Buying a used rv checklist

Buying a Used RV Checklist: 17 Things to Check

Buying a used rv checklist

Owning a motorhome is one of life’s simple pleasures. This cozy vehicle has everything you could ever need, from kitchen amenities to beds and sometimes even a bathroom. You get to see the world from a whole new set of eyes as you explore to your heart’s content. You’ll meet others on your way who are just as dedicated to the RV life as you are.

Of course, after you start your initial round of research, you may be taken aback by the prices of a new RV. These can sometimes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the manufacturer and how new the vehicle is.

You want to buy your very own RV, but you can’t afford to drop so much money. Does that mean you have to give up on your dream? Not necessarily. You can always explore the world of used RVs.

These  may not be brand new, but if the former owner took good care of their vehicle, they’ll be in solid shape and get you through many enjoyable years ahead. Of course, as with any used car shopping, you have to be extremely careful. If a deal seems too good to be true, it often is.

It would be unfortunate for you to buy a used RV thinking you got a great deal only to drive it and find a slew of issues. By following this checklist, you can cover all your bases and avoid getting hoodwinked.

1. Look at the Roof

RVs are sizeable vehicles, so it’s unlikely you can see the roof from your vantage point on the ground. Some less-than-reputable sellers are hoping for that. After all, if you can’t see it, then you won’t notice the potential problems with the roof until it’s too late.

Although it’ll be a little awkward, you must ask to see the RV’s roof when you come to inspect the vehicle. If the roof is in poor condition, then the RV is not worth buying.

Why? Most issues affecting the roof are quite serious, such as the development of mildew and mold as well as wall or roof rot. These aren’t small problems that you can fix yourself with some tools and a smile. A professional RV repair technician would have to address these, and it wouldn’t come cheap.

With the cost of repairs to the RV’s roof as well as the money you spent on this bum vehicle, you could have bought a new RV instead.

2. Run Each Exhaust Vent Fan

Exhaust vent fans are meant to air out your RV after cooking, showering, or otherwise increasing the humidity in the vehicle. If these don’t work, then you’re not only going to find the RV becomes incredibly stuffy when doing the aforementioned activities, but you also now have a higher likelihood of developing mildew and mold in your RV.

It can be expensive to remove mold from a vehicle, and if there’s too much, you may just have to chalk it up as a loss and find another, less moldy RV.

That’s why it’s so important to do your homework. Look in the bathroom, the kitchen, and sometimes even in the main living room and bedroom for the exhaust vent fans. Try each one and make sure it works adequately.

3. Ascertain that All Safety Equipment Works

Your RV should absolutely come equipped with a fire extinguisher, LP gas detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and smoke alarms. It doesn’t matter if the vehicle is used or not; if any of these pieces of equipment are missing, keep searching for another used RV.

Make sure the fire extinguisher is newer. After all, if you ever have to use it, you need it to work. Test the batteries for each of the detectors and alarms. If these aren’t working, then replace the batteries and see if that solves the problem.

4. Turn on All External Running Lights

This only applies if you’re buying a camper trailer, toy trailer, or travel trailer. These trailers attach to your vehicle and often come with their own brake system as well as external running lights, which let other motorists know that you’re stopping so you can avoid unnecessary accidents.

Besides the brake lights, be sure to try the backup lights and turn signal lights for both the left and right side of the RV trailer. If one of these lights is out, make sure you or the RV owner replaces the bulb. If that doesn’t solve the issue, you may want to keep looking at other vehicles.

5. Look at the Blinds and Curtains

Blinds and curtains are great for keeping sunlight out of the RV in the middle of a hot afternoon. They also add to the aesthetics of the vehicle. That said, they’re not so pretty if they’re dry-rotted or moldy. You can wipe down blinds and wash curtains, but you shouldn’t have to. The current RV owner should have taken care of their vehicle before they tried to sell it to you.

6. Peek at the Undercarriage

Just like it’s easy to overlook the vehicle’s roof, you can easily forget to look at the RV’s undercarriage. This is a huge shame, because the undercarriage is a great indicator of the health (or lack thereof) of the vehicle.

Here’s what you should inspect when you’re down there:

  • The pull-out bike rack
  • Bumpers
  • Entrance stair functioning
  • Tires, including their age and state; the age can be ascertained via the DOT number and should be changed out if they’re more than seven years old
  • Suspension components
  • Axles

So what are you looking for? Make sure all these parts are intact and haven’t corroded or rusted. If they have, you’re again looking at a series of very pricy repairs.

7. Test the Walls and Floors

Now that you have the top and bottom of the RV taken care of, it’s time to turn your attention to the interior walls and floors. Any structural components of the vehicle are incredibly important, and if these are in poor condition, then you should seriously reconsider whether you want to buy this RV.

Mildew, mold, dry rot, and water leakage can affect the condition of the walls and floors. This isn’t always visually obvious, but you can usually tell by strange warping, bending, or soft spots. There may also be an unpleasant smell.

Again, repairing a damaged wall or floor could easily cost you thousands of dollars, so ask yourself if it’s worth it or whether you should keep up your search.

8. Look at the Entertainment Center

If the used RV you’re looking at includes an entertainment center, it’s easy to get overly excited. While it’s great that you and your family or friends can have this kind of fun on the road, don’t get too excited yet. You have to make sure everything works.

First, get outside and take a look at the rooftop antenna. Is this bent, broken, or otherwise askew? Does it include a signal booster for remote conditions? If not, you may not get reliable service.

