What to look for when buying an RV? (1 Viewer)


May 1, 2020
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Hey all! A neighbor of mine has had his RV displayed for sale in his driveway for months now. Recently went by and saw he had marked it down to 5,000. It's a pretty decent-sized Class C, perfect for me and my dog to live comfortably in. I haven't been able to get close enough to get a real detailed look, but it seems to be an early-to-mid-90s model. Outside looks to be in great shape. I'm considering asking to get a look at the inside, but before I do, I wanna know what to keep an eye out for.
I'll be living in it pretty much full-time, bouncing around to state parks and campsites and doing a lot of hiking and camping. I plan to be doing everything as simply as possible, like cooking over campfires whenever possible and getting water from city valves, so I'm not concerned with fancy kitchen setups or big graywater tanks and whatnot.
What are some things to consider when living like this? What are some modifications you might make, so I can see if it'll be possible on this camper? Would it be unwise to leave the thing parked alone like a sore thumb while I head off to camp? Would I be better off picking up a van and converting that instead?
Thanks in advance!
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The Necromancer King
Nov 22, 2010
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Brooklyn (but not hipster Brooklyn)
A friend of mine bought a camper a few years back and she didn't take it to a mechanic, ended up getting stiffed on it cuz it actually was a piece of shit that broke down not far from where she bought it. As with any motor vehicle, always always always take it to a mechanic before you purchase it.


Wise Sage
Aug 27, 2017
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Don't know much about RVs, but I do know about Iowa and vehicles from the Midwest. Pay attention to rust damage underneath from winter's salted roads. RVs are probably less likely to have it, but my van (bought it in western IA) was a daily driver and has a lot of rust.


Wise Sage
Oct 24, 2015
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Exeter, United Kingdom
my take on it....

RVs are usually very expensive compared to their non RV / cargo van equivalent model - you pay a hell of a lot for the camper equipment inside... but mechanically they are often not ideal - mainly because they spend so much time unused on the driveway - brakes start to seize up / other parts suffer from sitting and little is spent on maintenance and servicing as they are often a second / project vehicle... people have grand plans when they buy an RV and often just don't find the time to use them, let alone tinker with them... this is obviously a massive generisalisation but frequently true, especially with older RVs - many have very low mileages which sounds good on paper but too little use is not good for the engine in the long term...

now contrast this with a cargo van - for the same money as an old RV you can prob get a lot newer empty van straight out of service from a fleet - it will probably have been used regularly and subject to frequent servicing and maintenance - ok the creation of a living area in the back will cost a bit, but it's possible to scavenge much of the things you will need and a simple set up won't take that long...

I'm not saying there's never an RV worth buying but I would only consider one that was used regularly and well maintained - definitely get an experienced mechanic to have a thorough look round any that you find - I have seen so many people buy old RVs that turn into a total money pit, as once you start spending on welding and restoration the costs skyrocket and you're kind of forced to continue coz you've already invested so much money in the vehicle !

Hobo richard

Nov 30, 2019
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Camas, wa
I lived in a 35 ft Avion travel trailer for ten years. I enjoyed the time. Here's what I learned...
Those fridges or frequently 3 way powered, ac, dc and propane. Apparently, and for a reason I am not sure of, the units need to be driven around (bumped around) or they stop working. Mine did. I heard of people takinthe the unit out and putting it in the back of a truck for a drive around. This is only an issue if you are parked for a long time. Keep your solid waste gates closed. I figured, leave it open, but this will cause blockages that are a mess to fix. The system needs the entire weight of the waste to push it out efficiently.
Many rv's have leakes and resulting mold issues. This can be difficult to check. Climb on the roof if you can to inspect. If there is mold it will be between the roof and the inner ceiling. Mold can be a significant health hazzard. Check carefully for mouse droppings, this is another and potentially fatal issue. If you breath mouse droppings dust you can die.
At some point several years ago they changed the way propane tanks work, make sure the tanks on the unit you are looking at has the newer style, or you will have to buy new ones.
Insurance companies do not like full-time live ins, so be prepared to spin fiction.
Make sure evetything works, a/c, ceiling fans, lights.
If it is a motorhome, have the thing checked by an expert. Well worth the expense.


