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Pre-Purchase Inspections

The first recreational vehicle we purchase has an important bearing on our enjoyment of the RV lifestyle. This is even truer when it is to be our retirement home for several years. If we bought a “lemon,” and certainly if we got juiced twice when the dealer worked out a solution, the whole dream melted away. If only we had hired someone to check it out first (gosh, we did that when we bought our home).

Since pre-purchase inspections are not routine, we wind up searching for someone to carry out this role. RV dealers, like auto dealers, generally do not suggest or support this inspection process. Until recently, there was no organized training and review process in place for RV inspectors; now there is NRVIA.org.

Important points to look for in a Pre-Purchase Inspection (or “PPI” as we industry insiders say):
1. Fit and Finish: Open and close all doors, drawers and windows. Check for proper latching. Doors often get out of balance during transport from the manufacturer to the dealer, or as a result of a collision, and require re-adjustment.

2. Operate all heating and cooling systems. Check that air flow is adequate from all vents. A kinked line can greatly minimize air flow and should be corrected. Heating systems are usually pretty reliable but air conditioners often have issues. Since most camping is done in the summer months, make sure the A/C is blowing strong and cold. Let it run for a minimum of ten minutes. The RV should be noticeably cooler in that time.

3. Electronics: Turn on the TV, the stereo, GPS, and test all buttons. Turn on the microwave, dishwasher, refrigerator and washer/dryer. Even if it is new, do not assume everything is working--or even hooked up!

4. Plumbing: Most systems are dry at the dealer and there is not much you can do to test it, but leaks are not uncommon on first time trips. Once you get set up for the first time with water, check under the sinks and under the RV itself for any signs of leakage. You do not want to discover a leak the week after it starts. It is best to have the previous owner (or dealer) hook up the water and electricity for you to test...before you buy.

5. Leveling systems: More and more RVs are equipped with hydraulic jacks. Their reliability is excellent but test them several times to ensure they extend and retract smoothly. Now is the time to ask questions and learn how they operate.

6. Slideouts: Always open and close the slideouts several times. Listen for bumps or grinding. Have someone operate the slides while you watch them from underneath. They should travel freely both ways without hesitation. Any “catching” or rough spots should be addressed immediately by the previous owner (or dealer).

7. Roofing: Roofs on RV’s today are pretty good but leaks are quite common on used vehicles. If the leak drains into interior walls, think mold and rot - almost impossible to clean up. Give the roof a good visual inspection. Look for gouges, cuts, and tears, anything that may enable water to access the interior. Check the trim around the perimeter of the roof for loose or missing areas.

8. Tire Condition: Most RVs sit for weeks or months on a sales lot (FSBO or dealer). Check for checks, cracks or splits close to the rims. Read the manufacturer's date stamp on each tire. Ten years from that date for motorhomes or seven for trailers signals replacement time. This is the simplest part of a PPI but may have the largest impact on your safety.

Click here for a checklist (PDF) of inspection points. If a certified inspector is not available in your area, hire a mobile RV repairperson to complete this list; any RV/truck repair shop works too. Do not purchase an RV of any shape or size without an inspection by an independent source.











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