The Ultimate RV Buying Checklist

If you've followed along in our RV 101 series, you know that there are a lot of issues to consider when buying an RV. This checklist is designed to help you buy the right rig the first time.

If you haven't read the earlier posts in our series, I recommend you go back and work through the process. The articles will help you know exactly what you are looking for, so this checklist will make complete sense.

RV 101 - So You Want To Be An RVer?

RV 101 - How To Choose The Perfect RV

RV 101 - Types of RV's

RV 101 - Tips For Buying Your First RV

RV 101 - Tips For Buying A Used RV

In this article, we will take a look at the questions you should be asking when you inspect a potential RV for purchase. These questions apply to both a new or used recreational vehicle and will help you determine if a rig is right for you.

At the end of the article, I share a downloadable checklist to take with you when you inspect RV's. Don't forget to keep it in your car or on your phone. It will save you a ton of hassle.

Remember, RV's vary by type, so not every question or process will apply to every model. Use common sense and take action where necessary.

Consider:

  • How many miles are on the unit? Is that average, low or high for this model?

  • If the RV has an engine, you will want a complete inspection and you will also want full records. When was the oil changed last? What types of services were performed and when? The more info, the better.

  • Take time to look at the gauges. Do they work? Do the lights operate on the dashboard? Is there a Jake brake? Sit in the seat and take a minute to feel the cockpit. What is visibility like?

  • If it's a towable, is the trailer jack operational?

  • What is the date on the propane bottles? Do they need an inspection? Propane bottles have a limited life and expire. In most cases, they are good for 10-12 years.

  • When the tanks expire, they must be re-certified. Be sure to check the tanks on both new and used RV's.

  • Look for the overfill protection device on the propane bottle. Is it there? Propane tanks must have the OPD valve to be safe.

  • How big are the propane tanks? Are they large enough for your usage? If you plan to Boondock, will you have to upgrade? If so, is there enough space to hold a larger tank?

  • Check the hoses leading to and from the propane bottles. Are there any leaks or cracks? Do the nuts and screws need replacing?

  • Is the propane regulator working? LP Gas regulators begin to leak at 10 years of age and leaking propane is unsafe. Make sure there are no issues.

  • Check the date on the RV battery. Make sure the battery still works. Even new RV's can have dead or almost dead batteries. Turn on the lights within the rig. Are they burning bright (when the rig is not plugged in)? If the lights are bright, your battery may be ok. It's always best to run a test. Batteries can be expensive.

  • Does the converter work? The converter takes the energy from your battery and turns it into 12 volts, so that your inside appliances operate. It's best to run a test. Unhook the RV battery, then plug in the RV electrical cord. If the 12 volt lights and water pump are still working fine, then the rig's converter is operational.

  • Does the stabilizer work? Does it move up and down without a hassle? Tire stabilizers will help your rig stand up against strong winds when parked.

  • Look at the tires. Tires on big rigs are expensive (sometimes thousands of dollars)! Check the tires for splits or cracks. Look at the code on the tires for the actual manufacturer date of production. You can find this by uncoding the digits on the side. For more information on how to read a tire CLICK HERE: http://www.belletire.com/how-to-read-a-tire-sidewall.

  • How are the brakes? Check the brakes during a test drive. If testing a towed RV, hook it up and test drive it. Brakes are expensive, but they also save lives. I recommend having a professional look at your brakes to assure everything is in working order.

  • Open and close the outside compartments and make sure you notice the seals. Does the gasket need to be replaced? Are there leaks inside the storage where moisture has entered?

  • Spend time looking inside the under coach storage. Can you fit everything you plan to travel with? Does the storage compartment lock? Do they slide in and out or remain stable (this can be an issue with some units). If there are drawer slides in the compartments, do they work? Would you keep or remove them?

  • Open and close all the windows, screens and vents. Are all the screens there? What shape are the screens in? Do the vents work? Are the fans running when open?

  • If the hot water runs on propane, test it and see if it works. If the RV features an Aqua Hot system, call a local Aqua Hot dealer and ask the best way to test the system. Aqua Hot is a system within itself. Take some time to find out the best way to examine it.

  • Check the air conditioning. How long does it take to blow cold air? How many air conditioners does the rig have? Many people skimp, having only one unit installed on a rig that needs two or three. The result is an RV that never gets below 80 and burns through electricity. Check this before it's hot! Look for ducts throughout the rig, not just in one spot.

  • Test the fridge. Does it have both gas and electric settings? If so, test both settings. Use a fridge thermometer to see if it is bringing the unit to the correct temperature. If the RV has a residential fridge, be sure to test the temp in both the fridge and freezer section. Also, check to see how the fridge mounts to the floor. Make sure a large refrigerator is secure.

  • Check the water pump. Does it work? Is it loud?

  • Sit on the toilet. Do your legs have enough space?

  • Flush the toilet. Look for leaks around the base or evidence of past leaks. If a rig has spent time in storage, seals can dry out and cause a toilet to leak into the floor. Watch for evidence of prior issues.

  • How large are the water tanks? How much fresh water can you take? Is it enough? How large are the gray and black tanks? If you plan to Boondock, will they be big enough for you to live off grid?

  • Fill the water tanks. Connect the RV to a sewer drain and open and close the RV waste water drains. Look for leaks. Examine the compartment where the sewage hose is. This is a good way to discover how this RV has been treated. Do a complete dump and watch for leaks or cracks in any of the components. This is important. If the black water tank has a toilet paper build-up, you won't know until you perform a full dump.

