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What to Look for When Buying a Used RV? (10 Red Flags)

| Updated Oct 29, 2023

Here's what to look for when buying a used RV, including the red flags to watch out for!…

Buying a used RV can be a great way to save money, but it's important to thoroughly inspect the vehicle before making a purchase. Like buying a house, there can be hidden problems or less-than-ethical sellers you'll need to uncover.

In this blog post, we'll outline the key things to look for when buying a used RV and the associated red flags to be aware of. These tips will help you evaluate the true value of a used RV and determine if you should negotiate, pass, or go through with the purchase.

Take careful note of Tip #1! That is the most valuable tip you can find in this article or elsewhere.

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What to Look for When Buying a Used RV

This topic often comes up in our RV Lifestyle Facebook group, including in a recent post that received a lot of helpful responses. You'll see some of the shared advice below, as well as helpful resources.

So, here is a list of things to look for when buying a used RV and the red flags related to your inspection. 

1. A 3rd Party Inspector

The FIRST THING YOU SHOULD LOOK FOR when buying a used RV is a 3rd party inspector. This is highly recommended whether you are buying from a dealer or a private seller. 

This inspection can verify that the RV is in the condition described and may uncover any issues that the seller was unaware of (or trying to hide). Just like you would get a house inspected before buying it, it’s smart to do the same for an RV to protect your investment. 

You can easily find a certified inspector through the National RV Inspectors Association of America. If the seller doesn’t want you to hire a 3rd party inspector, that’s a huge red flag.

You can also try “RV inspector near me” on Google.

2. The VIN

What to Look for When Buying a Used RV

One of our RV Lifestyle Facebook members recently shared a horror story about buying an unsafe RV. She thought she had done her due diligence, including checking Carfax, but she discovered the truth for herself when she checked the VIN.

There are several reasons why you should check the VIN (vehicle identification number) of a used RV before purchasing it:

  • To verify the identity of the RV: The VIN is a unique 17-digit code assigned to every vehicle. Checking the VIN allows you to confirm that the RV you are considering is the one being described by the seller.
  • To check for a clean title: A clean title means that the RV has not been in a major accident or sustained significant damage. Checking the VIN can help you determine if the RV has a clean title or a salvage or rebuilt title, which may affect its value.
  • To uncover hidden issues: The VIN can provide information about the RV's history, including any recalls, service repairs, or previous owners. This can help you identify potential issues the seller may not have disclosed.
  • To confirm the RV's age: The VIN can be used to determine its age and model year, which can help you gauge its value and condition.

Overall, checking the VIN of a used RV is an important step in the buying process to ensure that you are getting a quality vehicle and a good value for your money.

3. A Moldy Smell

What to Look for When Buying a Used RV
Pretty on the outside – stinky on the inside?

Follow your nose! People often notice the smell of mold before seeing any mold. This is especially true if the mold is hidden within the walls, cabinets, or other dark and damp places.

As we know, mold is a sign of excess moisture, often caused by water damage. You’ll need to determine what caused (or is causing) the mold and what repairs and remediation are necessary. In some cases, it’ll be a dealbreaker.

Keep in mind there is a difference between musty and moldy. Many RVs smell musty if they’ve been closed up for a long time. So, you don’t want to make a decision on your nose alone. Try to find the mold, if any. Again, this is where a professional inspector comes in handy!

4. The Age of the Tires

When shopping for a used RV, it's important to check the age of the tires as well as their condition. Tires are a crucial component of any vehicle, and the age and wear of the tires can affect the RV's performance, safety, and overall value.

To check the age of the tires, you'll need to find the tire's DOT (Department of Transportation) code, which is a series of numbers and letters imprinted on the tire's sidewall. The last four digits of the DOT code represent the week and year the tire was manufactured. For example, if the code reads “1219,” the tire was manufactured in the 12th week of 2019.

It's generally recommended to replace tires every 3-5 years, regardless of their tread depth. Tires can degrade over time due to exposure to UV light, heat, and other environmental factors, even if they haven't been used much. 

However, many RVers insist you always replace tires whenever you buy a used RV, no matter their age or appearance. That’s because tires can look fine but have been damaged from underinflation, a common mistake RVers make. 

Read When to Replace RV Tires and The Danger of Underinflated RV Tires to learn more. 

When to Replace RV Tires (Advice from Real RVers)

5. Bubbling Wallpaper

Bubbling wallpaper is a red flag of moisture damage in an RV. When wallpaper becomes wet, it can peel or blister, creating a bubbly appearance. 

This bubbling can be caused by various issues, such as leaks in the roof or walls, faulty plumbing, or a malfunctioning water heater. Ask the seller what caused the wallpaper to bubble to determine if the problem has been remedied.

Unfortunately, sellers don’t always know (or tell) the truth. Again, this is when a 3rd party inspector comes in handy.

6. A Review of the Roof

RV roof

When shopping for a used RV, it's important to inspect the roof for any signs of damage or wear. The roof is the most important barrier between the interior and nature’s elements! You need to ensure it’s not in need of excessive repair.

