Should we import an RV?
Of course, the bigger question is: Are the savings worth the hassle?
I decided to do a bit of research to find out. Here are my key findings and conclusions:
The savings are real. (Of course, as with every used vehicle purchase, there are precautions to take, especially if the deal is too good to be true… I’ll get to that in a minute.) Even after paying all taxes and duties at the border we feel certain we would save quite a bit if we import an RV.
The taxes and duty are not a mystery. You will be required to pay the GST at the border and the PST at your local provincial licensing office. The taxes are calculated on the Canadian dollar equivalent of the purchase price (or if you got a real steal of a deal – on the deemed book value). This is the exact same procedure and the same as you would pay if you purchased the vehicle in Canada. The only additional charge to import an RV is an import fee of just over $200.00.
As long as the RV was manufactured in The United States, Canada, or Mexico, no duty will apply when you import an RV.. (For other foreign vehicles you’ll pay 6.1% duty.) All North American RVs are exempt from the green levy fee charged for “gas guzzler” vehicles but, if you have AC, the $100.00 air conditioning levy will apply.
The downside: We also have to factor in the cost of traveling to inspect, purchase, and bring home the RV and there’s always a chance of a wasted trip if, for any reason, it doesn’t result in a purchase. For $179.00 you can diminish this possibility. See “Inspect the RV” below.
You can get a better-used vehicle. Purchasing a used vehicle from a dryer climate (less snow), like in the mid and southern states, generally guarantees far less corrosion. A case in point – our mechanic friend in Tucson hates to work on northern vehicles (like ours) because he’s not used to dealing with rusted bolts.
A caution: Just because it’s being sold in Arizona, doesn’t mean the RV has always wintered in the south. It’s important to find out the ownership history.
Transfer or Warranty. Not all manufacturers honor warranties across the border. The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) recommends contacting the manufacturer directly for written details of their warranty transfer policy. Find manufacturer contact information.
The process to import an RV is not as scary as we thought. We discovered that, although there are a few hoops, hurdles, and paperwork, knowing what is required and being prepared with all the necessary information and documents, makes importing any vehicle from the U.S.A. seem quite doable by the average person.
The downside: The hoops, hurdles, and paperwork.
How to import an RV
The Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) website provides all the details and information you will need to import an RV or any vehicle from the U.S.A. into Canada. I found the website to be quite user-friendly, including interactive features such as a personalized import checklist, the ability to track your case, and a downloadable federal inspection form.
You should carefully read the entire website but a good place to start is with the Importer Checklist Tool, found under the Import A Vehicle tab. Even before you’ve located a vehicle to buy, you can input the make and model you hope to buy and determine whether this RV passes the admission guidelines to import an RV. You want this information before you begin your search for a used RV because: Not all vehicles are admissible for import.
There are also some exemptions….
Any vehicle over 15 years of age is exempt from the registration process but you must have proof of the date of manufacture when crossing the border.
Although travel trailers and fifth wheels are treated the same as a motorhome, truck campers (or slide-in campers, as Transport Canada calls them) can be brought over the border the same as any other merchandise.
As well as the RIV website, you may want to look at the provincial licensing requirement for your province of residence. In the case of Ontario, the MTO (Ministry of Transport Ontario) for information on how to get your vehicle licensed after it has passed the import requirements. When I spoke with them, they told me it is straightforward – just be sure to bring all the documentation you have from the border crossing with you; however, the MTO website indicates other special requirements may be required for registering a motorhome. Read it carefully. If the year make and model of the VIN does not match that assigned by the motorhome manufacturer, extra documentation may be required.
You’re not just going to import an RV into Canada; you’re also exporting it from the USA so you might also like to check out vehicle export information at US Customs and Border Services.
It can’t be that simple – There must be a catch
Actually, there are a few other things I found out that you should be aware of.
While we’re south of the border this winter, we thought, if we came across the right buy, we might replace our Class B motorhome with something slightly newer, while we’re down there. We hoped to make a trade or sell our old RV, then just continue on our trip and proceed with the paperwork to import the RV when we come home.
WE FOUND OUT THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE (At least not unless we wait until the very end of the trip). Here’s why:
As a Canadian, you cannot register a vehicle in any state unless you can prove that you are a resident of that state. Apparently, this law varied in some states but was “tightened up” after 9/11.
