How To Spot A Lemon When Shopping Used RVs

The For Sale sign is on the front lawn and you’re eager to launch that Nomadic lifestyle you’ve always dreamed about.  And if you are like Q and me, you have undoubtedly racked your brain about what this “mobile” existence is going to look like.  With health challenges and appointment schedules, Q and I knew our appetite for travel and the need to relocate spontaneously had to be coupled with comfort and the ability to return to Ontario, our home province, at a moments notice.  We quickly realised our Nomadic dream would have us migrating across North America (opposed to overseas).

With the where now decided, our biggest obstacle we now faced was the how.  How were we going to travel this continent with the much-needed amenities of home?  As I said, my health makes many demands including the essential rest and relaxation required to maintain wellness.  Taking into consideration the comforts needed for myself plus enough space for Q to continue working, our choice to travel in a recreational vehicle was an obvious conclusion.  The “comforts” would be at our fingertips whenever needed and could be as luxurious or simplistic as our hearts and wallets desired.

Once you know the where and how the next logical step is, what type of RV and should it be new or used?  I’ll save the “type” of RV we selected for a later post.  And although we picked new for our purchase, we gained valuable insight into identifying a “good,” used RV.  Good implying it may not be pretty because it’s dated and/or old, but it will get you from point A, to point B, to point C.  You get my point (pun intended)?  Knowing we couldn’t just keep this information to ourselves, here then are 10 tips to help identify a lemon on the used RV lot (or neighbour’s back yard).

used rv checklist
examine floor for dips and cracks
  1. DO NOT purchase an RV over the internet by photos only.  Anything can look good with the right lighting and any issues with the RV will purposely not be photographed.   You cannot, I repeat cannot assess the condition of any vehicle via the world-wide web alone.

    used rv checklist
    examine floors around toilets, sinks and corners
  2. Walk around the entire inside of the RV feeling the floor as you step.  Does it give at all?  Does it feel soft or spongy?  Be sure to test around the toilet and sinks and in corners.  Floors that give could indicate a structural problem.  Floors that are spongy or soft could be the result of water damage.
  3. Touch and push on each outside wall from the inside of the RV.  Push up on the ceiling.  Both should be solid and without movement and should not feel squishy.  Too much give or mushiness and there is more than likely water damage in that area.
  4. Lift ceiling cabinet doors, and investigate the seam where the wall and ceiling meet.  Use a flashlight and see if you can see any dark markings, a possible sign of mould and thus water damage.  Repeat this exercise with all ceiling/wall cabinets and bathroom/kitchen cabinets.  For the latter look within the cabinet itself, not only the wall for traces of mould.

    used rv checklist
    check ceiling and walls
  5. Are there any cracks in the floor or inside walls of the RV?  In some cases, it might just be the linoleum and not the physical floor itself.  Without inspection and at times even with it, it may be hard to ascertain if a floor crack is an aesthetic or structural problem.  Cracked walls typically indicate a structural issue and can be expensive to fix if a fix is possible at all.

    used rv checklist
    check inside cabinets
  6. Examine the outside corners by peeling back the rubber seal where the two walls meet.  If the screws beneath the seal are rusted there is water damage in this area of the coach.  If there is obvious caulking where the roof and walls meet this is usually a sign the owner has attempted to prevent water damage and not necessarily indicative of a leak.
  7. Inspect the surface of all outside walls.  If the skin of the RV, which is typically bonded fibreglass with luan plywood, is bulged or cracked there has been some structural and/or water damage to the vehicle.  This is called delamination and is extremely expensive to fix, again if a fix is even possible.

    used rv checklist
    examine bonding on outside walls
  8. Inspect the roof.  Yep, if possible climb up on it or at the very least inspect from a ladder.  Cracks in the roof are a serious, structural issue that can take lots of money to correct.
  9. Test all pop-outs to ensure the mechanisms work.  Note the position of the pop-out when fully extended.  Do they seem to naturally lean or sink at the outside corners?  Large pop-outs with heavy equipment inside them (fridge, stove) used to cause problems in older RVs.  A leaning “pop-out” of Pisa may indicate an issue.

    used rv checklist
    ensure appliances are working
  10. Lastly, you wouldn’t buy a tv without turning it on at the store and checking out its features and picture quality.  The same should hold true for every electronic sold with a used RV.  Although televisions are easily replaced and do not indicate an issue with the RV itself, refrigerators and stoves can be expensive to repurchase.  A defective appliance shouldn’t prevent you from purchasing the RV, but will definitely help in negotiation.

And of course, if the RV is also motorized (think Class A, B and C RVs), obviously you will need to inspect the actual vehicle as well – something a mechanic can help with.  Once you’re satisfied the RV is in good condition, I would recommend you spend some time in it to make sure it “feels” right to you.  Kind of like buying a house.  Imagine where your Christmas tree will go, or better yet the golf clubs.

Now you are ready for the open road and wherever your Nomadic life may take you.  Bon Voyage!

~ True North Nomad

Have any pointers on what to look for when buying a used recreational vehicle?  Tell us in the comments below.

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24 thoughts on “How To Spot A Lemon When Shopping Used RVs

  1. Excellent advice, when I bought my first motorhome, I treated it like I was buying my first home. Which was one in the same.

    I looked and looked, comparing models, brands and styles. Asking questions, picturing myself in it. Pros and cons, till I found a 1982 Southwind 1 owner low miles and a good price.

    Lived and traveled in it for three years with little maintenance. Could even parallel park it, when necessary.

    Will be renting one shortly, to see if it’s worth doing all over again.

    Enjoy your posts, keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is so exciting buying your first RV – we are in the process of purchasing ours for our full-timing adventures. I’m sure once you’re out with that rental you’ll want another bad!! Take care my friend and thanks for dropping by!


  2. Good post! We are about to list our travel trailer (Casita purchased new in 2010) and this gives me a clue what to expect when prospective buyers arrive. We’ll have a ladder handy for roof checking! We’re moving up to larger and higher quality on multiple levels – this time a new Airstream, expected to be our ever-more trailer. We’re not full-timers, but we spend multiple weeks at a time on the roll, and so appreciate comfortable rest on the spur of the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Airstreams are very cool… and modern – I’m sure you’ll be very happy with them. Full-timers or not – you definitely need the comfort. Well I do at least 😉 Take care and thanks for dropping by!


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