Try plugging in the outside cable input to make sure this is still running. Then, take a look at the speakers for each electronic device, trying these to check they work as well. Then, test each remote control, DVD player, satellite device, audio system, and TV to make sure these are in running condition as well.

If they’re not, this isn’t the end of the world, as these are just nice bonuses anyway. That said, you should be able to knock off some of the price of the RV!

9. Go Through the Drawers and Cabinets

In an RV, drawers and cabinets often include latches. These ensure that everything closes fully and stays closed. If drawers open even a little, your stuff is going to spill out, which is a headache, not to mention a big mess.

Although this is a dull job, make sure you test every drawer and cabinet latch. If these latches are loose or not working, make sure the current RV owner is willing to replace them before you finalize the purchase.

10. Run Every Appliance

Appliances are great to have in an RV because they let you enjoy the creature comforts of home. That said, if these are damaged or broken, the repairs are again going to be astronomical in some instances.

The refrigerator is a big one to look at thoroughly. You’re going to want to check the auto switch over, which works in lieu of electricity. Unplug the refrigerator (with the RV owner’s permission, of course, and with all food removed) and listen. The burner should light, and there should be a blue flame. If not, that’s a problem.

Also, be sure to check the outside access panels of the fridge, which should be spotless. The drain hose should be in running order as well.

You should invest in an IR thermometer gun, like this one from Etekcity, as it gives an accurate reading of both the freezer and refrigerator temperatures.

Test the oven and each stove top burner, again with permission from the RV owner. Make sure these are warming up to the right temperatures. Use the microwave if that’s included as well.

11. Run the Wastewater Valves

The wastewater valves in an RV are made to keep all the waste in the vehicle out, including those unwanted odors. Sometimes there are sewer drain hookups that make this possible.

It’s very important to check these drains and valves before committing to buying an RV. If these are in bad condition or aren’t working, you could end up with an unfortunate wastewater issue that costs hundreds if not thousand of dollars to fix.

12. Try All Plumbing Fixtures

The most important plumbing fixture by far is the toilet, but the sink and shower (if your RV comes with one) are important as well. Here’s what you should be looking for:

  • Check the stall walls of your shower, looking for any broken sealant or grout.
  • Inspect the shower door seals as well as those on the shower head.
  • Look for any signs of developing mildew or mold in, on, or around the shower, especially in the corners.
  • Open the toilet and look at the toilet bowl. Do a few test flushes. Does the toilet flush normally? Does the toilet bowl replace itself fairly quickly or does it take longer?
  • Check the toilet itself and see if it’s excessively moist, which could be an indicator that there’s a leak.
  • Run the sink for a while, plugging it up. Then let it drain. How long does it take? If it seems like it takes too long for the sink to drain, it may be clogged up.
  • How does the water flow when running the sink? This should include both the hot and cold-water handles.

13. Run the Heater and Air Conditioner

The heater and air conditioner are necessities when it comes to staying comfortable in your RV as the seasons shift. You’ll rely on your heater a lot once autumn arrives, and in the spring and summer, it’s unbearable to drive without AC.

That’s why it’s so important you make sure both units work. The heat comes from the furnace. Make sure its exterior is clean. You should also ask the seller when was the last time someone maintained the furnace. Without proper maintenance, the delicate furnace components can become clogged up with dirt, dust, and other debris. This will lead to furnace failure.

The air conditioner runs in much the same way. It needs regular maintenance to keep it at its best.

To make sure both units are working reliably, turn them up to their highest limits, just for a few moments. Then turn them lower and see if they still work. If it takes a while for these to kick on or they’re blasting air at the wrong temperatures (cool air from the furnace and warm air from the AC), you might want to keep looking for another RV. Unit repairs like these are costly.

14. Test Your Water Pump

Most water pumps that come standard with RVs are 12 volts. This pump provides water to your kitchen and bathroom sink and sometimes even your shower. Therefore, if the water isn’t clean, your RV quickly becomes uninhabitable.

Keep an eye out for leaks, strains on the pump (which may indicate something is clogging up the pump), hose damage, and wiring damage.

You should also look at your city water hookup, which is another source of fresh water, and check for the same issues.

15. Open the Windows

No, this isn’t just to let in the beautiful midday air. By opening the windows, you can see if these have any problems. The screens should be in good condition, as should the windows themselves. They should also shut with ease. Window latches shouldn’t be rusty either.

16. Use the Brakes

The only way to test the brakes it to use them personally. You might only cruise in the RV around the parking lot for a few minutes, but this will let you get a feel for whether the brakes are working. You most definitely need reliable, functioning brakes. Don’t ignore brake issues, as the cost to repair these is extraordinary!

17. Do an Overall Check

Okay, so by now you’ve covered all parts of the RV. Of course, there are plenty of turns, corners, and spots we didn’t mention because they’re not crucial. That said, if you were to spot a rodent infestation, mold, dry rot, or water leakage in these areas, you’d still not want to sign on the dotted line.

Be careful and thorough with this part of your inspection, going through each and every part of the RV.


Although they’re packed with the greatest luxuries available on the market today, new RVs certainly don’t come cheap. For that reason, many RV lovers opt to go the used route.

This can be a great way to save money, but, as you would with buying any used car, you want to do your research and thoroughly inspect the vehicle inside and out. Go from the kitchen to the bedroom to the bathroom and everywhere else in between to make sure everything looks and works well.

Remember that leaky pipes, mold and mildew, wood rot, and other serious damage is often very expensive to repair. You could end up spending so much money that you could have just bought the new RV in the first place.

With this checklist, you can be a savvy shopper and find a great used RV. Happy searching!

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