You will need a temporary license plate — a trip permit, to drive your “new” RV (available from the motor vehicle division office of the state where you make your purchase) and immediately return to your province of residence with the vehicle, pay the duties and, complete the registration to import the RV.
This permit will be good for any other states you have to cross on your trip home.
Temporary license plate or “trip permit”
In each state, the requirements are a little different as I found out when I called a couple of different offices.
In Arizona, for instance, to obtain a “trip permit” you will need $15.00, a valid driver’s license, and a notarized title transfer. (Meaning you’ll need a notary to witness the signature when the seller signs the title over to you.) Of course, you’ll need to be insured too, (can be arranged by a phone call to your Canadian insurance carrier) but you don’t have to provide proof of insurance to get the “trip permit” which is valid for 90 days. Don’t get excited about continuing your trip for those 90 days though – because your insurance company won’t cover you for that long. (Read on below)
In California, it’s called a One Trip Permit, the seller’s signature doesn’t need to be notarized, the cost is $18.00 and you can tell them how many days you will need it for. By the way, according to MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario), the USA temporary permit is also valid in Ontario, until its expiry date so, given the choice, you may as well tack on a few days to buy yourself some time at this end for getting the safety inspection, emissions testing, etc. taken care of. (I’m not sure about the rules in other provinces.)
Once you know what state you’re buying in, call the motor vehicle department for that state to see what will be required.
What if we had to replace our RV in the USA due to a breakdown or accident?
We checked with our insurance company on this. If we had to change our vehicle mid-trip due to any unforeseen circumstance, even if we somehow were able to register it (we’d need an American address as our residence), our RV insurance company Wayfarer Insurance – one of Canada’s biggest and best – will only transfer coverage to the new RV for a few days – as long as necessary for an immediate return to our home province. As soon as we import the RV and the proper import and licensing has been completed, a full-coverage policy will be available.
You may be able to find an insurance company in the USA who would “bend the rules,” but my contact at Wayfarer suggested we should be very wary of this. As we all know, buying insurance isn’t the difficult part – it’s usually when making a claim that difficulties arise.
So, I guess the best way to import an RV (other than a truck camper) to Canada from the USA is to buy it at the end of our trip or to make an explicit trip for this purpose.
Reaching an agreement
Presuming you have found a used RV you want to buy before you jump in the car or hop a flight to go check on your “good deal” you’ll have a bit of extra work to do
To lessen the chance of a wasted trip, you want to do as much work over the phone as possible. Start by asking all the right questions. Add any other questions that you can think of yourself. Don’t be afraid of offending the seller. This is business and you want him to know you are smart and cautious.
If it all sounds good, discuss the price you’re willing to pay – based on your inspection showing that the information he has given is true. If you reach an agreement, assure him you are serious enough to travel to see him right away.
Get his word to hold the RV (not sell to anyone else) during the day or two it will take you to get there. If he ‘s not willing, you should back out at this point. It could be a sign that he hasn’t been completely truthful with you and knows that your inspection would result in the deal falling through. In the end, you can’t make a firm offer without seeing the RV. All you can go on, at this point, is your gut feeling about the seller, based on your conversations.
Pre-arrange for payment and insurance
Determine what payment the seller will accept. The best method would be an electronic transfer of funds from your account to his at the time the sale is finalized. Find out from your bank if that will be possible, how to do it, and what the charges would be for this. Make sure you have the funds in your bank account within sufficient time (no holds on the funds) to make the transfer possible. If the seller insists on a money order, bank draft, or certified check instead, you’ll have to arrange this in advance and bring the check (in the agreed amount) with you.
If the RV is located more than a half-day’s drive away, before leaving home, search out a hotel room and a reputable mechanic close by to the seller’s location. It’s important that you find your own mechanic – not someone the seller recommends (maybe his friend.) When you find one, call and verify that he’s not, coincidentally, also the seller’s mechanic. Get a quote for a mechanical inspection and set up an appointment.
Call your insurance company. Let them know your intentions to import an RV. Find out what you’ll need to do and what information you’ll need to provide (usually just a phone call) to be covered immediately in the event you make a purchase.
