Home » Buyers Guide » What to Know Before Buying an RV – Checklist

What to Know Before Buying an RV – Checklist

You are facing a crossroads. Achieve a dream on the bucket list to buy an RV. However, What does one should consider if one wishes to shop for one amongst the numerous travel campers available that appear listed on different websites? Are you buying a used RV? What must you rummage around for when buying a used RV? You will need an RV inspection checklist that we have prepared in this article for you, which I kindly suggest you read thoroughly because it is the result of several decades of experience analyzing campers available and using RVs myself with my family. The RV Checklist for What to Know Before Buying an RV and What to Look for During the RV Test Drive. Let’s start and get you fully prepared for your RV! I have a list of these items that I specifically look for, and I have them in my used RV inspection checklist.

What to Know Before Buying an RV

Know Before Buying an RV. In this article, we will review step by step all the features that you should know and check by yourself during the visit to the seller and what to check during the test drive. Read the following paragraphs in detail to understand What to Know Before Buying an RV and What to Look for During the RV Test Drive. This is the RV Purchase Checklist that we have created for you to help you both, the seller and the buyer, during the purchase and inspection and use our experience to guide you through this process.

I ask you to read (and re-read if necessary), paying attention to all the details and that when you check and inspect the RV, you have at hand, perhaps printed (it is a free-printable option for used RVs). This post contains several photos with indications of what to look for when buying.

RV Checklist Before Buying

Thirty years ago, if you were to ask me, “What to know before buying an RV?” I would probably have told you something like, “Look for water damage and just make sure the trailer looks good”.

Today, if you asked me, “What to know before buying an RV?” I have 30 items that I specifically look for, and I have them in my before-buying checklist.

That’s why I am going to share all those items with you. So you can prevent scams, have the right information in advance, search for RV, and don’t fall into the pitfalls that I fell into when I was young. Now, with more experience (life experience), I would say my wisdom regarding RVs is different, and that’s why I can give you the best-used RV inspection checklist before buying.

When we know in advance what to check and what to inspect before buying an RV, and we can do that check with a checklist, this is when our experience is most rewarding. This is also impacting our RV life quality by having a gratifying camping experience.

Let’s start.

What Do I Need to Know Before Buying an RV

Read the following paragraphs in detail to understand What to Know Before Buying an RV and What to Look for During the RV Test Drive.

before buying an rv checklist
Are you buying a used RV? Check out the used RV inspection checklist in this article.

Take Your Time For Research About Your RV

Before Buying an RV: Take your time. Be a smart buyer. Do your research, read, and get as much information as possible. Top buyers usually do up to a year or more of research before buying a mobile home. A mobile home may be the most expensive item you will buy after your home.

Inexperienced buyers often buy RVs almost on impulse, based on appearance or floor plans only. Take the time to learn the details of the components, such as a water pump, plumbing or cabinet types, etc. You will live with these details, and you will not want to deal with cheap components.

Choose the Time of the Year to Buy an RV

When is the best time of the year to buy an RV? Buy only used campers for sale, preferably in winter or when the fall begins. Last of the month or end of the year. Preferably, visit the dealer during the rain or immediately after, being a good opportunist.

Bring a Ladder, a Flashlight, and Gloves to Inspect the Vehicle

You will need a flashlight, a ladder, and a pair of gloves. Bring a ladder to inspect the roof. When visiting campers for sale, take a flashlight, if possible both front and hand, and a pair of gloves to reach in and get a feel for the situation. Wear comfortable clothes. You will look for details above and below the vehicle. Remember that with this article, no detail will escape you.

Checklist What to Inspect Before Buying an RV

Read the following paragraphs in detail to understand What to Know Before Buying an RV and What to Look for During the RV Test Drive.

We’re going to look at the physical aspects of the RV and then maybe one or two tips around those head games that we play with ourselves while purchasing trailers.

When we’re thinking about RV damage (travel trailers, motorhomes, small campers, any types of RVs in general), we’re thinking of exterior and interior.

