Buying a used RV is a great way to save money and avoid the huge decrease in value a new RV sees immediately after driving it off the lot.
Did you know…
A new Class-A motorhome will typically lose 30% of its value in just the first three years!
While buying a used motorhome has its perks, there are a few things you need to be mindful of so you don’t end up spending more money in the long run on repair costs.
So, here’s what to look for when buying a used RV, along with some important tips and a downloadable checklist to ensure you don’t miss anything.
1. Maintenance History
The first step to evaluating a used RV is to get a clear understanding of its history. Just because it looks clean and well-kept doesn’t mean it was properly maintained or didn’t encounter other issues.
- Ask the dealer or current owner, depending on whether you are buying the camper from a lot or a private party, for any information or service records about the vehicle’s past.
- I also like to use the RV’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to run a Carfax report (yes, there is a Carfax report for RVs). A Carfax report will cost you $39.99 (at the time of writing this) but is well worth it as it could save you thousands down the road. Cheaper Carfax alternatives include FaxVIN and VINPit.
Important: Don’t gamble and skip this step! It’s not uncommon for owners to try and unload their RV to avoid a costly repair or to skip expensive maintenance tasks. Understanding the history of the RV will give you peace of mind and potentially save you lots of money.
2. RV Exterior Checklist
Now, let’s inspect the RV itself, starting with the exterior of the recreational vehicle.
One of the most neglected inspection checkpoints is the roof, but it’s one of the most important!
Why? A leaking roof can cause all sorts of issues, including water damage, mold, rotting of the structure, etc. And when this happens inside the walls, it can be hard to catch in a timely manner, requiring expensive repairs.
Important: Inspect the ladder for damage before using it to get to the roof and use extreme caution while performing the inspection.
Roof Inspection Checklist:
- Check the roof for cracks and damage, especially along seams.
- Inspect the caulking and other seals for drying out or cracking.
- Check around the AC unit (if applicable), vent covers, solar panels, roof racks, etc., for cracks in the seals or the units themselves.
- Remove any vent covers and check for blockages, for example, debris build-up, animal nests, etc.
- Lastly, climb off the roof and spray it with a hose (ask the owner for permission first). Inspect any areas that pool water and inspect the camper’s interior for dripping.
Walk around the RV’s exterior and inspect for any damage, including tears, holes, cracks, delamination, etc.
Stand at one end of the RV and peer down the side of it, looking for any malformation or bowing of the walls, which might be signs of damage or a structural issue. Perform this step on the other side, ensuring the walls are level.
Windows and Doors
The windows and doors on an RV are another common entry point for moisture and are prone to other issues.
- Check around the windows and doors for any dried, cracking, or shrinking seals. Spray down the RV’s exterior with a hose and inspect the windows and doors for leaks.
- Check the screens for any tears or rips.
- Make sure the windows and doors open and close properly.
- Inspect for any missing screws or components.
- Ensure both the windows and doors properly latch/lock.
If applicable, open the awnings and ensure they roll out smoothly. Inspect the awning material for any tears or rips.
Lastly, make sure the awning closes smoothly and securely locks in place.
Tip: Some RVs have multiple awnings, so be sure to check them all.
If your RV features slideouts, be sure to open them fully. Inspect the seals and any moving parts for damage or corrosion.
If allowed, another spray test with your hose or pressure sprayer while the slideout is extended will help identify any water leaks.
Close the slideout and ensure it operates smoothly.
If you’re looking at a pop-up style camper, make sure it slides or “pops” up and back down smoothly.
A PDI (pre-delivery inspection) is performed by the dealership before they sell an RV, which includes a propane system inspection. With a private party seller, you might not be afforded that luxury.
So, if you’re working with an RV dealer, ask for a signed PDI form. If you’re working with a private seller and they haven’t performed an inspection, ask that they have it done. Who pays for the inspection will just depend on how badly they want to sell it or how badly you want to buy it. You may even agree to split the cost.
Either way, I recommend a professional technician perform the propane system inspection.
Next, we want to check all the connections on the RV’s exterior, including power connections, water tank hookups, and drains.
If you are looking to purchase a used towable RV, like a fifth-wheel or travel trailer, then you may need to do a thorough inspection on the:
- Lighting connectors
- Brake controllers
- Tire pressure monitoring system
Ensure they are all in good working order.
Tip: For a more specific inspection checklist for towable RVs, check out our guides on what to look for when buying a used travel trailer and buying a used 5th wheel.
Check for fluid leaks and optimal oil and coolant levels in motorized RVs. This can be a good indicator of whether proper maintenance was recently done.
While the hood is popped, do a visual inspection of the belts, hoses, cables, air filter, etc., looking for any leaks or excess wear and tear.
Finally, you’ll want to look under the RV, whether it’s motorized (Class-A, Class-C, and Campervans) or a towable trailer, and look for any damage or wear and tear.
- Check the axles, suspension, and other components for rust and corrosion.
- Check the tires for proper pressure and the DOT code on the sidewall for the tire age to see if they need to be replaced. Unlike car tires, RV tires are often replaced due to age, as opposed to the amount of tread left (though it’s still a good idea to check the tread).
3. RV Interior Checklist
Once you’ve completed the exterior checklist, it’s time to move inside the RV.
The electrical system is the heart of your RV, powering many essential components like your fridge, microwave, AC, lighting, entertainment devices, pumps, etc.