Inspect the RV
Consider hiring a vehicle inspection service such as RV Inspection Connection who will physically inspect the RV for you and send you their report. Their NRVIA certified RV inspectors are trained to exceed the highest industry standards, promote professionalism, and thoroughly communicate their findings with clients. They specialize in RV inspections and will inspect, and document every detail and potential problem on any vehicle, anywhere in the continental USA.
Their RV inspection checklist includes mechanical as well as RV aspects and it looks quite thorough – I think, well worth the cost of $179.00. Of course, you’ll pay for this service whether or not you proceed with the purchase, but it might be quite a bit cheaper than traveling to see the RV yourself. And, based on what problems are found in the inspection, you can often renegotiate the price of the RV and easily recoup the cost of the service.
Now, presuming you decide to proceed, you can book your flight or drive down to the seller’s location. If you decide to drive, unless you’re sure you can tow one of the vehicles, you’ll need to bring another driver with you so you can bring both your new RV and your car home. If possible, bring along a friend with some mechanical knowledge and/or one who is familiar with RVs. Time your trip for “business days,” not the weekend, because you’ll need the local state motor vehicle office to be open before you can complete your purchase.
Even if you’ve used an inspection service, you’ll want to inspect things with your own eyes. Follow a checklist that you have created in advance. A good example can be found at the bottom of this post.
Hopefully, there will be no disappointments. If there are some, point out that these were not disclosed prior to your arrival. Perhaps you can still re-negotiate your deal. It’s a good idea when you import an RV is to plan to stay in a hotel for at least one night, just in case this happens. You’ll want to allow the seller the opportunity to sleep on it for a night. He might feel guilty that you made the trip here to find out that he forgot to tell you about a key issue or problem. YOU, however, should be prepared to return home empty-handed, and not be swayed by the fact that you made a wasted trip.
Perform a title search
If all goes well, you are prepared to proceed with the deal. Before you hand over any money, you will need to verify that the seller is the registered owner and that there is not a lean against the vehicle (money owing). To do this, write down the make, model, serial number (or VIN), which is usually found inside the driver’s door. It’s important that you write it down yourself and bring it to the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) office. Ask them to verify clear title. This may cost a couple of dollars. You’ll need this proof of clear title at customs as well. Before you complete your deal you need to also check these serial numbers to make sure they match those on the title documents.
All clear? It’s now time to set up your payment. If you brought a certified check and have had to re-negotiate a new price, be sure to get your “refund” in the form of a certified cheque, money order, or cash. At this point, the seller will sign over the title to you. If necessary, as it is in Arizona, have his signature notarized. IMPORTANT: You will need the ORIGINAL TITLE, not a copy, to register your vehicle in Canada.
On the assumption that you have now closed the deal, call your insurance company to enforce the policy, and take the needed documents to the nearest DMV office (you’ve already been there once to perform the title search), to pick up your trip permit.
State Sales Tax
In some states, you will have to pay the sales tax, either at the dealership or at the DMV office, when you purchase your trip permit. Whether you will be charged the sales tax or not varies from one state to another. For instance, it appears there’s no avoiding it in Florida, yet in New York, you will be exempt if you’re going to import an RV to Canada. You could call a dealer or a DMV office of the state where you’ll be making your purchase to confirm if state sales tax will apply and how much.
You will also need a recall clearance letter from the chassis manufacturer (Ford/Chev/Mercedes) as well as a letter from the final stage manufacturer (Forrest River/Winnebago/Etc). You’ll have 45 days after you import an RV into Canada to supply this letter to RIV but it’s recommended that you get your clearance documents early in the process. Contact the manufacturer with the vehicle serial number and your request. Documents remain valid for 30 days prior to import and you can, if you wish, submit your recall information to RIV before you import the vehicle.
Acceptable forms of recall clearance documentation
RIV will accept any of the following recall clearance information:
A letter from the vehicle manufacturer’s U.S. or Canadian head office.
The letter must be written on company letterhead clearly stating that there are no outstanding recalls for the vehicle. If the manufacturer’s logo does not appear on the letter, it will be rejected. The letter must be dated and signed by an authorized employee of the manufacturer and include their name and title, the vehicle identification number (VIN), year, make and model. RIV routinely forwards a copy of these letters to the manufacturer for authentication.
A printout from an American or Canadian dealership’s vehicle service database.
