RV manufacturers love to sneak in cheap fixtures and parts on some areas of the RV in order to save money. It’s easy to love the floor plan of an RV and then later notice, after purchase, that it was missing a major feature you wanted like a power awning or automatic stabilizing jacks.
There are SOO many things to remember when buying! My purpose for writing this is mostly for myself. I’m in the process of purchasing a class A motorhome and I want to make sure that I don’t overlook anything.
Hopefully you find this list helpful.
- What does it smell like inside? Has it been smoked in? The cigarette smell is nearly impossible to get out of an RV! But remember that RVs are frequently left in storage, so it may just be a musty smell that will go away quickly. Air it out for 20 minutes while looking around and then smell it again.
- Check the toilet to make sure the closing hatch fully seals. Pour a small amount of water in the toilet and make sure it pools without draining. Check back in 5 minutes to make sure the water is still there.
- Is the shower large enough to not drive you crazy?
- Does the shower have a good head on it? This is probably the first upgrade that most RV owners do. The cheap plastic fixture can be annoying.
- Does the shower have a seat so women can shave their legs easily?
- Does the shower have a good size lip on the bottom so that water doesn’t spill out?
- Any signs of mold or mildew in the shower?
- Is the toilet porcelain or plastic?
- Is the bowl long enough for men?
- Do you feel cramped in a tight corner when you’re on the toilet?
- Open and close each window to make sure it aligns straight and latches tight when closed. Be sure it isn’t too sticky.
- Do the windows have day/night shades, or just curtains?
- Most first-time RV buyers go too small because they are intimidated by something huge, the second RV they buy is too big to fit in campgrounds, and then they finally settle into the right size for their needs.
- Be certain you have the right length for fitting into spots you’ll want to camp. You may want to read my post where I researched 100 national park campgrounds and found the RV lengths that they accept.
- Is there a powered awning?
- Where does the awning end? Some RVs end the awning right over the front door, so if you try to step outside, you get DRENCHED with all the rain running off the awning.
- Are the awnings you see on the side full awnings, or are some of them just slide toppers? Slide toppers just extend as far as the slide to keep sticks and debris from falling in the crack.
- Test the awnings to ensure they work properly. A broken awning can be a $1,500 replacement cost.
- With the awning open, look at the fabric of the awning. Is it faded? Ripping? Starting to separate?
[x_alert heading=”QUICK TIP!” type=”warning”]The average RV buyers trades in or sells their RV every three years. It can be tough to get it right the first time. You could save yourself a TON of money and hassle by renting a few RVs of different sizes first so you know what you like and don’t like.[/x_alert]
- Do you have at least one super-comfy place to sit? Many travel trailers don’t have any couches. Would you really be comfortable sitting in a flat-backed u-dinette to watch a movie?
- Is there a place to put your feet up when watching a movie? You may want to get a foot stool.
- Are there enough seats for your whole family, or friends if you’ll invite others to join you? Could everyone watch a movie together?
- Take off the cushions and check both sides. Are there any stains that are being hidden?
- A smart phone is not optional for most people these days. Are there power ports you can use to charge your phone without the generator running/being plugged into service?
- Are there enough outlets around the RV in places you’d like them to be? Many kitchens only have one outlet, which is fine for a camping trip, but tight if you will be living in your RV for more than a couple weeks.
- Connect the trailer to the tow vehicle power (in the case of a trailer) or turn on the motorhome headlights and check all of the exterior lights–running lights, headlights, accessory lights, brake lights, etc.
- Does it have an LED light strip under the awning? We didn’t really look for this feature when buying, but it turns out that we really like having the LEDs at night.
- Open the slides and watch the path it goes along the floor. Check for scratching on the floor, bent floor vents or other things that would tell you that the slide is not running properly.
- Ask the previous owner if the slide has ever had any issues getting stuck.
- Check the seals around the slide. Make sure they are intact.
- Close the slide and have someone shine a flashlight around the edges of the slide. Make sure you can’t see the light from the outside.
- Fill the fresh water tank so you can test the gray and black tanks. Fill the gray tank by running the shower. This is a good time to see if the shower head leaks. Check the status indicators to see if it accurately measures the level of water in the gray tank as you run the shower.
- Check the hot water heater to make sure it properly heats the water.
- Check to make sure it has a fire extinguisher and look at the label – they only last a few years so make sure it hasn’t expired.
