5 Facts You Need to Know About To Spot a Lemon When Buying an RV

Purchasing an RV is a large financial commitment. Whether you are buying a small trailer or a big motorhome, you will be spending a significant amount of money on your rig – even if you are buying used. Therefore, it is important to have a plan in place when you visit your local RV dealer to avoid driving home with a lemon. By following some basic guidelines and using a little common sense, you can greatly increase your chances of landing an RV that you will love using for years to come.

Before you sign a check and purchase a used RV, read through the list below.

Rust in an RV is a Bad Sign

You might have to get a little dirty in order to find the right RV for you and your family. If you locate an RV that you are interested in, get down on the ground and take a look at the frame that supports the rig. Is it in good condition, or has it accumulated a large amount of rust over the years? Should you find extensive rust throughout the frame, you might be better off to look at a different RV. After all, there are plenty of used models on the market to choose from, so you certainly don’t have to settle for the first one you find.

Look Up Inside the RV

Once you are inside the rig, be sure to look all around – including up. If the RV is leaking at all, you should see signs of water damage on the ceiling. Leaks can be costly to repair, and the water that has made its way inside the RV may have already done damage that you will have to fix at some point down the road. Purchasing an RV with a leaky roof is a project that you probably don’t want to get into, so this is another problem that should encourage you to pass on the rig in question.

Open and Close Everything

The seller of the RV should welcome you to open and close the door and all of the windows to ensure that they are all functioning properly. A window that won’t open or close can be an expensive fix, and it also might be a signal that there is trouble with the overall structure of the RV. Consider it a good sign if you find that all of the windows easily open and close without any undue effort.

Is the RV Fridge Cold?

You certainly don’t want to have to replace or repair the fridge in any used RV that you purchase. One of the first things you should check on is the condition of the refrigerator and its ability to keep your food and beverages cold. Ask the current owner of the RV to have the fridge up and running before you come look at it so you can verify that it is able to reach and maintain the proper temperature.

RV In Livable Condition?

Finally, make sure to carefully inspect the condition of the carpet and upholstery on the inside of the RV. While it is possible to replace these items if necessary, you would most likely be better off simply finding a used RV that is in good condition. Some RV owners are harder on their rig than others, and the wear and tear that you find in the interior is a good reflection of how they have treated the rig as a whole. You won’t be comfortable spending time in your RV if it is dirty or severely worn, so take your time inspecting the whole interior before making a decision.

A big part of buying a used RV comes down to common sense. Take a walk around – and through – the RV to get a good overall impression for the condition of the vehicle as a whole. Never feel like you are being pressured into a purchase, and only sign on the dotted line when you are completely comfortable. If you are buying the RV privately, it may be worth your time to ask a local RV dealer if they will inspect the RV for a small fee. Considering the amount of money at stake when buying a used RV, you want to take all possible precautions to prevent against taking home a lemon.

 What other tips can you think of to help when buying a Used RV? Leave a comment below.


  • check that the water heater works, ac works, and that the tanks all hold water. Smell them, too. Good records on the care and repairs of the rig by the owner are important. Just basically make sure it is clean. I know of a class C that has not moved in over 33 yrs. That one I would not buy.

  • You are able to get the RV inspected by certified RV inspectors which are third party independent and will work for you. Knowing all the facts of the condition of the rig will allow you to make an informed decision. Would you purchase a sticks and bricks home without an inspection?

  • Thanks for the tip to look underneath for rust. You mention “extensive rust” – does that mean that a little rust is ok? I’ve never had an RV before and want to find one that will last for a while. But I also don’t want to go looking for a rust-less one if that’s not realistic. (Is a little bit of rust a part of normal wear and tear?)

  • Be especially vigilant of the condition of the roof. We got burned in 2006 on a used 2002 24 foot Prowler fifth wheel. The dealer had installed a brand new rubber roof over totally rotted plywood to hide the rot and unload the unit on an unsuspecting victim (US). The entire nose portion of the roof was so soft that when I went to wash it after our first use, the brush actually went through the roof. Further investigation showed that the panels on the inside had been replaced to cover up the water damage and stains. The dealer went out of business soon after we purchased the trailer and declared bankruptcy. Why am I not surprised that he ended up bankrupt. 🙁 We ended up trading it for a 2004 model Dutchman and took a licking on the Prowler. It was sold to a RV salvage place and we only got 1 fifth of what we had paid for it.

