How Can You Know When A Used RV Is A Good Buy?

Whether you've planned for years to use a recreational vehicle (RV) to travel the country in retirement, or are simply looking at an RV as a way to create memories with your young children during family vacations, you may be wondering where to begin the shopping process. While used RVs are available at a much lower cost than new ones, how can you be sure you're getting a good deal on a used vehicle? What should you look for to avoid a "lemon"? Read on for some tips and information to help guide you during this process.

Why is shopping for a used RV different from shopping for a used car?

If you're already familiar with the process of shopping for (and inspecting) a used car, you may feel that tailoring this process to your RV search should be simple. A quick look at the engine, a slide beneath the chassis to inspect for any puddles or leaks, and a test-drive seem likely to uncover any major complications awaiting you.  

However, due to an RV's larger, more complex engine and drivetrain -- not to mention the fixtures and furniture within its interior -- there are a number of components you'll need to carefully inspect before signing a purchase agreement. Failure to do your due diligence before buying could have your RV in the shop undergoing expensive repairs before you've even embarked upon your inaugural road trip.

What should you look for when inspecting a used RV?

  • Mechanical soundness

When you've found an RV in which you're very interested, you'll likely want to bring along a mechanic -- or at least a mechanically-minded friend or relative -- for a thorough inspection of the engine, transmission, and other mechanical components that keep an RV in good running condition. 

This person will need to check all the engine's hoses and fittings to ensure they're tight and free from cracks, pitting, or other damage. He or she will also want to check to ensure the air filter is present (and functional), and that there is an adequate amount of clean oil in the engine. While a dirty air filter or oil dipstick aren't indicators of damage by themselves, when a vehicle is being sold with dirty oil or a clogged air filter, you may need to do a bit more digging to determine whether these factors point to the desire for a quick sale or mere neglect.

  • Interior comfort

Once you've ensured that this RV is mechanically sound (or that the problems identified are easily and inexpensively repaired), you'll need to take a look beyond the engine and transmission to the "recreational" part of the RV. As with a home, the RV's plumbing and electrical components are key to your family's ability to safety and enjoyment. 

While the RV is hooked up to a source of water, run the faucets to see if the water is clear (cloudy or dirty water could indicate corrosion in the pipes). You'll also want to check beneath the RV just after you've had the tap running to ensure that your pipes aren't leaking. You may want to flush the chemical toilet a few times to ensure that there is a working water connection. 

To get an idea of the maximum capacity of the RV's system, you'll want to power on as many components as you can -- testing the refrigerator, microwave, overhead lights, radio, retractable stairs, and all other powered appliances. Knowing that your RV can perform well under competing power demands should help you ensure that its electrical system is in good shape and ready for many more years of use. If you notice flickering lights, odd noises, or strange smells, you could be dealing with a hidden electrical problem. 

Contact local professionals, such as, when you're ready to begin your foray into the RV world.