How to Inspect a Used Camper or Rv, Before You Buy.
2007 Monaco Camelot motorhome
A good Inspection can save you money in future repairs
The process of Purchasing a Used RV should always include a good inspection of the unit before you close any deal.
Regardless of what the Seller tells you, taking an hour or so to look for the most common motorhome problems can save you a lot of money by avoiding early and expensive failures.
You may have done your own due diligence by searching the web for your dream RV, and finally finding that perfect RV.
You probably even looked the RV up on NADA and the price is right where it should be for the unit you found. The pictures provided by the owner are really nice, and when you talked to the owner he may have even admitted he had a little flexibility in his pricing.
And, most importantly, the price itself fits right into your budget so you set up an appointment to show up and inspect the Rv yourself.
But as you're driving there you realize you have no idea what to look for when inspecting the RV. In this article, I cover the most common problem areas of a used RV that should be checked before any purchase.
Things to Inspect on the Outside of a Camper
You always want your Camper to look good on the Outside. Everyone does. It's a matter of pride to any RV owner that their unit is clean and neat looking when people drive by or walk by, even when you're just sitting in a campground.
But the outside can look good from 10-feet away, and the camper can still have some serious functional issues externally that should be checked.
Number of Axles
The construction of a Pop-Up, a Tag-Along or a Fifth-Wheel Camper will basically be a camper body sitting on from one to three axles.
Single-Axle- Many smaller Campers are sitting on a Single Axle. And, having a single axle camper is OK, until you have a Blow-Out somewhere. That is when some serious damage to the camper can occur.
So be sure to Inspect the tires for; Dry Rot on the sidewalls and cuts in the sidewalls, at least. And get the owner to pull a wheel and check that the wheel bearings are packed with grease and not dry.
Double Axle- With a larger, heavier camper the manufacturers will usually put two axles under the body. Using two axles is the more popular configuration for most trailers.So in addition to the inspections you should perform above, you should check that the camper's brakes are functional and that the brake pads and drums or disks are in good condition.
Triple Axle- once you get into the very large Campers, you will see many of them with triple axles under them. Again, you need to perform the inspections mentioned above but you also need to know the brand of Axle/Bearing/Brake systems were used by the manufacturer.
With three fixed axles under a Camper, every time it goes through a turn, the tires all try to grip the road at the same time and one or more of the sets of tires are going to slip and thus wear sooner.
Along with this extra wear on the tires, at the same time there is more stress placed on the bearings of all three axles in this battle for traction. So, there are a lot of triple axle campers out there with bad bearings and flat spots on the tires.
Ask questions of the owner and if you can, you should also go to your local Camper Service Center and ask their mechanic about the specific Camper you are looking at and any known problems with that brand/model.
Great RV Fiberglass Cleaner
I use this restorer on those areas that appear on my RV when it has small scratches and just dull spots.
More Exterior things to Inspect
Tow Hitch -
Examine the Tow hitch of the Camper and look for excessive Rust and any indications of excess stress such as bent frame/hitch areas. And, the tow hitch should slide easily onto the tow-ball and latch properly.
When negotiating, try to get such things as safety chains, power cable/connectors, even Reese levelers thrown in to the deal.
Look for the Safety Chain Tie points and check that they have not rusted or been bent. Also, ask if a set of Safety Chains are included with the Camper, and if they are, inspect them to assure that they are in good condition.
Chassis and Undercarriage -
Crawl under the Camper and inspect the Chassis and Undercarriage from front to rear. Look for rust or damage from road debris.
Also check that all Brake lines and light wiring is securely attached under the body and that none of these are loose as they can potentially drag on the road or catch on something.
While you are under the camper, carefully inspect the underside of the floor of the Camper. You should make sure that there is no obvious water damage to the floor or visible Rot in any wood that you can inspect.
Holding Tanks -
Again, while you are crawling around under a Camper that you are interested in, be sure to carefully inspect the Holding Tanks. Understandably, a small Pop-Up will not have holding tanks for Water or waste, but as you move into larger models of Tag-Along Campers, they will have holding tanks for Fresh Water and for Waste.
Check that none of these tanks have been damaged by road debris and that they have not had any visible leaks in the past. These tanks can be expensive to replace, so you want to make sure that they are in good condition.
