This Old Campsite
This Old Campsite
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                           RV Pre-Delivery Inspection Checklist
                  (How to Avoid Nasty Surprises when Buying an RV)
                                                    By Warren Petkovsek


All of us who own RVs and anyone who has shopped for them or is considering purchasing one has felt somewhat intimidated by the complexity of these portable vacation homes. My wife and I have bought three new RVs and each time we have felt that, somehow, we have overlooked something important. Oh, sure, new rigs are covered by a manufacturer’s warranty as well as separate warranties on appliances, but wouldn’t it be much simpler for all concerned if a problem could be spotted before the RV were purchased or delivered saving annoying trips back to the dealer for warranty work? In the case of a used RV it’s “buyer beware”. If you are buying a used rig from a dealer then, at least, you may get some kind of service or warranty from him, but if you are buying from an individual then any problems after the sale become your responsibility unless there is some kind of transferable warranty still in effect. This would be a good question for you to ask the seller. In any case, when buying a used RV from an individual you must weigh the risk against the cost savings. There is no doubt that a used RV will cost much less than a comparable new unit, but if subsequent repair bills eat up your savings then you haven’t really saved anything at all. Even worse; after all the expense, inconvenience and lost time you are still the owner of a rig that is older and has a much lower resale value than a new unit. The upside of a used rig is lower selling price and less depreciation as compared to a comparable new unit. It’s up to you to decide, but either way we really need to check the RV thoroughly in order to prevent future costs and headaches. Even when buying a new RV and enjoying the security of warranties and service after the sale, it is best to thoroughly check things out before taking delivery on a new RV in order to save the inconvenience of trips back to the shop. I can tell you from experience that this could cause you to miss out on camping trips. ‘Not good!

The following checklist can be applied to new and used RVs alike. The RV should be hooked up to electricity and water so that all appliances can be run and checked. You should tell the seller that you want the refrigerator/freezer to be running and cold. Bring along a thermometer in order to check this appliance. More on this in the checklist. You also need to bring along a flashlight with fresh batteries and a good strong beam as well as some old clothes or coveralls so that you can crawl around under the rig to check things out. A digital camera would also be handy to document any problems. An electrical tester is also important when performing a systems check. Here we go.


                  Pre-Delivery Checklist

Outside walk around:

     Climb up on the roof if you are physically capable and feel comfortable to do so. Carefully inspect all seals and gaskets. Pay careful attention to roof edges and around vents, antennas, skylights and air conditioning units as well as the ladder mounts. Check for bubbles or delamination in the rubber roof. Look for temporary repairs. Also notice if the roof is clean. This is a good indication of how well it has been checked and maintained. While you are up there also check the top of patio awnings for rips, holes or signs of repair. Also check the awning mountings and rain gutters for cracks, breaks and plugging.

     Check all windows and the entry door for proper alignment, sealing and operation. There should be no holes or tears in window screens or in the screen door. All doors and windows should operate smoothly, fit flush and all locks should operate without any undue effort. Make sure that the screen door works independently as well as when attached to the entry door.

     Check all keys and locks in the entry door as well as the storage compartment doors for fit and proper operation. Open and close all storage compartment doors checking sealing, fit, and alignment. All hinges should be tight and the latches should hold the door securely shut and still open and close without excess effort. Any gas cylinders used to keep the doors open should be properly installed and properly functioning. Look at and feel the floor, walls and ceiling of the storage compartments for signs of moisture, stains or any other indications of water leaks.

     Inspect all the connections for sewer, gray water and fresh water for damage. Be sure that you understand the operation of the various valves and connections in these water systems. If sewer connections or a waste water tank is available, check the operation of each dump valve.

     Check cable TV, satellite TV, internet and telephone connections (if so equipped) making sure they are properly mounted, labeled and that weather caps are in place and in good condition.

     Check the propane tanks for any damage. Test the connections of all lines, pig tails and regulator for leaks with a soapy water solution. Check the operation of shut off valves and be sure that you completely understand the operation of all propane systems.