The exterior damage is not recommended, but what is really impacting the RV is when that exterior damage makes its way inside the trailer. That’s when you’re going to find those high costs and those high times associated with fixing those issues.

Therefore, I am going to explain in detail how you should inspect the exterior of the travel trailer and get some clues that are going to help you look closely when you move into the inside of the trailer.

RV Inspection Looking for Water Damage

What to Know Before Buying an RV Checklist. Points 1 to 4 are inspection points exclusively dedicated to inspecting water damage.

How to detect water damage during the RV Roof inspection, RV floor inspection, RV walls inspection, and RV windows and roof vents inspection from the inside of the RV.

1 – Inspect the RV Roof Before Buying an RV

What to Know Before Buying an RV. Let’s start with the roof. The roof is a great place to start your inspection, so I would say bring a ladder. Using your ladder, you will inspect the RV roof for bow spots, RV roof repairs, and RV roof vents.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Are there any of you who are just like, “I’m not gonna bring a ladder to the inspection”? That would have been me 25 years ago.

Today, you bet I am going to bring that ladder to the inspection. Save time and money. I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t care if it takes me, you know, 20 to 30 seconds to pull it out and put it up. If I can get a bird’s-eye view of this RV, this is a significant investment. You will see it from every angle, and the ladder is going to help you do that. So you’ve gotten on the ladder, you’re looking up top.

What I’m going to look for first is bowing in the skin of the trailer, so if you’re in somewhere like this that has a lot of snow or has a lot of rain, if that snow stays up on the trailer and it’s not removed correctly you’re going to get bowing between the framing and that skin will move down.

That’s just a potential for water to work its way in. I am looking:

  1. Is there a tarp on this trailer?
  2. If there isn’t a tarp on the RV, does it appear the tarp has been on the trailer for a while?
  3. Is a trailer all filled with pine needles and tree sap? or
  4. Does it look fairly clean?

An RV that’s been loved and well taken care of typically has a tarp through the harder seasons when it’s not being used.

rv roof inspection before buying an rv
First impression when inspecting a used RV. Does the RV roof look fairly clean? Have water and snow been removed or caused bow spots in the roof?

Then, you’ve looked for those bow spots.

The next thing you are looking for in the RV roof is the repairs. Are there repairs done to the roof? I’d look around each section of the roof.

  • Has there been roof sealant placed on there?
  • Are there other signs of roof repair?
rv roof inspection before buying an rv
Using your ladder, you will inspect the RV roof for bow spots, RV roof repairs, and RV roof vents. When looking for RV roof repairs, check the repairs. Are there repairs done to the roof? Check out each section of the roof. Has there been roof sealant placed on there? Are there other signs of roof repair?

Then, I’d move to the RV roof vents.

  • Are there a lot of repairs around the vents?
  • Are there cracks?

All these items you are checking in the RV roof, just the exterior inspection with the ladder, will give you the information on what to look for inside the trailer.

If you find anything up there that is remotely ringing some bell, some sort of warning sign in your head, keep that in your head because when we walk into the RV, that’s where you will take a closer look.

Let’s continue with the What to Know Before Buying an RV Checklist

2 – Inspect the RV Floor Before Buying a Camper

What to Know Before Buying an RV – Inspect the RV Floor. We are going to do a lot more exterior later in the checklist, but not right now. While you still have the roof in your head, I’m going to take you right down into the interior of the trailer, so the first thing you’re going to do when you walk into the used RV you are inspecting is inspect the floor.

What we will be looking to see first is whether the damage we saw to the RV roof has affected the interior of the RV, such as the RV floor.

You’re going to step foot on the floor. If the trailer has a brand new floor, do not necessarily be excited. A new floor may say, “What are they covering?”. Even if it’s a new floor, I will inspect the RV floor in detail before buying an RV.

How to inspect an RV floor before buying an RV? I’m just going to push around on the floor and step in every single area.

  • Look for a squishy floor.
  • Look for humps and raised areas.
  • Look at the edges of that flooring. Did they use that flooring to cover water damage?

