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Parts and components of RVs will occasionally fail and need to be replaced so when this happens you will basically have two choices; replace the part new from the manufacturer which would require you to order it online or visit an RV repair center where they may have one on hand or visit a recreational vehicle salvage where you might find the part you are looking for at a much less expensive price.
What is an RV salvage yard?
RV salvage yards are businesses that specialize in supplying used parts to consumers who may not be able to find what they are looking for through the normal courses of action. Salvage yards generally purchase old or damaged RVs simply for the purpose of reselling the components of these RVs for a profit. Generally, people with undriveable or un-towable RVs will sell these units to salvage yards as do most insurance companies that reimburse their clients after an RV is considered “totaled” because it was involved in an accident or some sort of natural disaster. Once a claim is paid by an insurer, that RV becomes the property of the insurer and they sell them to salvage experts that piece them out on a part-by-part basis in the hopes that they will make a profit by gradually selling off the workable components of the salvaged unit.
As a rule, these facilities are usually very large and are an excellent source for hundreds of thousands of parts for an RV. They are also a great source when you are searching for replacement parts for vintage trailers or RVs for parts such as original lights, moldings, doors, windows or even J-rails.
Should I purchase a part for my RV at a salvage yard?
Absolutely. If the part is what you need, and you can purchase it at a price that’s well under the manufacturer’s original price then I would surely do that. A few years ago, when my 5th wheel RV had issues with its furnace, I did an internet search and I found a used parts or salvage RV dealer within 250 miles from where I was boondocking. When I called them on my cellphone and advised them that I needed that furnace, they were very nice and offered to pull the part prior to my arrival. When I arrived two weeks later they had my furnace boxed up and while they did charge me an additional fee of $15 because they removed it from the salvaged RV, I was good with that since I didn’t have to wander through their salvage yard and remove the furnace myself.
Many vehicles, RV or boat salvage yards require the customer to wander through their grounds and pull the part they need from the salvage vehicle. In some cases they may steer you in the right direction by providing you with the locations with salvage units that meet your criteria, but in other searches through salvage yards you may find that they just tell you to go find the part or component you need, remove it and they will price it when presented to them.
As a rule, the salvage yard will save you the most money when buying used parts, but it will also cost you the most amount time which may not be a savings at all. On the other hand, if you are shopping for multiple parts or components then searching through a salvage yard is the way to go. In fact, I have spent hours just wandering through salvage yards looking for a good deal on a spare part or something I think might make a good addition to my RV.
What parts should I purchase at an RV salvage yard?
In the past, when I’ve bought parts from an RV salvage yard, I have usually purchased mechanical or cosmetic components. They are a great source for things like light fixtures, switches, windows, furniture and simple parts such as wiring, cushions or even some plumping components. As a rule, most salvagers are delighted when you purchase things like wiring and plumbing lines because it saves them the trouble of disposing of them properly and they make a buck or two in the process. These types of items are almost always priced fairly and readily available.
Some items that I would avoid purchasing at an RV salvage yard would include electronic components such as navigational devices like a speedometer, odometer and internal thermostats. I would also never purchase a television from an RV salvage yard. In most cases, these types of parts are looked over by most buyers and they don’t age well over time.
Refrigeration and air conditioning units, I would probably pass on as well. Unless the salvager has inspected and tested the parts but that tends to be rare at most salvage yards. Another thing to consider when purchasing parts from an RV salvage yard is whether they have a return policy, and can you return a part that doesn’t work. Obviously, components such as furniture, windows or cosmetic parts such as molding, and trim can be easily inspected upon purchase. However, electronic parts or things like refrigerator compressors and condensers will need to be scrutinized more thoroughly.
Where can I find an RV salvage yard?
Most states will have at least one salvage yard, but you will usually find more of them in populated areas and especially in Northern Indiana, specifically the Elkhart and South Bend areas where many of them are manufactured. Also, this area has numerous RV parts suppliers that while they handle new parts, they also will carry new “old-stock” parts as well as closeout specials or discontinued parts for RVs so it makes it an extremely popular place to find parts for a repair or makeover of most any recreational vehicle.
You can use a junkyard directory like salvage-parts.com to find RV salvage yards near you.
For those of you looking to outfit a retro camper such as a Shasta from the 1960s – 1970s era, there are numerous salvage yards throughout the country that supply parts for people looking to restore their vintage RV. The same can be said for people needing parts for an Airstream rig. Whether it’s a towable unit, or one of their not so popular class A motorhomes, there are salvage yards that specialize in those needs.
Make sure to search for part numbers too. This will link you to salvage yards that may possibly supply that part. However, I would recommend caution if you are buying parts from a seller in another country as that will likely be a pre-production or poorly produced product. Forums are a good resource too. Participants routinely share information about available parts they may have for purchase or trade. In other words, if the part you are looking for is not a necessary part, then I would advise you do your due diligence and find that part from a reputable source and quite often that will come from those that share your enthusiasm for RVing.
What about prices and can I negotiate?
Prices for parts for your RV are always based upon supply and demand. For example, if you’re in the market for a rare piece of molding or an original nameplate from a vintage camper you may be restoring, then the chances are good that you will be paying a higher price because the supply is limited based upon the demand for that part. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a common part that is readily accessible from numerous suppliers such as a used tire rim or ball hitch, you’ll most likely find that the cost for those parts will be well under what you would pay in a retail setting because the supply is higher than the demand.
As for negotiating a better price, it never hurts to ask. However, it’s likely that most salvagers will know what the value of the part they are selling based upon the theory of supply and demand. The best thing you can do here is to do your due diligence. In other words, research the value of your purchase and if they tell you that the part you need costs $100, offer them $75 and see where it goes from there. They may stand firm on their price or they may accept your offer. They may also counteroffer, and you and seller agree upon a price somewhere in the middle.
Related: How to make money as a full-time RVer
Another good tactic to employ when negotiating a better price is to bundle items together. If you know that it’s unlikely that your seller will not discount the price of the specific part you are in the market for, then you should consider looking around for some common parts such as drawer pulls, light fixtures or switches you may want to replace, and then offer to pay the price for the original item you wanted if they throw those added items into the deal. Many sellers will agree to that because they know that it’s unlikely any other buyer will come along soon needing those parts and they want to clear them from their inventory for a profit.
As always folks, thanks for following along here and I wish you the safest in travels. Please travel safely and always remember to keep a keen lookout for those that travel by two wheels. This January (2020) marks the 20th anniversary when one of my best friends lost his leg because someone pulled their vehicle in front of him while he was traveling where he should have been on his motorcycle.
As long as you’re searching for parts, make sure to check out Brian’s related guides on buying a used RV and a new RV.