Here is what we learned to ask before buying any used RV.
When we bought our first RV, “Franklin”, two and a half years ago, we were less than equipped to be RV shopping. In fact, before buying Franklin, we only looked at one other Class C motorhome.
The other used RV threw up a lot of red flags. It had blatant water damage, had been in storage for years, and the man selling it couldn’t answer our questions easily. We knew these were bad signs, but other than calling Heath’s grandpa every five minutes for advice, we couldn’t find a clear answer for what questions to ask and what we should know before buying an RV.
Here are 11 questions and tips to consider before buying a used RV:
1. Does the person showing you the RV actually own it?
First and foremost, make sure your contact is actually the owner of the RV. The first Class C motorhome we looked at was shown to us by the father of the man who owned the rig. He didn’t know any answers to our questions nor did he have any control over the cost of the RV. He wasn’t able to tell us how it was stored, how often it had been driven, or show us any of the maintenance records.
Unless the owner is deceased or you’re buying from a used RV dealer, make sure you are able to ask questions about the RV directly with the owner.
2. How many people have owned this RV, and how often have they driven it?
We were the fourth owners of Franklin. An older man bought him new, then a younger guy owned him for less than two years, then a family of four used it for regular camping trips. We purchased the rig from the family after they relocated from California to Texas.
Here’s how we knew this was a good sign:
A) the rig had made it from California to Texas and was still running, and
B) the owners have kids, which meant they would be more careful in maintaining a rig trusted to drive their little ones.
Plus, judging from our conversations, it was apparent that they used the rig multiple times a year. This meant it was most likely regularly serviced. When buying a used RV, lower mileage isn’t necessarily a good thing. When someone is driving an RV fairly often it means it’s being kept up and maintenance. Lower mileage when buying a used RV could mean it’s been sitting in an empty lot somewhere and you can wind up with a lot of issues.
3. Do they have maintenance records?
Maintenance records are the holy grail of buying a used RV. We were instantly told that the transmission was replaced in 2012 and that the cab of the RV sustained major leak damage and was fully replaced.
Every previous owner of the RV had meticulously documented all of the maintenance records. This showed us that they were responsible enough to have things fixed (as well as keep the records) and gave us confidence knowing things had been kept up.
4. How many miles are on the tires and when were they last replaced?
If you attain maintenance records from the previous owner, you can probably learn this easily.
This is especially important if you’re looking at buying a used Class A RV. Class A rigs have extremely expensive tires and replacing them is akin to a college tuition. This summer, we noticed that due to an alignment issue from the factory, our front two tires were wearing unevenly and needed to be replaced immediately. Fortunately, this was all under warranty because the bill came to a whopping $300/tire. Ugh. Check the tires carefully! This is less of an issue with Class C’s, B’s, or trailers that have similar tires to trucks.
Even if you don’t know much about tires, checking the tread is quite easy. Do they look worn out and have sun damage? If so, they probably don’t have much life left in them. Do some research on how much it would cost to replace all necessary tires and then ask for that amount discounted from the price of the RV.
5. Check EVERYWHERE for water damage.
Inspect the roof and around all windows. Press on the walls and feel for soft spots that may indicate previous or continuous water damage. Water damage–in my opinion–is the number one reason not to buy a used RV. If it has water damage, save yourself now and do not buy it.
The reason why? Often times it’s hard to see exactly how bad the water damage is until you start digging into the wall. One little soft spot could actually be much more damage than you realize.
After buying our RV, we found a soft spot in the bottom left corner of a window, back behind the dining room chair. It was impossible to spot since the chair consistently blocked this area, but after a major rainstorm in Nebraska, we noticed a small puddle of water on the floor. This leak became a constant headache for us and a major lesson in properly sealing the RV. (We highly recommend all RVers travel with Eternabond tape, the sealant of the gods.)
6. Press all the buttons.
Turn on the engine (when applicable). Turn on every light. Check the clearance lights and brake lights outside. Turn on the generator (when applicable). Level the jacks. Turn on the hot water heater. Try the water pump. Turn on all the faucets. Test every feature to make sure they work. The last thing you want is to boondock one weekend and find out your water pump is broken.
7. Stand in the shower.
I’m actually serious on this one. I never showered in Franklin unless it was a necessity. The shower was way too small to be comfortable. Plus, my first shower experience was less than stellar and I hereby swore off the shower from then on. Stand in the shower and see if you can handle it. While it may sound vain now, you’ll be glad to have a rig with a good shower after three months out on the road, trust me.
8. Check under the unit for damage, rust, etc.
On Franklin, we (mostly Heath, ahem) scraped our backend on so many sloped driveways that we busted the metal wheels designed to keep your back end from dragging. The wheels were nothing but semi-circles when we sold our RV. While not a deal breaker for the buyer, be sure to take note of the undercarriage of the RV and how it’s been taken care of. Look for rust, cracks, blatantly broken wheels, etc.
9. Ask what animals have lived in the RV and for how long.
Heath is very allergic to cats, so this is a must for us. You can usually pick up on this from smells, but it’s imperative to ask if you have allergies. I also always ask about smokers, since I’m allergic to smoke.
10. Ask for a test drive.
Most owners will let you take the rig for a test drive. If they don’t, do not buy it. Major red flag. Take the rig on open roads (especially if this is your first time driving an RV!) and gun it. See how the rig handles various speeds, how it handles turns, braking, swerving, etc.
Plus, see how you handle driving it. Does it feel much too big for you, or something you can adjust to? If you plan on taking the rig to national parks with mountains, take it up a few hills and listen to the engine (specific to motorhomes). Does it get too hot or whine in protest? Remember that the rig you test drive is likely empty and will be much heavier when it’s carrying all your belongings, family, and full water tanks.
Listen (or have whoever looks at the rig with you listen) for things that are rattling and moving while the rig moves. While not a deal breaker, this can be frustrating. I do know one couple who purchased a Thor and had an entire cabinet detach from the ceiling and crash to the ground while they were driving. So listening to these noises can be important!
11. Ask for an inspection.
Worth every penny–and likely less than $200. Ask the owner if you can have the rig professionally inspected before buying. We didn’t buy a truck camper because we made this request and were vehemently denied. If the owner isn’t hiding anything, they’ll likely acquiesce. This is good mostly for your peace of mind about buying a used RV. If your rig passes the third-party inspection, I’d say you’re ready to start negotiating on the price. Which I know nothing about, cause I make Heath do all that stuff.
If you’re still trying to figure out what type of RV will suit you and your family’s needs, you can read this post called “What RV Should I Buy”. This post breaks down the difference between Class A RV’s, Class C RV’s, fifth wheels, and more.Other Things to Consider:
- Size and where you plan on taking the RV for adventures
- Layout and if it fits your family’s needs
- Towing—does the towing capacity of the motorhome able to tow your family car? Is this trailer too heavy to be towed by your truck?
- How much will you use this rig? Is it a full-time home, or a weekend camper?
Want more tips for what to look for when shopping for an RV?
This post is an excerpt from my latest book, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-time RVing Across America. This book answers all your full-time RVing questions from how to get mail and internet on the road to how to pick the right RV for you.