If the water damages the inside of the RV, you should notice this with the tips I will give you in this article.

  • Was there water damage to the cabinetry?
  • Was there water damage to the walls?

Therefore, another tip when inspecting the RV floor is to remove and lift rugs. Mainly if the RV was used to living in

What is under the RV rugs? I would suggest bringing yourself some gloves to work comfortably during the RV inspection. Removing and lifting RV rugs may not always be the nicest to move around. Just be prepared to get a little dirty and move things around so you can see what you need to see.

Then, if I see a new floor, I would strongly suggest checking underneath the RV. After inspecting the RV interior, remember to go back outside and look to see if there’s damage to that subfloor as well.

If you do all these RV inspections, celebrate! You actually found a trailer with a new floor.

how to detect water damage during rv inspection
What to Know Before Buying an RV – Checking Underneath is absolutely recommended when inspecting a used RV for buying.

3 – Inspecting RV Walls

I talked about an RV floor hiding potential water damage. I would say the same thing with paint. Suspect of water damage inside if the RV was recently painted.

You are going to take a look around and see if it is newly freshly painted. I would look at least twice. Is that new paint covering water damage? It may be a little harder to find this water damage in the walls if it’s been covered.

You’d see water damage. Water damage looks brown or creates waves on the surfaces and in the wood paneling of the inspected trailer.

rv walls inspection before buying
What to Know Before Buying an RV – Water damage looks brown or creates waves on the surfaces. Delamination of panels is another sign of water damage.

4 – Ceiling

Particularly significant are the fixing joints around windows and openings. Is that the rooftop intensely overgrown?

rv ceiling inspection before buying
What to Know Before Buying an RV – Inspect the ceiling and RV walls, looking for water damage

5 – Windows and Roof RV Vents Inspection

The last areas inside the RV that I will check for water damage are the windows and roof vents.

Go to every window, check around it again, and look for discolorations, soft spots, and any sign that water’s been there go up to the roof vents.

  • Look to see if they’ve done repairs.
  • Look in there for cracks because maybe the water damage hasn’t got there yet, but it’s going to come.
  • Carefully check the gaskets on the windows and doors.
  • Look for damage, cracks, and fragile structures.

Another area I’ve noticed is if you’re looking at a vintage trailer, the backs of a vintage trailer. For some reason, a vintage trailer like the one in the picture below tends to have a lot of water damage. I’m not sure if the source of this water damage in retro campers is how it’s stored and the water runs back or how it’s towed on a vintage trailer. The first thing I would look for in retro campers and small vintage campers when inspecting water damage is the delamination of the panel.

6 – Moisture Inside the RV

Check the complete RV for moisture. Take a flashlight and observe (carefully) all told corners. If dark spots are found, this means moisture. Even a musty smell is a sign of this.

7 – Molds Inside the RV

Mold may be removed with some effort, but if you discover mold, this suggests that there’s condensation, humidity, and dampness, thanks to a general lack of ventilation. It represents a way over moisture within the target RV.

Therefore, if mold first appears or other signs of moisture damage, like musty odor or damp spots to work out, it’s something to be worried about. Condensation caused by a scarcity of ventilation or small leaks can permanently damage the development of an RV over the years.

Carefully check the seals around windows and doors on used campers available. If there’s already mold formed within the interior, removal of the damage is usually only possible with a disproportionate effort.

8 – On-Board RV Electrical System

The integrity of the electrical system is vital because repairs of this type can be highly costly. Below, you will find more information on what to check for.

Let’s talk electrical. Now, bust out the solar portable generator and hook it up to the shore power. Now, you’re going to be able to power everything in the RV.

  • Do the lights come on?
  • Does the refrigerator come on?
  • Does the pump to the shower work?
  • Think about anything that needs to run on electricity and try it out now.
  • Check electrical appliances and control panel. Check them one by one, from lamps, refrigerators, and even the air conditioning unit.

