I have had a great deal of experience both buying and selling RVs and think people should understand the mechanics of doing these things.
There always will be problems with any coach, but some which may seem small can actually be much worse than you might think. Thus when shopping for recreational vehicles, always be on the lookout for the 11 problems that can make them unacceptable for purchase, and learn to walk away when you see them.
Considering a coach that has one or more of them can be a major mistake that could cost you a great deal of money down the road, so you should always look for the “red flags” when doing your inspections.
Top 11 Reasons Not to Buy an RV
- Signs of delamination.
- A rubber roof.
- Older tires.
- Signs of water damage.
- Clogged AC filters.
- Cigarette smell.
- Pet odors.
- Sewer smell.
- Heavy rust.
- Body damage.
- Any windshield damage.
Each of these problems is fully described and explained below.
Signs of Delamination on an RV
There are two reasons for delamination:
- The glue that connects the outer walls of a coach to the inner ones has dried out and lost its strength, or
- water has seeped through seams and loosened areas of the external walls.
In either case, the resulting problem can be expensive as well as very difficult if not impossible to fix.
Always take a walk around a travel unit you are inspecting and look for bubbling or indentations. Even if you see just one or two small areas of delamination, this is a warning sign that you should heed. Don’t be tempted to buy because of the lower price, because in the long run, a vehicle with this type of problems will cost you far more than you realize.
What's Wrong With a Rubber Roof?
The best RV roofs are made either from fiberglass or aluminum. If you are thinking of buying a unit with a rubber roof, you’ll be making a mistake because they are not durable, are difficult and expensive to repair, and the cost of replacement can be as high as $8,000!
If you make it a point to learn how to read the descriptive numbers on the sidewalls of RV tires, you won’t have to depend on your seller to tell you how old they are. The Best Way to Safely Buy and Use RV Tires shows you how to do this.
Although tires may appear to be good and seem to have plenty of tread, if they are more than 5 years old, you will have to either purchase new ones or negotiate pricing with your seller. Don’t believe anybody who tells you that older tires are safe to use because this is not the case. Furthermore, good quality RV tires can be very expensive.
We recently replaced our six 19-inch tires with a decent brand and paid more than $2300. The bigger the tire and the better the brand, the higher the cost.
Signs of Water Damage
It is common for recreational vehicles to have water leaks.
- If they are quickly eliminated, they don’t do much damage.
- If not, they can ruin the basic structure of a coach!
If you see many water stains on ceilings, around slide rooms, on carpets or furniture or inside of upper cabinets, tread carefully.
Even though a coach may seem to be “dry”, it may have hidden and extensive damage.
If you smell mildew or mold in addition to seeing visible signs of damage, don’t buy the coach.
How to Protect Your RV from Water Damage and Flooding explains more about this issue.
Clogged AC Filters
Always ask a seller to turn on the air conditioner while you are inspecting his RV.
- If the amount of cooling does not seem right, ask if you can remove the inside cover and then check the filter.
- If the filter is extremely dirty, it’s a sign that the owner has not done a good job of maintaining his coach.
When this is the case, it is highly likely that he has not taken care of basic issues such as changing oil regularly or caulking the seams of his roof.
Check the engine and generator compartments to see if the equipment is clean. If it is also filthy, this is not a coach you should buy.
Cigarette Smell Inside the RV?
Recreational vehicles generally pick odors up easily. Some you can eliminate, but if the seller is a smoker, you’ll be able to smell stale cigarettes all over the coach. Unless you are willing to tear out the flooring, wash down the walls, remove and replace all upholstery as well as the ceiling fabric, you will never be able to get the smell out of the coach.
If you are a smoker, this may not matter, but it will matter later when you try to sell your unit to somebody else.
If you don’t own pets, buying a travel unit that had them as travel companions will prove uncomfortable. They have distinct body odors. Their hair also gets into everything and is impossible to eliminate. You should only purchase such a vehicle if you either don’t care about the smells, or are willing to vacuum everything, shampoo carpets and sanitize the furniture.
Sewer Smell Inside the RV
Black-water tanks emit a distinct noxious odor that permeates a recreational vehicle. If the odor is due simply to the fact that the tank has not been cleaned properly, it’s not a problem. However, it is possible that this odor is caused by a crack in the tank itself, or a leak in one of the pipes or valves.
- In the first case, a simple cleaning and sanitizing should get rid of the smell.
- However, in the second case, the coach may require major and very costly repairs that should be paid for by the seller. If the seller refuses to pay, or offers to lower the price so that you will handle the repairs, don’t buy the RV, because if you do, you may be asking for big trouble.