So, it’s important to ensure the system runs properly on both shore and battery power.
- Start with the breaker box and make sure all of the switches are properly functioning and that none of them are tripped.
- Test all of the RV’s electrical appliances and ensure they are receiving power and operating properly.
- Test all of the lighting in the RV.
- Test all of the electrical outlets to ensure they are receiving power.
- Test any safety devices that may be hard-wired in.
- If the RV has a battery bank, ensure the batteries are corrosion-free, have the proper voltage (around 12.6 volts), and check their age.
Water Damage and Mold
Water damage is one of the most common types of damage in an RV. And as we explained above, it can wreak havoc on your camper, leading to costly repairs.
Signs of water damage can include:
- Brown spots on the ceiling
- Bowed or bubbling ceiling
- Warped walls or floors (especially around the shower and toilet)
Windows and Doors
If you didn’t check the windows from the inside while running through the exterior checks above, now’s the time to ensure they open and close properly, the cranks work, and they are sealed when shut.
Heating and Cooling System
Your RV’s heating and cooling systems help make it livable, especially in extreme temperatures. So, we want to make sure these are in good working order.
Checking the RV AC
Turn on the air conditioner and ensure cold air blows out of all the vents. Let it run for 20 to 30 minutes, and listen for any weird noises or squeaks. Ensure the inside temperature of the RV is indeed cooling down.
Additionally, you’ll want to ensure:
- There are no leaks around the AC unit
- The filters are clean
- The fan mode works
Checking the RV Furnace
Turn on the furnace and ensure it fires up properly. Again, listen for any weird squeaking and ensure warm air comes from the vents.
The last thing you want is plumbing issues the first time you take your new RV out on the road! They aren’t fun to clean up, can be hard to diagnose, and can lead to water damage.
There are a few major components we’ll want to inspect, including:
- Tanks: Hook the RV up to city water and fill the freshwater tank. Ensure the tanks fill properly and aren’t leaking. Unhook from city water.
- Fixtures: Test all of the fixtures in the RV, including the faucets, shower, toilets, etc.
- Water pump: Ensure the water pump is working properly and all fixtures receive water.
- Water heater: Ensure that the water heater powers on and that hot water flows out of the faucets.
- Drains: Once all the above has been tested, ensure the tanks drain properly.
Test all kitchen appliances and ensure they are in good working condition. This will include testing the air temperature in the refrigerator and freezer, testing all of the burners on the stove and the temperature in the oven, etc.
Remember, some appliances may use electricity and gas, so test them in both modes.
Check the operation of any TVs, satellite dishes, audio systems, Wi-Fi routers, etc., and any remotes that operate these components.
Test all of the safety devices and alarms in the RV, including gas, carbon monoxide, and smoke detectors.
Be sure there is at least one up-to-date and functioning fire extinguisher.
In motorized RVs, you’ll want to ensure all cabin controls are operating properly. This might include the dashboard lights and gauges, gear shifter, brakes, leveling system, wipers, backup camera, horn, etc.
If the RV includes a generator, you’ll want to make sure the fluid levels are optimal and that it runs smoothly. Fire it up, let it run for a few minutes, and ensure it does what it’s designed to do – provide power to your RV.
Lastly, visually inspect every little nook and cranny of the RV. Test storage cabinets, cupboards, and drawers, looking for evidence of rodents, etc.
Buying a Used RV Checklist
We put the above RV inspection checklist into a downloadable PDF and shareable infographic!
What Questions Should I Ask When Buying a Used RV?
The eight most important questions you should ask before buying any type of used RV include:
- How many people previously owned the RV?
- Do you have the title for the camper?
- Do you have the previous maintenance records?
- Has the RV been in any major accidents?
- Where was the RV stored when not in use?
- Is there any warranty left on the RV?
- Can I extend the warranty?
- Can I test drive the RV?
The answers to these questions can help protect you and your potentially large investment.
Of course, there are several other questions you can ask, especially if you are looking at a very specific type of RV, like a teardrop camper, for example.
But combining these eight questions with the RV buying checklist above is the best way to get the information you’ll need to get the perfect used RV.
What Are the Most Common Problems With Used RVs?
Five of the most common problems with used RVs include:
- Water Damage: Water damage is a common issue, especially in older RVs or poorly maintained ones. Check for stains, warping, or soft spots on the walls, ceilings, and floors, which could indicate past or present leaks.
- Roof Integrity: The roof is a common source of leaks. Inspect the roof seams, seals, and the general condition of the roofing material for cracks, holes, or signs of water damage.
- Appliance Functionality: Ensure all appliances are operational. This includes the stove, refrigerator, air conditioning, heating, and water heater. Repairs or replacements can be costly.
- Electrical System: Check the functionality of the electrical system, including the lights, outlets, and generator. Look for loose or exposed wiring, which could pose a safety hazard.
- Plumbing System: Inspect the plumbing for leaks, and ensure the toilet, shower, and sinks operate correctly. Additionally, check the condition of the holding tanks for any cracks or damage.
How Can I Buy an RV Without Getting Ripped Off?
To buy an RV without getting ripped off, you should buy it at the right time (typically in the fall), properly inspect the RV (or pay for a professional inspection), check NADA guides to get the fair market value, and consider buying used to avoid the initial depreciation hit.
Check out our guide on how to buy an RV without getting ripped off for ten insider tips to protect yourself and pay the lowest price possible.