- Bring a small can of gas to spray at the carbon monoxide detector to make sure it works. I don’t need to tell you (hopefully) how vitally important the carbon monoxide detector is!
- Locate all GFCI outlets (the one with the test button in the middle). You’ll usually find these in the bathroom and kitchen. Press the test button and make sure that pops out the reset button.
- Connect the RV to shore power and make sure it works.
- How large is the generator (assuming there’s an onboard generator at all)?
- Check for screws all around the interior and exterior that never bit down. Often the manufacturer will miss the stud and just put a glob of silicone in there.
- Trim that has been screwed but not glued, so it pokes out between the screws.
- Walk around the trailer and meticulously check for the slightest bubble or depression in the sides and roof of the trailer. This is the tell-tale sign of water damage or delamination of the sides. If there are bubbles, DO NOT BUY!
- Get on the roof on your hands and knees to check for cracks in the sealant put around pipes and openings. It’s normal to find a small crack to be filled with $5 sealant, but it’s a sign that the RV hasn’t been cared for.
- Check the interior ceiling of the RV to look for any bubbles or soft spots. Especially check next to exhaust vents.
- Step down hard on the floor all around the edges of the kitchen where the floor touches the kitchen cabinets. Make sure there are no soft spots in the floor.
- Check under the kitchen sink and the bathroom sink to make sure water has not leaked from the pipes.
- Are there gutters along the sides? This is good for preventing water damage in the future.
- Open basement compartments and feel the bottom of each compartment to check for any wetness or soft spots where the wood has rotted out.
- Does it have a black tank flush? This is an EXTREMELY helpful feature and frankly I wouldn’t buy a trailer or motorhome that doesn’ t have this feature.
- Does the disk player take Blu Ray, or only DVD’s? This isn’t a big deal today, but it’s quite clear that we’re moving everything over to Blu Ray.
- Is the TV remote missing?
- Find out how much the bumper is rated for and DO NOT accept the salesman’s made up estimate. Ask to see documentation. This can be a significant buying decision if you want to attach bikes, potentially a generator, a kayak, etc. Many many RVers have had their bumpers fall off while going down the road because they overloaded it. There are ways to strengthen it after the fact, though.
[x_alert heading=”QUICK TIP!” type=”warning”]Pull out your cell phone and record the entire pre-delivery inspection before you pick up your RV. This can be a long process, but many many many buyers run into problems at the PDI. With the video, you can go back and show the dealership that the RV had the issue before you took it camping.[/x_alert]
- Get down ON THE GROUND and look carefully at the tires on both sides of the tread. Is one side worn down significantly because they were not rotated? A motorhome with truck tires can cost $1,200 for just two tires! Check each tire.
- What brand are the tires? Are they the cheap tires, or did they get the more expensive Michelin or Goodyear tires?
- First of all, you have to decide if you mind setting up beds each night, or if you want to make sure each of the kids and you and your wife each have a spot all set up that you don’t have to set up each night. Are you SURE you aren’t going to regret not buying the bunkhouse model?
- Get out a tape measure and actually check the dimensions of the master bed. Many RVs that feel roomy in the main living area have skimped on space in the master. Did the manufacturer sneak in an RV Queen mattress instead of a true queen? A real queen bed measures 60×80″. A “short queen” measures 60 x 75″.
- Get on your back and crawl underneath. Look for any obvious problems or signs of damage.
- Is the underbelly entirely enclosed, or are the tanks on the bottom unprotected?
Four Season Camping
- Are the drain pipes fully enclosed?
- Is the basement storage insulated?
- Is the basement storage heated?
- Are there electric and propane heaters for the tanks?
- Is the unit pre-wired for a solar panel?
- If there are solar panels on the roof, are they tiltable so you can direct them toward the sun when boondocking for a few days?
- Turn on the air conditioning for 3 minutes. By this point, the air coming out should be ice cold.
- Is there only one air conditioning unit? For any RV over 30′, you should be aware that one air conditioning unit probably won’t cut it on 100 degree days unless you have extremely good shade around you.
- Are the air conditioning units loud?
- Check the ceiling vent fans. Are they the small kind where the blades only take up 1/3 the size of the vent opening, or are they the large Maxx Air fans which are far more efficient? I was surprised at home much air those Maxx air fans can push!
- Does the RV come with one battery or two+?