Sewage and Fresh Water Connections -
If the Camper has holding tanks, it will also have a "Service Area", usually protected by a cover or door where the connections for Fresh Water and Sewage are located.
Check that the Service area is clean and that there have not been any obvious leaks around the connectors in the past.
Also, check that the Sewage Connector itself, is in good condition and that you will be able to connect to it when you need to dump the tanks. Ask the owner if he has the appropriate hoses and ask him to include them in the deal.
Other Exterior things to check
Camper Body -
The camper body itself should be in good condition and there should be no visible damage.
A dent might look like a small thing, but it can be covering structural damage to the frame, wiring or interior supports. So, if there is any visible damage, check them out carefully and question the owner about the source of the damage.
And, regardless of whether the exterior is vinyl, fiberglass, or metal, inspect it carefully and assure that all panels and side materials are firm and not loose.
Camper Roof -
Yes, you need to get onto the roof of the Camper.
It is very important that you get up there and check that there is no visible damage to the Roof itself as well as to any mounted Air Conditioners, Vent Fans, Vents, skylights, Antennas, etc.
All of these stick up above the roof and are susceptible to having tree limbs and wires catch onto them and damage them. Make sure that they are all firmly mounted and that they are not damaged in any way.
Then, probably the most important thing on the roof to examine is that there is fresh, uncracked or peeled-away sealant around all of those devices mounted onto the roof.
This flexible sealant is there to prevent water leakage into the camper itself, and it must be in excellent condition.
Damaged or missing sealant can be a sign of water damage somewhere inside the camper, and most people replace this sealant every two to three years in order to keep their Campers Leak-Free.
Windows and Seals -
While on the ground, you should walk around and inspect all of the windows on the Camper. First, make sure that none of the windows are cracked.
Places that repair or replace Camper windows are hard to find and the windows are not cheap or easy to replace.
Also, carefully examine the seals on all of the windows. The seals are usually a one-piece section of rubber gasket that joins at the bottom area of the window. Often, there will also be water drain holes in these gaskets.
Check that the gaskets are not cracked or damaged and that they fit tightly in their mounting area and around the window glass.
Thermal Windows - Some campers and Motorhomes will have thermal or dual pane windows for the added insulation value.
Well, sad to say, many manufacturers of campers found that their window seals could not hold up under the bouncing and shock of driving on and off roads, and their window seals eventually went bad and the windows slowly accumulated a milky coating between the panes of glass.
the only way to fix these windows is to replace them, so make sure that your windows, especially the thermal ones orea clear and show no signs of "going milky" around the edges.
Rear and Side Lights -
Always examine the Exterior Brake and Running lights. Look carefully for damaged lenses and that they are firmly mounted to the camper body.
And, later, before you close on a deal make the owner demonstrate that these lights work properly when the Camper is connected to your vehicle. Many camper bodys have grounding problems with their wiring and this shows up at the extremes of the wiring to the rear lights.
Spare Tire Storage -
Always make sure that the camper has a spare tire and that it is a good tire without dry rot or any other physical damage.
And,of course, make sure that the owner has the appropriate Jack and wrench for the camper when and if the need arises to change a flat.
External Battery -
Most Campers will have at least one 12-Volt Battery mounted somewhere, usually on the exterior front hitch frame or in a special compartment of the body.
The batteries are usually deep-discharge automobile batteries. You should check that the batteries are there and that they have water in them. Also, look for the date of installation on the battery and compare it with the expected life of the battery. Many rarely used campers will have batteries whose expected life is long past, but it might still look good when you glance at it.
If you can, check that the batteries will hold a charge, and most importantly, check that they are firmly mounted and will not move.
And, of course, if they are exterior batteries, examine the storage box and assure that it is not cracked and is firmly mounted to the camper.
Appliance and Storage Doors -
If your camper has internal appliances, such as a fridge, there will be at least one vented door on the exterior of the body directly behind the Fridge.
Check that all of the exterior compartment doors open and latch easily. You should inspect each exterior compartment and make sure that the area is not clogged with birds nest materials, squirrel nest materials or that any of the visible wiring or hoses have been chewed on by the local wildlife.
Propane Tanks -
Most campers today will have propane appliances inside such as the fridge itself as well as a multi-burner stove or a Hot Water Heater, etc.
