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What to look for when buying a used class b camping van

I am a women that doesn’t know to much mechanically about engines and am looking to buy a used class b camping van to take off and see our beautiful country. I know what I’m looking for in length and functionality and conveniences but don’t want to get takes for any hidden issues.
What are some things to know or look out for? Looking for about a year 2000-2010 due to price. About 19-21 ft. Thanks for any advice or information.

No rust. You will have to look under the RV to make sure of this, on top, in the engine bay, and inside any external storage. If there isn’t any rust, take it for a test drive. Note any unusual sounds from the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, and body. Ask the owner about the sounds and write down what they say. If you are still interested, have a mechanic check it out. The Mechanic needs to get underneath for a thorough checkout. Maybe you should take it to an RV dealer for the check. Once you know what is wrong, decide if you want to buy as-is and repair or forget about this one. If you want it, reduce the price by the estimated repair cost from the mechanic that checked it for you. Good luck, and have fun looking.

Class B are conversion vans, right? At least they’re simpler than a C. But do as above, it’ll cost you $150 or so. What is your budget? You’ll want to avoid cheap ones loaded with problems.

What about renting one? The removal of owning and making payments on potential headaches has to be worth something.

Make sure everything works. Don’t bother taking it to a mechanic until you’ve at least tested every RV appliance and feature and you’ve driven it. The truck chassis for a class B is a van-cut-away can easily be fixed and inspected by the manufacturer’s dealer or good independent mechanic.

Lousy wiring is a common problem with RV’s and it can be time consuming (read - expensive) to fix. The RV add-ons are items that will need service from RV dealers. Taking it to an RV dealer as @jtsanders suggests is a good idea.

Unless the tires are brand new, plan on replacing the tires. I don’t care how much tread they have left, that is not the issue. Any 7 to 17 year old RV will have 7 to 17 year old tires and they WILL need replacement.

If you buy a used one, be sure and buy RV roadside assistance like Good Sam or similar.

@ok4450 makes a GREAT suggestion - rent one, see if you like the reality of camping life, as opposed to the idea. We thought about buying a used class C at one point, rented instead, couldn’t be happier with that decision.

Depending on HOW you intend on seeing the ol’ USofA . .consider how you’ll need to use it.
What are you driving now ?
will it tow a camp trailer ?

When mom and dad retired, we sold our Cessna 172 ( bad fit for going , staying, visiting and sight seeing. ) and they got a conversion-van style motor home. . . soon to discover it was STILL a bad fit, what with needing to batten down the hatches for every side trip.
so . . . a TRAILER was the best fit ( towed with a Dodge Dakota v8 ) , to be parked whilst they partook in the area’s activities. . ‘‘park and play’’ dad called it.

A class B is anything from a conversion-van-on-steroids to a full class C minus the over-cab bunk area. They tend to be expensive compared to other classes for what you get.

How much time are you thinking of spending in this thing? If you’re gonna quit your job and go roam the country for months on end, a class B is liable to drive you nuts.

Where are you planning to park it at night? Always in a curated campground, or will you be going out into the middle of nowhere and camping off the grid, so to speak?

If it’s always going to be in a full fledged campground, then find one that doesn’t have a toilet. Adding a black tank to an RV not only means you get the fun of dumping 50+ gallons of feces water every few days, but also that you need to become a layman sanitation engineer because if you don’t keep the microbe balance in the proper ranges, you will end up with a literal pyramid of solid poop in the tank under the toilet, and it will smell bad and be a pain to get rid of. And even properly maintained septics in motor homes will inevitably smell at some point. They aren’t pleasant.

Plus, deleting the toilet gives you that much more room which in something so small that you are treating as a house, is always a good thing.

Because class B encompasses so many different designs you need to tailor your approach to the design you’re looking at. If you’re just going for a factory van like a Mercedes Sprinter that has a stove, a fridge, and a bed, then you approach it roughly as you would buying a normal used vehicle, adding in checking all water lines and the grey water drain system to make sure everything’s working properly.