9 – RV Lighting System Inspection

  • Do all lamps work? If not, it is thanks to the installation. Many campers purchasable that I visit have problems with the installation.
  • Are these lamps exchangeable for economical LEDs?
  • Can reading spots be retrofitted just in case you undertake an RV renovation?
  • Also, take a look at the natural light: large skylights bring plenty of sunshine and ensure a cushy indoor climate.

If we’re talking electric, I’d also inspect the electricity at the RV exterior. So, pump those brakes on the vehicle, connect them to that wiring harness, and make sure the brakes work, the blinkers work, and the running lights as well. Otherwise, you will need to spend some hard time getting that trailer home.

If that is the case, there’s an easy way around this. You can buy those magnetic trailer lights and wiring kits. They basically brake lights, tail lights, and running lights that you can wire straight to your wiring harness, and they hook onto your trailer with magnets. It’s a $20 backup to get you home safely.

10 – RV Heating

Verify that the on/off system for heating works properly. Turn on and off at least five times. Study the distribution of the plugs.

11 – Gas Box and Gas Hookup

Check the condition of the floor. The floor must be stable. The gas box must be clean.

If the floor is not stable and the gas box is not clean, this could indicate a possible problem. All gas lines should be intact.

Now we move to the gas. The hookup of the propane, check your stove, your oven, check the heater.

  • Is it all running?
  • Does it all work?
  • If you are inspecting a vintage trailer, check the refrigerator that may run off the gas, and check the lights that may run off.

If the gas system works, you have saved yourself a lot of time when you get home.

12 – RV Refrigerator

The flame must ignite in gas mode, and therefore, the cooling fins become cold after a while.

13 – Cooker

Check if all burners work. All flames should burn bluish and evenly. If the flames are yellow, there’s a controversy, and a gas-licensed technician should be called. The flame has got to be blue and may have a yellow basketball shot in the first cone (this means you’re using natural gas) or within the secondary cone, which represents the liquid propane flame utilization.

what to see and what to ask before buying an rv
How to inspect an RV before purchasing it – What to see and what to know about the RV

14 – Gas Certification

You can inspect the gas box by your own means. However, the gas line and type of installation must be checked and certified by a specialist to detect leaks. The sole thing you can not check yourself is the gas pipes. They must be checked for leaks by a specialist.

Ask the vendor if he could have the camper again reviewed by an authorized gas professional. If you’re renting in Europe or buying their campers purchasable, the inspection of the TÜV will suffice. Except for the gas pipes and, therefore, the gas box, you need to request a certification issued by an authorized and licensed technician.

The certificate issued by the aforementioned technician should state the vehicle number.

This is a long RV checklist before buying. So, be patient. We want to give you the best RV checklist before buying based on years and years of experience. Let’s continue, and in the following paragraphs, you will find Everything you need to Know Before Buying an RV.

15 – Feasibility of a Future RV Renovation or Upgrade

How possible is a future RV renovation or upgrade? Checking the number of seats and spaces available is essential.

A future major RV renovation and retrofitting are technically out of the question in many campers purchasable. And when feasible, it’s thought to be expensive and related to great effort.

what to Know before buying an rv checklist fixed beds
What to Know Before Buying an RVBuying a Travel Trailer Checklist – RV Inspection Checklist RV Purchase Checklist

Although a convertible seating pattern group sounds convenient initially at a glance, in practice, it’s not good when it involves sleeping comfort. Fixed beds will give you more solace and coziness while sleeping but less space or comfort during the day. Decide your preferences before any purchasing decision.

16 – Service Booklet

Recent reviews or inspections, wholly recorded, and ideally, the bill of the fixes as evidence of preventive maintenance or maintenance activities performed in the camper, RV, or travel trailer. The service booklet must contain the vehicle identification, and it must match the RV you’re studying.

