Buying a new (or used) RV can be a big expense. That’s why it’s especially important to do your due diligence and inspect everything before you sign the dotted line. Listed below are some of the most important items to inspect before buying an RV.
We recommend bringing a friend along with you to the dealer so you have even more eyes on the rig.
- You might also like this: RV Maintenance Checklist
What To Bring
- Pen and notebook
- Inspection Checklist
- Tire pressure gauge
- Rag for checking fluid levels
RV Specifications And Notes To Take:
- Asking price:
- Owner contact information:
- Dry weight:
- Loaded weight:
- Freshwater tank capacity:
- Greywater tank capacity:
- Blackwater tank capacity:
- Fuel tank capacity:
- Propane tank capacity:
Make note of any documentation provided including motorhome title, vehicle or appliance manuals, service records, warranties, or receipts.
RV Exterior Inspection Checklist
- Overall appearance: Walk around the RV and scan from top to bottom. Look for scratches, dents, or any other signs of damage. Focus on the quality of the exterior finish. Look for signs of stains, rust, corrosion, or other deformities. Point out any issues and ask for more details.
- Seals and caulking: Inspect all seals to make sure they are not cracked, leaky or dry. If there are leaks, you may notice brown, vertical lines trending down from the caulking.
- Rust: Pay special attention to any rust and where it is located!
- Roof: On the exterior of the roof, look at both the leading and trailing edges. Trees can damage the roof at these locations. The roof shouldn’t have any dents or scratches. Look at the RV’s TV antenna and make sure this looks like it’s in good shape. The plumbing vents, skylights, and refrigerator vents should function correctly.
- Lighting: Make sure that all exterior lights are functioning properly. That includes brake lights, turn signals, and headlights. Make sure the lenses don’t have any dents, scratches, or cracks as well.
- Windows: Look at the exterior of the windows. Make sure the seals are strong. Rust or dirt lines are indicative of leaks.
- Doors: Ensure that all doors and locks work properly. Ask the seller to produce working keys for each door. Demonstrate that the keys lock and unlock the doors safely and smoothly.
- Awning: Open and close the awning. Check for any rips, tears, or loose arms.
- Slide outs: Test the slide outs and check the overall condition of the seals and covers.
- External fittings: Scan the handrails, mirrors, roof ladder, or any additional equipment attached to the outside of the rig. Make sure it is sturdy and rust-free.
- Power connection: Inspect the outlets and power cords to ensure they are in good working condition.
- Freshwater fill tank: Check that the connection is clean and ask about any fill hoses.
- Gray and black water tanks: Inspect the drains and ask if hoses are included.
- Tire age: Check the age of tires and ask about prior driving conditions and whether they have been stored with tire covers.
- Sidewalls: Ensure there is no damage to the tire sidewalls.
- Tread: Inspect the tread on each tire, compare them to make sure there is even wear between all tires.
- Rims: Make sure the rims are clean and rust-free.
- Tires: Compare the GVWR to the ratings of the tires. The tires have a maximum rating for which they are safe. They should match.
- Visual: Take a look at the engine and engine compartment. Look for leaks from the oil, coolant, and brake fluids. Also, take a look at the hoses and belts for signs of wear and tear. Check the tension of the drive belts as well.
- Wiring: Look at the wires. Check for signs of shorts. This means looking for smoke or burnt insulation, which is a strong sign of a serious problem.
- Cooling: Look at the cooling system’s overflow reservoir. Also, look at the windshield washer fluid reservoir and brake reservoir. The goal is to look for signs of cracks, dents, scratches, or any other signs of damage.
- Fan Shroud: Look at the fan shroud. This is near the radiator. Look for cracks or missing sections.
- Air Filter: Check the air filter and see how dirty this is. This is a good indication of when the last maintenance was done on the RV. Ideally, it is clean.
- Weight Ratings: Ask the seller about the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and the gross axle weight rating (GAWR). Also, ask about the dry weight of the rig. If possible, empty the rig and weigh it. The difference between the dry weight and the GVWR is the payload capacity, which is an important metric for the RV.
- Tanks: Ask about the capacities of the propane tanks and the holding tanks. Anyone who plans to travel with fresh water should note that a gallon of water weighs about eight pounds. This comes out of the total payload capacity. For propane, it is about 4.5 pounds per gallon.
Travel Trailers and 5th Wheels
- Dimensions: If there is a trailer or 5th wheel attachment, check the weight, exterior dimensions, floorplan, and capacities.
- Weight: Pay special attention to the weight of the trailer and make sure it’s fully compatible with your vehicle and hitch.
- Hitches: Inspect the hitch system and ensure that all parts are there and working properly. Look for rust. Make sure the components are greased and run smoothly.
- Lighting connector: Test all of the trailer lights, make sure the pins in the lighting connector are not bent or damaged.
- Brake controllers: Make sure the brake controllers work properly with your vehicle.
- Tire pressure monitoring system: Check for a TPMS and ensure that it’s working properly.
- Jacks: Check if any jacks or leveling blocks come along with the rig.
Read this related post: Tire pressure monitoring systems for campers and trailers
RV Systems Checklist
- Leaks: Check the entire plumbing system for leaks. To do this, take a hose and fill the freshwater tank. Then, check throughout the RV for leaks. This means looking at the roof (such as the seams and flashing), looking at the inlets where the furnace and shower are located, inspecting the walls for soft spots and discoloration, and looking inside the cabinets, particularly where they meet the ceiling.
- Gauge Panel Reading: Check the reading on the gauge panel to make sure this is correct. If the water tank is full, the gauge panel should also read as full. In addition, run water into both the gray and black tanks. Make sure all gauges are working properly.
- Faucets and Showers: Turn on the faucets and showers, making sure they work. Furthermore, make sure the drains drain properly as well.
