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Seven Things to Inspect in an RV

Not all RVs hold up equally to years of use. Some deteriorate faster than others! Someone who is very familiar with the vast differences between motorhomes is Phil Raner, who’s spent 32 years on dealer lots and in their service departments as a sales manager for Winnebago. Here are Phil’s tips on what to carefully inspect, even in a “nearly new” RV, to be safer, more comfortable, and bothered with less repair in the long run:

1.  Structure

First of all, look for a motorhome with a strong shell—one with interlocking roof and sidewall joints that form a strong bond. The shell should be capable of standing on its own without any inside support. A surprising number of motorhomes are actually propped up with their cabinets and furniture. Also, if you are looking for a Class A motorhome, find out if it has a stand-alone steel cab, or just a front cap attached to the walls. In addition, research whether or not the driver and passenger seat pedestals in the cab are bolted securely into solid steel instead of a wood cab deck.

Look low and high. Below the coach, it is important to inspect the basement construction of the motorhome.  An e-coated superstructure is the strongest and floors that have an aluminum underbelly or a floor guard will have a stronger, longer lasting floor. Up top, look for a solid roof to provide better insulation against heat and cold.  And while you’re up there, inspect for any damage or patches that could indicate leaks. It’s also a good time to inspect the sealants on the roof to make sure they are properly maintained.

In motorhomes, look for a stand-alone steel cab (left), not a fiberglass front cap mounted to the sidewalls, as shown in this crash-damaged coach (right).

2.  Fastenings

Inspect how the furniture and appliances are attached. Preferably, they’ll be bolted down into a steel casing to stay firmly in place. Many motorhomes have hardware-grade screws fastening interior walls and fixtures into plywood, or even into insulation stuffed in gaps in the walls. Naturally, these short cuts mean everything becomes loose sooner, creating creaking and rattling on the road.

A good place to check fastening is inside the exterior walls around the refrigerator. Open up this compartment and see how the fridge is attached to the RV. Get down on your knees and see how the kitchen sink is mounted. If the manufacturer has taken the care to firmly mount the appliances in steel, you’ll have a quieter, more comfortable ride.

Watch for seats, furniture, and appliances fastened with screws into plywood (right). They’re stronger and quieter bolted down into a steel casing (left).

3.  Components

Don’t assume the unit you’re considering has all the basic or luxury components you want. Take an inventory of the options and review that all amenities are present. Inspect the air conditioner, generator, and electronics and if applicable, ask to see the jacks function. In components that get heavy use, brand names are a sign of quality. Look for names you know when examining crucial features such as the generator and electronics.

4.  Interior Condition

Furniture will tell the quality tale very quickly. Beware of sag and wear in upholstery on the sofa, dinette, and bed. Many RV manufacturers use common single-density foam, which compresses in a very short time. Multi-density foam and high-grade fabrics will remain comfortable and sustain many more years of use. Ideally, the furniture and cabinetry are made of solid wood or a high-quality sustainable composite like Tecnoform, and are designed for RV space; not household designs jimmied in place. If the furniture in your RV was built specifically for that purpose, you’ll have greater peace of mind that it will stand up better over time.

Better-quality used RVs have solid wood cabinetry or a high-quality sustainable composite, and they’re designed for the space.

5.  Exterior Finish

In addition to confirming the awnings and slide-out walls work smoothly, you should expect a motorhome to hold its color. Watch for sun fade. High-quality RVs contain UV protectant. You can pick up on this by comparing the entrance door to the exterior walls. They should match. Don’t forget the windows. Tinted, dual pane windows are best against weather. Also, notice the vents and trim pieces. On a white model, they shouldn’t be dull or yellowing. If the RV has aged noticeably, its worn appearance will cost value in a sale or trade. Aesthetics matter in a luxury item.

6.  Maintenance

In addition to test-driving the RV, ask to see its service history. The conscientious owner will document oil changes, winterization, hours on the generator, etc. It goes without saying, but carefully inspect the sides and bumpers for damage. Unlike used cars, there’s no Vehicle Information Number (VIN) system that records accidents. The owner has hopefully used a buddy system to back up and park without incident—but don’t assume!

7.  Brand

Finally—or maybe first—make sure the motorhome’s manufacturer is still in business. A number of RV makers have come and gone in the past 15 years. Ask where the nearest dealer is, and how you’ll get parts quickly when you need them.

A motorhome has a lot of systems. It’s a house and a vehicle in one. So a quick impression and test drive are probably not enough. Spend considerable time with the unit. Walk through this checklist for safety, comfort, or quality elements that might not be apparent on the surface. It’s always a good idea to have a mechanic—preferably an RV dealer’s service center—check out a unit before you buy.

It’s always a good idea to have a mechanic—preferably an RV service center—check out a unit before you buy.

What’s Good for the Buyer…

If this list matters to a motorhome shopper, then it matters to a seller just as much. If you know you’ll be selling or trading your RV someday, purchase with that in mind. Choose a reputable make and model that holds its value—and take care of it with the eye of a future buyer.

This information is for educational purposes. VIARV shall not be responsible nor retain liability for RVer’s use of the provided information. Prior to making any RV service decision, you are advised to consult with an RV professional.

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