Buyer Beware: Red Flags to Look for When Purchasing an RV

Insist Upon and Document a Walkthrough


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Insist Upon and Document a Walkthrough

Your RV Purchase Checklist

Shopping for a new or used RV is fun. It’s like shopping for a new home and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. But before you hand over your hard-earned cash, make sure you check for these red flags. It’s important to do a complete walk-through and ask as many questions as possible.

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Water Damage on Ceiling

Water Damage

You’ve probably heard horror stories. Water damage is one of the biggest repairs that is found in used RVs. But new units can also show signs of water damage. When viewing a unit, use all of your senses. Look for obvious signs such as large bubbles in the exterior panels, scrapes, tears, and morphing. Feel the panels, lightly push on the walls, and tap on random points in the unit. Is it soft or cold to the touch? Does it feel damp? Your nose is also an important tool. Does it smell musty or moldy? An RV can look pristine, but there may be water damage in the bones. 

When viewing the interior, follow the same steps, but you’ll want to do a bit more investigating. Most master bedrooms are either in the front or back of an RV. Be sure to open the closets and check inside the corners for soft spots and odd smells. Look up as well. Check the ceiling for discoloration or sections that may hang low.

Related: 5 Tips for Checking Your RV for Water Damage

RV Roof Maintenance


If there’s a ladder available, it’s a good idea to take a peek at the roof. Keep an eye out for dips or low points, peeling, or exposed underlining. Also, dry and brittle caulk on the edges may be worth a second look. Old sealants are sure to let some water into the frame and can cause serious damage over time, if not maintained.

Related: 25 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying an RV

RV Air Conditioning

Air Conditioner

While you’re on the roof, take a peek at the air conditioner cover. Look for cracks or broken pieces. An AC cover is an easy replacement, but a broken cover may indicate some issues with the AC unit underneath. Hail storms and extreme weather have been known to damage the AC unit and cover. If electricity is available at the viewing site, ask the seller to plug the RV into shore power so you can verify the AC and all electricity is in working condition. A new AC can be expensive, not including the installation, but it is totally worth it on those unbearably hot days

Related: 7 Tips for Staying Cool in Your RV This Summer

checking RV tires


Tires should be one of the very first items to view. Most RV accidents are caused by a blown tire, and can result in excessive damage to the frame and put your safety at risk. The tire tread may look good, but a tire’s age is more important than the tread. An RV can sit idle in the same spot for years, which can wear them down. 

Look for scratches on the wheel face, but more importantly, look for the exact age. It will be written on the tire. The manufacture date is a four digit number — like 3018, for example. The first two numbers, 30, is the week it was made. The last two digits, 18, is the year. This indicates that the tire was manufactured in the 30th week of 2018. Quality tires may last up to five years and should be replaced past that time. In this case, we can assume that this tire should be replaced no later than 2023.

Related: How to Get the Most Life Out of your RV Tires

Mouse Living in Old Chair


Keep an eye out for ‘Mickey.’ Small animals find shelter in warm places like RVs, especially if they have been sitting vacant. If you see evidence that small critters have passed through, there may be a nest or two waiting to be found. An RV is a perfect home that provides warmth, shelter, and plenty of wood to nibble on.

Related: 22 Important Things to Consider Before Buying an RV

Flood Home Restoration


Like walls, floors can also house underlying issues. Take a careful look at bathroom floors and the area around the kitchen sink. Leaks in the plumbing can cause major water damage that may not be visible on the top layer of the flooring. If there is major damage, the sub floors may need to be replaced. It’s a long process to repair, and it may become costly. Feel for soft spots or dips in the flooring when walking the area.

Related: Replacing Rotted Wood Flooring in a Travel Trailer: What You Need to Know

RV Generator


On board generators don’t come cheap. A new generator can cost thousands of dollars. If it’s not working in a potential RV, it may be worth a try to negotiate with the seller to drop the asking price. You will need the extra cash to buy a new one or have the inoperable unit repaired.

Related: Looking For a Quiet Generator For Your RV?

RV Motorhome Awning Extending


It’s advised to fully extend awnings when viewing an RV. If it’s a manual awning, the seller can show you how to properly operate the awning to make sure it’s locked into place. When extended, take a good look at the fabric. Awning fabric may have tears, frays, or thinning. It can cost hundreds to replace depending on the size. If the RV has slide outs, be sure to check those awnings as well.

Related: How to Use a Camper Awning

Class A RV Motorhome with Slide Out
Cheri Alguire/istockphoto

Slide Outs

Slide outs are ideal for creating a larger living space. But they can also create mechanical issues. A seller may have the slide outs extended for showing. When checking electric and systems, also ask the seller to retract the slide outs to verify working condition. View it from the exterior as well. Uneven slide outs may indicate mechanical issues and can become costly.

Related: How to Use RV Slide Outs

Relocate an RV

Go Find Your Perfect Fit

There are more items not listed that should also be viewed, but this will guide you in the right direction. In conclusion, RV living is rewarding. It provides wonderful opportunities to spend time on the road and time with your loved ones. Similar to a house, it may also come with unforeseen repairs. With proper maintenance and care, an RV can last for many years. But it is inevitable that some systems may need fixing from time to time. Some things may be easy to repair yourself, others can get expensive and require a professional. It’s up to you if a unit is worth the price, time, and effort.

Shopping for an RV is an exciting experience. It’s kind of like shopping for the perfect wedding dress. You’ll know it’s yours when you find it. Happy hunting! 

Related: Is Buying an RV Through Costco Worth It?