  • Look for soft spots on the floor, especially in the bathroom.

  • Check for soft spots in the walls or places where there may be mold or peeling.

  • Is there a washer/dryer unit? Does it work? Where does the dryer vent?

  • Check the oven and range. Does it work? Does everything heat up to temperature?

  • Open and close all cabinets and drawers. Do they latch? Are the doors loose? If your cabinets and drawers aren't secure, you might have stuff flying all over the rig as you travel.

  • Look at the curtains and blinds. What is the condition? Is there mold? Can the curtains be replaced if needed?

  • Test all internal and external lights. External lights include running lights, rear tail lights, signals and hazards. Make sure the brake lights work, along with the backup lights. If there is an issue, determine whether it's the bulb or an electrical issue. Internal lights can run hot if not LED. Look for evidence of heat burns.

  • Test exhaust fans near the cooking range, bathroom and shower. Does the air actually move out or does it just swirl around remaining in the rig?

  • Test the TV's. Crank up the antenna and see if it is easy to use. Is it a digital antenna?

  • Consider the floor plan of the rig. Imagine where everyone will sleep, eat, school or travel. Is there space for your animals? Is there enough seating space?

  • Check the slide outs. Move them in and out. Listen for sounds. Inspect the seals. Slides are the number one repair issue in an RV and they are also expensive to repair.

  • Look at the closet space. Is there enough? Where will you put your storage, clothes? Is there enough drawer space? Imagine where you will put your day-to-day items.

  • Consider the kitchen top to bottom. Is the fridge big enough? Is there enough counter space for cooking a meal? Can you fit a plate or pot into the sink? Are their cabinets for pots and pans? Where do you store your food? Are the cabinets spread out or are they actually useful?

  • Can you reach the microwave? Can you reach the upper cabinets and see inside?

  • Where is the dinette? Is there good flow or do you feel awkward moving back and forth between the sink, fridge, stove and table? Can you seat your entire family?

  • Is the dinette usable for a desk? Is there a spot for your computer?

  • Do you like the layout of the bathroom? Is there enough toiletry storage? Do you have the access and the privacy you need?

  • Can you stand up in the shower? How is the head room? Do you like the shower head? Climb into the shower and test it out.

  • Lay on the bed. How does it feel? Do you have enough space for both your head and your feet? Is the bed long enough and wide enough? Can you walk around the entire bed? How easy is it to access the under bed storage?

  • If the RV has bunks, climb them and check out the length, width and height.

  • If the RV has a convertible dining/sofa combination, take the time to make it into a bed. How easy is the process? How comfortable is the bed?

  • Look around the interior. Do you like where the windows are? Is there an emergency exit window? Is the TV in a good place for viewing? Does the space have flow or is it broken up into uncomfortable chunks? Only you can decide what works best for your family.
    â—¾Examine the furniture. Do you like it? Would you replace it? How hard will it be to get old furniture out and new furniture in the door? If you have to change appliances, can you get a fridge in and out without using the windows?

  • Is the RV too big or too small ? Does it have the ability to camp the way YOU want to?

  • If you are buying a motorcoach, drive it before you buy it. Check the brakes, mirror, lights and visibility.

  • If you are buying a Towable, hook it up and pull it with your truck.

  • What are the weight limits for the unit? If fully loaded, how much can you tow?

  • Is the unit made of aluminum or fiberglass? How hard is it to keep clean? How well is the RV constructed? What is the warranty? Can you still buy an extended warranty? Do you need 30 or 50 amp hook ups? Does it come with dogbone adapters (so you can use either if necessary)?

  • Do you need a generator? If the RV has a generator, you will need a full inspection. It's important to make sure it's in good working condition. Look at the log located on the generator. This should tell you how long it has run. Fire it up and see how loud it is.

  • Inspect the roof. Look for cracks and leaks. Examine any holes for wire access.

  • Inspect the awning. Pull it out and look for mold, leaks, or any place, it may interfere with the windows or the storage compartments.

    Whew! That's a lot of information and I have probably missed a few thousand things. Don't be overwhelmed. Take the time to look at each rig and walk through the process. If you like what you see, hire an independent inspector to double check.

    Remember, this is a huge investment and unfortunately, it will not go up in value. The most important thing you can do is buy the right rig the first time around. I highly recommend seeking professional help for at least your first RV. You can locate someone in your area by visiting the website: https://nrvia.org/locate/.

    If you want to read more about the inspection process, you might enjoy the book:

    Buying A Used Motorhome - How to Get The Most For Your Money And Not Get Burned by Bill Myers.

    I found this book to be helpful when looking at both new and used RV's. While the paperback is $13, I was able to download the Amazon Kindle version for a mere $2.99 and take it with me. SCORE.

    If you plan on buying an Airstream, I recommend the book:

    How to Buy An Airstream by C.S. Michael. This book covers new, used and vintage Airstream trailers. It is only available on Kindle and is currently just $6.99

    Before you go shopping, here is the link I promised! These two checklists will help you make sure to check the same things each time you look at a rig.

    CLICK HERE http://www.rv.org/enc6969.pdf

    CLICK HERE http://changingears.com/rv-checklist-getting-started.shtml?sec-checklist

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    That's it! Those are my top 10 tips for buying an RV. Oh, and don't forget to test drive the unit. I guess that's an obvious one, right?

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