These campers will have at least one and often two medium to large sized propane tanks mounted on them.Some of the larger units will have a compartment with the propane tank and its connectors inside this area.
The area should be inspected to assure that everything is firmly mounted and that the tank has the appropriate safety valves and controls on it.
On the other hand, many smaller campers will have the propane tanks mounted outside the camper and often on the hitch frame.
Any tanks must be inspected carefully for the following;
- Is the tank mounted firmly to the frame,
- Are the hoses connected to the tank firmly mounted and undamaged,
- Are all safety straps and gauges in good condition.
Also,ask the owner for the fitted exterior tank covers that should be on the propane tanks to protect them from the weather.
If the camper has awnings then each of these should be opened and carefully inspected for any rot, stains or tears to the awning material. And of course, make sure that the awnings are easily operated, open and closed, and that all latches are functional.
Leveling Scissor Jack Socket
I purchased one of these adapters after I had a leveling jack stick in the down position and ended up paying a local repair guy to use his to loosen the jack gearbox. Own one of these or pay up to $200 for a repair guy.
Yet more Exterior items to inspect
Camper Slides are very expensive to repair so if your potential purchase has any slides they must be checked for a number of potential problems.
First, with the slide closed, check that it is tightly sealed against the body, including along the top edge. Then, have the slides opened and check that the slide opens easily and all of the way. And, of course, these interior seals must fit tightly between the slide edges and the body of the camper.
These slide seals are water/weather seals and they must mate closely to the body, both opened and closed, or you can not only have water leaks but in extreme temperatures you will get a lot of air leakage.
Look around these seals for water damage and for gaskets that are loose and no longer attached to the slide and body. This is a common problem with a camper after it is as little as three or four years old. These gaskets take time and thus money to replace, so check them out.
It is usually hard to get to, but, if you can, go inside and check the top of the slide when it is closed and look for signs of "puddled" water which would indicate a slow leak.
Many slides have an awning over the top of the slide that opens when the slide is opened. This awning is there to reduce the chance of water blowing into the camper at the top edge, so be sure to check that it is in good condition and operates properly.
Slide Drives - Slides are driven by a relatively complicated systems to open or close the slides. And, these drive systems can and often do have problems. Check for the following;
Slide Gears - The gears on some slide can become loose at their mounting and this can cause the slid to jam or be misaligned. Look under the opened slide and check for loose mountings.
Slide Hydraulics - Many slides on older Rv's are driven by hydraulic systems and you should check for potential leaks along the hydraulic lines and at the hydraulic tank and pump. Also, the hydraulic tank should be filled and the fluid should be clear of any discoloring debris when you check it.
Overall, take the time to make sure that the slides are functioning properly and that they do not make strange noises when operated or that they "shudder" or hang up when operated. These can be signs of potential slide problems in the future.
Campers always need some type of stabilization system when it is parked and people are walking around inside them.
A Pop-Up camper might use four corner jacks that you slide under the camper and crank them up by hand until the camper is stable and relatively leveled.
A Tag-Along camper might have the same or it might have built-in jacks that fold or drop down and then can be leveled by hand.
Other larger campers might use the same as the tag-along or might even have a hydraulic or electrical leveling jack system that will automatically drop the jacks and level the camper once in a campsite.
Regardless of the system used, check that the manual jacks are there, and that they are not damaged, and that the points on the camper body where the jacks are to be used is not damaged where the jacks might slip or not work properly.
And with the automated systems, you should have the seller operate the system and assure that everything is functioning properly and that the camper stands firmly and level on the jacks when set up.
Just go inside, and walk around the leveled camper to make sure that the camper does not bounce with your movements. The camper floor should feel level and firm under your feet.
Things to Inspect on the inside
The interior of a Used RV needs to be inspected just as carefully at the exterior.
I recommend that you take a good flashlight with you for when you look into those dark corners and under things on the RV, and carry a few rags for cleaning your hands as well as to protect your pants and pad your knees when you are down and crawling around things.
Entrance Step and Door -
Many campers have a powered entrance step to make it easier to get into and from the camper. It should operate freely and latch into place when fully closed or extended. And when you step on it, the step should not bend or flex. It should feel firm when you apply your weight and not bend or slant.
The exterior door itself should be inspected to see if there have been water leaks around it, on the inside edge and bottom, in the past.
