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Owning a RV is a great thing and it can give you satisfaction no other automobile can give; probably because you get to travel in a RV with your family, friends almost as if living in a home. Many people live full time in RV’s.
Owning a RV can however be difficult at times because of the costs. While the new RV’s come at 5 figures or six figures, buying a used RV can be a good option and many people follow this path to own a RV.
This article, however, will address the question “what to check when buying a used RV”.
Just like buying a used car, buying used RV does not seem that easy. A single wrong foot and you regret the buy. Since you will be spending considerable amount even in used RV, it is going to be your investment for a long time. And thus, you need to be careful while making the deal.
There are quite a number of things which you need to cross verify before buying a used RV. In this article, we will see RV inspection checklist that one can follow before going ahead with the buy.
When buying used RV there are few rules that one has to follow and not doing that may mean a waste of money. Even before you have that thought of going for pre-owned RV, get yourself cross verified by asking few question.
There are lot of questions that you should ask yourself before buying an old RV.
- What size RV do i need : Finalize the size of the RV that best suits your family. Have a clear decision whether you need a class A motorhome, or class B or class C. Or whether you will be able to tow that 25 feet travel trailer with your car or truck.
- What budget do i have for my used RV : RV prices cost in 5 figures and go upto 6 figures. A used one will be less costly but do not expect it to be half or quarter priced. RV’s generally have long life and they can cost you little less but it depends on the model year, manufacturer. RV value depreciates just like cars but they may still cost you much. Thus have a budget and start the hunt.
- What features you want in your RV. Have a firm decision on what all features you want in your camper and then start the search accordingly.
Things to check when buying a used RV or a travel trailer
Buying a RV is really a big deal and needs a lot of research. And, if its used camper then there are many things which you should pay attention to. Here is a complete used RV inspection checklist that you can do yourself.
Water Damage, Mold
If there is one thing that can make you spend thousands of dollar on repairing, then it is water damage. Look closely for any signs of water damage in the camper. Some of the indicators of water damage in RV includes,
- Soft spots on the floor
- Mold and mildews on ceiling, inside the cabinets, bathroom ceiling, walls.
- Delamination on the exterior that occurs between the fiberglass and the sidewalls.
- Musty smell inside the RV
- Discoloration on ceiling, floor or on walls
This signs can be sometime hard to detect and can go unnoticed. Water damage occurs due to rain water or plumbing water leaks. You can also identify if there are any sign or chances of leakage in the RV.
Go on the roof to verify if the seams or sealant are old enough for leaks. Roof mounted things like antenna, air conditioner, ladder all need drilling of holes and the seams used to cover these holes can start leaking over time. The more holes, seams on the roof means more chances of leakage.
Open the ceiling cabinets to check for any leakage indications. Walls, floor can have leaks coming in from the plumbing lines running through. Even the floor can have plumbing lines that can leak.
Its vital to get to know the water damage as otherwise you will end up spending a lot on repairing the RV.
Hiring a RV inspection specialist can save you from buying a lemon. So, if you don’t feel confident of inspecting the RV on your own then go ahead and take help from such a professional.
An RV that has been used for many years or months will develop smells if not taken care of. Not only the interior of the Rv can smell but also the water.
As a future owner of that RV, take time to realize if the RV smells. You may not realize this if you spent very little time inside the RV. Smell in itself may not be bad but reason for that smell need to be known.
Musty smell for example is a sign of mold and water damage which is good enough to skip buying that RV.
Similarly, there are other smells that you need to know. Based on how serious the problem is you can decide on the purchase.
RV smells like rotten egg : This smell can be due to propane leaks, which by the way is dangerous. So, check for such leaks in the camper. In most cases, the owner would fix such leaks though. Secondly, it could be due to anaerobic bacteria reacting with anode rods in the water heater. This may not be harmful but the smell isn’t pleasant, you will agree.
RV Smells like sewage : Who would be willing to stay inside such a camper? Its mostly when the RV isn’t cleaned regularly. Black, tank, bathroom when not cleaned regularly will produce such smells which is not good for health as well. Catch in most of these smells is they may not come all the time but would pop up once you start using the RV, so be careful.
RV Smells like ammonia : This is a pretty straight forward smell to guess. It would come when the RV refrigerator has leaks in the backside. This is a great catch for you, as this normally means the refrigerator isn’t usable as the propane line need to be shut off when there is leakage. Repair also may not be possible. And, this means a replacement needed. So, you see it! The smells are also a great way to identify things that are broken and need replacement.
There are other smell that are fairly identifiable like poop smell, propane smell, gas smell, fish smell.