     Check the battery for proper electrolyte liquid level as well as for signs of corrosion, cracks or other damage. This is a good indication of how the battery was maintained. Also check that the battery is mounted securely and properly vented to the outside (if mounted inside a compartment). Check the main battery cables for proper insulation and that there are no signs of wear due to rubbing on the frame or other surfaces that could potentially cause electrical grounding or fires.

     Check the exterior body work by sighting down the length if the rig on each side looking for bumps and uneven surfaces which may indicate collision repair. Also look for signs of delamination in fiberglass surfaces as well as bubbles in decals or peeling at the edges of decal graphics. Also do this on the front and rear of the rig.

     Check the tires and wheels carefully for any kind of damage or irregular and uneven tread wear. This could indicate damaged or bent axles caused by an overloading condition. Also carefully check the tire sidewalls (inside as well as outside) for separation or bubbles, knots and cracks due to dry rotting and UV sunlight damage. Check the DOT code on the tire sidewalls for the date of manufacture. There is a code beginning with “DOT” and ending with a four digit number. Example: if the number is “0410” then the tire was manufactured during the fourth week of 2010. If this DOT code doesn’t have these numbers at the end then check the other side of the tire. It may have been mounted with the code on the inside so you will have to crawl under the vehicle to see it.  If the tires are more than five years old they are prone to sudden failure potentially causing damage to the RV as well as potential loss of control resulting in personal injury and loss of life. If the rig is new, demand that the tires be replaced. If the rig is used then some kind of price compensation adjustment should be made by the seller for tire replacement. Check the load range of the tires making sure that it is appropriate for the loaded weight of the RV. Load ranges will be something like “D”, “E”, “F”, or “G”. The higher the letter the more weight the tire can carry. There will be something molded on the sidewall like maybe “Load Range E – 3,400 pounds at 80 psi”. This means that the tire is a load range “E” and is rated to carry 3,400 pounds if inflated to 80 pounds per square inch of air pressure. Check that tire inflation is correct and that there is no significant variation in pressure between tires. This is an indication of how well the tires were maintained. Check the lug nuts for proper torque. I may be the only guy in the world that travels with a torque wrench, but I keep a close eye on my lug nuts. If you don’t have a torque wrench then borrow one & check the lugs. If you are buying from a dealer then get him to check them for you, but do try to eventually get your own torque wrench. Don’t forget to include the spare tire in these inspections and verify the proper operation on the spare tire mount. This is a good time to see if the lug wrench in your tow vehicle will work with the lug nuts on the trailer. If you need another wrench I recommend the appropriate sized six-sided socket with a ½ inch drive breaker bar that is 20 – 25 inches long. Also find out the proper jacking points for a trailer and find out what kind of jack to use and the capacity needed.  Note:  See Warren's article " Tires for Towable RVs and Tow Vehicles ".

     Extend and retract the patio awning making sure it operates properly and is not damaged or excessively dirty or stained (another indication of proper maintenance). Check that all mounting points are securely attached to the body. Pay particular attention to how the awning is locked in the retracted (travel) position. You don’t want that thing coming loose on the road.

     Put on your old clothes or coveralls and go under the rig for the chassis and undercarriage inspection. An old piece of carpet or cardboard would also be nice to help you perform this task. If the RV is equipped with an underbelly covering look for sagging. This could indicate a water leak. Look at suspension components for signs of damage. Check shock absorber and suspension mounts making sure that there are no loose bolts or broken welds. Look at electrical wiring for the trailer brakes making sure that no wire is rubbing on any metal parts. Check wire nuts and other connections as well. Look for broken or abraded wire. Look under all the slide-outs. Check for binding or rubbing in electrical and water lines. Look for leaks in hydraulic lines (if so equipped). If possible, have someone operate the slides both in and out while you are under there so that you can check for smooth operation. Be sure to keep all parts of your body away from moving machinery. Look for signs of poor lubrication including corrosion or noises while the slides are operating. While you are under there get your soapy water solution and check any propane connections that may be hidden under the rig. Also look at the inside tire sidewalls for cracks, bubbles or separation.

