How To Find And Inspect Used RVs, Pre-Owned Campers, and Travel Trailers. Check List

Updated on March 20, 2013
Randy Godwin profile image

Randy is a lifelong lover of the outdoors and especially camping. This article is intended to help the RVer save money and time on repairs.

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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!

Great for weekends!  1959 Serro Scotty Sportsman.
Great for weekends! 1959 Serro Scotty Sportsman.
!946 Spartan rescued from the woods and completely renovated and modernized for today's camping sites.
!946 Spartan rescued from the woods and completely renovated and modernized for today's camping sites.

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.

It is of utmost importance to inspect each 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 closely examined before you make a decision on either unit.

Depending on the age of the prospective used RV, Some parts of the camping units 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!

To inspect the roof of a classic used Airstream, use padding to protect the exterior
To inspect the roof of a classic used Airstream, use padding to protect the exterior

The Roof



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 a thousands of dollars.

Even if the roof is not leaking now it could start anytime, especially if the camping unit has a few years on it. If the RV doesn’t have a built on 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 inside of the camping unit for water stains or other discolorations on the ceiling at these same locations. 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!

Water damage takes it's toll on an rv floor.
Water damage takes it's toll on an rv floor.
Repairing or replacing the floor is expensive.
Repairing or replacing the floor is expensive.

Walking The RV Floor

By their very nature, motor homes and camping trailers lend themselves well to being 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 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.

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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 the RV plumbing and electrical problem 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

Rv Tire And Brake products

BAL 23026  Tent Trailer Stabilizer - 20"
BAL 23026 Tent Trailer Stabilizer - 20"

Replace those old leveling jacks for an easier set up!

 

Checking The RV Tires And Brakes

Any RV--including camper trailers and motor homes--utilize 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.

Tear drop camper trailers are making a comeback.
Tear drop camper trailers are making a comeback.

Take The RV On The Road! Test Drive

Unless you are confident in your ability to judge the drive train of the perspective 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!

Check the links below for detailed RV repair articles for all types of camper problems.

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    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 3 weeks ago from Southern Georgia

      Hey Rodney, be very careful when inspecting the camper especially with the roof and flooring. Anything else can be easily repaired or replaced.

      Randy

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 6 weeks ago from Southern Georgia

      Miriam, you'll have to shop around on the net or your local dealers to find a good replacement awning. Check out the warranty especially. Good luck!

      Randy

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      Miriam Albrecht 6 weeks ago

      If I have to replace the canvas, do you recommend a particular company?

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 6 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Chelsea, the best to go for examples of what Airstreams are valued is on EBay or RV sales sites. There are so many variables--age, condition, length, etc.-- it's hard to give you an estimate.

      Randy

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      chelsea_potts@ymail.co 6 months ago

      Hi Randy,

      Thank you for the article, it's very helpful :)

      I'm looking at buying an Aristream 345 to live in full time, but am having trouble determining how to value them. Any thoughts or insights on this?

      Thanks again :)

      Chelsea

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 10 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Hello Susan, your best bet would be to advertise for such a person if your friends can't recommend anyone. Be sure to get an estimate first though.

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      Susan 10 months ago

      Hi Randy, great article, thank you. I found a trailer across the state that looks pretty good. Do you have any thoughts on who I should hire to go over and do the inspection..since there's several 'fields' involved.. plumbing, electrical, etc.? Thank again!

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 17 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Hi Lisa, Airstreams are wonderfully made for the most part and are a good choice, both as a comfortable camping trailer as well a good investment. The only advice I can give you is to ask the owner if you can tow it before you make the purchase.

      Because of the materials used in constructing the trailer it may be heavier than you expect and require a certain amount of power from the tow vehicle. A friend had to buy a larger truck after discovering his present one simply wasn't up to the job. This especially true if you plan to do any traveling to a mountainous region.

      Good luck with your plans and feel free to ask for anymore info.

      Randy

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      LisaEhrr 17 months ago

      Hi Randy - thank you for this article. It was very helpful. I am looking into purchasing a 1970 Airstream International that has been beautifully restored and customized. The layout suits my needs, and I think it has been very well cared for. The private seller seems nice, and honest, answering all my questions and providing pictures when I have asked for them. The floor is laminate covered and has no soft spots. Do you have any tips for me when inspecting this rig before I make my final decision and put down a deposit. It's my first Airstream and I will be living in it on the the road for 2 years. Thanks for your help.

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 20 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Hello Cynthia and thanks for the question. Most of the larger--and more expensive--campers are designed for full time living so this should be no problem when it comes to cold and hot weather.

      Modern insulating materials ensure the camper is efficiently heated or cooled or heated so if the camper has a good heating and cooling system the weather should be no large concern.

      Feel free to ask more questions if you need to, Cynthia. :)

      Randy

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      Cynthia 20 months ago

      I'm researching how to buy a used camper since purchasing one new is out of my budget and you don't get to customize it after spending six digits. It seems that none of the video I have watched, ever address if the camper is suitable for all four seasons. This is important to me because I intend of occupying the RV full time. Can you discuss how to detemine if a camper is a good purchase for full time occupancy and four seasons? Thank you

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Hi Vicki, look around a bit and I'll be happy to advise on any prospects you are considering. :)

      Randy

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      Vicki true 2 years ago

      I am looking for a small camper to glamp.....

      I want to also leave it in my backyard as a get away when home and need some me time....

      What are the most likely campers to fit my needs? Any other advice on how much is too much when restoring an older camper ?

      Thanks

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Glad to be of service, Dobi. :) I hope you find what you're looking for and get a good and long lasting camper. If you have any questions I'd be more than pleased to help.

      Randy

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      Dobi 2 years ago

      Thanks for the article! It was very informartive, my husband and I are just starting looking at campers and if didn't really think there was that much to inspecting them! Thanks again!

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Hello Ken, always pleased when I can help a fellow RVer save some money on their repairs. Thanks for the good news and I hope you have a great camping season.

      Randy :)

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      kenvohs 4 years ago

      randy,

      you saved me around $200.00. thanks. the resistor fix on the motorhome house electrical converter cost me just $4.00 and some cents. i'm the worst mechanic in the world but it worked. bought a Chrysler resistor at the part store and i'm back online.

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      You got me Catfish! The same way you plan to take it camping I suppose!:)

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      Catfish 4 years ago

      found one i like out of state haven't inspected it should i buy and how will i get to s.c. where i live

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 7 years ago from Southern Georgia

      I figured you'd find a way to respond Tex! Should be a good game however it turns out. At least USC or Ohio State isn't in the championship game this time. Talk to you later on when they let you join the cool people on the forums. HA!

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      A Texan 7 years ago

      Had to pick a Hub to respond to, Bama over Texas let me think about that, Nope ain't gonna happen! I reserved my tickets/Hotel to the NC game a week before the Big 12 Champ game, very expensive to stay in LA so you know I was sweating bullets during that game. It all worked out in the end though, fly up with my brother in his little plane and watch the game! Bama over Texas? eh, possible, Dammit, later

    • Randy Godwin profile image
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      Randy Godwin 8 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Thank you Denno, I've witnessed many instances of bad purchases involving rvs. I hope this hub helps others to avoid these mistakes.

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      Denno66 8 years ago

      Great article Randy, my wife and I are avid campers( we have a fifth-wheel ). There are those that do not go through the necessary steps of inspecting a trailer of interest( Think, Home inspector ) , you really need to be your own advocate in that respect. So happy I stopped in.