Used RV Buying Checklist

Recreational vehicles or RVs have been the staple of the American country routes for decades. And as we all know, a vacation officially starts when you reach the destination. However, with an RV, the trip itself becomes part of the experience. And for those perhaps downsizing or considering a life on the road, they will find comfort and peace inside a motorhome.

When you consider the benefits they bring, it is not surprising that RVs have retained their popularity through the years. Factory-fresh models have a high price, but the widespread availability of pre-owned motorhomes provides an opportunity to buy an excellent RV for a fraction of the original cost. In an effort to help you purchase the best model for you, we have prepared a list of items to inspect. 

What Is An RV? 

The terms “RV” and “camper” can be used interchangeably, but some distinctions can be made between them. Recreational vehicles have evolved into motorhomes that can be used as vacation vehicles and also long-term homes. 

The class A RVs are full-length buses converted into luxury homes. The extremely exorbitant cost and complexity mean that inspecting one without a team of appraisers is a high-risk endeavor. This checklist will focus on the Class C RVs built on the chassis of a truck or a van, with a distinct overhang bedroom over the driver’s cabin. 

Powertrain

Built on the foundation of mass-produced trucks, RVs have an incredibly reliable and efficient powertrain. The abundance of parts and the simplicity of design mean that repairing mechanical problems will not cost much. Still, you should check the following: 

  • Maintenance logs and complete service history
  • The level and condition of oil and coolant
  • Engine block shouldn’t be covered in oil grease
  • Cold start to rule out battery and starting problems
  • Stability of idling revs and stalling
  • The smoothness of the transmission
  • Brakes and suspension
  • Tire condition
  • Dials, buttons, and other electrical components

Exterior

While the vehicle part of an RV is well-built, the same can’t always be said for the living space. Recreational vehicles are rarely produced en masse, with most of the work performed by hand instead of an assembly line. In fact, many companies take existing vehicles and convert them into motorhomes - with varying degrees of skill and quality control. The lack of a precision fit can sometimes cause leaking, which is a well-known drawback of RVs.

When inspecting the exterior of an RV, check the following:

  • Corrosion of walls, roof, and undercarriage
  • Signs of leakage and mold
  • Dried up, cracked, or missing seals and caulking on doors, windows, and vents
  • Dents, punctures, and other signs of involvement in an accident
  • Missing or dysfunctional storage hatches
  • Awning extension mechanism and the condition of the fabric

Interior

The living area is by far the essential part of a recreational vehicle. The smell is a strong indication of the interior’s overall condition. If an RV smells bad, it usually has been neglected and mistreated beyond repair. 

Bedroom

In recreational vehicles, the bedroom consists of a shell mounted over the driving cabin. Inspect the mattress for mold and moisture, look inside cabinets if there are any, and check the wall and roof for signs of leaking. Lay down on the bed and imagine sleeping for several nights in such a small area.

Living Room

Depending on how you plan to use the RV, you might be spending a lot of time inside the living quarters. Depending on the number of passengers, consider whether a U-shaped dinette or couch would be better. 

Plumbing

RVs typically come with a 12-volt pump that distributes water throughout the system. Turn it on and listen for irregular sounds and noises. The same practice should be applied to the water heater. Since these areas are prone to leaking, thoroughly inspect the surrounding area for water damage.

Kitchen

Turn on the gas stove and check if there is a leak. When you open the tap, the running water should be clear. Plug in a kitchen appliance or your phone charger into every outlet, and test if they work. If the fridge was not running before your visit, turn it on and listen for the amount of noise it makes.

Bathroom

A well-kept bathroom should be clean and stain-free. Toilets and faucets should be leak-free and operate correctly. Use the showerhead to see if the walls retain water and if the drain is not clogged. Consider whether there is enough space to maintain a regular hygiene routine with minimal inconveniences. 

Air Conditioning

Set the AC to full power and put your hand against it to feel how cold the air coming out of it is. A dirty air filter could mean that the AC was never maintained even on a basic level. Ask the seller for proof of maintenance or repair, and inspect the condenser and evaporator fins for blockage.

Summary

In some ways, motorhomes are similar to conventional trucks in terms of the powertrain and chassis. The core elements of the interior shouldn’t be a problem to inspect. However, it is the combination of the two that makes the inspection a challenge. 

For most, a used RV is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. The marginal differences in fuel consumption and interior comfort are not enough to upgrade unless you consider a used model from a higher class. 

Your budget should be well spent, so hiring a professional to do the final examination could save you from purchasing a lemon - which may cost you a lot of money in the long term. Alternatively, bring a friend or two with you, as they can spot an issue you may have missed.