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Top 10 Easily Missed Things to Look for When Buying an RV

You may be excited about buying an RV as you dream of all the places you could travel to and explore. However, your dreams could come crashing down if you overlook some important details during the buying process.

Beyond features and floorplans, there are several things you should look for when shopping for a new or used camper. If missed, these issues will cost you time and money down the road.

Ready to wise up? Here’s what you need to look for before you sign on the dotted line.

Travel trailer interior
There’s more to an RV than features and floorplans. Make sure you inspect the entire camper for signs of damage.

There’s a Lot to Think About When Buying an RV

The process of buying an RV can feel a bit overwhelming. You want to make sure you select a floor plan and RV that works for you and stays within your budget. Combine that stress with parts shortages and increased demand, and you may end up making a knee-jerk decision while overlooking significant issues.

When our emotions get involved, we can make financial mistakes and overlook issues that would have been obvious otherwise. Arming yourself with the information in this article will help you make a sound decision when buying an RV.

If you don’t know much about RVs, we also recommend bringing a knowledgeable friend with you while shopping. Someone who’s been RVing for a while will likely know what to look for and what questions to ask. 

inspecting an RV before buying
It can help to bring along a friend when RV shopping. They may spot an issue you missed.

10 Things to Look Out for When Buying an RV

Some common issues get missed by excited RVers when buying an RV. Let’s look at 10 things you should keep an eye out for so you don’t have buyer’s remorse down the road.

1. Mold

RVs are immensely susceptible to mold, especially if not properly maintained. Due to a lack of ventilation and climate control, moisture can gather in obscure places. The water can quickly grow into mold, ruining furniture and any wood inside your RV. It can also cause health issues.

You can commonly find mold under mattresses, behind drawers, and any compartment that doesn’t have good air circulation. New RVs typically won’t experience this, but used ones commonly do. A propane furnace can also cause excessive moisture when heating an RV during cooler temperatures.

Moldy RV carpet
Look for mold under mattresses, behind furniture, inside cabinets, or anywhere else it could grow.

Many RVers rely on moisture absorbing products to combat mold, but do they work? Find out here: Will DampRid Really Remove Moisture and Mold From Your Camper?

2. Water Damage

Water damage can be incredibly destructive to an RV. This type of damage typically results from faulty seals or improper maintenance.

You can easily miss it because the damage can occur behind a wall or other hidden area. In some instances, the damage doesn’t present itself until it’s too late, and you’re in for a costly repair.

You can check along seams and in corners. If you have a leak, the water will pool at one of these locations. If you hire a professional to inspect your RV, they’d likely use a thermal leak detector throughout the RV to help identify any potential water issues behind walls. 

inspecting RV seals for leaks
Damaged seals often lead to water damage. Carefully inspect around sealed areas for signs of leaks.

3. Crumbling Caulking

If you can climb up on the roof to inspect the caulking, you should. If not, consider hiring a professional or bringing someone along to do it for you. Crumbling caulking around vents and seams can cause water leaks.

Once water enters your RV through crumbling or cracked caulking, you can have substantial damage in a short time. You could find delamination of the fiberglass, mold, and rotting walls and structural supports. 

Crumbling caulking doesn’t necessarily mean the RV has an issue, but you should view it as a red flag. Do your due diligence when it comes to inspecting for water damage.

RV tech repairing motorhome roof
Caulking that is cracked or crumbling can be a sign the RV has not been well maintained.

Pro Tip: If you buy an RV with caulking issues, you need to reseal the problem areas immediately to prevent leaks. Here are the 8 Best RV Roof Sealants and How to Choose for Your Camper.

4. Buying a Used RV With Worn or Aged Tires

An RV’s tires allow you to drive safely. You want to inspect them to ensure they’re in good condition and safe for traveling. You’ll also want to know if you’ll have to replace the tires soon, especially if you want to buy a used RV.

Tires have a mileage rating that varies depending on the tire but is typically 30,000+ miles. However, they can have issues the older they get. You should replace them at least every six years, no matter how many miles they have. 

motorhome tire
Try to determine the age of the RV’s tires and if they’ll need to be replaced soon after purchase.

Rubber and other materials break down over time from harmful UV rays and weather conditions. Look for the manufacture date printed on the side of each tire to determine when you’ll need new ones.

5. Rust

Rust is common on many RV components. The salt used to treat highways in the winter or natural salts in the atmosphere can cause this. Typically, you can resolve it with a wire brush and some rust prevention spray. But don’t overlook serious rust issues.

You’ll commonly find rust on the frame and the suspension components. If left unattended, rust can cause significant issues, such as structural failure. 

You may easily overlook these issues because it requires you to get on your hands and knees and under the rig. Any inspection a professional would do would include this step.

Rust on a truck camper
Significant amounts of rust on an RV can cause structural promblems.

6. Exterior Warping or Delamination

What looks like a wave in an RV’s exterior may not seem like a big deal, but it could signify a major problem. Warping or delamination is when the fiberglass separates from the backing material. 

Pro Tip: Look for RVs with Azdel Panels to avoid the possibility of delamination.

Moisture getting into the wall through a seam can often cause this problem. This can be incredibly expensive to repair and will require a professional.

You can’t always recognize delamination right away. One of the easiest ways to see it is by climbing up on your RV and looking down. The walls should be straight and smooth, and the curves should be symmetrical without bubbling.

