We have had a series of potential RV buyers lately who are seeking our advice prior to making a purchase of a used RV or travel trailer. One person in particular was asking us if it would be OK to buy a used travel trailer that had small areas of delamination, but the current owner swore that the water leak had been fixed.
Now we have all been there right? Standing on the precipice of buying that which our hearts desire while totally ignoring what or brains are telling us? Even at face value, and assuming that the water damage that initiated the delamination was fixed, even at a deeply discounted selling price, it this an RV that you could recommend someone purchase?
Do a little researching on line about purchasing used RV’s with delamination and you are going to find conflicting advice. But that is also true with most internet research. As an actual RV repair shop who deals with delamination every day, We are here to set the record straight.
Now some people will argue that all Travel Trailers, RV’s and Motor Coaches will suffer from delamination at some point. I suppose that technically that is true, but it does not have to happen under your ownership.
Delamination is when the fiberglass or gelcoat outer layer of an RV starts to pull away from the substrate, usually luan or a light weight plywood. Delamination begins as small cracks and then starts to spread outward. These cracks can start as stress cracks, but are mostly accelerated by water intrusion. Once water gets into the substrate behind the fiberglass, then the repair becomes expensive. Stop the cracks early, and you can usually get them repaired before the repairs get pricey.
It takes vigilance to keep delamination at bay. The reason is, water intrusions are difficult to spot in their early stages. Most people only notice them after a few years of leakage and when the damage has become so sever that it manifests itself as bubbling wall panels, bowing interior panels or even soft spots in the flooring.
Prevention of delamination is simple: Seal every seam at least once every 5 years. I’d recommend even sooner than that depending on where you live, how much you use your RV or travel trailer and what your climate is. If you live in a wet area such as Seattle, I’d consider a re-seal every two years, and a very close inspection every six months.
The key to proper resealing of any Rv is choosing the proper sealants.
Surprisingly to many, silicone sealants are not the right product such as Dap’s Alex Plus that you might use on a house. Unless you get a highly specialized form of silicone, it will contain talc, which actually absorbs water and thus at a later point the seal will fail.
Another no-no is using that heavy asphalt white roof coating that is sometimes used on old mobile homes. Old mobile home roofs were made with sheets that were seamed every four feet or so. The white stuff is a terrible sealant and is very heavy. The ONLY proper sealant is a one-part polyurethane sealant/adhesive that is designed for marine use and under water use.
3M manufactures a product called 5200 that is a sealant and adhesive. Once this product cures, you will have a difficult time getting the parts to separate. You must mechanically split the bead and coat it with a remover to get it to separate. If you do have to seal a seam that you think you might one day need to separate or replace (such as an air conditioner or something like that, 3M also makes a 4200 sealant adhesive that is made for parts that must later be separated. Both varieties come in black and white and they come in fast cure and slow cure depending on your needs. Fast cure is set in 24 hours while the slow cure can take up to three days even a week to fully cure. This means the sealing must be timed for nice weather. You want the seal to be as tough as I can get it to be.
Doing this yourself is extremely messy as making a bead and smoothing it out will cause excess sealer to get all over you and all over the RV. You can clean up areas on the motorhome with some alcohol until the seam is cured. Carefully seal everything but the air conditioners on the roof by either beading over the existing bead or smearing new sealant over old. If you don’t feel like messing with this yourself, or would simply like the piece of mind of knowing that a professional has completed the work and will honor the work with a warranty, consider taking your unit to a proper RV repair shop, or make the trek out to us here in the Dallas Ft. Worth area. Make a vacation out of it, and you have a win-win situation.
As far as buying a used Travel trailer with delamination, of course this must be evaluated on a case by case basis. But for the most part, even though the water damage was repaired, the walls will continue to delaminate unless they too are properly repaired. With all the used RV’s and travel trailers out there, unless you are getting the unit as close to free as possible, we usually recommend that you continue shopping.