This document must be produced by an authorized dealer and not a reseller. You can confirm whether or not a dealership is authorized by visiting the manufacturer’s website or by calling their head office and providing them with the dealership’s location. The printout must also contain the 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN), year, make and model, and indicate that there are no outstanding recalls. RIV routinely forwards a copy of these printouts to the manufacturer for authentication.
Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (OEM) web site.
Some manufacturers post their recall information on their public websites specific to the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This recall information will be accepted subject to verification by RIV.
As a courtesy, the RIV will be conducting an online check for manufacturers that provide recall clearance on their official website, specifically using the unique vehicle identification number. Should the vehicle have any outstanding recalls, we will require an invoice or work order confirming the recall(s) was completed.
Please note should any of the above documentation indicate that there is an outstanding safety recall, the RIV may accept an invoice/work order from an authorized dealer confirming that the safety recall was completed. The invoice(s) must be dated, contain the vehicle identification number (VIN) and should be accompanied by one of the above acceptable document types.
Bringing Your RV Home
If you’ve followed all these steps for importing an RV, plus gathered all the documents outlined by the RIV website, you should now be ready to fax or courier the required forms to the border crossing where you plan to enter Canada. (They require the paperwork at least 3 days before you cross the border.) Not all border crossings support the procedure for importing vehicles. Locate a port of entry here.
Using a customs broker
If you need to ship the RV instead of driving it home, you cannot do so without hiring a customs broker. Similarly, if all of this is just too much work, and you’re willing to pay someone else to handle all the paperwork required to import an RV, you can hire a customs brokers who will do all the work for you.
To answer the question, ” Is it worth the hassle?
The more expensive the RV, the more you can save, and it may be well worth your while to import an RV.
RV Pre Purchase Inspection
• A flashlight with a strong beam is a useful tool to have. A screwdriver with a straight, Philips and square bits will come in handy as well. You should also have available the delivery invoice for the trailer. It will show all the standard equipment and ordered options and should be compared to what you thought you ordered and should be referred to during your inspection.
• You will need the understanding & cooperation of your dealer for this process, as it probably involves far more depth & detail than they normally anticipate and schedule for. Make sure they know about it in advance. (You may get a better-prepared trailer if you do!) At the very least, tell the person doing the “owner inspection” or “walk through” what you intend to do, give him or her a copy of this checklist and work with them to plan the time accordingly. A sense of humor will also come in handy!
• Finally, my assumption for this PDI is that both (if fitted) propane tanks are full, shore power is available, city water and a hose are located close by and sewer connections, a drain or a dump station is available. A fully charged battery must be connected as well.
OUTSIDE WALK AROUND
The outside walk around should take around one hour. At this point, you’re generally searching for anything that does not look right.
• Roof Sealing & Fixtures- You will need to get up on the roof here, so round-up a ladder or carefully inspect the one on the back of the unit. Check that all the mounting points are solidly attached to the body and the rungs are firmly fixed to the frame. Climb on the roof and inspect all seams, gaskets and any other place that the roof material has been cut or holes drilled. Check that all shrouds & covers are intact, unbroken and properly seated on the roof. Proper polyurethane caulking should have been used to seal all places where the roof has been penetrated. Check closely around air conditioners, vents, antennas, sewer vents, and side seams. Look for any signs of bubbles (large and small), delamination, foreign objects or protruding screw or nail heads under the membrane (if a rubber roof).
• Windows – Check closely around each window to make sure it has been properly aligned and sealed.
• Entry Doors – check the gasket used on all doors for proper adhesive and coverage. Look closely at the door from the inside and confirm that it sits flush against the inside of the door jamb. Confirm that each key works in the appropriate lock. The main door should open & close smoothly and lock without undue effort. Check that the screen door opens smoothly alone and locks to the main door without any extra effort.
• Baggage Compartments – open and close each door checking for alignment and gasketing. Confirm that each key works in the appropriate lock All hinges should be tight and secure and the latches should hold the door tightly closed and still be easy to open. Look for any signs of moisture that might indicate rain leakage. Verify that compartment lighting (if fitted) works properly. Any gas cylinders used for keeping to door open should be properly installed so as not to interfere with items stored in the compartment. If clamp-type door hold-opens are used, make sure they are present and hold the door correctly.