Inspect the floor
Floor of your travel trailer is a sensitive component whose repair is no joke. The walls of the travel trailers are often placed on top of the floor and therefore replacing the floor cant be done simply by removing and putting the new one.
- A soften floor can be sagging or rotted whose repair can be costly and be done only by a professional RV repairer. This would not only take more money but also involve lot of time.
- Identifying such issue with the floor may not always be possible for all. A professional RV inspection specialist can help in identifying the exact amount of damage done.
Inspect the Roof
RV roof, specially for travel trailers, is quite critical. While under the warranty, it can be easy to get the repairs done but after that, the cost can go very high on such repairs.
Therefore, you need to do the due diligence of the roof while buying a used camper.
Here are some things in your RV roof inspection checklist:
- Check if the roof appears wrinkled. Its a bad sign. If the workman didn’t do great job while fixing, repairing the roof, you would see such signs. Other signs include excessive sealant on the roof, like piles of seals. A smooth roof is always a good sign.
- Roof appears to be messy with stuff that shouldn’t have been there. This generally means the RV owner didn’t care much of the roof and that may mean there are leaks or it has potential to leak down the time.
- Know what type of roof it is. Most campers now a days are given a rubber (EPDM or TPO) roofs. But, there are also those with fiberglass aluminum roofs. Each of these have pros and cons but the most important thing is how their maintenance is done. Simply putting sealant wont work out. Each type has recommended repairs, procedures and you are ought to follow that. Therefore, get to know the roof type from the owner, if the owner isn’t aware then that is a signal to be vary of. RV manual will have these details.
- You need to check all these things because you don’t want to spend on the repairs, don’t want leaks to cause water damage and definitely don’t want to replace an old aging roof. Most RV roof’s have more than 10 years of life if taken care properly.
- Walk around on the roof and see if its feels strong/sturdy. An experienced professional will be quickly able to identify issues while on the roof. Look out for rusting, corrosion of screws. Check for all the mounted items like AC, vents, ladder where holes were drilled.
While you take the RV walkthrough do not forget about bathroom/toilet. Apart from mold and mildew signs you need to check other things that may turn out to be “should have verified that before buying’.
- Shower water pressure. This may be an easy fix but not with all RVs. Check out the shower head, try running the shower and see what’s the pressure like.
- A tight spaced bathroom/toilet can save space but if your intent is full time living then you better have a spacious one or at least it shouldn’t be very compact. You need some space to move and keep items in there.
Check for windows, doors and exterior walls for any leaks and cracks. Try locking and unlocking doors and windows to see any missing or loose screws.
Have a close look to detect any locking failure. Check if latches are in proper order. Exterior walls may have underlying frame damages, loose molding.
- Open and close the windows multiple times to see if any issue with them. Winter chilling wind can leak in and so can rain water if you cant close them air tight.
- Having shades can keep the sun out. Check if that’s there or not. You can always get it upgrade though.
- Check for any signs at the window edges. This can be signs of leaks causing mold or condensation.
- Check for overall ventilation. More windows provide for better air circulation.
- Check if it is equipped with roof vents. These are great for air circulation and keeping the RV fresh.
Check for Slide out Problems
This obviously applies to only those RVs that have this capability. The most common problem with slide out is leakage problems. Make sure the slide out seals are intact and don’t show any signs of leakage.
Stuck or misaligned slide out is another problem with old RVs. This can be a serious problem as a stuck slide means you are stuck with the RV wherever you are. Such repairs may not be easy and would need a professional RV repair shop visit.
Motor failures can result in such issues and such issues can also be intermittent which basically means it may function well while buying the RV. But, as soon as you start using the RV, it would malfunction.
Therefore, be sure to check with the owner and ask about any such known issues. Checking for scratches on the floor or sideways can help in identifying such issues. Give it a try and see if they operate well.
Check what kind of insulation is used in the RV. If you plan to live in the RV in winter or even hot summer then this is an important thing to check. There are various ways to insulate an RV. Skirting, insulting wall or using curtains and even awnings.
- RVs come with insulation in the walls that keep you warm during winter and cooler in summer hot weather. Be sure what insulation is used as replacing the insulation is again a major task.
- Fiberglass insulation is most common as it provides high R value but it tends to wear out quickly. Therefore, it has to be replaced relatively earlier as compared to other type of insulations.
- Fiberglass also has low resistance to moisture and if the moisture gets inside, it may result in mold.
- Rigid foam insulation : This has good resistance to moisture, lasts long but has relatively low R Value.
- Spray foam : This type of insulation is long lasting and provides good moisture resistance but has low R-Value making it not so great for extreme cold or hot weather.
