2019-09 – Inside Sportsmobile West and Things to know when buying a used RV


On this week’s show we revisit a unique company that builds class B motorhomes for boulevard cruisers and some of the most extreme off the road enthusiasts… join us as we take you inside Sportsmobile West.

Later in the show Mark and Dawn Polk from RV education 101 give us some tips and show us some things we should know about buying a used RV..

And, It’s time to enter our big, Entertainment and Connectivity contest brought to you by Winegard and Dish… WAIT TILL YOU SEE THESE PRIZES !


Into Extreme RV-ing? Check out the Sportsmobile!

What if you're into extreme RV-ing? Well, there's a class B made exclusively for adventurist RVers. And to learn more, we travel to Fresno, California, and visit Sportsmobile West. We asked Alan Feld, president of Sportsmobile West, to tell us all about the company and how it all started.

Alan Feld: "Mass production of the class Bs actually started in the early '60s. This is our 50th anniversary, so we've been doing it for 50 years.

There's some older companies that are not in existence anymore that were also in the '60s and '70s. Mass production really started with us in 1961 on the Volkswagen chassis. And then in the mid-'60s, we went to Dodge, Chevy, and Ford on their chassis. Earlier than that, they were mainly called house cars or van campers, and I don't think they had the class C designation back then."

Alan just happened to have one of those original VW vans in house! Be sure to watch the show to see it!

Watch the show to see this 1966 original Sportsmobile!

Alan: "This is one of our earlier versions. Sportsmobile started in 1961, but this is one of the earlier versions I could find, it's a 1966 original Sportsmobile from the '60s. Top pops up just like our tops on our new ones. We've put the railings on the inside now to make it wider, and we've made it longer so you can sleep up there. But this one was an original one, where you could stand up so you could put your pants on."

Let's face it, there are quite a few class B motor homes on the market, but Sportsmobile is in a class of its own. Some may call them extreme or over the top, but call them what you want, they do what they're designed to do, and they do it in style.

Alan: "For the guy that is extreme and wants just about everything, this is our most popular vehicle right here. It is a Ford Econoline turbo diesel, four-wheel drive. Actually seats five, sleeps four, has our patented pop-top feature on it. But this van will take you just about any place that a vehicle can get to and bring you back. It's got a lot of options on it, diesel-fired appliances, hot water heater, furnace, microwave. It's got a 2000-watt inverter, has solar panels, and all kinds of exterior lighting, custom exhaust, custom air intake, AMSOIL system, all synthetic fluids on it, ten forward gears, two reverse gears. Drive it rear wheel, front wheel, or four-wheel drive. And on the inside, it's got all the amenities of a motor home just compacted into a class B van camper.

On the outside here, we have our stoves. This flips open like this, flips down like that. You can do all your cooking out here. Or in bad weather, you can take the stoves in here, built-in microwave, built-in toilet, built-in refrigerator, hot water heater, and furnace. And one of the advantages, like I said, is the pop top here. And when you come in here, 6'8" head room, stand up. Upper bed up here, which lowers down at night for sleeping, but during the day it's up so you can walk and have your galley. Actually has a big living area here. So, every once in a while when you're camping, you're going to be in some wet, inclement weather, you're going to be trapped inside the van here.

If you have a dog, big room for the dog. But sitting here, read books, whatever until the weather clears up, and then full access to the outside. You actually have sleeping upstairs for two adults. The bed downstairs, the couch folds into a bed, so another bed downstairs for two adults. And a lot of storage for a lot of gear. Whether you're backpacking or hiking or wind surfing or kiteboarding or mountain biking, we can get all the gear that you need in the back of this vehicle. As you see the vehicles in our factory, you'll notice that some of them do look very stock on the outside with just windows. A lot of our customers want the vehicles to look real stealth so they can park them in their driveway, drive them every day, take them to work.

And then other customers want the vehicles with a ton of options on the outside. It all depends on where they're going, how many people they're taking, how they travel, how they like to eat, how they like to sleep. You know, if they like to hang their clothes or they like to use duffle bags or shelves. So, every one of these vehicles is pretty specific to customers.

We do build stock vehicles for our showroom, and the people can come in and buy, but I would say 80-plus percent of the vehicles we build are specific to customers."

How tough is a Sportsmobile? Well, they're so well built that many law enforcement and government agencies just won't settle for anything else, as you can see in the show, with this specially built search and rescue unit.

Alan: "This is one of the commercial vehicles that we build. And we built 17 of these search and rescue vehicles for the country of Qatar. They have an elite paramilitary search and rescue team. All of these vehicles fit in the back of C130 airplanes, and they fly them all over the world for search and rescue applications such as earthquakes in Haiti, earthquake in Chile, tsunamis, mudslides. Any kind of natural disaster in third world countries, that is what they're using these vehicles for. And we actually have a lot of options on these vehicles.

This vehicle has a 12,000-pound winch in the front, 9,000-pound winch in the back. We build cargo and gear boxes in the back that have all the emergency response and recovery tools in them. But we can basically lay out one of these vans with any type of equipment for any type of application that's out there, whether it be fire, medical, search and rescue, or police vehicles."

If you're into four-wheeling and off the road driving, then a visit to Sportsmobile West is like going to Disneyland, with all this cool, top of the line four-wheel performance equipment just about everywhere you look. Of course, it takes a lot more than just accessories to turn a van into a Sportsmobile.