It should close firmly and latch easily when pressed closed. When opened, it should open easily and all of the way, and it should not drag or stick in any position.
the door latch and lock should operate properly and be sure that the owner gives you the keys to not only the door but also to any locking compartments on the inside or outside of the camper.
Camper Floor -
The Campers floor must be inspected very carefully.
Carpet- First off, don't get too concerned if it has carpet and the carpet is stained or worn. This tiny interior area of a camper that is carpeted gets a lot of punishment and a lot of dirt is ground into any carpet by people coming in with dirt on their shoes.
Also, spilled food and drinks will take their toll on the carpet if the camper is used very much at all. So, look at the carpet from the perspective of; "Will I Shampoo it, or will I get it replaced." Either option is not very expensive and you will end up shampooing often and replacing the carpet every three years or so, anyway.
Sub-Floor- What you really need to check out is the sub-floor of the camper. Take your time and walk all over the floor, sensing for any flex or softness in the floor, especially in front of the sink and entrance.
Many campers will have leaks. Generally they will be in the roof around roof-mounted items. And often, the owner had just left the ceiling vents open in the rain too many times and the floor ended up soaked and rot finally set in.
It only takes a few soaked sub-floors and you are definitely going to get wood rot and will eventually need to have the sub-floor replaced. This task can cost a lot more than a carpet replacement if you end up with a camper with a bad sub-floor, so check the floor out closely.
Other Interior Inspections
Once you get beyond the low-end pop-up camper, you will find that most have a fridge of some sort in the kitchen area.
For a pop-up ti could be a small, cooler-sized fridge that runs on your accessory battery.
On a large fifth-wheel or tag-along it can be a larger 2-door or 4-door fridge that runs on propane gas or 110-VAC that utilizes a 12-volt control system.
Fridge Walls- Open the doors of your fridge and using a flashlight inspect the interior walls carefully.
They should be flat and not cracked or have any areas where the wall either bulges or can be pressed in easily. One problem with some of these fridges is that they will freeze over at one time or another and the wall will either crack or a hole will appear near screws and mounts.
Once a fridge gets a wall crack, water (humidity) can creep into the thin layer of insulation behind the wall and this will in turn freeze and deform the walls even more.
Often this kind of problem will allow more moisture into the fridge where it can accumulate in the venting lines or around the fans.
These will cease to function and you can end up with a fridge that is so damaged that after a few hours (or sometimes a day or two) the fridge will stop cooling or as happened to me once, the electronic control system will blow a fuse or burn itself up.
Fridge Seals- These refrigerators, that are in campers, have a combination propane/electrical system that is not very robust, so you should check that the door has good seals that seat firmly all around when the door is closed, so that you do not get any exterior air into the fridge while it is operating.
And if you can have the owner turn the fridge ON for you the day before your inspection so you can assure yourself that it is cooling and freezing properly.
While the Fridge is operating the exterior fans should be running, the lnterior lights should come on when you open the door,and the cooling coils on the rear wall should be at least slightly cool after ten to fifteen minutes.
Cooking Range -
Most campers will have a propane range with from two to four burners.
Turn each of the burners ON and check that the starter provides spark to get a good flame at each burner.
Before anything else, with the propane turned off, sniff closely around the range and assure that you do not have any propane leaks.
Propane leaks are dangerous, and will have to be repaired.
Stovetop - At some point, lift the metal liners under the burners and inspect for not only cleanliness, but signs that there may have been burner fires at some time in the past and damage to the stove top itself or even the cabinetry under the stove top.
Stove Hood - Look up and over the stove itself and inspect the stove hood. Usually it will have a hooded light bulb and a metal mesh grease filter.
The bulb hood will be glass or plastic and it is there to protect the bulb from flames, and grease. A melted plastic bulb cover is not a good thing to find.
Remove the grease filter and look behind and the area should be clean and unblocked by any debris. Also, there should be a small fan there and you should check that the blade is not covered with grease and that it turns freely.
As a final check, turn the fan on and it should run freely and quietly.
Yet more Interior Inspections
Camper Ceiling -
Walk around the camper and carefully inspect the Ceiling. The ceiling can be made of a number of different materials but regardless or what is used, the ceiling should be clean and firmly mounted to the ceiling framing without any sagging areas.
If there are areas that are sagging from the roof this could be a sign of past water damage, so look carefully..