• Sewer & Fresh Water Connections – Inspect this area on the trailer to make sure that nothing is broken or deformed. If appropriate at this time, make sure you understand how each valve or fitting works. Understand the proper function of the black and gray water valves. If tank flushing is installed, understand how it operates. Understand where the low point drains are for the freshwater system.
• Telephone & Cable TV Connections- Find and understand the telephone and cable connections. Make sure a weather cap is present for each connector and that connectors are properly identified & mounting plates are properly sealed.
• Propane If the tank(s) are contained in a compartment, there should be no possible way for propane to enter into the RV or any other compartment. Understand how the regulator works and how it switches between cylinders. Confirm that a leak test has been performed on both pigtails between the tanks and regulator and the rest of the system. Locate and understand the operation of the main shut off valve (if any).
• Battery – Check the battery box to verify that it is ventilated and that any compartment slide mechanisms work properly. Verify that no battery cables are rubbing on any part of the frame because that will eventually end up with a short-circuit and possible fire. Understand the battery type provided and how to maintain them.
• Paint & Siding- Carefully check the paint finish on the RV. Any problems can be verified and corrected at this point with a lot less hassle. Site down the side of the unit to check for bumps or depressions in the siding. Divide each side of the unit into 2, 3 or 4 sections and inspect for siding issues: color variations, dents or irregularities. Do the same for the ends of the unit Look at places where vinyl film is used to make sure it is free of any air bubbles. Check ends of any decals for uniformity or “mistakes” that may have gouged the siding. Look closely where masking tape was used for paint graphics to make sure there is no over-spray. Carefully check for surface smoothness and any place when paint coverage is marginal or where there are bubbles.
• Tires and Wheels – Closely inspect the tires and wheels and understand the proper inflation pressure. Verify the torque of the lug nuts or have the PDI person do it while you watch. Find out the proper jacking point for the trailer and what kind of jack to use. Determine if your tow vehicle lug nut wrench will fit the lug nuts on the trailer or if another size is necessary.
• Spare Tire – Check the condition & pressure of the spare tire. Understand how the carrier works if it is the fold-down type.
• Awnings – Extend and retract each awning paying particular attention to how the awning is locked in the retracted position. Make sure all springs, locks, and supports work well and are properly aligned. Wiggle the mounting points for the support arms to get a feeling for how solidly they are mounted to the body.
• Chassis Inspection – Put on some old clothes or coveralls and get a good-sized piece of cardboard or carpet to make it easier to lie on your back while checking around under the trailer. If it’s possible to do so without jacking up the rig, it’s a lot easier, but do what makes sense to you. You want to be able to Inspect all air and / or hydraulic lines, wiring, shock absorber attachments, and in general every place that a wire or pipe could rub against something that could cause a problem later. All wiring and piping should be properly fastened.
• Slide Out Operation – If your RV includes a slide-out or slide-outs then spend the time it takes to understand its operation. Start by checking the seals while the slide is retracted. You should not be able to find any places where you can see light or detect airflow. Use a flashlight to look into dark corners. Understand the mechanism that extends and retracts the slide. Operate it several times and understand any restrictions on operation. Understand the manual retraction process and actually perform the retraction as if the automatic mechanism had failed. Look for proper alignment of any wheels that may ride on carpet or another flooring, to ensure proper clearance. Understand any locking mechanisms that are used to hold the top of the slide out tight against the top of the RV. Do your best to make sure the seals are properly installed and operational when the slide is retracted and also when it is extended.
INSIDE FIT AND FINISH
Now its time to go inside. In general, you are looking for things that are not finished correctly since it is too late to inspect the design of anything.
• Cabinets – Inspect & open all of the cabinets to ensure that all the hinges and latches work well. Pull each drawer out to its stop, return it closed and then try to open it like road vibration might do. Makes sure that there have been no water leaks and that all the wiring and pipes are well fastened. Inspect the linings (if any), to ensure they are fastened securely. Run your hand along all edges, front & back to check for and delamination or lose edges on molding or vinyl wraps.
• Molding & trim – Go over all the trim on walls, doors & furniture. Make sure that everything is fastened on well and not loose or ready to come off.
• Lighting – Operate every light switch and observe its function. Use the monitor panel to check battery levels. Understand and verify any battery disconnect switches. (at this point, only 12V lighting can be tested, as the unit is NOT connected to shore power yet)
• Closets -open and close all closet doors checking for free operation and proper alignment. Hanger rods should be properly fastened and secure. Check out the lighting that is provided and any switches that are used.