17 – RV Mileage Inspection

This doesn’t apply to travel trailers purchasable because, in these cases, there’s a towing vehicle. But, if applicable, check the mileage and ask to work out the tachograph/odometer just in case someone opened it or violated it. See if the condition of the pedals justifies the mileage that the vendor claims. The Lack of Mileage Information or a reset Odometer or tampered may impact the mileage information, known as “NaN miles”. The “NaN miles” refers to “not a number” miles, indicating that the specific mileage data for the vehicle has not been provided or accurately recorded in the listing.

18 – RV Furniture Inspection

It would be best if you opened all doors, drawers, and furniture in the RV. Check the capacity, operation of handles, locks, condition of materials, and overall operation. All edges should rather be rounded.

19 – Galvanic Corrosion in Aluminum

Caused by electrolytes, like water connected with dissimilar materials (an aluminum component within the RV attached with screws product of stainless-steel screws). This starts this electrochemical reaction called galvanic corrosion. This condition frequently strikes older campers available.

  • Check for cracks
  • Check for acid efflorescence presence and, therefore, the suitable charger.
  • If there’s an acid stain, it is removed with an electric battery acid stain remover.

20 – On-Board RV Battery

Body battery with enough ability to be prepared and to stand independently. This can apply more to the case of motorhomes instead of campers available.

21 – RV Mattresses Inspection

Inspecting mattresses is vital, not because you will be using them. You will probably buy new mattresses. However, the condition of the RV mattresses can give you information about moisture, water leaks, and other problems that have occurred in the vehicle.

22 – Warranties and Operation Instructions

This is only applicable when buying from a third party. Request the vendor to get the warranty documentation for all the appliances, together with the operation instructions thereof.

23 – RV Test Drive – Hands-On!

You ought to put into effect a test drive, as I repeat over and over during this article and in others.

24 – Environmental Badge

Mandatory in some states within the U.S. If you’re reading this within the World Organization, older campers available often have only a red or yellow sticker and can’t be moved freely. The RV should have a legitimate green badge.

25 – Shower Pan Inspection

Preferably, it has got to be anti-slip.

  • Be careful of cracks or other damage, as they will harm your feet,
  • Also, check the sealing joints.
  • If there are cracks, check if water has already penetrated the tiny area of the underside plate.

There are some small campers without a toilet where you would like to use an exterior toilet anyway.

rv checklist bathrooms before buy
What to Know Before Buying an RVInspect the Shower Tray: Preferably has got to be anti-slip. Be careful of cracks or other damage, as they will harm your feet; check the sealing joints.
If there are cracks, check if water has already penetrated the tiny area of the underside plate.

26 – Contract Clause

Specifically for RVs, every kind of camper is available, and not RV rentals require a contract clause where the vendor states that the thing is sold without former accidents and with no other defects. This can be because, just in case, there’s a concealed flaw (non-patent defect) that the client may not encounter after an inexpensive inspection, given the character of the article.

Reject immediately all clauses where the item is “sold as is”. If he rejects this or insists on contract terms like “purchased as inspected without warranty claim,” you want to refrain from buying and reject the operation immediately.

27 – LPG Devices

When pertinent, check all LPG consumables for usefulness. These devices must have a gas test certificate. This is often associated with other points where we describe the inspection of the gas-licensed technician. So, this can be one of the few checks that you cannot do yourself.

28 – RV Insurance

Check if the RV is currently insured and if you’ll subrogate the previous owner of the RV within the insurance contract because the new owner, once you get it or the insurer, has got to accept you as a contracting party.

29 – RV Water Tank, Water Pumps

Check the pump and see if there are cracks within the water tanks and damages. If you would like to travel in winter or after you refurbish your RV to become suitable for winter temperatures, you ought to concentrate on heated tanks, internal water pipes, and drain taps.

30 – RV Awning

  • Check the canopy or awning,
  • Look for damage, especially with older models. Spare parts may not be easy to find in older models.
  • Is there an electric awning?
  • Where does the awning come to an end? Some RVs have the awning end exactly over the front door, so stepping outside gets you drenched with all the rain running down the awning.
  • Are the side awnings complete awnings, or are some of them merely sliding toppers? To avoid twigs and debris from falling into the crack, slide toppers only reach as far as the slide.
  • An awning test is part of a used RV examination. Extend the awnings to guarantee good operation. A damaged awning might cost up to $1,500 to replace.
  • Examine the fabric of the awning when it is open. Is it fading? Ripping? Are they starting to drift apart?