Check stabilizing and leveling
While setting up at the campsite there are 2 important steps you need to follow. Its Leveling and stabilizing.
Not leveling a RV can result in malfunctioning of appliances like refrigerator and can also cause rolling down over the bed. Stabilizing is needed to prevent the RV from shaking while you walk or when there is high gust of wind.
- Check what kind of leveling the RV uses, ask owner about any issue faced. Whether there are automatic hydraulic levelers or its a manual leveling. Similarly, check if the stabilizers are in good condition or not.
- When buying a used fifth wheel makes sure it has hydraulic automatic levelers.
- People often confuse stabilizing with leveling. Stabilizers are used to make RV more stable once it is leveled. You should never use stabilizers to take pressure off the tires, this may lead to bending of the stabilizers.
- Modern RV’s are equipped with automatic stabilizing and leveling which can be operated by a push of a button inside the RV.
Leveling blocks can be used to level the RV when it is not equipped with automatic levelers.
RVs can be equipped with various power options including the ability to connect to the shore power at the campground. Here are important points for the RV power sources inspections.
- Electricity Hookup : Check the electricity hookup whether it is 30 amp or 50 amp. Check with the owner for converter, if it was used. How long is the extension cord for the hookup? Sometimes campground may have shore power connections that aren’t so close to the RV and you may need long enough extension cords.
- Batteries : Check the voltage of the batteries used. Most RV’s are good with two 12 V batteries. What is the connection used, series or parallel? Batteries can die earlier if they are not charged as per instruction. Inspecting batteries during short inspection visit may not be possible. Ask questions and seek answers to questions like, how much time it takes to charge and how long they hold the charge, are batteries stored separately, and what all things it can power.
- Generator : Confirm the Watts of the generator. Your watts requirements will vary based on various factors like size of AC, and how much time you use it. Bigger AC like 15,000 BTU will need bigger generator of at least 2500 watts. Is it a portable generator or built in? If possible run the generator and verify the noise it makes. Some generators can be very noisy.
- Solar : Verify if the RV is equipped with solar prep and solar KIT. Having solar can be a great compliment to the other power sources in the RV. Roof mounted solar can be great but it also limits how much sun it can get. Having some solar panels that can be adjusted on the ground will allow for better harvesting of sun energy.
- Propane : Check the propane capacity. Usually you need propane for refrigerator and furnace. Inspect how propane tanks are installed and whether there are any security issues with the propane and lines.
Know history of the RV
Before you make the purchase it is important to know previous history of the travel trailer or RV specially when buying the RV from private party. This can educate you on various things like theft, accidents, damages, age of the RV and various other things about the RV. Doing proper research about the RV will definitely save you from buying a lemon.
- To get the detailed previous history about the RV you would need VIN (vehicle identification number) for the RV. You can use this VIN to get the details from local DMV or from their website.
- Apart from checking the history of that particular RV, do check on the web for specific model for any known issue or problems.
- Do check on RV forums for any user discussions that can give you pointers on issues they faced. Forums are a great place to find RV brands to avoid.
- A quick look on the internet wont take much time. Simply search “name of the RV model” + problems, you should see results in forums, if any. That’s a great trick to go prepared to do the inspection accordingly.
Do your due diligence in knowing all the details about the RV but also ask questions to the owner of the RV. In fact, ask many questions as possible. Here are top questions you should ask before buying the pre-owned RV.
Before you write that check for the owner of the RV, make sure you know the fair value for that RV.
Do your research using nada guides and other sites even before you visit the owner for inspection.
Do negotiate after carefully inspecting the RV. Many of the things that we saw in this list are in fact points for you to negotiate on the owner asked price.
How old is the RV
Buying older RV is not an issue but getting a very old RV can be. Some of the quality RV’s last very very long.
Airstream for example, are known for their long lasting life. But, that does not mean all RV’s will be good after many years of use.
- Check how old the RV is. Anything beyond 10 or 15 years and you should be more careful in making the purchase.
- RV campgrounds may not allow 10 year or older RV’s and that rule should also cross your mind, if you have some specific campgrounds in mind.
Lighting in RV
Check for all bulbs, tubes and make sure all are in working conditions. Check for any signs of overheating.
- Its not only about interior lights but also the exterior lights. Turn on the headlights, braking lights and parking lights to see that they are working fine.
- Check and operate all the electrical outlets, switches for any issues. Turn out all the lights, fans inside the RV.
Leakage and Noise in Air Conditioner
Try running the AC for at least 10-15 minutes and experience the cooling effect. Open the covers to see for any water leakage.
- Observe the sounds AC is making. Most old AC’s in campers can be noisy and lowering that noise may not be an easy task.