Check around every ceiling fan, vent frame, antenna crank, and even the ceiling lights. First make sure that each of these is mounted firmly but also check around the edges and assure that there are no discolorations or other indications of water leakage.
Inspect where the ceiling connects to the interior walls and cabinetry and that the ceiling and walls come together in nice clean lines and there are no gaps or discolorations of the ceiling at these junction points.
Remember, if your roof is going to leak, it is most likely going to be where a hole was cut into the roof to mount something through the roof to the interior. So, these will be the points that leaks will occur.
Often, you might see a streak of discoloration down a wall. Check these as they are probably caused by water leaks.
Cabinets and Walls -
Cabinets - Most campers have cabinets that have shelves. They are usually made of "pressed-wood" with a wood-grain laminate surface.
If there have been leaks in a cabinet then it has most likely damaged the interior walls of the cabinets or the shelves. So check for stains or even worse, swollen wood. These would be indicator of past water damage.
And, while in the cabinets inspect the wall areas for separation of wallpaper or stains that indicate past water damage.
Interior Walls - Once you are through with the cabinets, walk around the camper with your flashlight and carefully look for areas that might have the wallpaper separating from the wall or vertical stain lines. Each of these are signs of past water leaks along the walls.
Remember, camper walls with water stains may be an indicator of even further damage inside the walls.
Typically, the interior walls of a camper is made of laminates, plywood or multiple layers of synthetic materials made like a plywood that is attached to the structural metal frame of the camper. If these interior materials are damaged by water, this can be costly to repair.
Camper Roof AC
Sad tosay, your AC unit can go bad. On my last RV, It ended up being cheaper to replace one of my AC units than to repair it, and I selected one of these great units. I was totally satisfied.
Many campers have roof Air Conditioners. These are generally very similar and the majority are made by the same three manufacturers.
On the older campers they will be standard Air Conditioners while on the newer campers they could be the newer Heat Pump designs.
Either way, you need to check them out properly because to replace the typical Air Conditioner on a camper is going to run $600 to $1500 for the unit and possibly as much as $300 to $500 for labor and to dispose of the old one.
Air Conditioners - If the camper does have an Air Conditioner, you need to check it out carefully.
The first thing to do is have AC power connected to the camper and turn the Air Conditioner ON.
Be aware that when an AC is started it will draw as much as 12-15 Amps of SURGE current before it drops back to its lower 5-to-8-Amp running current.
If your camper has limited current capability, say only a 30-Amp service input and main breaker, the AC could have problems starting or it might kick the main breaker if other accessories are turned on and using too much of the available RV's power.
I suggest that you turn ON the Fridge, any TVs and other accessories, even the Hot Water Heater before you try to start the AC. This should be a really good check of the campers power system as well as the AC itself.
Once started, the AC should run relatively quietly. And, within a minute or two it should be putting out cold air from its vents. If it doesn't cool properly then it can be low on the Cooling gas used, or it could just be broken or old. Either problem can cost you a lot of money, especially of you have to replace a compressor in your Roof-Top AC.
You should pull the air filter cover and use your flashlight to inspect the interior of the AC. The inside should be clean and the wiring should be mounted firmly inside the AC, and there should not be any wire splices.
Look around and there should be a hose visible that is used for draining condensation from the AC. This is usually a clear plastic hose about a half-inch or more in diameter.
Inspect it to assure that there is no water backed up in the hose. It is designed to have any water drain through the hose and to the outside of the RV.
If there is debris inside the hose; like spider webs, insect nests, or whatever, the hose will likely be blocked and that condensation is going to drip into your compartment when the AC runs for a little while.
And, while you were on the roof, checking things out, you should have checked that the AC plastic cover is clean and not cracked.
And, there should have been no water standing around the outer edges of the AC unit itself. This is a condition just inviting a leak into the cabin.
RV and Camper Fuses - 12VDC
All Rv's today use automotive fuses, and you do not want to be caught without replacement fuses when one blows. I keep this pack in my RV parts box.
Electrical and Electronic Equipment
Breakers and Fuses -
Fuse Panels - If you have electricity in a camper, and especially if you have electrical accessories on and in a camper then you are going to have fuses and even circuit breakers installed by the manufacturer to protect the accessories, the camper itself and the operator or user of the camper from harm.