     When you get out from under the rig check the gaskets for each slide-out making sure that there is good contact with each sealing surface and that there is no rotting or cracks and tears in rubber components. Also be sure that you understand the process for manually operating the slide-outs as well as the landing gear on 5th wheels or electrically operated stabilizer jacks (if so equipped) in the event of an electrical failure.

Inside checklist:

     Check slide-out seals (both open and closed). You should not be able to see daylight or detect drafts or air leaks in either position. Look for proper alignment of any wheels or rollers under the slide-out that roll on carpet or vinyl flooring. Do this by carefully checking that these rollers have not left any “tracks” on the flooring surface. This indicates that something is out of adjustment. Familiarize yourself with any locking devices that secure the slide when retracted in the travel position.

     Open all the cabinets and inspect all latches and hinges to make sure they are securely mounted and operate properly. While the cabinets are open look around for staining or other signs of water leaks. Open and close all drawers checking for smoothness and proper operation. Pull each drawer out to its stop. Close each drawer and check how it is held shut while on the road. Make sure all of these devices work properly. Check that the drawer bottoms have not come loose from the sides due to excess weight.

     Look at all trim and molding on doors, walls and furniture. There should be nothing loose and there should be no nails or staples protruding.

     Check every light switch and observe its operation and see if there are any bulbs burned out. Check both12 volt and 110 volt lights.

     Check the monitor panel and observe the condition of the battery.

     Check all closets for proper door operation and secure mounting of rods and hardware. Check any light fixtures for proper operation. Just like with the cabinets – look around at the walls and ceiling inside the closets for signs of staining and water damage.

     Check all furniture for excessive wear. Check the operation of recliner chairs and convert any sleeper sofas and/or dinettes into beds to assure proper operation and that all cushions and other components are present and properly functioning.

     Check all windows for any signs of water leaks. Check each window lock and latch for proper operation, especially the latch for the emergency exit window. Open and close each window checking for proper alignment and operation. Check all blinds and window shades for damage, stains alignment and proper operation. Look at all valances and window trim pieces and check that they are properly secured.

     Check all counter tops for fit, alignment and possible damage. Check for proper sealing especially around kitchen and bathroom faucets.

     Check all floor coverings for pulled threads in carpet and cuts or gouges in vinyl flooring. This is especially important where slide-out rollers travel over the flooring. Check closely to ensure that the flooring is properly fastened down, especially in the corners.

     Look at all the wall covering looking for damage or water stains that may indicate a leak. Look for repairs or patch jobs that may indicate damage repair.

Systems Check:

     Pull out all of the electrical power cord and inspect it for wear and abrasions in the insulation. Check the plug for blackening indicating excess heat and possible damage.

     With your electrical tester check all 110 volt outlets for proper wiring and polarity. Find the GFI protected outlet and test its operation using the push button. Find out which outlets are protected by this GFCI device.

     Locate the fuse and breaker panel. Make sure that each fuse (12 volt) and breaker (110 volt) is properly labeled indicating the light, receptacle or device for which it provides power.

     Determine the location of the electrical converter and check its operation by checking the battery condition on the monitor panel. If the RV is plugged in to shore power and the battery shows “low” on the monitor there is a good chance that the converter is not keeping the battery properly charged. Also turn on several interior lights to create a load on the converter and confirm that there is no excess noise or vibration associated with the converter. A change in speed or pitch in the converter’s cooling fan motor is normal.

     Test the water pump by turning off the city water valve and making sure there is a level in the fresh water tank. Close all water valves (both inside and outside) and turn on the water pump switch (usually located in the monitor panel). You may hear the pump run for a few seconds while it pressurizes the water lines. If the pump does not stop running then there is either a water leak somewhere or the pump is not supplying pressure. Run water in the kitchen, bathroom sink and shower then also flush the toilet. The pump should run as the pressure drops when the valves are open and stop as pressure rebuilds after the valves are closed. This test will also confirm proper operation of water valves and toilet. Make sure that all valves shut off completely without excess force and that there are no drips. Note: Before running any water you can do an easy leak test by placing a paper towel on the bottom of the cabinets underneath the P-traps in the drains and the hot and cold water supply line connections. After running water look for dampness on the paper towels indicating water leaks. These are quite common because of all the motion created as the RV moves down the road. My wife performs this test every time we set up in camp. These minor leaks are easily fixed and should be repaired immediately.