If you’re going for something bigger where they cut off the back of the van and replaced it with their own house body, then you need to get a lot more detailed.

Check the roof - if it’s rubber make sure there are no tears and be aware that at some point you will have to go up there and patch it because they like to tear when you drive them under low-hanging tree branches. If it’s fiberglass make sure it’s not cracked and that the seams around all of the things sticking out of the roof (skylights, vent fans, antennas, satellite dishes) are properly caulked and weather sealed.

Check the interior walls very carefully for any signs of water damage which indicate a leaking roof or one that previously leaked. Water damage in the house section of an RV is worse than water damage in a car, because fixing it often involves a complete teardown and sometimes a structural rebuild if the framing is built out of wood.

Check all the appliances for proper operation and be aware that they will break anyway, because they always do.

Make sure all the lights work, and make sure all the batteries charge properly. A class B will have 1 car battery like normal for starting and running the vehicle, and 1 or more house batteries for running all the stuff in the back.

Make sure the generator works, if equipped. Don’t just turn it on and then call it good - turn it on and then put loads on it. Turn on everything that’s electrical, including the fridge (make sure it’s in electric or automatic mode rather than gas mode if it’s dual-powered), the TV(s), etc.

Make sure the slideouts work properly if equipped. They should slide smoothly and without making any noise other than the whirring of the motors. This is also a good time to go outside and check the rollout awnings over the slides to be sure they’re not torn or ragged.

You didn’t say what your budget is, but consider looking at class A’s. They’re often cheaper or the same cost as B’s and C’s for the same size, but the space is used more effectively because of their layouts, and their weight capacity is better.

Something you should be aware of for class B’s and C’s is that they’re built on van chassis. The weight limit for these things is often low enough that adding 500 pounds to them would put you over the limit. Clothes, food, and beer are heavy. 2 humans plus clothes, food, and beer is almost guaranteed to exceed the maximum weight limit of most van-based RV’s, especially if you are carrying water in the fresh or grey/black tanks.

From my camping days, I’m thinking shake, rattle, and roll. Every time I took the thing out there would be something that had shaken apart and needed fixing.

Here are a some suggestions:

  1. Run the water and, if you can, connect the water outlet to make sure water flows well. If teh owner has not adequately purged the water lines, the pipes could have burst and these are expensive to fix. If the owner has used RV antifreeze and left it in too long, your water could taste pretty bad.
  2. Don’t expect too much. Engines in RV’s are not going to last as long as they do in regular vehicles. RV’s are rough, and many components have to be fairly light weight, which means they don’t last as long as similar components in your house.
  3. RV’s can be damaged by neglect, not just use. If you see major accumulation of dirt, worn weather stripping on the roof, signs of water leakage on internal panels, sun damaged components, etc. this could be a sign the owner didn’t care about it.
  4. As others have said, you should check out any used RV. Many areas have mobile RV repair people who can come and inspect it so you don’t need to drive it in somewhere.
  5. Speaking of which, you should ask the owner to give you some basic lessons before you sign on the dotted line, because if you haven’t driven one before, RV’s can be quite a challenge. Some further schooling and practice in an empty parking lot laid out with cones can help too.
  6. Consider renting one before you buy, to get you used to the experience and to help you decide if you really want one. One of my friends bought one and has put about 1000 miles on in two years.

To all of you who wrote comments I want to tell you how much I appreciate the time you took to do so. I am still reading all of them and the advice was very valuable to me… I love camping and yes I want to get about and start touring. I left my corporate job of 30 years and ready to just camp and see some country. I tried a small trailer for two years and realized that’s not for me… I’ve been in the class b vans a few times and really like the size and what they offer… Thanks again!!

If you can afford a Class B that is not just a van conversion, the you and a friend could have a great time touring the country. Sharing the experience is key to making it the best time of your life.

