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The Best Way to Avoid Buying a Defective RV

I have bought and sold many RVs over my 50 years of RV ownership and want to help people to avoid RV buying and selling problems.

If you are shopping for RVs and want to make sure that you choose one that won't turn into a money pit, the best way for you to do so is to thoroughly inspect any unit that interests you.

Motor homes, travel trailers, and campers are composed of many systems, and nobody, no matter how smart or experienced, can remember to evaluate each of them every time they look at a different unit. For this reason, it's a good idea to use checklists to jog your memory when you are RV shopping, because missing even one problem can end up costing you plenty.

For example, a couple purchased a beautiful and costly motor home. They didn't think to check the windows, which were the new type that does not have frames. Before too long, several of those windows fell right out of the coach! The cost to replace them went into the thousands.

This is a true story, and a sad one, because they could have avoided this issue simply by checking to make sure the windows worked and were secure before they got their "good deal."

Learn how to identify problems in coaches before you buy them so that you don't end up for paying endless repairs.

Learn how to identify problems in coaches before you buy them so that you don't end up for paying endless repairs.

Evaluate Everything Carefully

To make a good job of it, you have to check the entire travel unit: outside, inside, basement, roof, tires, and underbelly. Coaches can house many hidden problems such as rust, fissures, or black mold.

Finding serious problems before making a purchase can save you a small fortune, so taking the time to inspect is worthwhile.

Checklists to Separate the Good From the Bad

The two checklists below will help you avoid buying decisions that you may later regret. Copy and use them to help you as you shop for that dream coach you've always wanted.

Never, ever, forget to inspect the roof of any RV.

Never, ever, forget to inspect the roof of any RV.

1. External RV Inspection List

Your first step should be to check out the exterior, roof, and underbelly of the coach by doing these things:

  1. Crawl under it to check the bottom of the chassis for rust. If there is a great deal of it, this means that the unit has been exposed to salt or water and the chassis is corroded. This is an expensive item to fix and thus should be a deal breaker.
  2. Climb up onto the roof and check its condition. It will be easy to tell whether it has been well maintained because it will be clean, dry, and devoid of cracks or peeling, just like the one in the photo.
  3. Check the engine and generator compartments for cleanliness. If they are dirty or show signs of corrosion, oil leaks, or rust, be very cautious about buying.
  4. Open all curtains and blinds on dual pane windows to inspect them for fogging. Fogged windows will need to be replaced and the cost of replacing them can be significant. What You Need to Know About RV Thermal Windows explains more about this issue.
  5. Make sure that jacks and TV antennas move smoothly.
  6. Check to see if the steps are working well.
  7. Look for body flaws such as scrapes, dents, bubbling, faded paint, or peeling.
  8. Make sure the tires are safe. Best Ways to Buy and Safely Use RV Tires shows you how to do this.
  9. Inspect the slide rooms carefully for areas of leakage and to make sure they are working smoothly and easily. Make sure that there are enough supports and that they are spaced correctly for the load they are carrying. Also check the proportions. A 36-foot RV with a 25-foot long slide is a recipe for disaster.

Do not be shy about doing these things. If a seller refuses to let you inspect this way, do not buy. He is trying to hide something.

A clean, well-maintained RV interior is a sign that the seller takes good care of it.

A clean, well-maintained RV interior is a sign that the seller takes good care of it.

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2. Internal RV Inspection List

Over the years, I have evaluated hundreds of motor homes and campers. Here is a list of some of the interior problems I actually found that you can check for in your own search:

  1. Cracks in the windshield.
  2. Slide rooms that do not function or sit properly.
  3. A passenger seat that does not recline properly.
  4. A non-working slide-out floor in front of the passenger seat.
  5. Windows that do not open and close easily.
  6. Light fixtures rusted out or missing parts.
  7. Ceiling vent fans that do not work.
  8. Televisions and antennas that are not updated to digital.
  9. Flooring damaged or badly stained.
  10. Leaking air conditioner.
  11. Leaking faucets.
  12. Water damage, especially inside of cabinets and closets.
  13. Cabinet doors and drawers that don't open easily and shut firmly.
  14. Cabinetry parts replaced with cheap, mismatched wood.
  15. Ammonia odor in the refrigerator.
  16. A missing ice maker.
  17. Dirt or rust beneath the stovetop burner.
  18. Counter tops with burns, cracks, or scratches.
  19. Upholstery overly worn or damaged.
  20. Unpleasant odors: pets, cigarettes, urine, body odor.
  21. Propane odors.
  22. A mildew smell throughout the coach.
  23. A sewer tank odor throughout coach.

Some of these flaws are small and easily repaired, but others, such as the odor issues, can be very serious. Those are deal breakers, but only if you recognize them for what they are.

For example, mildew smells may indicate water has caused structural damage to the coach. Sewer smells may need a lot of work to eradicate. And anybody who tells you that cigarette odor can be eliminated is taking you for a fool. Buy that coach and you'll be stuck breathing third-hand smoke and endangering your health for as long as you own it.

One broken propane gas detector or water filtration unit can make you sick or even kill you.

If you do not check for flaws such as these, you could spend a great deal of money on repairs and still not be comfortable when you use your RV.

Don't Forget to Check the Small Details

RV evaluations take time, but using inspection lists helps you to do the best possible job. Sometimes, it can even save your life.

RVs cost a great deal of money, and you want to make sure that the one you purchase won't turn into a bottomless money pit.

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.

© 2016 Sondra Rochelle


Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on September 12, 2019:

You may want to contact Suncoast Designers in Hudson Florida. They manufacture and repair RV windows and might be able to help you resolve your issue. Good luck.

Gritty Eileen from Port Townsend WA on September 11, 2019:

Appreciate the information. I thought I’d done the research, including an inspection by certified RV technician. I have learned that the RV is considered an orphan. I’m struggling to find a power window motor and regulator. The one in the rig was modified- no information available. So for me, adding research about production and parts availability will be added to any future search for motor home.

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