Here are some bullet points of what to look for when checking a used RV roof:

  • Cracks or splits in the roof material
  • Loose or missing roofing seals
  • Loose or missing roof hardware, such as screws or vents
  • Signs of water damage, such as staining or warping
  • Signs of UV damage, such as fading or brittleness
  • Dents or other physical damage
  • Excessive dirt or debris accumulation

It's a good idea to bring a flashlight and a pair of binoculars when inspecting the roof, as this can help you get a closer look at hard-to-reach areas.

In many cases, the roof just needs a good cleaning or some basic sealing and caulking. In other cases, it’ll have damage that may require negotiating the price down or passing on the purchase.

7. Smooth & Sealed Slide-Outs

Slide-outs are a common feature on many RVs, and they can greatly increase the living space inside the vehicle. However, they can also be prone to issues if not properly maintained.

Here are some things to look for when checking the slide-outs on a used RV:

  • Smooth operation: Test the slide-outs by opening and closing them to ensure they move smoothly and easily.
  • Leaks: Check around the seals of the slide-outs for any signs of leaks, such as water stains or dampness.
  • Wear and tear: Look for any visible damage to the slide-outs, such as cracks, dents, or scrapes.
  • Latch issues: Test the latches on the slide-outs to ensure they are secure and properly functioning.
  • Structural issues: Look for any visible signs of structural damage to the slide-outs, such as warping or sagging.
What to Look for When Buying a Used RV? (10 Red Flags) 1

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8. Systems Check

A monitor is the best way to learn how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV
CO systems

Another important thing to check is that all systems are in working order. This includes the toilet, shower, refrigerator, air conditioner, heater, and so on.

It’s also a good idea to check the fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector. Those usually aren’t dealbreakers or grounds for negotiation, but they can give you a good idea of how well the sellers maintained their RV. If they didn’t regularly check their safety systems, then it’s more likely they didn’t maintain other systems.

Furthermore, if you proceed with the purchase, you’ll know to replace or repair these faulty safety systems immediately. CO poisoning is a BIG danger to RVers. It’s essential you know these Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Tips on Preventing it in your RV.

9. Caulking & Seals

Caulking and seals are used to protect the RV from water and air leaks, and they play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the vehicle. If the caulking or seals are damaged or worn, it can lead to leaks, moisture damage, and other issues that can compromise the RV's structure and functionality.

Here are some things to look for when checking the caulking and seals on a used RV:

  • Signs of wear or cracking in the caulking
  • Gaps or spaces between the caulking and the RV's exterior
  • Signs of water damage, such as staining or warping, near the caulking or seals
  • Loose or missing seals around windows, doors, and other openings

If you notice any of the above red flags, it's important to carefully evaluate the extent of the problem and consider whether the cost of repairs is worth it. 

In minor cases, you’ll just need to run new beads of RV caulking over problematic spots. In extreme cases, too much damage has already been done, and it’s not worth buying the used RV.

rv at night with the awning out

10. A Dirty Awning

Many buyers forget to roll out the awning when inspecting an RV, but it’s important that you do. They are prone to issues if not properly maintained.

Here are some things to look for when checking the awning on a used RV:

  • Smooth operation: Test the awning by extending and retracting it to make sure it moves smoothly and easily.
  • Fabric damage: Look for any tears, holes, or fraying in the awning fabric.
  • Hardware issues: Check the awning's mounting hardware, such as brackets and screws, for any signs of wear or damage.
  • Signs of water damage: Look for any stains, warping, or other signs of water damage on the awning or its support structure.
  • Excessive dirt or debris: A dirty or debris-covered awning may indicate a lack of maintenance.

A dirty awning isn’t a dealbreaker, but it is a sign you should take a closer look to ensure its overall maintenance wasn’t neglected. If everything else looks fine on it, it may just need a good cleaning. Here’s an RV Awning Cleaner Guide.

Our RV Buying Secrets

What to Look for When Buying a Used RV? (10 Red Flags) 2

Next to your home, an RV is most likely the 2nd most expensive thing you'll ever purchase.

We get questions every day of other RVers wondering. “How do you buy a new or used RV?”

So we created a 75+-page downloadable digital guide to help you understand the nuances that come with purchasing an RV, where you can save thousands of dollars in the buying process, what the right questions are to ask dealers, what things to look out for, how to select the right unit, amenities, warranties, and so much more!

This ebook is designed to help make your purchase process as smooth as possible. And to teach you step-by-step exactly what to do so you can start your RV Lifestyle today!

Mike and Jennifer's RV Lifestyle hat collection

What to Look for When Buying a Used RV? (10 Red Flags) 3
Who needs a hat?

Who needs a hat? You do! Dad hats aren't just for dads. This comfy one's got a low profile with an adjustable strap and curved visor. Just the thing to wear on your next RV Lifestyle adventure.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-10-29

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “What to Look for When Buying a Used RV? (10 Red Flags)”

October 30, 2023at4:44 pm, Jay Thornton said:

Thanks for the advice on how to check out the RV before the purchase. I’m interested in buying a 2007 Phaeton and your tips will be helpful in the purchasing process.


October 31, 2023at10:37 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

So glad they helped! We really appreciate this feedback – Team RV Lifestyle


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