Buying a new or used RV is an exciting process. But it can also be easy to feel overwhelmed by all the details that separate good RVs from questionable ones. Take it from someone who has bought a less-than-perfect RV in the past. It pays to gather as much information as possible before deciding whether or not to take the plunge.
From checking the drivetrain to inspecting the roof, there are many considerations when buying a new or used RV. That’s why we’ve put together this useful RV buyer’s checklist to suggest what you must know before buying.
General RV Specs
First and foremost, you’ll want to learn about the general specifications of the RVs you’re interested in.
These are general items like the make and model, year, mileage, length, and width. However, there are a number of additional specifications you can acquire before you even see the RV in person. These include but are not limited to:
- Name(s) and contact info for previous owners
- Date of last inspection
- Wheelbase measurement
- Weight when empty
- Weight when fully loaded
- Fresh water capacity
- Grey water capacity
- Black water capacity
- Fuel tank capacity
- Propane tank capacity
When you move forward with seeing an RV in person, you’ll want to start with an exterior walk around.
During this process, you’ll want to check the overall exterior condition and appearance, condition of seals and caulking, condition of vents, doors, windows, and screens, and awning operation and condition.
Additional items to check during your general exterior walk around include:
- Looking for rust or dirt lines that signal the presence of leaks
- Damage to trim pieces
- External fittings (handrails, mirrors, hitches, ladder to roof, etc.)
- Headlights and running lights
- Slide-out condition, including seals and cover/topping (if applicable)
- Overall surface condition
- Ladder to roof intact and secure
- Air conditioner(s)
- Antenna(s) raise and lower
- Solar panels (if applicable)
- Vents and vent hoods
If you plan on doing any driving in your RV (and yes, you should probably plan on this), you have to make sure the tires are in good condition.
Even if the RV doesn’t have that many miles on it, tires can get worn just from excessive sun exposure. If the RV has been sitting in the sun without covers on the tires, wear will show up in the form of cracks in the exterior walls of the tires.
This is a good sign that they need to be replaced before you do much driving. A few other things to check as far as tires go include:
- Tread wear
- Proper pressure
- Age of tires
- Wheel rim condition
Exterior Equipment & Connections
The next set of checks has to do with all of the exterior equipment common in most RVs. Some examples of exterior equipment include a power connector, cable connections, propane tank lines and connections, generator components, and a trailer hitch.
Other items to include on your RV buyer’s checklist for exterior equipment and connections include:
- Freshwater fill connection
- Antenna and/or phone line connections
- Cabin batteries and cabin battery disconnect switch
- Outdoor shower and shower faucet
- All drains (freshwater, black water, and grey water)
- Drain hose storage area
- Winterizing connection (if applicable)
- Water heater thermostat and electrical contacts
- Water heater drain plug
- Generator fluids
Once you’ve checked all of your external connections and equipment, it’s also important to assess the condition of your underneath storage compartments.
You’re looking at how the doors open and whether they latch properly when closed. Also, pay attention to the seals around the edges of the compartment and look for any signs of leakage inside compartments.
You’ll also want to check to make sure the underneath storage lights turn on and look for any weak spots in compartment walls or floors. Some compartments, such as the one that houses hoses and your sewer line, should be equipped with sliding trays that can be removed and cleaned periodically.
The interior of your RV is monumentally important. You’ll be spending a lot of time in the RV, so you want to make sure it’s in good condition and the appliances and electronics are in good working order. Here are the places you need to look.
Interior – Forward
In the coach or driving area of your RV, you can work from the top down. Start by making sure that the compartments above the driver and passenger seats are intact and functioning properly.
You really don’t want anything falling out of those cabinets onto you when you’re driving, so make sure the latches, hinges, and interior panels are all working properly.
Moving down, you’ll want to check that the windows open and close properly, are equipped with screens, and lock when fully closed. From there, additional considerations include:
- Instrument panel lights and gauges
- Windshield condition
- Wipers and washers
- Visors and shades
- Radio/CD Player
- GPS and CB Radio (if applicable)
- Alarm system (if applicable)
- Seat belts
- Seat adjustments
- Rear view mirrors/camera and controls
- Steering wheel, wheel adjustments, and on-wheel controls (cruise control, etc.)
- Emergency brake and release
- Leveling system
- Seat upholstery
- Flooring condition
- Cup holders
In addition to the forward driving area, you’ll want to check out the living space immediately behind the driver and passenger’s chairs. While things like carpet and tile condition should be obvious pretty quickly, items like looking up to assess ceiling condition and particularly looking for soft spots, sagging, or peeling wall covering might not be so intuitive.
