How to Find and Inspect Used RVs, Pre-Owned Campers, and Travel Trailers (With Checklist)
How to Choose a Good Used RV
This article is intended to help those people who are looking to buy a pre-owned RV of either the motorhome or camper trailer variety. These tips for examining used RVs are simple to follow and will save you time and money.
We Americans are so lucky to be able to enjoy the privilege of camping in our many state and national parks. Whether the camping area is by the sea, in the mountains, among our wonderful forests, or even the desert, we can enjoy the great outdoors with our families and friends.
Camping instills values only obtained by participating personally in this great pastime. But to truly relish this activity one must go about it the right way. This includes making the correct choice when purchasing a used motor home or camper trailer.
How About a Classic Used Serro Scotty!
Inspecting the Used RV
When a prospective used RV buyer first looks around it seems as if there are a multitude of used motor homes and pre-owned camper trailers on the market, and there are. This is great for the buyer, but there are pitfalls which you may wish to avoid in order to keep from running up costly repair and upkeep expenditures when buying a used RV or camper trailer.
Inspect every previously owned camper unit closely before signing on the dotted line. Although similar, a camper trailer and a motor home have some different parts which need to be examined before you make a decision on either unit.
Depending on the age of the prospective used RV, some parts of the camping unit will wear out in a short span of time. This article will assist you in making sure your quest for a dependable used RV will be successful and economical.
Look on Top!
The interior and exterior of either used motor homes or camper trailers may be visually inspected easily but the roof can be difficult to examine. Depending on what make the used camper trailer or motorhome is, installing a new roof could easily run into thousands of dollars.
Even if the roof is not leaking now, it could start any time, especially if the camping unit has a few years on it. If the RV doesn’t have a built-in ladder you will need to use an ordinary ladder to inspect the roof of the camping unit. If the RV has a vinyl roof it should be blister and bubble free. A camper trailer or motor home with a vinyl roof will eventually develop bubbles or blisters if exposed to the sun for long periods of time. A leak will soon develop in these spots.
The older metal-roofed models have seams which need recoating on an annual basis. As long as the material under the metal, wood in most cases, isn’t damaged, this type of roof is less costly to repair and maintain than a vinyl type roof.
Note the location of all vents and A/C units and check the ceiling inside of the camping unit at these same locations, for water stains or other discolorations. Look carefully at the ceiling where the outside wall meets the ceiling for discolorations. You may have to look inside the closets and cabinets to inspect this area but it is well worth the trouble.
A Solid Floor Is a Must!
Walking the RV Floor
By their very nature, motor homes and camping trailers are often left unattended for lengthy periods of time. Even if the roof is fine, this doesn’t mean there isn’t water damage to the floor. Many of these RVs are used for weekend trips and remain at the coast or another favored camping spot the entire year. During the winter months the RV's pipes may freeze and water leaks result. Any plumbing leaks will usually go unnoticed until the next time the camping unit is used. Many RV floors are constructed using particleboard which begins to deteriorate when exposed to moisture for very long.
Check the RV floor around the kitchen and bathroom(s) areas closely. Tapping the floor with a blunt object can tell you if the wood is soft in these places. Look beneath the cabinets for any sign of flooding or discoloration along the wall and floor. RV floor repair can be very expensive, especially if the floor joists have decomposed and have to be replaced. The floor covering itself, whether it be carpet or some sort of vinyl flooring, can be replaced rather inexpensively in most cases.
Useful RV Electrical Info
An invaluable self-help resource.
RV Plumbing and Electrical Systems
Always have the seller of the camper trailer or motor home hook up the camping unit’s electrical and water supply. Only by testing these systems before purchasing can you be assured they work well. A small plug-in circuit tester will come in handy for testing the outlets in each room of the unit. Don’t forget to check all of the RV interior and exterior lights also. It may be necessary to use a battery charger to test the 12-volt DC circuits used in many of the camper trailers if they are not hooked up to a vehicle. A regular circuit tester will do the job, but there are some made especially for this purpose.
Turn on the water at each tap to ascertain the reliability of the RV plumbing fixtures. Flush the toilet, watching closely for leaks and making sure the closing mechanism in the toilet itself is sealing properly. Look under the camping unit to be sure the RV holding tanks, both black and gray water, are not leaking. Check around the sink drains under the cabinet for leaks too. Most of RV plumbing and electrical problems are simple to repair but too many of them could add up to a substantial amount of money.
Inspect the Jack Stands on Any Used RV
Replace those old leveling jacks for an easier set up!
Checking the RV Tires and Brakes
Any RV—including camper trailers and motor homes—utilizes tires and brakes just like the family automobile. While many camper or RV trailer tires are similar in price to auto or truck tires, some may be expensive to replace. Those used on most motor homes can run a few hundred dollars apiece and perhaps more for the biggest units. If the tires on either type of RV camping unit look very worn or weather-cracked, it would be advisable to note the size of the tires and check around for prices for replacement before figuring your total cost.
The brakes on either type of RV can be checked by driving or pulling the camping unit, something you need to do anyway. We will deal with this aspect of the inspection later. The RV's brakes are one of the most important parts of the camper trailer or motor home and these have to be maintained properly for safety’s sake. A typical RV brake repair job is usually not expensive, especially for their worth to your family’s safety. Do not ignore this step.
The Smaller, The Easier to Use
Take the RV on the Road! Test Drive
Unless you are confident in your ability to judge the drive train of the prospective motor home, it would be best to have it checked by a qualified mechanic. This will serve a two-fold purpose: it will allow you to be confident in your camping unit’s drive train and also grill the mechanic as to future problems you may encounter with this particular RV or camping unit. Many times the mechanic can advise as to the availability and cost of common maintenance problems, as well as problems associated with the particular drive train in the motor home. A win-win situation overall.
Test drive it!
Unless you are figuring to trade vehicles in order to tow your new RV, it is now time for a test tow. Use the vehicle you plan to use in the future. Check the tongue weight and what your vehicle can safely support. Does it pull true? Does your truck pull the RV well uphill? How does it slow down: smooth or scary? All of these questions will be answered by the end of the tow. Check that fuel gauge and mileage too.
A motor home takes getting used to if you’ve never navigated one. Unless you feel confident in your ability to move this big rig around town, then go for the tow. But if it feels good to you, enjoy the ride. Like everything else, campers come in all types. Buy what you feel comfortable with, after all, camping is supposed to be enjoyable. I hope you choose well and enjoy your RV for many years. Happy camping!
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.