Alan: "This is actually back in our production shop, where we do our four-wheel drive conversions. And this is actually where the process for the four-wheel drive starts. We actually bring a Econoline two-wheel drive in, pull all the suspension and driveline components off from the factory and replace it with custom leaf springs that we have built by Betts here in Fresno. We put a disconnectable sway bar on, we put a different steering linkage on. This is where we're going to drop our front Dynatrac ProRock 60 axle in. We put Old Man Emu shocks on, our transfer flow fuel tank, and the Atlas 2 transfer case, then brand-new drive shafts. So, this is the start of the process, stripping out the two-wheel drive components from Ford, and adding the Sportsmobile four-wheel drive components."

There's a lot more detail about what they do to convert the Econoline's exterior and interior in the show so be sure to watch! And you can learn more about Sportsmobile here.


What to look for when purchasing a used RV

Mark Polk: "Hi, I'm Mark Polk with RV Education 101. Sometimes a used RV can be a great buy. Used RVs have already suffered the brunt of depreciation, many are only lightly used at a good price, and you will more than likely have an affordable monthly payment.

But on the other hand, a used RV could be a disaster if you don't know what to look for. Here are a few important checks to make prior to purchasing a used RV.

Number one on my list is to check the RV thoroughly for water damage. Water damage is quite common on used RVs. There are several reasons for this, but the leading cause is seams and sealants on the RV flex and move until there's a small crack or opening that water can penetrate. If the previous owner did not inspect and reseal these seams and sealants, chances are there's some water damage. Another problem is water damage can be difficult to detect. All the seams and sealants on the RV roof and side walls need to be inspected.

Indicators of leaks on the exterior are soft spots on the roof, cracked or separated sealants, and soft spots or what looks like bubbles on the side wall of the RV, where the fiberglass delaminates from the backing. Anywhere the manufacturer cut an opening in the roof or side walls is prone to water leaks.

On the interior of the RV, you can detect water damage by signs of staining or discoloration, soft spots around windows, slide-outs, inside cabinets, or on the floor. Water damage is expensive to repair, especially if it had time to spread.

I would avoid buying a used RV that has water damage.

I've looked at many used RVs we were considering purchasing and never made it past the water damage check. Getting past the water damage check is a good sign, and you can move on to the next item on my list, which is checking all the systems and appliances on the RV for proper operation. This check includes the water system, the LP gas system, the electrical system, and every appliance in the RV.

If you are buying it from an RV dealer and they tell you the RV will go through a pre-delivery inspection or PDI prior to delivery, let them know you want to know what items are included in the inspection and anything they find wrong during the inspection.

If you are buying from a private owner, any inspections conducted will be on you. If you are not comfortable performing these inspections, hire a qualified RV inspector to perform the inspections for you. If for any reason the owner does not cooperate with any of these inspections, I would not purchase the RV. Remember, there is no warranty, and replacing almost any appliance in the RV can cost $1,000 or more. This can add up quickly.

Motorized RVs with an engine and transmission and rear axle need to be inspected too. If you're not comfortable inspecting the drive line, try to find an RV inspector who's qualified to do this. You want to inspect the underside for evidence of leaks, check the condition of the belts, radiator hoses, and heater hoses.

Check all of the fluid levels to make sure they are topped off and the fluid is clean. Ask the owner for maintenance records you can review.

You need to drive the RV before you buy it. When you drive an RV, check the engine, transmission, and brakes for proper operation. Turn the windshield wiper on, check the air conditioner, the heat, the radio, and other controls on the dashboard.

It is usually easy to tell if an RV was taken care of or if it was neglected. I would avoid any RV that shows obvious signs of neglect.

Do not forget the tires. It's not uncommon for RV tires that look okay to be very old. Tires that are six years old or older need to be inspected by a tire professional. If there is visual evidence of weather cracking or checking caused by exposure to the elements, it's likely the tires need to be replaced. This can be expensive, especially if it's a motorhome.

Make sure the used RV you're considering meets your needs. Is it large enough or small enough? Do you like the floor plan arrangement? Is there adequate storage inside and outside? Are there enough sleeping arrangements? Are the holding tanks large enough for the way you plan to use the RV? These are just a few considerations. Think about how you plan to use the RV and make sure the used RV you are considering to purchase fits the bill.

If it's a travel trailer or fifth-wheel trailer, do you have the vehicle that can safely tow it? Buying another tow vehicle can be an expensive proposition. Check all of the trailer weights and make sure your tow vehicle is rated to safely tow it before you purchase the RV. If everything checks out, it's time to discuss price.

Some RV owners owe more on the RV than its worth. They need to pay the loan off and they want to sell it for the payoff amount at a minimum. Don't overpay for a used RV. There's an RV edition to the National Automobile Dealer Association or NADA guide. This is the appraisal guide most RV dealers use to determine used RV prices and values. The online NADA guide offers low retail and average retail pricing on used RVs. Prices in the guide assumes everything on the RV works as it should and the RV is in good shape. I always tell people you wouldn't buy a new RV for full retail price, so you shouldn't pay full retail price for a used RV. Ask what the price is and try to negotiate the price closer to the low retail price in the NADA guide. If the RV needs new tires or other repairs, ask if the seller's willing to replace the tires and make the repairs, or lower the selling price so you can purchase new tires and make the repairs.

If everything on the RV works properly and you can get the price somewhere between low and average retail, it's probably a fair deal for both you and the seller.

Happy camping,

Mark Polk, RV Education 101

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