- Other problems with AC include unable to cool properly or intermittent functioning.
These issues may not be deal breaker but are great points to negotiate on price.
Water Heater Leakage
Water heater is a life saver when its cold and can give you comfort no other thing can give in a camper. Check for plumbing and monitor for any leakage.
Confirm that wiring is full proof and there is no mess up in that. Run the heater and check the water for proper heating. A good run for some time should confirm the proper functioning.
Next important and often overlooked thing is the safety features. Modern RV’s are equipped with number of features that protect you not only while driving but also when you are camping at the campground. Here are some features that you need to check in the RV.
Fire extinguisher : RV are required to be equipped with DOT approved fire extinguishers. Do check that it is present in the RV and follows all the standards of installation and operation.
Carbon monoxide detector : With a RV there is always a possibility of unexpected when you are sleeping. CO detector will help keep you safe by alarming the leakage. With appliances running on propane it is always necessary to have a CO detector inside the RV.
Tire pressure monitoring system : Modern RV’s come equipped with such systems that help indicate any issues with the tire pressure. This is particularly helpful when traveling longer distances as you don’t want to take any risk.
Blind spot indicator : Generally speaking, RV’s have long length and in towable RV’s, the length further increase and therefore, there is a bigger blind spot. Do check if the RV is equipped with blind spot detector.
Rear View camera setup : Backing a 30 feet RV is not easy. A rear view camera is a must for such mammoth RV’s. Lengthy travel trailers or fifth wheels can be particularly hard to back up and in such RV’s, its very necessary.
LP Gas system Leaks
Check the condition of propane cylinders, regulator and rubber hoses. Try to check if there is any propane leakage. Confirm that LP gas system in the RV is inspected and certified.
Water pump Malfunctioning
Water pump is one of the most important things that you will need in a camper trailer or motorhome. An ill functioning water pump can annoy you a lot and thus make sure you don’t spend your days later repairing it.
- Try running the water pump for quite some time and confirm that it is giving a constant pressure without any water leakage. Try running-stopping it for few times to check for any ill functioning.
- Check for any noise while its running, a smooth functioning should not give out any noise while it is running.
Having an awning can dramatically improve the overall RVing experience while at the campsite. It gives shade and also keeps RV cool. Some things you need to check while inspecting the awning:
- Check the length of the awning. The more the better.
- Inspect for any ripped off or faded fabric.
- Check the operation whether its power or manual.
- Operate the awning to see if it is working smoothly or not. Stuck awning can spoil your camper experience. Replacing an awning is also costly. You don’t want an added $1000 on your bill.
- Check how you can adjust the awning, whether it can be tilted. Gauge the quality of the awning for wind resistance.
Having a good kitchen that has all appliances will make you happy. Make sure you check for refrigerator and check for any ice debris.
Light the stove and check for each burner, whether the fire beams are running and constant.
Check for oven while its working and also confirm the temperature if possible. Verify for drain hose and see for any leakage.
Check all water systems in RV
Inspect for fresh water tanks. Take a short trip and see if there is any leakage. Check the bathroom water systems, run the shower to see if it is working or not. Check for toilet and flushing system.
Low water pressure at the faucet or in the shower is a common problem faced by many RVers. This can happen when the plumbing line are chocked. Do check if the water pressure is normal. Sometimes these issue may need bigger repairs, and that can turn out to be costly affair.
If you plan to go boondocking or dry camping then be sure to check the capacity of fresh water tanks, gray tank and black tank.
While a professional engine mechanic will be in better position to check on engines health, try for a test drive for some miles and you should have affair idea about the RV engine. You may have a perfect RV interior but a ill engine will mean everything else is nullified.
Thus, don’t judge the RV by its interior or exterior check for its heart that is the engine. Try starting, putting off the engine multiple times. Take RV over a steep hill, check for breaking, reverse gear, and check for any engine noise.
Check the RV tires
Check that the RV tires are not worn out. An old RV will mostly not have very new tires but it also should not have highly worn out tires else you will be spending on the tires very soon.
- Very old tires that have become very smooth could be risky. Rv tire health is important for your safety and blow out while you are on road can be dangerous.
- A tire may look good in appearance but may not really be good in actual. Check for the date of manufacturing on the tires, a 5 year cycle for replacing a tire is something recommended but if the usage is high then 4 years or even less.
- You should be able to read the year of manufacture on the tire if not then confirm with the owner.
Check for any rusting on sides, a good painted camper will look good. However, a visually good looking rv does not mean it is good.
- Check closer for any damage. Inspect top of the RV to identify any leaks, damage.
- Check top of the RV for any cracks. You definitely don’t want a RV that has leakage on roof.
