When a major component fails in your RV, the replacement cost can be very high. So it's a natural instinct to look for used trailer parts or used motorhome parts as a less expensive replacement alternative.
But used travel trailer parts from a camper salvage company may not turn out to save you money over the life of the replacement. Plus, used RV or trailer parts can be a threat to your family's safety on the road.
The first thing you'll discover when you go looking for used camper trailer parts is that there are not a lot of companies offering RV surplus salvage. Unlike auto wreckers, RV salvage yards are not very common, so it's not likely that you will find any good RV parts used near you.
There are good reasons why it's not a very popular business. While cars contain primarily metal, plastic, and rubber, campers have parts made of a number of other materials like wood. Auto wreckers can remove parts for resale from a wreck, then crush the rest of the vehicle for delivery to a metal recycler. RVs, by contrast, have to be completely disassembled to for complete disposal.
That's why you will see so many used campers and trailers abandoned in farmers' fields. Instead of getting money for your old, used-up RV, you'll likely have to pay for someone to take it off your hands. Keep this in mind as your RV is getting to the end of its life cycle. You don't want to be the last owner.
RV parts fail as often from not being used as from being used. Couple that with the fact that most RVs destined for salvage sit idle for a long time before being acquired by the salvage company.
The RV owner will generally decide to part with his/her old RV because the storage is too expensive or the trailer or motorhome is taking up too much space on their driveway or in their yard. Motorhome used parts for sale have been unused for a longer than normal period of time. This idle time reduces their overall quality.
Plus, while RV parts are built to a high standard, they are designed for short-term, intermittent service. This is generally OK, and it allows OEM RV manufacturers to keep the cost of a customer's initial investment low.
The conclusion to all this is that buying a used RV component represents a much higher risk than, for example, buying a used or rebuilt auto part. A used RV appliance may appear less expensive at first but will likely have many internal parts that are ready to fail prematurely.
As an example, you can save $1000 or more for a used RV refrigerator compared to buying a new RV refrigerator. But if the cooling unit on the fridge fails, you'll spend $1300 to $1800 just to replace that component. Cooling units are the component most likely be affected by not being used.
That is just the most expensive example. Other common parts needing replacement in RV appliances can cost individually between $350 and $1000. What this means is that if just one or two components fail on a used RV camper part, you'll end up spending more money than if you had purchased a new replacement.
Image: Courtesy Dometic Corp
There are safety issues that can arise with used RV parts. Most of the major components in your RV use LP gas and contain propane gas valves and safety elements. If one of those leaks fails, it could present a serious danger to you or your family.
Let's look at the specific issues with various used RV components:
First of all, if you are looking at a Coleman Mach RV AC or Dometic Duo Therm unit, you need to ensure that you have a compatible inside ceiling assembly. If you have to replace that, you'll add $300-400 to the price. RV air conditioners come in polar white or black, so make sure the shroud color matches.
Used trailer awnings for sale are few and far between because this is arguably the most disposable (and replaced) part of the RV. If you do find one, make sure that the awning fabric has not rotted. This will happen if the awning is rolled up wet and left for a long period, meaning you'll need to spend $400-500 on an awning replacement fabric.
A Cummins Onan generator or other diesel, propane, or gas generator is usually the most expensive appliance in your RV Used Onan RV Generator parts are almost impossible to find. Salvage yards will want to sell the complete unit. Only in very limited circumstances will they break up an RV generator for Onan parts.
If you don't use the generator much while you are moving, it may be more economical to purchase a portable generator as a replacement, as they are much less expensive.
If you do purchase a used RV generator, make sure it comes with the remote start. That will run up to $400 alone.
RV fridges contain a number of expensive components that can fail easily in a used unit. Also, dangerous mold can be embedded in the plastic of the interior if the fridge was not cleaned properly after its last use.
Water heaters have propane gas valves, a safety concern. Also, RV water heater tanks can degrade over time. They can also grow internal organisms when stored. If the heater was not winterized properly, plastic and metal parts can be damaged by freezing.
You won't be able to identify those faults until the unit is installed and pressurized
Because of the location of the towing hitch on a vehicle, it generally takes a pounding from weather, rocks, and other road debris. This can degrade the structure of a used hitch, making it unsafe.
Any replaceable parts on a boat trailer, like brake drums, couplers, and axles, are the very parts that are most degraded on a used trailer.
RV Sofas, Chairs, and other padded furniture can be a host for insects and other nasty critters, especially after long periods of storage.
For any component, it will be cheaper, safer, and easier to repair the unit. Replacement RV parts for appliances cost far less than a complete unit, even a used one.
In some cases, though, the unit will be too old to have replacements available. Even then, it is still cheaper in the long run to install a new unit. By doing so, you know that you’ll be safe and have trouble-free operations in the future.
We at RV Part Shop are experts at finding those replacement parts for you. Our parts experts have many years of experience and are ready to help. Remember, old farts beat young farts for RV parts every time.
So if you are considering the purchase of
We can often find replacements to used vintage trailer parts as the base RV technologies have not changed that much over the years.
Before you purchase any used RV parts from JDs RV Service and Salvage, Colaw RV, or another RV recycler, call us at RV Part Shop. We can probably save you money.