- Toilet: Flush the toilet and make sure it flushes properly. It should also cycle and refill once flushed.
- Water heater bypass: Check for the presence of a water heater bypass kit.
Read this related post: RV plumbing system accessories and upgrades
- AC Power: To test the AC power, plug the rig into AC power. Then, test all AC outlets to make sure they are working properly.
- DC Power: While not all RVs will have DC power outlets, some of them might. Test these outlets in the same manner as above to ensure they work properly.
- Lighting: Check all lighting systems in the RV to make sure they work properly. If only some of the lighting systems are broken, there might be a problem with the bulbs. They should be replaced before the RV is purchased. Or, the power system should be inspected.
- Refrigerator: Turn the refrigerator on. Then, set it to AC. Turn the temperature adjustment all the way up. Give it time to cool. Then, use an independent thermometer to test the temperature. It should be appropriate to preserve food and drinks. If there is a freezer compartment, check this as well to make sure it is at the proper temperature.
- Air Conditioning: Turn on all air conditioners. Check to make sure they are producing cold air. Let them run for a few minutes and make sure there aren’t any odd noises. Test the vents as well.
- Breaker Panel: Locate the breaker panel and turn on any lights that are nearby. Then, turn off the main breaker. The lights should dim slightly. Then, turn the breaker back on and make sure the lights get brighter. This is a quick way to make sure the converter is working properly. Alternatively, the converter can also be tested with a voltage meter.
- Appliances: Turn on the microwave and make sure it runs for at least a minute on the highest setting, if present. Turn on the stereo or TV and make sure they produce clear sound and picture if present. If there is a TV antenna, raise it, ensure it works (by turning on the TV), and then lower it, if present.
- Noxious Fume Detectors: Test all smoke, propane, and CO2 detectors. On all detectors, there should be a reset/test button. Press these buttons to make sure they work.
- Additional Electronics: if any electronics have been missed, ask the owner or dealer to demonstrate that they work properly.
Read this related post: RV electric system cords, plugs and adapters
- Gas: First, turn the gas on. Then, ensure there are no leaks. Let the gas run for a few seconds and smell for propane. Or, listen for the propane detector. DO NOT use a match.
- Refrigerator: Switch the refrigerator to the gas mode. Then, light the burner. The burner should stay lit and the refrigerator should stay cool.
- Water Heater: First, make sure the water heater bypass kit is not turned on (this might be the case if the heater is being winterized). Then, make sure the water heater has stayed full of water. Next, light the water heater. The water heater should stay lit. The pilot light should stay lit. The control switch and main burner should also work. Check for leaks, particularly at the drain plug and pressure release valve. Look for water on the floor. Finally, test the heater to make sure hot water comes out.
- Oven and Range: Turn on the oven. Test the oven light if present. Ensure all functionalities including baking, broiling, and defrosting work. Ensure the pilot light works, if present. Do the same thing with the range/stove. If there are multiple burners, test each burner individually.
- Furnace: If there is a furnace present, make sure it works. It is probably automatic; however, if there is a pilot light, make sure this works. Warm air should come out of the furnace at all locations.
- Additional Appliances: If there are any additional appliances that run on propane, ensure they are working properly.
- Overall condition: Inspect the overall appearance and check the running hours.
- Gas capacity: Make sure the gas capacity is sufficient for your level of use.
- Fluid Levels: Check the oil level.
- Cooling: Ensure that tubes, vents or screens leading into the generator are clean.
- Operation: Start the generator and check the noise levels.
Read this related post: RV generators
Interior Inspection Checklist
- Doors and latches: Check the locks, roll down the windows, and inspect the interior paneling.
- Instrument panel lights and gauges: Ensure that all instruments work.
- Transmission lever: Run through the gear selector. Many diesel pushers use an electronic keypad.
- Brakes: Press down on the emergency brake and release. If you are towing, make sure to check the trailer brakes.
- Leveling system: If the RV has automatic leveling, test out the system. Also test any air suspension controls.
- Windshield condition: Notice any cracks or divots. Check the wipers, blades and washer fluid.
- Dashboard: Test out the Radio, CD player MP3, CB radio ect. Look for a rearview monitor. Test the backup camera and GPS.
- Alarms: Understand how the alarm system works.
- Steering Wheel: Test the horn, make adjustments for comfortable seating, and pay special attention to any on-wheel controls such as the radio or cruise control.
- Seating: Look for manual or power seat adjustments. Make sure the rig is comfortable to drive. Pull down the visors and shades. Scan the length of the seat belts to ensure they are in good condition. Check the seating upholstery for rips and tears.
- Storage: Check the doors, latches, hinges and locks around the cabin area. If there are cup holders, make sure they are easy to reach.
- Doors: Check the doors of the RV, cabinets, closets, and bathroom to make sure the latches work. The doors should close easily. If there is a lock, confirm that the locks work as well.
- Leaks: Check for leaks once again. Focus on small stains, warped floors, peeling siding, or discolored panels. Focus at the seams and where the walls meet the ceiling.
- Roof: Check to make sure the roof vents are functional. Check the covers for tears. If there are screens, check for holes.
- Windows: Open and close every window. Make sure the cranks work well. The windows should seal properly when closed and they should be able to open fully. The screens on the windows should be intact without tears, holes, or warping.
- Cabinets and closets: Make sure any door panels and hinges are fully functional and can tightly close during transport. Check the amount of storage space and make sure that’s it’s adequate for your belongings.
After The Inspection
Before you take your RV to the campsite, go camping in your driveway at home. There will inevitably be something that breaks, or something that you forget. It’s better to solve these problems at home than at the campground with limited services.
Don’t forget to pack a gear box with helpful maintenance tools before every trip. You’ll also want to go through a maintenance checklist before every trip. Happy travels!