How to Buy a Used RV from a Dealer

May 7th 2016
Image Courtesy of dave_7 via Flickr
An RV purchase is a large investment, so it is important to do your homework to make sure that you are getting a fair price as well as a structurally and mechanically sound recreational vehicle. Buying an RV is not like buying a house or an automobile; it is more like buying both at once. You need to look at the mechanical issues that you would in a car, while also looking at the structure and appliances as you would in a home. A used RV dealer is a good place to search for an RV because it gives you access to warranties (sometimes) -- but keep in mind that warranties do not cover everything. You still need to do your homework to make sure you are making a good purchase. This guide will help you understand warranties and what to look for when inspecting a used RV.

RV Roof Warranties

The roof of an RV is one of the most important things to look at. A leak in an RV roof can cause serious water damage that affects the structural integrity of the entire vehicle. All RV roofs eventually require maintenance or replacement to prevent water leaks. One of the biggest culprits of RV roof damage is UV rays from the sun. Rain and snow can also cause roof wear. Unfortunately, roof maintenance, repair and replacement is expensive, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. An RV roof warranty can help save you money. New RVs often come with 12-year warranties. Used RV dealers also may provide extended warranty coverage. Make sure the warranty you are offered provides the following protections:
  • Roof replacement or repair in the event of tears, holes or cracks caused by weather elements
  • Caulking replacement along the seams of the roof, vents and air conditioner
  • RV structural repair caused by water damage due to a faulty or leaky roof

RV Location

RVs travel to different locations much more than cars do, meaning that the RV you are looking at in California may actually be from Michigan. When looking at an RV, it is important to ask the dealer where it came from because the weather conditions of the location that the RV spent most of its time can help you determine the likelihood of wear on the vehicle. For example, an RV from hot desert climates may have a dry cracked roof, whereas an RV from wet climates may have water damage.

RV Inspector

The smartest way to buy an RV is to hire a private RV inspector to look over the entire vehicle (engine, structure, electrical, plumbing, propane fixtures, appliances, etc.). There are so many systems to look at in an RV that it is easy for the untrained eye to miss damage that will be costly to repair. 

Inspecting a Used RV on Your Own

If you don't want to hire an RV inspector, then go over the following checklist so that you know what to look for yourself.
The Roof
Get up on the roof to see if it is in good condition. Make sure there are no cracks, tears, holes or mold. Also, make sure that the seams of the roof (around the edges and around the air conditioner) have good caulking in place.
Water Damage
Even if the roof is currently in good condition, it may not have been in the past. If the roof was repaired after water damage occurred, there may be structural damage in the RV. Bad sealing around the windows can also cause water damage, which appears as brown stains on the walls, bubbling paint or wallpaper, soft spots in the walls or soft spots in the floors. Feel around the walls (especially close to the ceiling and around the windows) and floor (especially close to the windows) for soft spots. If you find any, pass on that vehicle. These soft spots are signs of rot, which is extremely expensive to repair.
House Battery
RVs have two batteries. One is for the engine, and one is for the house, which runs the lighting and non-propane appliances when the RV is not plugged in. Ask the dealer to unplug the RV and turn on the lights so that you can see that the house battery is working. It is a good idea to do this at the beginning of your inspection so you can see how long the house battery lasts. It should easily last throughout your entire inspection.
Leveling Jacks
Many RVs have automatic leveling jacks, which help level the RV on uneven ground. Ask the dealer to put the leveling jacks down so that you can see if they work.

Propane Look at the inspection tags on the propane tanks to make sure they are current. Also have the dealer turn on the propane so you can check for leaks. Make sure you don't hear a hissing sound and that there isn't a strong propane odor.

Heating and Cooling  Turn on the air conditioners and heaters, both the house ones and the driving ones, to make sure they all work. The air conditioners should all blow really cold, and the heaters should all blow really hot.

Have the dealer turn on the hot water heater, then turn on the kitchen and bathroom sink faucets and the shower faucet to make sure they are getting hot water. Also, check to see if they are draining properly. In addition, make sure the toilet is flushing properly and that it doesn't have a bad odor. Strong bad odors coming from the toilet may mean that the holding tanks are clogged or dirty. 
Turn on the refrigerator, stove, oven and any other appliances to make sure they all work properly. Appliances, such as the refrigerator, that work off propane, batteries or plugged-in electricity should be checked using each power source.
Mechanical Systems
Take the RV for a test drive at low and high speeds to see if it is mechanically sound. The vehicle should:
  • Start easily
  • Drive straight
  • Not overheat on hills or at high speed
  • Idle smoothly
  • Stop easily
Buying an RV is exciting. Chances are, you will have it for many years to come, so do your homework to make sure you make a wise purchase. This way, you will spend your time enjoying vacations instead of in the repair shop.

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