I don’t know much about a class B but we owned two class C motorhomes, first a used one and then a new one. We had a lot of fun with both. The secure and comfortable feeling of going into your own house from grocery shopping, from a restaurant or from a tourist attraction to relax for a few minutes before hitting the road again can not be adequately described. An available toilet while going down the road is a great convenience if you have an alternate driver. We also had a shower. A battery/gas powered furnace makes it possible to stay in a highway rest stop or a truck stop for a few hours for a nap in colder weather. We never missed not owning a generator set.

With a 27 foot Class C, we could always find a parking space at a restaurant etc.; would usually back in. Our dog made it either impossible or difficult to find a motel that permitted a pet. A motorhome has several systems and appliances, gas, water, sewer and electric, refrigerator, furnace, air conditioner, power converter and whatever else I forgot that fail, some sooner, some later and some never. Even with a brand new Class C, roof leaks became a problem after about 4 or 5 years. Fortunately I am handy and did not have to pay others for repairs.

The cost of keeping a Class C or certainly a Class A functioning plus camping fees and lousy gas mileage will be equal to or greater than staying in motels but the camping experience will make any extra cost worth the difference.

A Class B is a good choice as gas mileage will be better and roof leaks may be less of a problem due to the different design. Considering the pleasure and advantages, you should be ok with the space provided. Don’t forget some protection, your choice or a large dog. Motorhome people are apparently not considered an easy mark by the criminal class as we never had a problem.

There should be no more magic or luck to buying a good used Class B motorhome than buying a good used car. Beyond getting a reliable used motor vehicle, you will want to make sure that most of everything else works.

Use caution when operating a motor home also. A few times while in the mountains I’ve seen some RVers whose motor homes looked like they were getting the best of the operators who likely had a white knuckle grip on the wheel.

Once while near Gallup, NM crosswinds blew an RV off of I-40 and it slid on its side about 200 feet to the bottom of the ravine. The elderly couple did not appear to be seriously injured but their motor home was a mangled mess.
I would imagine there was one of those Fred Sanford “comin’ to join ya’…” moments when that thing went over the side.

On the plus side, the RV people must be a close knit community because there must have been at least a 100 motorhomes strung out along the shoulder to offer assistance. It looked like an RV sales lot…

Yes I’ll have to agree its a friendly bunch and you get to meet your neighbors. We camped at mainly Jellystones and Disney but ended up at a place in McAllen once where the people were super friendly. Most of them were there for the winter and very helpful. We never did nightly stays because it was too much work with the camper but rather destinations.

and THAT ,ok4450, is exactly why I woke up the old thread about towing with a Jeep Wrangler.
As our daily winds got up to 66mph the other week I could only think of that happening as it does so often . . out here in . . . Gallup NM !
So I woke up that thread to caution everyone reading about learning their occational vehicles.

The very best advise here has to be learning to operate THAT vehicle.
Far Far FAR too many CAR drivers just hop behind the wheel of a huge RV not knowing ANYTHING about driving a truck that size.

A customer of mine saw the issues with this on his huge E350 chassis camper ( class C ) and told us to figure out anything to check the sway.
We put on Bilstein shocks so heavy that it required a floor jack to compress them just for installation.

  • it worked, he’s happy now.

My wife says the best part of an RV is the part that’s parked! Of course it’s nice to sit in one and listen the rain while enjoying a nice meal with a good companion, and be thankful you are not in a tent or looking for a motel room. We also suggest fitting a tow bar and auxiliary braking system, then finding a good car that you can tow (they are far more maneuverable and economical than the motor home). Trailer Life or Motorhome magazines occasionally have lists of cars that can be towed with all four wheels down.
You can pick up some excellent information on repairs and preventive maintenance at nearly any campsite from fellow RV-ers. In our experience, mobile repair people are much more likely to share this kind of information than the typical RV shops we have used.
Good luck and thanks for your comments – we often wonder how people have used the posts we make.