Last Updated on September 9, 2022 by Jessica Lauren Vine
Buying an RV can feel a bit intimidating. This can be especially true if it’s your first rig or you’re considering one that’s used. How do you know if you’re scoring a sweet deal or if you’re going to have issues later down the line?
I know from the experiences of buying my pre-owned travel trailer from a dealer and then upgrading to a used Class A via private sale that this can all feel a bit overwhelming.
That’s exactly why I’ve compiled this list. This way, you can have some guidance on what to ask and what to be mindful of as you search for the perfect pre-owned RV for your family.
1. What are the RV’s basics? Make, Model, Miles, and Year
First things first, you want to confirm the basics.
This will be especially helpful if you’re viewing a listing online and will be arranging a time to tour it in person. Knowing all the details gives you a great opportunity to research the brand to see how the RV is priced compared to others in the area, etc.
Choosing an older model can affect more than appliances and decorative schemes. Some campgrounds don’t allow RVs older than 10 years to book a short and/or long-term stay. So you definitely want to be mindful of the year of the rig you’re eyeing.
Knowing the miles can also be a “make or break” bit of information. Low mileage may be a great find in a car, but if an RV has sat still for a long period of time without being run, you risk dry rot, engine malfunction, hydraulic lines bursting, etc. A low mileage RV that is never run can be more dangerous than a high mileage rig that was maintained and serviced regularly.
2. Have there been any leaks?
Another important question to ask is about leaks. It’s essential to know whether or not an RV has experienced any water damage.
It’s actually quite common for an RV to have a leak. And while the water may appear to have been contained quickly, the RV may have hidden damage that can cause all kinds of issues to arise later down the line.
Water damage can lead to all kinds of problems like mold, structural damage, and soft spots. Look for water damage around windows, doors, slides, sinks, showers, skylights, and outside seams.
If you see any signs of damage or smell mildew or mold, it may be your best bet to back out and keep searching.
3. Has it been in any accidents?
This question will be a bit more important if the RV you’re interested in is a Class A, B, or C. When a travel trailer or a fifth wheel is in an accident, it is harder to hide any damage. But with a motorized unit (especially a Class C), damage can be completely concealed.
Make sure to ask about accidents so you know if the core integrity of the RV could be compromised. While an accident can be cosmetically repaired, it may have resulted in structural damage that can be extremely expensive or even impossible to fix.
This could lead to leaks, or safety issues while traveling down the road.
4. Does it have any soft spots?
A soft spot on the floor can indicate larger, hidden problems within. A soft spot is a structural issue that was most likely caused by water damage. This could have been caused by a leak from the windows or ceiling, or can even be from the sink or shower.
One small soft spot may seem minimal, but can actually mean that there is a lot more damage than you realize. Be sure to see whether you feel anything that’s soft or spongy under your feet as you take your tour.
5. Do you have any maintenance records?
Maintenance records can be an incredible asset for deciding whether or not you want to buy a used RV. They will let you know exactly what has been fixed or replaced, and how long ago the repair occurred.
This can also give you an indication of how responsible the previous owner was and how kept up the RV has been. Take a look at when tires were replaced too, as replacing the tires of a motorhome can be akin to the price of college tuition. You don’t want to be blindsided by needing to replace the tires shortly after buying.
6. Can I test everything?
One of the last things you want is to fall in love with an RV only to find out that unexpected things are broken or are in immediate need of repair.
Start the engine, test every light (inside and out), run the generator, level the jacks, turn on the water heater, turn on the water pump and turn on the faucets. Check everything you possibly can. If the owner is hesitant, walk away.
7. Can I take a test drive? (Class A, B, or C)
Similar to testing all of the lights and appliances is asking to take a test drive.
An immediate red flag when looking at a motorized unit is an owner who won’t let you take it for a spin. If they say no to a test drive, they may be hiding something.
A test drive gives you the opportunity to see how you feel behind the wheel. Plus, you can feel how the brakes respond, see how the backup cam works, etc. If taking a test drive before the sale is off the table, take your business elsewhere.
8. How long has it sat still?
Sitting still for too long can lead to plenty of problems including flat spotting and dry rot in the tires, line leaks, engine trouble, etc.
Just because everything “worked when they parked it” doesn’t mean it’s working now.
You’ll also want to ask about or investigate whether or not the generator has been exercised. A generator needs to be run regularly to be properly maintained. One peek at the hours on the generator will show you whether or not it has been exercised.
9. Has the propane system been tested and certified?
In certain states, an RV’s propane system must be tested before being sold. It’s the law. But that isn’t the case in every state or for a private sale. Make sure to ask the seller when the last time the propane system was tested. A propane leak can not only leave you without a way to cook or to heat your RV, but can be extremely dangerous if gone undetected.
10. Can I have an RV inspection?
If after all the research you do, you’re still not feeling confident that you know what to look for or what to investigate, you can always ask for an inspection from a third-party professional.
Hiring a professional can give you the peace of mind you need to make such a large purchase. Missing the signs of an issue can lead to extremely expensive fixes, health risks, and safety issues.
Now that you are armed with these great questions, you can feel confident going to talk to RV sellers. But before you go, check out some of these other RV-related articles.