Check the engine area to see if it is clean. Make sure the oil is not excessively dirty, transmission fluid looks clean and doesn't smell burned, belts and hoses look decent and not cracked and the battery area is in decent shape and not covered with corrosion.

Pay special attention to the tires, ask the age, look for cracking from weather on both the tread and sidewall, check the pressure and notice if the tread is wearing evenly. If there is strange tread wear, it could indicate potential alignment issues or driving with the incorrect air pressure. The date of the tire can be determined by the code stamped on the sidewall. Since 2000, the last 4 digits tell the week and year. First 2 digits for the week and the last 2 for the year.

Check the glass for cracks and lights for functionality. Look over the exterior for obvious damage etc.

The test drive:
This is something most people are pretty familiar with. You really just have to be observant and keep your ears open for strange noises, pay attention to how easily it starts etc. While driving it, give yourself extra time to stop etc and notice how well the brakes work. Notice if it pulls one way or the other or if shakes can be felt the steering wheel at all. Does it accellerate smoothly and shift smoothly?

Take it through the paces, in town and at speed on the highway and make sure to notice the temp, oil pressure and charging, gauges.

Final Thoughts:
Price is something you will have to decide is fair on your own. There are guides of course, but too many factors are involved to rely soley on them. If it looks like a vanhome you will enjoy and you can live with the price they are asking, that is what matters.

If you are not confident in your ability to evaluate the mechanical aspects of the van, you should take it to a shop that offers that service, most do for a reasonable fee. An RV repair center can do a more inclusive evaluation if one is in the area.

I would never buy a rig I couldn't check over first nor would I buy one that gets delivered. Other people might feel comfortable doing this, but I value my financial assets more than that. Too many scammers out there looking for easy money.

Hopefully this post will be helpful for those looking for a vanhome! Choose wisely and your life as a Vantramp will be a great one!


  1. Good stuff, Mike. This would have been very useful when I was shopping for The Falcon. I now frequently realize how clueless I was in my search, and as a result, just how incredibly lucky I was to find my van.

  2. Good stuff, Mike. I wish I had had all this info when I was shopping for The Falcon. I frequently realize now just how clueless I was when I was shopping for vans, which makes it all the more amazing to me just lucky I was in the end.

  3. Great info Mike, thanks, you are the best!

  4. Thanks Glenn! Yeah, you did end up with a great rig so whatever you did must have worked well for you!

    Thanks Danger Mar! Sweet of ya!


  5. Very informative - I'm in shopping mode myself right now. One of the links in your list I had found and written off. The listings on seem pretty stale - Looking again, I do see some 2010 listings so maybe still worth watching but with listings from at least as far back as 2005, you have to question things. If someone really hasn't sold their RV they listed 5 years ago, they may be desperate for any offer now. ;-)

    Anyway, thanks much for putting this info. together - invaluable to have all in one place!

    Oh, and a piece of advice for anyone searching, search everywhere. On craigslist, I see class b's listed as class C's. I see them listed in both the auto and rv categories. People aren't so great at categorizing their stuff apparently. Even on, I find B's listed as C's and vice versa. So casting a wide net helps.

  6. Thanks for the comment Mark! Very good points too! I know what you mean about rvhunter. I think I will leave it for now, if one person finds a rig from it, it is worthwhile :)

    The mis-categorizing and misspelled words in adds are great opportunities for people to find something that not everyone sees. The wide net is a very successful way to hunt!


  7. Great summary of do's and dont's. Most of the stuff you mention is bang on, as many will probably agree. Sometimes, I think you just get a feeling about a purchase, and often that's what makes you say "yes, I'll take it". Doesn't make sense, but it happens. However, rushing into a deal isn't a good thing either. You have to be patient, and realize you may miss a few good ones, before you find the right one.

  8. Mike check out my site We specialize in new and used Roadtrek and Airstream class b vans.

    Love the posts!

  9. Thanks! I'll be printing this list out for sure. Kim

  10. I've been shopping craigslist and found many vans available. I want your opinion on purchasing a lower price van that needs some work. I like the idea of a fixer upper. it wil teach me how to work on the van and in the end it will be my design. do you think I'm venturing in stormy waters?