  • The leaky roof is the A number one thing to look out for. ESPECIALLY if it has a new one on it. Gently pound on every square foot of the sides, front, and back. They should be solid! No floppy siding or trim. These symptoms are a sure sign of having no wood behind. Now do the same inside. Especially in the corners! A six or eight foot step ladder is essential to do this investigation on the outside. I have one completely rotted out all around, and no water came inside until the last year or so. Regular roof inspections and maintenance are essential. If they can be under cover when not in use, all the better. Sun is the main enemy of roof materials.

  • Get under it and make sure all the tanks are positioned properly… Saw a coach with 3 tanks behind the rear axle. No way! Two between the front & rear axle and one behind the back axle.

  • Roof & fridge. We got burned on a used RV with both of those. The awning wasn’t the greatest either.

    I suggest taking someone cynical with you to look at the unit. Two sets of eyes will notice more issues.

    Great advice.

  • Use a dealer that has been in business a long time and can fully service your RV. The dealer in our town will service your new or used RV for a year after purchase at little or no cost. The head mechanic has been there 23 years. If the fridge, stove, air, etc doesn’t work, they will fix it or replace it. I wanted an oven so they installed one at no cost. Servicing is crucial. It shows they stand behind their rigs. Talk to other customers and ask about them. We can also call them when camping and they will talk us through what we need to do. We’ve never been sorry we bought from them after three RVs.

  • If you plan on being a seasonal with an RV check with the park you plan to stay at, what age of the RV they let in as a seasonal. Many campgrounds today only accept 10yrs or younger as seasonals. Don’t want you wasting money if you plan on seasonal. But if you plan on just doing trips, and staying a short time, you are all set.

  • Always check the water heater and house heater. Both are known to have rusty tubing and rusty bottoms. We bought a used Fleetwood class C that had just came in as a trade from Florida. Any RV coming from a coastal area can have hidden rust. We did not remove the inspection/removal panels. After a month or so I decided to look for loose pipes or leaks. That’s when I noticed all of the piping was rusted as well as the water heater tank and the heater housing also. Too late to take back so am forced to replace all of the above a costly and timely.

  • Beware of leather couch and chairs. We bought a left over 2013 Columbus by Palomino (Forest River). We figured the leather would outlast a lot of other things. Not so. Our head rest on the loungers are so thin, they are splitting..Ashley Furniture. They refused to replace. Only guarantee for a year. They told us it was a “high end” maker. NOT!! So if you think leather will last, think again. An upholsterer told us the RV leather is split in half and much thinner than what’s used in a home environment.
    The RV dealer does not carry these anymore. Also cheap tires. 2 blowouts within 2 years. Westlake tires made in China.
    1st 2 weeks awning broke. Tires blew. Smell in kitchen and toilet due to “waterless pipes”, not P traps. So if you buy from a dealer, just know when you leave, it’s on you. Get an extended warranty.
    I could go on and on.

  • We bought a brand new Salem. The roof leaked after a few days, called the dealer and he said to remove the ac grate and tighten the 4 screws, sometimes they loosen in transit, we went to W. Virginia and it started leaking again .We took it back to dealer and said that when the factory cut hole for ac, they cut the hole too big. They files a claim with the factory so now waiting to hear back, I’m afraid that if the want to replace the roof, will the sides start leaking where the 2 come together orwill it be molded up there with out telling us!!!! What to do!!!!

  • Run the generator under load, turn off, repeat. Check for surging, flooding, etc. These are expensive fixes.

  • If you are buying a used motorized unit, carefully check the tires. Not just the tread. If the unit is in the 10 year old area, and not used much, chances the tires are original tires, have great tread, but the sidewalls are cracking. Look at the date code on the tire. If you don’t know where or what it is, learn it. Any reputable tireshop will give you a quick lesson. Seven years is about the life span of a tire sidewall. New motor home tires- around $300.00 EACH.

  • Check wear of the tires, are they weather checked? Ask for receipts or records of when the tires were last replaced. Tires on RV’s although not driven as often as a car need to be replaced at least every 5 years to assure you don’t end up on the side of the highway with a blown tire. A blown tire will most likely take out at least the wheel well panel if not any tanks or electronics near the well. Be careful with a large rig, blowing tires can be costly and or deadly