• Furniture – Examine every piece of furniture to check for construction, upholstery, pattern and cloth matching. Check out the dinette by making it a bed with the appropriate cushions. Do the same with the couch or sofa.
• Blinds – Operate each blind and check for alignment. Look at all valances and trim to be sure they are secured.
• Counter Tops – Inspect all countertops for alignment and fastening. Make sure that any trim pieces that should be there are in fact tight. Check for caulking quality everywhere there may be water, especially edges near a sink. Check the installation of sinks and faucets.
• Windows – Open and close every window and operate the latches. Pay particular attention to the two safety egress windows or emergency windows and make sure they operate smoothly & easily.
• Floor Coverings – Inspect carpet and other floor coverings in all corners to ensure that they have been properly fastened down. Check areas that slide outs may roll over for pulled threads, cuts or other problems. Check closely for gouges or cuts in linoleum tile.
• Wall Coverings – Check to make sure that all the wall coverings actually cover and join properly. Look for any discoloration or patch jobs that may cover hidden problems. Try to find any places where it is not perfect since now is the time to get it fixed while matching patterns are in stock. (Some folks suggest ordering extra fabric, carpet, and wallpaper now so that matching material is available to make small modifications or repairs at a later date.
OPERATION TEST OF ALL HOUSE SYSTEMS
You should be about two hours into to the PDI by now and you are ready to test all of the house type systems.
• Shore Power Systems Now is the time to connect up to shore power. Pull out all of the AC cord, confirm the length and inspect the plug for proper attachment. Inside the unit, check any 110V lighting and switches. (If you have a 110V receptacle tester, check all outlets for proper wiring/polarity.) Find the GFI-protected outlet and test using the push button. Understand which receptacles “downstream” from the GFI are protected. Any electrical problems here should be corrected immediately.
• Converter – Confirm the operation of the converter/charger that is installed. Turn on several interior lights to create a load for the converter and confirm no excessive converter noise or vibration. Have the PDI person explain the operation of the converter, the AC circuit breakers, and the DC fuses. Make sure that there is a written list of the loads connected to each.
• Water Pump – Your PDI person should have filled the fresh water tank, so now you can test the function of the water pump. After turning it on, you should hear it pump for several seconds, even up to a minute to create enough pressure in the system. If the pump does not shut off, then there is a problem. Run water in the kitchen and bathroom sink and notice that the pump will come back on until proper water pressure is restored. Now is the time to fix a noisy pump if it is vibrating or making any irritating sounds.
• City Water System – Turn off the pump, connect up to city water (use a regulator if overly high pressure is suspected) and confirm that the connection works correctly. Look for leaks under sinks and confirm the operation of all fixtures.
• Tankage – Re-fill the fresh water tank if necessary and run water into the gray tank to verify the gauge reading and that there are no leaks. Filling the gray tank until water comes up in the shower will make it easier to find leaks inside & out. Do the same thing to the black water tank, including filling so that water comes up inside the toilet. Check for leaks (if the toilet is installed correctly, there will be no leaks!) You can fill the black water tank by using the tank flushing system (if fitted), by using a garden hose adapter for the sewer connection (through a backflow preventer) or by bringing the water hose inside and filling the tank through the toilet. This last method can be a little cumbersome, and I don’t recommend unless you’ve done it before. Check the gauges for accuracy while you are filling Now is the time you want to find leaks if there are any. Drain the gray and black water tanks using the sewer hose or the garden hose adapter.
• Water Heater – Try the water heater on propane first. A few seconds after you turn it on, you should hear the click of the igniter and the small pop when the burner lights. The red light should stay on until that process happens. If it does not ignite, then there is a problem. Turn the AC element in the water heater (if connected) and confirm the operation. Make sure you know the location of the electrical switch at the water heater and the correct operation of the interior switch. If your unit is so equipped, understand the operation of the bypass valves for winterizing. Confirm that hot (or warm water depending on how long the water heater has been on) comes out of the hot tap at the various sinks.