- A slight rain and your RV will have water dropping inside. This can lead to many other problems you definitely don’t want.
Check for furniture in the RV
Map your desire with the furniture present in the RV. Whether the RV has furniture with which you will be comfortable or not.
- A leaning comfortable chair, a spacious sofa to comfortably watch a movie will always be great.
- Can it accommodate all the family members at once? Check the bed length, a 6 feet is minimum what you would want. Check for mattress and its condition.
- Its upto you what you want and how much you can adjust. Don’t go for something that does not meet your requirements.
Else, you will end up repairing, refurnishing it with additional costs later. And you definitely don’t want to do that after spending much on buying the RV initially.
Overall height of the RV
Check for headroom in a RV. Normally most RV’S will have good headroom and that shouldn’t be a problem.
- Check for the height of RV and it should not exceed the height of your garage.
This could be a very small thing but a mismatch will mean another headache for you once you start owning that RV. So better be clear on all points at first.
Length of the RV
If you are buying a lengthy RV then do know that national parks have length limits on RVs. So, if you have plans of visit such national parks then be sure to check on length limits for various national parks first.
- Most standard RVs have long length and you shouldn’t be worried about it much. Especially, if you are buying it for the first time be aware that their length could be intimidating.
You may however think about the working space but you should also think about the amenities you want in RV and a small length RV may not give you everything that you want and thus settle for something that meets you needs.
Check maintenance history
Ask owner of the RV for maintenance records. A good maintained RV should have less problems but that does not guarantee it. However a periodically maintained RV will be much better than the one that hasn’t be serviced regularly.
- Ask about how often the oil was changed, especially when its a diesel motorhome.
- Check the overall miles on the motorhome. A very high number should caution you. On average most RV’s are good till 200,000 miles on it.
Check for warranty on the RV roof and other appliances inside the RV.
- Ask all the details about insurance in place. This is a very critical aspect and be sure to check all the pervious claims if any.
Another point you should look for is the mileage in case of motorhomes. With so much weight and lengths obviously, the motorhomes give very less mileage but do check that isn’t very low.
When its a diesel motorhome, do pay special attention on the miles per gallon.
Make sure you get a RV that has enough sleeping capacity for your family and or friends. Whatever number of people are expected to sleep in the RV should have sufficient sleeping spots.
- Its not only about how many can sleep but also about the sleeping spot/bedroom/mattress in itself that you need to inspect.
- You may want to replace an already used mattress. Check on all sides of the bed for any damage, specially water damage or mold.
- Operate the convertible bed that also turn into dining spot. Since this is a furniture that is subjected to more movement and friction, there are chances of damage.
You can easily miss on this. With RV’s that are high, you are ought to have steps. It is also important that the steps should fold back easily and completely.
Check internal and external storage. Look for ceiling cabinets. Open every cabinet to see if there are any issues with the doors.
While buying a toy hauler RV, storage and other areas get somewhat sacrificed. So, if you are planning to buy a toy hauler RV keep this in mind that the storage compartments may be smaller than expected.
Check if the RV is equipped with a ladder and is in good condition. Having a ladder at the back of the RV is an added advantage. Its an easy access to do regular maintenance of the RV roof.
If you have other mounted things like antenna, solar, AC, vents then ladder is very critical. You also have an option of using portable ladder but its more hassle for storage.
RV’s are equipped with all the entertainment systems you would have at home.
- Check how the TV is mounted. Whether you can tilt it or not. Do a quick functioning check. Check if the remote functions.
- Check other appliances like DVD player, radio, speakers. Minor things but you are ought to check them out.
Buying a used RV is no child’s job and needs thorough inspection. If you have been driving RV’S for years then you should have sufficient knowledge to deal with in-and-outs about it. But, if you are buying it for the first time then it can get tough for you and a mistake may mean a lot of headache later on and also you may have to spend much more that could have got you a new RV altogether.
If you don’t feel confident about inspecting the used RV then you can hire someone professional who has better experience in dealing with RV’S . If you want to go ahead and inspect the RV yourself then follow inspection checklist and take your own time to verify all things.
Test drive the RV for sufficient time, it is going to be a big amount that you will be investing so do not hesitate to test drive for sufficient distance. Ask as many questions as possible and do not shy. If the owner is hesitant to answer or is getting irritated then may be he/she is hiding something and you may want to skip the deal.
Inquire about any accidents or major repair that has been done to the RV. You can also check about any pets that have lived in the RV. Check all documentation thoroughly and make sure the person isn’t hiding anything. Carry out all legalities as per law and make sure you get the ownership transferred to you. Hopefully these tips for buying an old RV were helpful to you.