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How Can I Buy an RV Without Getting Ripped Off?

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Last Updated on August 29, 2022 by Jessica Lauren Vine

Quite a few years ago I purchased a pull-behind camper from a couple in Minturn, Colorado.

They seemed like nice people, and I needed a rig to keep me warm while archery elk hunting west of Buena Vista, Colorado. It was an older unit, but the owners claimed it was “like new.” 

So, I drove up the mountain and met the owners. It was my first RV purchase, and I was inexperienced and too excited. I got to elk camp the first week of September and low-and-behold I had bought a lemon.

The toilet would not flush, the fridge would not get cold, and the roof leaked right above the bed the first night it rained up there. It was still more than luxurious than staying in a tent, but I had regrets. I don’t want others to have to suffer with a bad RV purchase.

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Know What You Can Handle

RV’s can get big.

I drive a 35-foot Holiday Rambler, which I can park on a dime (without using the backup camera).

However, I am well practiced and comfortable driving this big guy on both the interstates and mountain by-ways. When I tow my Suzuki Samurai behind it, I’m at 45 feet.

This is the “go get groceries” vehicle that makes life easier. Do not buy too much rig if you are not experienced enough or comfortable enough driving it, backing it in, or knowing how to turn without hitting the gasoline pump. Take your time, it’ll come to you.

See also
Full Time Stationary RV Living Tips

Get Up Top

Just like your home, your RV’s roof needs inspection, maintenance, and maybe repair from time to time. A leaky roof will cause water damage that in some cases can go undetected for years.

When purchasing a used RV, that should be the first place you go. Most rigs have a ladder that allows access to the roof.

Ask the owners if it is safe to walk on the roof. If not, walk away. If so, I would take a walk and observe for cleanliness.

A clean roof usually indicates a well-maintained roof.

Pay special attention to where things are attached like ladders, AC units, skylights, satellite equipment, and antennas. Look for cracking. Check to see if the previous owner applied caulking around roof attachments and roof sealant recently.

If the roof does not look like it has been well maintained – STAY AWAY!

Crawl Underneath

Check the rig for rust.

It’ll be obvious.

Also look at the chassis (the metal frame that supports your RV), keeping a close eye for unusual welding points, cracks, and rust.

Most importantly, check the suspension.

You’ll be looking for weld splatter or cracks or offsets in the leaf springs. Welding splatter can prove disastrous to the axel or suspension—especially when you are traveling 75 mph down the interstate.

If you are unsure what these items are, look them up on YouTube. There will be thousands of videos to choose from. If you see any awkwardness or poorly performed repairs on the chassis or suspension, then STAY AWAY!

If you want advice from a professional, don’t hesitate. Contact your local RV mechanic or technician – it will be worth the money.

Raise That Hood

Low mileage Class C’s and Class A’s can still have engine problems.

Sitting in an RV storage lot can have its consequences – dry rot tires and belts, bad oil, and clogged radiators. 

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How to Adjust a Camper Slide Out

For many RVs, rodent damage is inevitable. Look for nests made from grass, toilet paper, or paper towels.

If you find such a mess, then it is likely that these pests chewed some wires in the RV too. I know. I’m dealing with that problem on my own rig now.

Ask to look under the hood. Most RV owners should have no problem.

Ask them to tell you of any issues they may have had with the operation of the engine and transmission. Many of these owners have maintenance records. Ask to review them.

Vehicles with consistent maintenance records tend to be more reliable than those that do not.

Find out about regular oil changes, air-filter changes, and other fluid changes such as transmission, brake fluid, and antifreeze.  If it appears that rodents have taken over shop in the RV—STAY AWAY. Chewed up wiring could result in thousands of dollars or repairs, not to mention that you’ll have to deal with mice droppings and urine inside the cabin.

Drive It

If it’s a Class A or C motorhome, check the odometer then insist that you must drive the rig before any offer can be made. She should start up effortlessly and after warming up should purr at about 700-800 RPMs.

Check out the tachometer—it should be steady with no revving up or down. Move the gear shifter into drive. The experience should be smooth and noiseless—jerk free.

Apply accelerator.

Your transition from stop to low speed should be effortless. Keep your ears open for any whirring sounds or grinding sounds. Go ahead and drive it in town then jump on the interstate.

Most modern Class-As and C’s should be able to cruise on the interstate at 75 mph in a comfortable and noise-free way.

The Accessories

Start the generator, if equipped. Starting should not be labored and once running it should be smooth and mostly quiet. Most RVs have a control panel. Find it and make sure it displays fresh and black water levels. Turn the fridge and freezer on. Wait about 15 minutes to make sure it’s cooling. Place your hand in the freezer – it should be obvious the appliance is working. With the generator running, turn on the TV, DVD player, a few lights, and the microwave. Make sure that the generator does not bog down.

See also
What Is the Average Age of an RV Owner?

Check Kelly Bluebook

Check a NADA guide on the internet before making your purchase. NADA is a certified agency that values vehicles in a mostly unbiased manner. You can also do an internet search for similar RVs to get a baseline for what you should pay for your RV. Do your homework and don’t go out there mindlessly and purchase a rig. Get out there and live!

Before heading off, why not check out these other great articles?

Does Bass Pro Allow Overnight RV Parking?

Is Septic Safe the Same As RV Safe Toilet Paper?

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Edward Kipfinger
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