Circuit Breakers - With the larger and more complicated RVs, there will be more fuses and breakers installed which should be checked during your inspection.
Some campers will only have a simple panel of automobile-style fuses placed inside the camper for easy access.
Some will have such a fuse panel as well as a bank of circuit breakers for managing the AC and DC current that runs those large appliances like Air Conditioners, refrigerators and some lights.
And, if you do have AC power and a DC Battery bank, along with a Power Inverter, then there are probably a pair of DC Master Breakers (Cut-Off switches) for use when the owner want to store the camper and not drain the batteries or draw current when things are shut down.
Usually these are in Class-C, Class-B and Class-A motorhomes that have their power systems split and labeled COACH and CHASSIS.
Using the Coach breaker can reduce current drain on the batteries used for the coach or interior DC electrical systems when the motorhome is being driven on the open road.
The Chassis breaker can be used when the motorhome is sitting at a campsite or is to be stored, and avoids having the Chassis batteries depleted by electrical accessories when the motorhome is not being driven.
RV Video Distribution Control Box
I had an older motorhome and the built-in amplifier was not designed for digital TV signals, so I purchased this one and it really helped my Tv signal levels.
Damaged wiring - You need to inspect these electrical systems and the compartment areas where they are mounted for possible fire or heat damage.
And, you need to make sure that all of the visible wiring is firmly mounted, well marked, and that there are no ugly wire splices visible.
Bad or illegal splicing of wires can be an indicator that someone has been either repairing bad wiring or even worse, they have been adding things to the coach and possibly wired it into the camper system improperly.
Electronics - These days campers have a myriad of electronic devices in them, from TV's to stereos, to built-in electronics designed to make your camping experience more fun. Each fo these devices should be turned on and checked that they operate properly. Especially the larger ad more expensive ones.
If you just glance at a TV in the bedroom of a camper and don't check it, you could have a bad TV, or a bad TV antenna, or a bad Video distribution box. None of which is cheap to replace or easy to install.
So, I suggest that you take the time to make sure each and every one of these device operates properly.
Other Items to Inspect - Of course, I cannot list all of the things that are possibly installed in and on a camper that you need to inspect, but what you have here is a pretty good start.
If you are looking at a used camper, take the time to print this list out and use it when you walk through your inspection of your potential purchase.
Take the time up front and you can avoid a lot of painful surprises later.
Closing the Deal
Of course, the owner of a used camper is going to get a little nervous when you take the time to walk through this long list of items inspecting them one by one.
But, think of it this way, the more of these items that exist on the camper the higher the price will be for the camper, so you really need to make sure that they all operate properly.
And, your list of things that are not working, are damaged, or even potentially damaged is a great bargaining chip for you.
Usually, the owner of a camper is ready to get rid of it, and when he sees that you know what you are doing, he is going to be more acceptable of your making a counter-offer that is lower than his asking price.
That is all part of the bargaining that will go on, if you want to get a good deal. Of course, your counter-offer will be based on your taking the time to know which of the items on your inspection list you can fix relatively cheaply and easily versus the ones that you know will require a trip to a service shop.
And, one other thing, try to get some kind of warranty from the owner. It doesn;t matter if it is a private owner or a dealer. try to get a warranty.
Where a dealer might give you a thirty day 100% or 50-50 warranty, you might not get that from a private owner, but you might get a 1-week to 1-month 50%-50% warranty on parts for example.
Regardless, a reputable dealer should give you a decent guarantee that everything works properly at least for your first camping trip in the camper. I don't know of any dealer who doesn't check out every trade-in to assure that it works properly anyway.
In the end, it is you that must make sure that you have a quality unit and that you are comfortable with it's condition when you drive or tow it home.
WARNING! And as a warning, i need to tell you that extreme care sould be taken when checking a camper out. A camper can be a dangerous thing and harm is possible when you are near or in one.
DISCLAIMER: So, this list is a good set of suggestions for inspecting a camper to make sure that it is the one for you
At the same time, as the author, I assume absolutely NO RESPONSIBILITY for any harm that might occur to the reader or anyone else if they use my suggestions listed here.
Inspect for Water damage
Inspecting for Water Damage
Used Camper inspection for pets and water damage
DIY Water Heater Maintenance
Camper Roof Repair and Vent Maintenance
© 2013 Don Bobbitt