Aug 13, 2019
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Southern Arizona
Water damage is probably the main thing to look for, that and any mechanical problems of course. Most RVs are not well built; frequently 1x2 wood stapled together. Now imagine that going down the road with lots of vibration; like a mini-home going through constant earthquakes, with sub-par construction. Add in rubber seals around windows and doors that quickly dry out due to sun and age, and if it hasn't been routinely been maintained it will be full of leaks in no time. Many of the RV's that have fiberglass shells instead of metal will show signs of delamination, so if you see that, don't walk away, run. It's usually more costly to repair than the RV is worth. Pay particular attention to the overhead cab on a class-C. That's where those leak the most frequently. Also beware of any new paint inside; it could be hiding something, like water damage.

As for leaving it alone while you go off somewhere, that depends entirely on where you're leaving it. RV's are very easy to break into, but they do have many spots where you can get creative and hide things; just don't count on that to stop someone who knows where most of the usual spots are, or someone who steals the whole rig.

If you're not concerned with having a kitchen or gray water tanks then honestly look into a cargo van. You'll have less storage, but they're way easier to drive and don't take nearly as much gas, and they offer a little more security than an RV. Plus you'll have a lot more places to park it.

No matter what you go with, as far as modifications go, besides the obvious personal ones that only you can decide on, consider adding extra insulation to keep heat in during the cold and heat out when it's hot. Windows and roof vents are where you want to concentrate most of your efforts. You can't beat mother nature, however you can make things more comfortable. The main modification I would suggest is getting a solar power setup to keep any electronics you have charged up and to keep some LED lights on.


Jul 22, 2012
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Forget a Rv, get a good van, one that has a long model run, I choose the Chevy G series, but that’s me. Later models are much easier to find, but take your time.
RV, is a pain to park anywhere, eats gas, tires are not cheap, leak like a sieve!
I also have a short bus, yep G series too, roof does not leak, but rear door did & have rust issues, in the floor.


Jul 21, 2010
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east coast
Perhaps now any advising's irrelevant, but I'll throw my experience in the mix.

I bought a 1985 Toyota Dolphin this past winter and given that it had been parked in the PNW, I should have expected more water damage than I did. I was fooled by some new paneling put up over existing rot. I'm currently struggling to find the energy for a full rebuild.

As mentioned, the construction of most RV's is 1x2" held together with industrial staples. You should anticipate reframing at least some sections of any RV you might buy. I would recommend a pneumatic stapler for this-- screws aren't mean to take sheer force that driving across the country might exert on it, and simply nailing together your framing might allow for the pieces to separate (finish nails have nearly non-existent heads).

Check the roof to see what kind you're working with. Metal will be largely more forgiving and less maintenance required than any kind of rubber finish. Check into prices of your refinishing options before you buy the rig. Check the seams where the trim laps the roofing material. Are there any screws visibly gapping or loose? These are signs of water damage!

Check the undercarriage for rust. See if the leaf springs are holding up. If they're starting to rust, you can use a wire cup on an angle grinder to knock it back and seal it with a rust-resistant clear coat. Sometimes you can gather clues about the condition of the flooring from below. Check the condition of the steel joists just below the subfloor (usually square steel tubing).

The thing is, there are a lot of expenses that add up where an RV is concerned. I lived stealth in a minivan for two years and got myself this rig as an upgrade, but it quickly became a headache since there are so many things to account for!

Things I've needed to replace: old wiring, almost all trim and caulk, window seals, almost all the framing in the bed compartment overhang, almost all the framing in general, flooring, ceiling vents and domes (they dry rot and chip fairly quickly it seems).

Obviously, it's worth having a cozy nest to live in, but there's added paranoia parking everything you own in an easily compromised vehicle, all the while it's glaringly obvious you might not be from around the area or considered "houseless." Also, consider whether or not you'll have outboard power, like a generator, in the mix. I get anxious about running down my batteries, and honestly the stress for me tends to negate the comforts. I'm hoping to switch back to a van setup, unless I can find a longterm place to park soon.

Whatever you choose, best of luck!

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