If you are considering purchasing a new or used RV you may have also thought about what happens if you buy a “lemmon,” or a “project.” When you are purchasing a RV take time to thoroughly evaluate its condition, both inside and outside. As a certified RV inspector and certified RV technician I have spent a lot of time and money learning how to inspect and repair RVs.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the things I have found during various inspections and how you can evaluate a RV before you hire an independent RV inspector. This is not meant to be an exhaustive guide to inspecting an RV. However, we want to offer some practical advice you can use when considering your next RV.
RV manufacturers and dealers do a really good job of selling the RV lifestyle. Their marketing campaigns are designed to help you see yourself in whatever RV you are looking at. It can be hard to not walk into an RV and immediately see you and your family enjoying many travel and camping adventures. However, it is important to remain as neutral as possible when evaluating any RV. If you become attached to an RV, you are likely to miss or overlook warning signs about the RV or the dealer. Failing to remain neutral and thoroughly inspect an RV could be a mistake.
Smells can tell a lot about the RV and how it might have been used. When you first open the door to an RV or when you first step into the RV take a deep breath of air. What do you smell? If your answer is a musty or moldy smell beware. There may be possible water damage. Water leaks can cause very serious problems that are expensive to repair. Once you are inside the RV open the refrigerator and freezer. Did you notice any unusual smells from either? Further, when you enter the RV do you smell pet odors or does it smell like someone has smoked in the RV before?
Water damage can quickly lead to expensive and time consuming repairs. Any opening in the roof or RV is a possible entry point for water if not properly sealed. Areas where the walls meet the roof are another possible entry point for water. Once water gets into a roof or wall it can travel further into the interior walls causing mold and delamination of the wall materials.
When I inspect an RV I systematically look for any signs of water damage or areas of water intrusion. The water damage may not be readily seen, but through a careful analysis of what I have observed the RV will start to tell you a story. Looking at the pictures below you will notice a transition between the roof and front cap. A large portion of the trim piece is not covered by sealant. Additionally, there is a large gap forming between the trim and the transition between the roof and curbside wall. This large gap provides a path for water to enter the RV. Looking over the side of the RV the circled area indicates some ripples in the sidewall, a sign that the wall has started to delaminate, or come apart. The last picture shows the interior closet opposite to where we observed the possible delamination on the outside. The first thing I notice is a shelf that has swollen, likely from water damage. Typically, I am not a fan of moisture meters in RVs as they can be misleading. Moisture meters can only tell you if water is currently present, not if there has been previous damage. However, I chose to use a moisture meter on this section of interior wall and immediately obtained very high moisture readings, when verified against other sections of the same wall.
When you are considering an RV can you get on the roof? As a certified RV inspector I almost always start my inspections on the roof. Getting on the roof allows me to look for items that are broken or missing or damage to the roof that will allow water intrusion. The pictures below show examples of missing plumbing vents, cracked vents, dry and cracked sealant, and a missing TV antenna.
Evaluating tires can be misleading when you consider most RVs do not travel very much. Therefore, it is possible you will not see very much tire wear when looking at a used RV. As a certified RV inspector I am looking for the DOT date on the tire. This four digit code will tell you which week and year the tire was manufactured. If I inspect an RV and find a tire that is older than five years old, I would recommend that the tire be replaced. The pictures below are from inspections conducted in 2020. One tire was manufactured in the 53rd week of 2017. The other tire was manufactured in the 18th week of 2010, over ten years ago. When you consider the cost of tires, this can be a point of negotiation with the seller.
Frame, Chassis, and Undercarriage
When inspecting an RV, you want to look at the frame, chassis, and undercarriage, especially for signs of any damage or bent components. Are there any indications of drag marks, bent components, excessive rust? If so, these could be signs of damage. When looking at a motorized unit do you see any fluid leaks coming from the engine. If so, I would investigate further. Repairing such leaks from the engine could be expensive. Looking at these areas of an RV may require getting under the RV, which can be difficult and dirty. If you aren’t comfortable or able to do this, I would encourage you to consider hiring a professional RV inspector. It is important to look at the underside and hidden parts of any RV. When you just look at the pictures online they rarely show pictures of these important areas.
Are there any maintenance records available for you to review? If so, do these records indicate when the oil and other engine fluids were last changed? Maintenance records can give you an indication as to how well the previous owner took care of the RV. Always ask about any maintenance records and request to see them.
If you are buying a motorized RV from a dealer or individual it would be a good idea to arrange for a test drive. Either with the owner driving the RV and you going along for the ride or perhaps you feel confident enough to drive the RV. Either way during the test drive listen to the RV. Do you hear unusual sounds from the engine or are there a lot of squeaks and sounds from the RV itself? If you can drive the RV is there excessive play in the steering? These would all be areas that would warrant further inspection by either a professional RV inspector or technician.
While the above is not an exhaustive list of everything that should be inspected on an RV prior to purchase, it does offer some ideas of important areas to look at. Take your time and don’t get rushed into a decision. If you look at a RV and still feel it is a possible candidate, then it makes sense to hire a certified RV inspector. As a certified RV inspector I will spend several hours, up to ten or more on large class As, inspecting the RV. We will also provide a detailed written report along with pictures. This report will give you the most complete picture of the current condition of the RV.