RV exterior damage
Delamination is expensive to repair. If you find signs of exterior damage, it might be best to move on.

7. Internal Engine Problems

Oil keeps the essential parts of your motorhome lubricated and running efficiently. If you smell oil or burning, have an oil analysis done on the RV. This can help pinpoint any potential issues under the hood.

Engine problems can cause a lot of trouble and stress for an RVer, especially if your RV is your full-time residence. 

If you have engine problems, you could find yourself stranded or needing to check into a hotel while a local mechanic works on your rig. If you want to buy a motorized RV, have a professional check out the sensitive components and test the engine.

Also, look at the condition of belts and the overall cleanliness of the engine. Major issues should be easy to see, like obvious wear or splatters of oil or grease.

Pro Tip: Pro Tip: Before you make any big financial RV decisions, make sure you know The Ugly Truth About Rent-To-Own RV Programs.

motorhome engine
Inspect motorhome engines just like you would if you were buying a car.

8. Buying a Used RV With Old Batteries

You may spend most of your time using your RV at a campground, but having a quality battery is still important. Your batteries run your RV’s lights, water pump, and any of your 12V appliances. 

Old RV batteries won’t hold a charge effectively. Peek in and look at your RV battery bank before signing on the dotted line, especially if you buy a used RV. 

Lead-acid batteries, the most common RV battery, function notoriously bad when discharged below 50%. This can cause permanent damage to the battery and limit its ability to recharge.

Additionally, look for corrosion on the terminals and ask about previous maintenance. If the coach has lead-acid batteries, these need to be watered to keep their internal plates from being exposed. If you smell sulfur in the battery bay, this is a bad sign that the battery could be shorting out.

One of our first experiences after buying our RV was a lead-acid battery short, which can quickly cause a fire. Luckily, we smelled the sulfur and were able to remove the batteries before catastrophe struck.

Don't Waste Your Money On Batteries - The Shocking Truth I Discovered When Testing RV Batteries

Lithium batteries work much better and require practically no maintenance. Lithium batteries cost more upfront than standard lead-acid batteries but are more cost-effective over the life of the battery. These will likely be the last batteries you buy for your RV, and you can sleep soundly knowing they are much safer.

9. Awning Damage

RV awnings can provide an abundance of shade at your campsite and keep you out of the rain. However, many people miss checking them during the buying process. This is often because the seller doesn’t offer to do this, and buyers are shy about requesting it.

But an awning that’s ripped or cannot extend is useless. When buying an RV, open all of the awnings and slide toppers – even if it’s awkward. Look for punctures, rips, tears, and any signs of damage. If the awning is electric, ensure the motor works going in and out.

A strong wind gust can easily damage an RV’s awning in seconds. If someone had it extended even during moderate wind gusts, the frame or fabric could need a total replacement. 

While you should look out for awning damage, small rips and tears in the fabric are likely not deal-breakers. Learn How to Easily DIY Repair an RV Awning.

torn slide topper
Make sure to extend any slides on the RV and examine the slide-out awnings, or “slide toppers,” for damage.

10. Propane Leaks

One of the most significant items you don’t want to miss is a propane leak. Propane is a highly flammable gas that can poison anyone in your RV with carbon monoxide. However, this gas allows refrigerators, stoves, and water heaters to function correctly.

While you check out the RV, you’ll want to run all the propane appliances and make sure they work. If it has a heavy propane smell, you should immediately open the doors and windows, shut off the propane supply, and get a professional to inspect the system. Propane lines run in the walls and floor, and identifying the leak’s location is important.

Because propane is dangerous, RVs typically come with propane detectors. Propane is a heavier gas than oxygen and will gather at the ground level. This is why many RVs have propane detectors mounted towards the floor.

Additionally, ensure the propane detector has batteries and isn’t expired. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but a good thing to add to your immediate to-do list if you decide on purchasing the RV.

RV propane stove
RV appliances are expensive to replace. Make sure they work correctly before buying an RV.

Don’t Panic When Buying an RV

In the end, if you do discover some of these things, you don’t have to panic. If you still feel interested in purchasing the RV, you can request to have the issues fixed by the seller or negotiate the price based on the findings. You don’t want to make the mistake of buying an RV that will need a substantial amount of work without realizing it first.

Additionally, get any agreed-upon repairs put into writing. Just because a dealer or salesperson says they’ll take care of an issue doesn’t always make them legally required to do so. Getting it in writing can help hold them accountable and ensure you get the rig of your dreams.

Buying an RV
Don’t rush through the sales process and overlook critical issues. It’s better to miss out on an RV, than to buy a money pit.

With RVs in such high demand in recent years, you may feel rushed during the sales process. However, don’t overlook these 10 easily missed things when buying an RV, or they could affect your pocketbook down the road.

Are you buying a camper from a private seller? Check out our tips for a safe and pleasant transaction: How to Buy a Used RV From a Private Party

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Jerry Gandee

Sunday 23rd of January 2022

I am looking at putting sumo springs on our new camper before going to Alaska. Have you researched these and what is your opinion.

Thank you Jerry & Lisa

Mortons on the Move

Thursday 27th of January 2022

If your looking at them mainly for a jounce stop they are better than factory, however to improve weight capacity i personally perfer an air bag system like firestone ride rite or Hellwig bigwig. None of these really improve weight capacity as all they do is change the spring rate this sometimes can improve handeling but most times they dont do much. If you are using sumos to support weight full time they will get destroyed quickly.