     Turn on the valve for the fresh water hose and check the city water system by looking for leaks. Be sure to use a pressure regulator.

     Check the operation of the water heater on both electricity and propane. Be sure that the water heater is supplying hot water to all faucets and that there are no leaks. When running on propane make sure that the gas burner cycles on and off as hot water demand requires.

     If possible fill the gray and black water tanks checking for leaks. If you are hooked up to a sewer connection or have a blue sewer tank this would be a good time to check the operation of all dump valves for smoothness and to make sure of a good seal when shut. Check for cracks or breaks in the bayonet fittings where the sewer hoses hook to the trailer.

     Check the furnace by turning the thermostat up enough to make the heat come on. Listen carefully for the clicking of the electronic igniter and the ignition of the propane. If the furnace does not light the igniter will shut down after several attempts to light and the furnace needs attention. After the furnace lights there should be warm air coming from each heat register. Turn the thermostat back down so that the furnace turns off. Air will blow for a minute or so until the air cools down before the fan shuts down. Check that this is happening.

     Check the air conditioner(s) for proper cooling. If the A/C is ducted throughout the camper check that air is coming out of each register. This is a good time to check each plastic register for breaks or cracks. If the air conditioner(s) have electric heat strips or a heat pump feature then this is also the time to check that for proper operation. Also check the A/C filters. This is a good indication of how the unit was maintained.

     Check the operation of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide and LP gas detectors by pushing the test buttons. If an alarm fails to sound check that the battery is good. If a fresh battery does not fix the problem insist that the alarm be replaced.

     The refrigerator should already be running and cold. Check the temperature with a reliable thermometer. The refrigerator should be about 37 degrees and the freezer should be 0 degrees. These temperatures need to hold equally well when in either electrical or gas operation. Check both the automatic and manual switchover from electric to gas operation and back. Check the automatic feature by unplugging the electrical cord to the camper and observing the switchover.

     Check the operation of all entertainment systems – TV, stereo, radio and antenna. Be sure that the TV antenna raises, lowers and rotates smoothly and properly. If the rig is newer and has surround sound bring a DVD to test the unit. Be sure that all speakers (including sub-woofer) are working properly.

     Check all ceiling vents for proper operation of the fans and that the covers open and close properly and smoothly.

     Put a cup of water in the microwave and set it on high. The water should boil in four minutes or less.

     Check the propane oven and cook top by lighting each burner. Check the operation of igniters (if so equipped) and make sure that the oven pilot light will light easily.

Conclusion:

    
By now you should have spent about three hours getting to know your potential new RV. Be sure to allocate at least this much time for the task and schedule it for as early in the morning as possible. Make sure that the selling dealer or owner knows that you intend to do an exhaustive inspection and about how much time it will take. In the case of a used RV require that the owner show you all service records and receipts so that you will know what has been repaired or replaced and how the unit was maintained. Be sure to determine if there are any warranties that are transferrable to you as the buyer.

     I know that this sounds like a lot of trouble, but it is much better than getting any nasty surprises. In the case of a used rig you can bargain with the seller using the findings of your inspection and in the case of a new rig both you and the dealer would much rather fix any problems before you take delivery rather than scheduling warranty work later on.

     I also recommend that your first trip (or “shakedown”) in the new rig be fairly close to home in a campground that is somewhat familiar to you and near a Wal Mart if possible.

     Good luck, have fun and happy trails!


Warren Petkovsek has been an avid RVer for over several decades. He lives in Lumberton, Texas with his wife, Myra. A former teacher, band director and professional musician, Warren is now retired from the petrochemical industry. In addition to being a freelance writer he is also a school volunteer, a Texas State Park volunteer and has been a Boy Scout Leader for many years. Warren would be delighted to answer any RV related questions that you may have and would be happy to send you some or all of his other articles. He can be contacted at wpetko@sbcglobal.net .

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