Some examples of additional checks in the living area include:
- Sub-flooring condition
- Cabinetry (including hinges and latches)
- Drawers (size, condition, and operation)
- Exhaust fans and vents in ceiling and walls
- Door latches, hinges, and locks
- Windows and screens (condition and operation)
- Curtains and blinds
- Slide operation and seal condition (if applicable)
- Sofas, chairs, and tables
- Moveable furniture (condition and operation)
- Floor condition behind and under furniture
- Signs of rodents or insects
Interior – Kitchen
Moving towards the rear of the RV, the next areas you’ll check are where you’ll primarily be cooking and eating. You’ll want to make sure the countertop space is sufficient and in good condition, as well as sink size and condition.
In this area, it’s important to look closely for any leaks in the drain, faucet, or refrigerator area. These can be signs of larger damage and should be more closely inspected before buying. Additional checks in this area include:
- Stovetop condition
- Burners and igniter (condition and operation)
- Stove exhaust fan and vent cover (condition and operation)
- Oven and pilot light operation
- Refrigerator and Freezer (size, condition, and operation on all power sources, i.e. gas and electric)
- Microwave condition and operation
- Any additional appliances
Interior – Bathroom
After a thorough check of the kitchen and dining areas, move on to inspecting the bathroom and all its components. The obvious place to start is with the toilet. This is where you’ll make sure the toilet flushes properly and refills adequately with water (when the water pump is turned on).
It really pays to grab a flashlight at this point and look down through the toilet and into the black water tank, making sure there’s no buildup of solidified waste. After that, you’ll want to check:
- Signs of leaks around the toilet
- Odor from toilet
- Sink, vanity, shower, and tub (condition and signs of leakage)
- Shower skylight and exhaust fan (operation, condition, and seals)
- Behind any access panels (condition)
Interior – Bedroom
Once you’re satisfied with the condition of the bathroom, continue towards the back of your RV and into the bedroom (depending on the layout of course).
Many of the checks in this area will be very similar to the checks you performed in the initial living area check, such as operation and condition of cabinetry and the bed frame itself, especially if it’s the kind that lifts up for additional storage.
Also, pay attention to the condition of the carpet, ceiling, and blinds, looking closely for any soft spots or signs of leakage.
Interior – Utilities and Accessories
There are many utilities that come in a standard-equipped RV. You’ll need to test things like the water pump, water heater, taps and drains, and the air conditioner(s) to check their condition and operation. You’ll also want to include the following items in your full systems check:
- Freshwater tank condition (checking for signs of leakage)
- Tank indicators (for fresh water, grey water, and black water tanks)
- Air flow through all intended vents
- Filter condition (air conditioner(s) and furnace)
- AC (120 volts) and DC (12 volts) power available (onshore hookup, generator, inverter)
- Automatic power switching between sources
- AC and DC light operation
- Power to all outlets (AC and DC)
- Solar panel operation (if applicable)
- Television and audio/video equipment operation
- Entertainment hookups (cable, antenna, satellite, etc.)
- Antenna and satellite dish controls
Interior – Safety
The final systems you’ll want to check pertain to maintaining your safety and the safety of others. Specifically, we’re talking about the safety features that every RV should have and that you’d most likely use in the case of an emergency when the RV is at rest. The common safety features we want to check for here include:
- Fire extinguishers
- Smoke detector(s)
- Carbon monoxide detector
- Propane gas detector
- Emergency exit windows
- Alarm system (if applicable)
A Visit to the Mechanic
Even after you’ve done a thorough self-inspection inside and out, it pays to take the RV to a trained mechanic so that you can get a thorough once-over of all the mechanical systems that will make you’re your RV go.
Some of the checks that your mechanic should perform include, but aren’t limited to:
- All fluid and coolant levels
- Hose conditions
- Wire conditions
- Check for residue or shiny areas that indicate leaks
- Air filter
- Engine start
- Exhaust system
- Brakes and brake pads
- Steering stabilizer
- Front and rear differentials
- Frame condition
- Leveling jacks
Know Before Buying
Being prepared and knowing what to look for will greatly relieve the stress that can come with the process of buying an RV. Overlooking any of these sections will often result in purchasing an RV that comes with more problems than you’re prepared to address.
Save yourself some hassle on the back end by using this checklist and performing a thorough check before you buy. We hope that this list gives you guidance when buying your next RV and we wish you the best of luck in your search.
Have anything you think needs to be mentioned? Leave a comment below!