Most travel units, especially those that are kept in cold climates, will develop rust on the undercarriage. A light coating is not a problem, but if the rust is thick it will eat right through the metal.
An RV specialist can blast it off, repair any damage and then paint the undercarriage with a protective coating, but having him do this job will be extremely expensive.
Rust on the interior of a coach can also be a big a problem because it is a sure sign of water intrusion that has not been properly addressed.
You should never buy a coach with rust problems because no matter what you do to try to fix them, you may never be able to do so and will spend a fortune trying!
RVs are tricky to drive. As a result, people often damage them as they travel.
Small dents and scrapes may not bother you, but if you see signs of major issues such as long deep scratches on the exterior walls, bent bumpers or big dents, walk away. RVs are not made as solidly as you would like to believe, so a big dent could mean that the basic structure has been damaged internally. Furthermore, repairs for problems like this are very costly, so you need to think carefully before buying a recreational vehicle that has them.
In most states it is against the law to drive a vehicle whose windshield has any type of damage whatsoever because they can be dangerous for travelers.
RV windshields are large, so replacing them can be costly.
Some states have laws that make insurance companies replace them for free, but only if the problem occurred after you already owned the coach.
If you buy an RV knowing that the windshield has problems, the cost of replacing or repairing it will come out of your pocket.
Even if your insurance agent says he’ll pay for it, you can bet your rates will go up. Once that happens, they never drop back down.
So, if you are looking at a coach that has this problem, either insist the seller repair it or walk away.
So Many Problems, So Little Time
No matter what type of recreational vehicle you buy or whether it is new or old, it is going to have problems.
Those that make a coach unacceptable for purchase are the ones that require the most serious levels of inspection. The Best Way to Avoid Buying a Defective RV shows you how to do a thorough examination of any coach you are thinking of buying.
What may seem a good deal could be one that ends up costing you a fortune or causing an accident, so don’t ignore what I’ve written here.
Owning a travel unit is a long term investment, so you want to make sure that you get the best one your dollars can buy.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: We found an unused, 2018 travel trailer. I looked underneath and realized the axles and other components have a significant amount of rust. How concerned should we be? If the dealer pressure-washes the rust off and repaints it, how do we know it won't get worse?
Answer: Rust cannot be pressure-washed off. Removing it is a lot of work and requires the use of special chemicals. It this coach has never been used, I would question why it has so much rust! That would be a red flag to me. However, if the rust is removed correctly and a rust retarder is painted onto the axels, etc., that would probably be OK. It's what is inside those axels that is more important, but either way, I would want the rust properly removed. Few dealers will want to do this because it is expensive and time-consuming. If I had a choice, I'd pass on this coach.
Question: If there are bugs and roaches in an RV what can one do?
Answer: Treat your RV the same way you would treat your house. You can use a bug bomb and/or put down traps. Also, make sure to avoid leaving trash or food around and park your coach somewhere away from places where bugs live. You can also spray your tires and windowsills with Pam so bugs can't use them to crawl into your coach!
Question: Why isn't the very very serious problem of mold addressed in your article?
Answer: Actually, I do address it in the section marked "Water Damage." However, I don't discuss it in depth, because I do so in an entirely different article that deals with water damage exclusively. Read the article again and you'll see it.
Question: Window and roof leaks are terrible for an RV, but what about a single flood event? Is that a death sentence to a motor home?
Answer: It depends on the extent of the flood. If it is minor and quickly dealt with, no. However, if it is from real serious flooding where the coach is located, yes.
Question: Do you recommend using water detectors or other types of Gadgetry when inspecting your future RV?
Answer: Not necessarily. Water is very easy to detect by merely sniffing and looking into hidden areas like those inside of upper closets, the area behind sofas, etc. You can smell mildew and mold very quickly. Also, look for wallboard that is lumpy or indentations on the exterior body of an RV, as this can be a sign of delamination.
Question: We bought a 2011 nice, used Winnebago but have found after only two-three days trips that the support braces were all broken or cracked, and the house body was shifting. It dropped 1 + 1/2 inches on the right. It terrified us when we found out, but they say they will repair it fully and properly and we are too sure if we should keep it. What is your opinion on that?
Answer: I wouldn't trust it. Making "repairs" in a situation like this is akin to rebuilding the entire coach. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to take it back unless you have strong RV lemon laws in your state, which most states do not. I would have someone else check it out to make sure the problem you think you have is the problem.
Question: I bought a new travel trailer that has a cracked roof. Can I return it to the dealer for another?
Answer: It should be under warranty so the dealer likely would repair it for free rather than exchange it. I'd take it to him soon, though.
© 2016 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on September 23, 2019:
Glad to be of service!
blewis999 on September 22, 2019:
Very honest and helpful, thank you.