11 things to look for when buying a used RV

Updated: Jan 7, 2019

When Dylan and I started looking for an RV we had so many questions about what we should be paying attention to and what should be the ultimate deal breaker. We created a list of things that were important to us and nonnegotiable in the RV that we would buy. Some of our nonnegotiable items included a stationary bed, a dinette, and a decent amount of storage.

We've put together a list of things to consider and look for when buying a used RV.

1) Layout

What's your ideal layout? Go to an RV dealer and browse their selection of new RVs, if you don't plan on buying one at that dealership just be honest with the salesman that you're just browsing.

Consider the bed, kitchen appliances, counter space, eating arrangements, window placement, and anything else that impacts your daily life.

When you find a layout that you like, take a little while and just sit in it. Imagine your every day tasks being done in that space. Get up and move around, act as if you're going about your daily activities. If you have kids imagine how they would be in that space, rainy cold days do unfortunately happen.

This is the layout you'll be living with, it's super important to take it all into consideration when picking out your dream RV.

2) Length

Size matters. When browsing RVs at your local dealership be sure to look at the different lengths of RVs. Consider where you'll be visiting, how long you'll be staying in the RV, who will be staying with you, and who will be driving. Depending on where you'll be going and who you'll be going with, you might want a longer or shorter RV.

Once you pick your size range try to stick to it as much as possible. If you've decided on a 27 footer it might not be a good idea to settle for a 21 foot. Six feet may not seem like a lot but in an industry that only varies by a couple of feet in each model, it definitely does.

3) Water damage

The number one thing Dylan and I were warned about while used RV hunting was water damage.

Water damage is irreversible damage caused by water when it seeps through seams or if the RV has slow leaks. You can typically find water damage in RVs near the sky lights or windows. If you're looking for a Class C RV, water damage can also be found in the overhang. Spotting water damage is easy; soft spots, warped wood, and wrinkled wallpaper are all signs of water damage.

Water damage, like most things, can be repaired but the problem lies with how far the damage has spread. Once you get into repairing one spot of water damage you may realize that it has spread so incredibly far that you'll need to repair way more than you bargained for.

If you have awesome carpentry skills then water damage might not scare you but, for us, we stayed away from anything with any soft spots or water damage.

4) Where has it been stored during the winter?

If you're searching for RVs in a place that doesn't get snow this shouldn't matter as much for you.

If an RV has been stored outside during snowy winters there's a higher chance that things can go wrong. Water can get into seams and freeze, therefore expanding the seams of the RV increasing your chance for leaks and water damage.

An RV that was stored outside also has a greater chance of little critters getting inside, and lets be real, critters are massively destructive.

If an RV has been stored outside it shouldn't make or break your decision but you should definitely keep a careful eye out.

5) Floods

If you're buying an RV from a southern state be sure to watch out for RVs that have been in floods. While at first glance you might think you're getting a great deal, vehicles that have been in floods can have many issues including water damage and engine problems.

With an RV it should be pretty easy to tell if the vehicle has been in a flood. Thoroughly inspect the interior of the RV. Check fabrics, wall papers, carpets, etc.

One way to check for a flooded vehicle is checking for sand up underneath the dash, because this is such a tight and unnoticeable spot its possible that if the vehicle was flooded that there could be sand up there.

6) Little Critters

Ah yes, rodents. Mice and other rodents can wreak havoc on RVs. They like to chew everything and leave their poop everywhere.

Ask the seller how they combated rodents. Dryer sheets in vents are a common way to ward of these furry nuisances.

Check wires for chewing and in back floor cupboards for signs of rodent nests and poop.

7) Tires

Tires for a common car can be expensive, now think about the cost of tires for a 5,000+ pound RV. Definitely not something you'd want to spend money on if you weren't planning to.

Check tires for dry rotting and bareness. Ask the seller when they were last replaced. The longer an RV sits the greater chance of dry rotting tires.

8) Belts

Open up the engine and check your belts. These belts are often made of rubber and can be dry rotted or broken. You don't want to buy an RV, get halfway down the road and have it shut off.

This is definitely not a make or break item. Belts are typically inexpensive with a little labor cost, just be aware of what you're purchasing and the work that will need to be done.

Dylan and I actually had our alternator belt break, thankfully in our driveway, but it caused a little bit of trouble that we weren't expecting.

9) Seating

If its just you or you and another adult then you should be okay! If you'll be traveling with more than two people or with kids be sure to keep in mind that an RV typically only has two seats. Often times there will be additional seats with seat-belts in the back but check to be sure that the seating arrangements meet your requirements.

10) Seals and seams

Your RV is put together with a series of seals and seams that hold the RV together. Every year or so RVs need to be resealed with sealant or caulk. Go around the RV and check all the seams for proper sealing. Make sure these seams aren't dry rotted.

If a seam isn't properly sealed make sure you check the corresponding interior spot to look for water damage.

11) Mileage

Lower isn't necessarily better. While you may be tempted by a 2001 RV with 13,000 miles make sure you don't rely solely on mileage to make your decision.

RVs with lower mileage can actually have more issues than RVs with higher mileage. The longer an RV sits without being driven, the more problems arise. Find a happy medium between what's too low and what's too high for you.

Counter space was super important to me, our RV has a extendable counter top.

Before heading out to check out RVs make sure to make your own checklist of what to look for. If you're traveling to look at RVs you definitely don't want to leave before asking everything you wanted to ask and checking everything you wanted to check. Plan ahead and be prepared.

Happy hunting!

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© Madison Plyler and Dylan Vaughn, 2018. 

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