- Does the RV have a spare tire? Is it a donut or a full spare?
- Will it come with the propane tanks and gas tank full? This could be $150 on a motorhome!
- Make sure the fans don’t rattle
- If you are purchasing a hybrid or a tent trailer, be sure to consider the outside sound. Canvas obviously won’t do anything to keep sound out from the neighbor’s loud generator.
Leveling and Stabilizing
- For motorhomes and some fifth wheels, check to make sure it has automatic leveling. If it doesn’t, does it at least have powered levelers?
- For travel trailers and some fifth wheels, check the stabilizers. Are they powered or manual? If they are powered, are they so slow that it will be annoying to do each time?
- Does the RV just have a small radio antenna, or does it have a larger powered type that you can lift up and down?
- Does the RV have a cell phone booster installed already? They almost never come with one, but if it’s used, the previous owner may have put one in.
- Is there a wifi repeater? This can dramatically improve your likelihood of getting wifi at RV parks.
[x_alert heading=”QUICK TIP!” type=”warning”]Be careful to NOT sign a paper on delivery day at the dealership saying you approve of the condition of the RV until you have fully and thoroughly inspected it. Do not sign the paper on the verbal promise that they’ll fix anything you noticed. Write down on the contract that they need to fix the issue, but you approve of everything else.[/x_alert]
- Put a cup of water in the microwave and ensure that it heats up. It’s possible for a microwave to turn on and seem like it works without actually putting out heat. We had this issue in our travel trailer.
- Does the RV have a convection microwave? Is this a suitable replacement for a conventional oven for you? Some owners love convection microwaves and others don’t like them because then you can’t use the microwave when something is baking.
- Have the counter-top covers for the sink been lost?
- Will the fridge be large enough to handle your family’s needs?
- Does the fridge run on electric only, or propane/electric?
- If you’ll be storing in a garage, check the exact height of the motorhome AND air conditioning units/vents/ etc on top. Make sure you’ll fit.
- If you are very tall, check the ceiling height. It can be different in some areas of the RV, so make sure you won’t feel too cramped.
- Remember that a taller RV feels wonderfully roomy, but may require you to pull over and wait out a wind storm.
For Motorhomes Only
- What is the tow rating on the hitch?
- Check the sticker on the windshield to see when the previous owner got their last oil change.
- Make sure it doesn’t leak oil. This this the first sign of engine trouble.
- CLOSE the slide and take a good look at the motorhome. Can you still easily get back to the bathroom, or to the kitchen to make a sandwich?
- Remember the safety issues with Class A motorhomes. Personally, I prefer a Class A, but before you buy you may want to at least read some of the benefits of a Class C.
- How big is the generator? Is it sufficient to run both air conditioning units as well as lights, the water pump, etc?
For Class C Motorhomes Only
- Get on a ladder and check absolutely every square inch of the front cap of the cab-over area. This is THE NOTORIOUS SPOT where water gets in a Class C. If there is water damage, stay away.
- Are you SURE you don’t want a Class A? Multiple RV salesmen told me when I was looking at a Class C that they see a high percentage of Class C buyers who later change their minds and move up to the Class A. Read my post about the benefits of a class A motorhome, but also know that I’m not a Class C hater either. I’ve written about the benefits of a class c motorhome as well.
For Travel Trailers Only
- Be certain to check the exact amount your tow vehicle can tow. Do not simply google it and take it as the truth. Oftentimes, vehicles have many options that will determine the actual rating of that vehicle. Check your vin number and consult the actual owners manual. Do not buy a trailer if it will put you within 80% of your max!!!!!
- If you’ll be towing with anything other than a truck, make sure your vehicle has an integrated brake controller or else you’ll have to budget another $400 to buy one. A brake controller is NOT optional!
For Fifth Wheels Only
- Be absolutely certain there is enough clearance between the fifth wheel and the back of your cab. Just because you hook up and see space does not mean it’s a fit. Turn a hard right and left and check to make sure the fifth wheel won’t contact the back of your truck cab.
- Check both the weight going on the bed and the tow weight. I advise not choosing anything that would put you more than 80% of your max capacity.
- “Half ton towable” is the biggest lie in the fifth wheel industry. Salesmen say it all the time and they should. OBVIOUSLY there are many fifth wheels that are indeed half ton towable, but check your numbers! Remember you’ll be adding people and a lot of gear and water and do not get within 80% of your max!