• Furnace – Now its time to understand the operation of the thermostat that controls heating and sometimes the air conditioning. Turn the furnace on and set a temperature demand that is at least 10 degrees hotter than ambient temperature. In about 30 seconds, you should hear the furnace fans come on. Shortly thereafter you should hear the click of the igniter and the sound of the burner. If not then there is a problem. It could also be taking a while for propane to get to the heater, so don’t despair. Let the furnace blow and you should get hot air at about 110 degrees coming out of all vents. Check each one. Now turn the furnace down and the hot air will gradually turn cooler and the fans will eventually stop after the furnace has cooled sufficiently. During this process have someone with a good nose checking for any smell of material getting too hot, or exhaust coming out.
• Air Conditioners – Some air conditioners also have a heat strip or heat pump feature so now is the time to verify these functions. Turn on the air conditioner. After a couple of minutes, cool air, 20 degrees cooler than ambient, should be coming out of the registers. If your unit has ducting in the ceiling, make sure a good airflow comes out of each register. Learn how to clean the filters at this time.
• Propane and Carbon Monoxide Alarms & Smoke Detector- now is a good time to check the function of these alarms. The PDI person should have a small canister of gas that can be sprayed at the alarm to test its operation. Have them perform this test while you watch and learn how the alarms work. Confirm that there is a new battery in the Smoke Detector (write the date on it for reference) Activate the test button to check operation of the smoke detector. Understand how to turn it off.
• Refrigerator – Most modern refrigerators work on propane or AC and have an automatic mode that gives preference to AC and then will switch to propane if AC power is not available. Understand the controls and the status lights and set the unit on propane. The RV may need to be unplugged for this to happen. Go outside to the refrigerator vent grill and make sure that the propane heating column is lit and heating. While the refrigerator grill is open, check to make sure the drain line is positioned for proper drainage. Set the temperature at the highest cooling setting, because setting it to lowest will typically cause the coils to collect moisture and ice up. Come back in about 10 minutes to feel that the coil/fins is actually starting to cool.
• TV VCR Antenna and Switching -For the most thorough test, bring a small AC/DC TV with you for the initial test. Review and understand the switching system that allows the selection of viewing channel on the front and rear TV. Raise the TV UHF/VHF antenna and learn how to turn on the amplifier and the DC outlet. Find out the power rating of the DC outlet and compare it to the load of the equipment you will connect to it. Activate the control on the front TV that scans for local stations. Learn how to rotate the antenna to maximize the quality of the picture.
• Air Vents – Test the operation of kitchen and bathroom air vents making sure they open and turn on properly (if powered). Verify that they retract and close tightly. Check any other vents for proper operation.
• Microwave – Put a cup of cold water in the microwave and set the timer for 5 minutes. The water in the cup should boil in less than 5 minutes. Make sure there are no unusual sounds coming from the Microwave.
• Propane Stove – Turn on one burner of the stovetop while the AC’s and Microwave are running and the automatic igniters should cause a strong spark to light the burner. Turn on the other burners to verify that there is enough propane flow to operate the refrigerator, water heater and all the burners. If everything is OK, turn off the burners on the stove. If your unit has an oven, then understand how the pilot is lit and verify its operation now. Note: Sometimes the burner igniter interfere with the operation of the thermostats for the roof AC. This is the time to find this problem.
You have now done a simple test of the major house systems and can shut everything off. By now, you will have a list of things that you feel need correcting, but it may be then the end of the day, so plan on camping near the dealer for the night. This will give you a chance to further test the various functions. Prepare yourself for waiting until these things are corrected and don’t be tempted by the PDI person to sign the acceptance paperwork just yet. For a really serious checkout of your new trailer, you should “dry camp” the first night and not be tempted to hook up to shore utilities just yet. Bring enough kitchen equipment and food so that you can prepare an evening meal. There is no better way to test the living facilities than to actually use them. Don’t be tempted, since you’ve had a tough day to go out to eat.
When you are satisfied that all systems are “go” then sign the acceptance papers that the PDI person will anxiously provide for you. Schedule your first return trip to the dealer for about a week to a month from now. You are now ready to take your “shakedown” cruise.
Select an interesting destination about 100 miles away for your maiden voyage. Actually, use all the systems multiple times to try to detect and infant failures (electronic equipment fails at greater rates at the beginning of its life). Carefully note any problems or discrepancies in a list and make a copy for the dealer when you take the trailer in again.