Shopping for a used RV? We’ve got tips!
Shopping for a used RV can be exciting and frustrating. There are well maintained units available but there are many more that are poorly maintained or outright abused. Repairs can run into the thousands, or worse, cost more than the RV is worth. Many problems are hidden and what seems to be a great buy can quickly turn into a nightmare money pit that may not even be safe to take on the road.
How can we avoid a lemon?
Be vigilant. Look beyond the glitter and excitement of an upcoming vacation and really inspect any unit you may buy. Do your homework, bring work clothes and a flashlight. Don’t be afraid to poke and prod in dark corners or crawl under or on top of a unit when you are shopping for a used RV.
Checklists for inspecting an RV can be pages long, and we include links to some at the end, but here’s fourteen key places to focus on.
- Inspect the tires. Check for cracking of the sidewalls or bulging. Find the manufacture date. If they are over five years old, get them inspected by a professional, even if they don’t show signs of wear. If they are over ten years old or show signs of bulging, cracking, or belts sticking thru, replace them before taking a trip.
- Pull out and inspect the awning, especially at the top where it hooks to the RV body. The last few inches of awning material are always exposed to the weather and UV sunlight and as a result, will separate and rot first. Check for rips and holes on the rest as well. Sometimes folks get a little carried away with their campfires and hot cinders can land on the awning and burn through.
- Inspect for panel damage or miss-matched paint. Backing into a camping space or getting through cramped parking lots, narrow roads, or gas stations can be hard for even the best RV driver. The back corners of the RV are the most prone to show damage.
- Inspect the undercarriage for leaks and damage. Look for oily dark spots that may mean seal or gasket leaks on hydraulic levelers, transmission, engine, or differential.
- Pull the dip stick on the engine. Smell it and see if it smells burnt. Look for chunks sticking to it. Black clinkers are called coking and indicate that the engine has been running too hot and is breaking down the oil. Pull the transmission dip stick and inspect the fluid.
- Walk the roof and check for soft spots, tears, loss of seals, and cracking. Water damage is the hardest repair to make and the repairs can cost more than an RV is worth.
- Check for water freeze damage. RVs are supposed to be winterized every year to prevent freeze damage. Check around the toilet, under sinks and around the water pump for signs of water line repairs, damaged flooring, mold, and dampness. In bad cases you may even find standing water.
- Check for rodent damage. Key places are behind kitchen drawers, behind couches, under built-in furniture, in utility connection areas. While a mouse nest and droppings can be cleaned up, rodents can also chew on wiring and plumbing. In some cases they can short out 12-volt running lights or in worse cases, short out 120 volt circuits, which can cause a fire.
- Check for roof and window leaks. Look for black mold. The front over-cab window on Class-C RVs are notorious for leaking, so that is the first place to check. Often water stains are obvious in the paneling, but sometimes rot is not so obvious. By pushing on the paneling around the window soft spots may be found. Sometimes, you may even find where the laminations of the paneling have separated from water damage. A crackling sound may be heard in bad cases. Also check around seams, roof vents, and side vents. While it isn’t always the case, peeling wallpaper may indicate past water leaks.
- Ask to see the manuals and service records. All RVs comes with extensive documentation that aids in making repairs or even just using the appliances and features. Many RV users will keep their maintenance receipts in the same case. By running through the documentation you can see if the RV was serviced as the manufacturer recommended.
- Check the steering wheel for play while on a test drive. Excessive play can indicate costly repairs are required. Drive the RV and check for power loss, odd noises, or over-heating. Put the brakes on hard. Non-working brakes on one wheel can cause the heavy RV to pull hard to one side or the other.
- Check appliance operation. Make sure the refrigerator, air conditioner, water heater, furnace, stove, microwave, and any other appliance works as they should. Bring a dial thermometer. Refrigerators should be able to hold 38 degrees. The air conditioner discharge air should be 20 degrees or more below the room temperature.
- Look for owner modifications. DIY modifications can cause huge headaches if not done properly and safely. They can also indicate an underlying problem that created a need for the modification in the first place. Incorrect workmanship can cause many concerns running from water leaks to fire hazards.
- If the RV is privately owned, think about taking it to a reputable RV service center for an inspection. If it is at a dealership, see if it comes with a warranty. If the unit is being sold As-Is, beware, because they know a problem exists and once you drive it off the lot, your dream RV may turn into a nightmare.
Shopping for a used RV is usually a long, anxiety-filled experience but take your time, be educated, be thorough and always remain skeptical!