What to Look for When You Trying an RV Before Buy it

RV Test Drive Before Buying

In the paragraph below, we explain how to proceed with a test drive. Read the following paragraphs in detail to understand What to Know Before Buying an RV and What to Look for During the RV Test Drive.

It shouldn’t last more than 45 minutes. A good test to do is to turn off the radio and close the windows, taking note of the engine noise.

Examine the underbody for rotten wood and rust on the chassis, and inspect installations like brake lines. Take some gloves with you and a flashlight when visiting the RV vendor.

Read the following paragraphs in detail to understand What to Know Before Buying an RV and What to Look for During the RV Test Drive.

What to Look for During the RV Inspection Before Buying an RV

1 – Brakes

Once you check visually the underbody of the RV, you might inspect the brake lines, but during the test drive, you may check how the brake lag works, notably the brake lag in keeping with the right stopping distance.

2 – Tires

Determine the age and control the track profundity. If the tread wear is asymmetrical in several parts of the tire, this represents a misalignment within the wheels or inflation done improperly. Independent of any visual inspection, the tires mustn’t be older than six years.

buying an rv checklist tires

3 – Optimal Equipment Analysis

Before deciding which of the campers purchasable you’d wish to buy, you must determine what equipment your required mobile must have, what it should have in step together with your requirements, and what it can have in line with your budget. Especially when buying a used RV, it is vital to make your priorities clear.

Although you will be able to expand the equipment after the acquisition, it mustn’t be cost-effective. Therefore, before you get it, turn over which things are particularly important to you and which features you’d possibly be missing out on.

4 – Check the Trailer Hitch

As we refer during this article to trailers and campers purchasable, we’ve got to determine the trailer hitch, especially before the test drive. If the hitch ball is moving after lowering the trailer jack, then the hitch isn’t in any respect secure. If the hitch ball doesn’t move, then the trailer hitch is well-fastened and really secure, so you’ll take the test drive.

buying hitch rv checklist

5 – Taillights within the Trailer

Currently, many countries would forcefully functional tail lights within the trailer. It’s better always and safer to possess a tail light kit adequately installed and functional to avoid a sanction or a penalty.

6 – Payload and Tongue Weight

Learn the tongue weight due to its relation with the hitch and also the towing capacity of the vehicle that will later tow the camper. This can be required for trailers purchasable and other towable RVs like pop-up campers. This point, of course, doesn’t apply to Class A RVs, like motorhomes. Read our related article about camper weight.

Are you or will you be a New RV owner? Strongly recommended article for you: Common Mistakes by New RV Owners

Free Printable PDF for Self-Inspection Checklist Before Buying an RV

I suggest downloading and printing this Self-Inspection Checklist Before Buying an RV. Bring it to the inspection day, together with a ladder, a flashlight, and a pair of gloves.

We hope you will keep this expert information in mind to understand What to Know Before Buying an RV and What to Look for During the RV Test Drive when you make your dream come true by buying your RV and that you will be as happy as I am when you are enjoying my RV.

what to know before buying an rv

About John Smith

For more than 30 years I worked in the exciting world of RV manufacturing. I liked knowing that I could improve the campers with customer feedback and see the improvements and upgrades on floor plans, delivering the best designs and the best quality RVs, year after year. After traveling with my family in RVs and small rented campers across the USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and even North Africa, I feel that I must share personal experiences, guidance, concerns, tips, and news. At Camper Outdoor, we share our biggest passion, weekend getaways in a camper, RV vacations, extended stays in RV parks, the quiet life of senior couples who choose to spend more time enjoying their RV, and boondocking experiences (which as in the beginning was unsuccessful, we have good tips to avoid the same thing happening to you!). Enjoy this website created just for you!

Leave a Comment