Is it necessary to inspect an RV before buying? Absolutely yes! Whether you are thinking of buying a new or a used RV, an inspection is necessary. Even new RVs can have factory defects, and some can be cheaply made. An RV, new or used, is a large investment and it’s always best to be safe than sorry.
In this article, you will find some recommendations to make sure you don’t get stuck with an RV that will cost you a pretty penny in the long run. This applies to both Towable Trailers and Recreation Vehicles.
What is an RV PDI?
PDI stands for “pre-delivery inspection” and, whether you are buying a new or a used RV, it is very important to do it. When purchasing a new RV dealer will perform an inspection for you. If possible, you should perform an additional, more detailed PDI. More on this later.
If for some reason you are not able to bring in a company to do an inspection pre-delivery, you still want to make sure you do it as soon as you receive it, and report to the dealer anything that does not check out.
You can perform your own PDI, should you feel confident about it, however, it is recommended to hire a professional company to do this for you (Costs on this are detailed below.) When you are purchasing an RV in a different state than yours, it is completely normal to hire a firm to go inspect on your behalf.
And if you plan on ever renting out your RV – it’s a great document to have should you ever bump into trouble with a claim.
What should I look for in a used RV?
Purchasing a used RV can be a daunting task, especially for first timers. The main advantage of buying a used RV over a new one is, of course, the potential savings. By purchasing a used RV, you can save upwards of +$20,000. Savings are certainly significant as long as the RV is in good condition. But it can come with the risk of getting stuck with an RV in bad shape, which means significant expenses in parts and repairs.
The first thing to decide when you start looking for an RV to purchase is the type of RV that best suits your needs. There are several types of RVs designed with different purposes in mind. Think about how you will be using it. Will you be going on long road trips? Consider a travel RV. Are you going to spend the fall in the mountains? Maybe a destination trailer will be more appropriate.
Travel RVs are less expensive, smaller in size, lighter and made with an aerodynamic design so that transporting it is easier on gasoline costs. These are great for long drives and short stays. Destination trailers, on the other hand, are heavier and larger. They are made to resemble a home and to be lived in for extended periods.
During your search, you should be looking at more than just one RV. Check the VIN numbers and make sure they match the numbers on the paperwork. Run the number through an online vehicle history checker. This will provide previous ownership information as well as any significant events such as large repairs or wrecks.
Ask the owner for the full-service records. In the records you will be able to see anything that has been replaced, repaired and whether or not the RV has been receiving the regular maintenance schedule as recommended by the manufacturer.
Look for an RV owner that does not hesitate to let you bring a professional to perform the inspection if you can inspect without the owner present, even better. The reason for doing the inspection on without the owner is they could potentially steer you away from any issues they know of and distract you from following an inspection checklist.
Just like you when purchasing a used car or a home, use your gut. If the owner doesn’t feel trustworthy or if you feel like they are hiding something, they probably are, and you should avoid doing business with them.
Some simple things you can keep an eye out during an initial visit are:
Smells from water-related components. Check the sinks, drains, and tanks for out of the ordinary odors. Smells coming from, pipes or sinks can be a sign that the holding tanks have not been properly maintained, or that the plumbing is faulty.
Just like in a house or apartment, you will want to look for mold. Good places to check for mold are cabinets, corners and under carpets and laminates. Mold can be very difficult to deal with and highly toxic in the worst cases.
Check for any leaks from the pipes, toilets, and roof. Any bubbling or cracks on the roof or walls are also a red flag.
Last but not least, you will want to test the awnings to make sure they are operational and without any holes, rips or leaks. Both roofs and awnings are expensive to replace.
Should you find any issues with those items, it is probably a good idea to eliminate that vehicle from the running and continue your search by performing the same examination on another one.
If the 5 points above look OK, it is a good time to request a test drive.
What is a PDI checklist?
A pre-delivery inspection checklist is a comprehensive list of items you should check before deciding to purchase an RV. In the case of used RVs, it is recommended to run through this checklist on more than one RV before making a decision.
There are several areas in which we can break down the inspection. Inspection companies have will have a more detailed checklist to ensure a thorough look at the RV.
- Here is a printable inspection checklist for Towable Trailers.
- Here is a printable inspection checklist for Motorhome RV.
More Inspection Tips:
On the outside walls and roof, the inspector will evaluate the overall surface conditions and the corners and edges where the walls and roof attach. This is your first line of defense from the weather. All seals should be tight, and there should be no leaks. Vents should be clean. Doors, , windows and screens should in place, not broken and able to open and close without issues. Lights and mirrors should be up to regulations. And like we said before, awnings and their mechanisms are expensive to repair.
Larger RVs can have slide-out units. It is important to check these are operational as well. On the outside, you will also find the fuel door, lock, and cap as well as connectors and sockets, all little details that should not be overlooked.
A thorough inspection of the mechanical condition of the RV will be performed: axels, suspension, brakes wiring, brake pads and rotor surface, insulation, all pipes, wires, and hoses, stabilizing jacks, rear differential, etc.
The engine inspection will look at the belts, transmission, filters, oil, coolant, power steering, and other fluids. The inspector will take oil and coolant fluid samples and perform tests on them. An exhaust color test is also performed by idling the vehicle for over 5 minutes.
Utilities are, for the most part, what makes an RV live-able. Among the utilities that will be inspected are The RV battery, power cable, and connectors. Freshwater, gray water, and black water tanks along with their respective valves, connectors and draining. The generator operation, whether it is too noisy and the exhaust.
In the inside of the trailer, the inspection is a lot like that of a home. Checking the finishings, conditions of the ceiling and making sure air conditioning works properly. The inspector will also pull out drawers and check mattresses looking for pests or mold.
The bathroom will get a closer look since holding tanks are such an important and delicate part of owning an RV. This inspection will be as thorough as checking the black water tank to make sure there isn’t any solidified waste stuck at the bottom of it. This is a sign of poor maintenance.
Other systems such as the heating, cooling and electric will be inspected as well. RVs are power independent. The power comes from the on-board battery and generator. Some RVs also have solar panels that charge the battery. All of the mechanisms from the generator to the battery and solar panels and the automatic power switching between will be checked to make sure it is working effectively.
Lastly, the inspector will make sure the cockpit is fully equipped and compliant with regulations. Driving such a large vehicle is complicated enough, so the seemingly small things such as being able to adjust seats, making sure there are no cracks or chips on the windshield and having working steering wheel controls become increasingly important.
Before the inspection is over, the inspector will also require a series of documents such as the service records, engine manual, RV manual, utility manual, and any warranty documents for mayor parts of the RV.
How to Preform an Inspection before Buying Video:
How much does it cost to have a company perform an inspection?
As you have probably guessed by now, an inspection with this level of minutia comes with a price. Prices depend mostly on the size of the RV you are looking to inspect. Prices will vary from $500 to $1,200 for each inspection. While it might seem like a lot to pay for an inspection, it is it is only about 3-4% of the cost of the RV. This is a lot less costly than the expenses a bad RV can cause.
As previously mentioned, you will want to run this inspection several of the RVs you are looking at. Inspectors have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and it can be very beneficial to have them as an objective third party to provide their opinion in addition to their expertise.
You can find an inspector through the National Recreational Vehicles Inspectors Association (NRVIA), which is an organization that trains inspectors and helps campers find one that is nearest to them. Many other clubs or associations of RV owners might also be able to recommend a company to perform an inspection.
According to NRVIA data, 30% of RVs have something break by the second year, 80% by the fifth year, and at eight years almost every RV experiences some sort of malfunction.
Final Word of Advice: Skipping the inspection is not how you want to cut costs.