[Previously posted in January 2018. Still very relevant, and reprinted now with earlier helpful comments included.]
Steve Savage submitted this article to RVtravel.com when he was a Master Certified RV Technician with Mobility RV Service.
How do buyers decide which RV to buy? They focus on interior design and floor plans. Manufacturers know this and go to great lengths in “staging” their various models for photographs used in advertising. Potential owners likewise pick their favorites based on what they see inside and, to a lesser extent, the outside of the RVs they consider.
What’s the matter with that strategy? It’s a terrible way to choose! When you focus on colors and floor plans, you are looking only where manufacturers expect you to look. You are making a decision based on the least important parts of RV construction. If you want to learn about the RV you are considering you have to do two things: First, you have to get up on the roof. Second, you have to go underneath the RV you are considering. Why look there? Simple — those are not places manufacturers expect you to look.
On the roof, you are looking for fit and finish, intact caulking, especially where the front and rear caps join the roof. If it is a rubber roof, is it lying flat and not lifted up? Take note of how the roof rolls down to meet the side, as often you’ll find the rubber is not tight or caulked well. If it’s fiberglass, look in the same places but pay particular attention to how the roof rolls over to the sides. Often it’s left unsupported and is subject to cracking. You can tell how well it is supported simply by pressing down gently with your hand and feeling how easily it gives.
To go underneath, take along a plastic tarp to lie on. First, just settle in and look around. Is anything hanging down? Are screws turned all the way in? The human eye is amazingly sensitive to things that are not straight or even, and poor quality control detection often does not require intimate knowledge of RV construction. If it looks wrong, it probably is! If you are under a motorhome, look for drips — indicating a fluid leak. Look behind the rear wheels for indications of a bearing seal leak, in which case you will see black grease swirled around the back of the wheel.
If you want to go a step further, slide out the cabinet drawers and look at the cabinet construction. Look how the draw slides are mounted. Take note of how things are fastened together. Ask yourself how hard it would be to work on things if service became necessary. You don’t have to know how to work on it — simply note whether or not you can see it.
Remember, manufacturers are prone to cut corners anywhere they think you’ll not be paying attention. If you’re unwilling or lack sufficient knowledge to do these things, take a technician along with you. The amount you spend to obtain professional advice will be small in comparison to what you will spend if you miss something significant.
I think the mechanics and the technical part is very important but the floor plan is also important. What is the point of having a RV that is mechanically sound but unlivable inside i.e. TV’s placed where they cannot be viewed comfortably, a kitchen that isn’t conducive to cooking. beds without walk around room or night stands. I guess I am saying the RV is complex with several important parts and each has to be considered equally (or don’t buy it!)
Or you look at the pictures, and showroom models – then order. When it arrives, the manufacturer changes a few things – some affecting quality. You complain to the dealer and they say “they don’t tell us either”.
Next time I buy an RV, I will take two friends with me. One will have an RV, and the other will not. The three of us will see things differently, and have different questions for the salesperson.
I don’t want to argue with an expert technician but I think this is mixing apples and oranges. I would never (and am not sure many would) buy an RV from a picture I saw. I do however base whether I even consider the RV on what the interior looks like and what the floorplan is. Once I have determined that I go to see the RV. Pictures cannot and do not tell the whole story about the important points as Steve has said so that is what I focus on when looking at the rig. I also think the advice to have an RV tech examine a rig you are buying, especially if a newbie, is well heeded.
For those who have gotten a pre-purchase independent inspection, how did you find the inspector? The ones listed on RVIA are not even close to my area. We have looked at RVs that are hours from home, so our local repair guy can’t traipse all over the country checking out RVs for us. Suggestions?
Hi, Gail. Here’s a tip from another reader regarding another comment:
“Go to the RV Inspection connection website and search for a certified inspector. https://rvinspection.com/request-an-rv-inspection/ ”
That sounds like a good idea and it looks like a legit website to me. –Diane at RVtravel.com
I feel one of the things most people ignore when shopping is wheel base. A short wheel base with a long coach is a recipe for uncomfortable driving. Too often manufacturers put too long a coach on too short of a wheel base and then place holding tanks or heavy battery banks BEHIND the rear axle. This causes the front end to be too light and thus the unit will not track easily but sways all over the road with every little breeze or passing tractor trailer making for a very stressful driving experience. This doesn’t even take into account the overhanging rear that will bottom out when going up an incline or smash into the gas pump when pulling out of a tight gas station. Longer wheel base means safer, more comfortable travel
Excellent thoughts! First view of any vehicle is typically driven by how the manufacturers market them, And of course, taking time to understand, not just the cosmetics, but the critical components of the actual vehicle is key. Check for vehicle issues (recalls, Technical Bulletins, etc.) to make sure that everything is in to spec!
RV’rs who run into a problems are quick to get online and tell everyone what they found to be a problem or complaint. I think that’s true about most things we buy today. But consumers are less likely to take the time to go online and express their happiness with something. So if I google “Problems with …..” I’m more then likely going to see a 5TH wheel full of complaints about most things. Just wonder what would happen if there was a way for folks to post what they found was good. And what would that site look like? Angry people are more apt to jump into action then folks who are happy. Be safe.
While everything you say is true, if there were not so many negative problems, there would be no reason to post! Just saying.
Don’t forget sewer outlet placement (some RVs have 2 so you need more hose and a Y) and Electrical Connector – I’ve seem some with a midships Plugin – would have left me without enough power cord in MANY campground with Pedestals at the far rear of the campsite. Once my Surge protector provided just enough extra reach (or I would have moved the RV more)
Here’s something to do before you even go to the dealership: type the brand name of the RV you are planning to look at in your browser, along with the word “problems.” For example: “Heartland problems.” You will uncover a world of horrifying information about most RV manufacturers. You will feel so sorry for the folks that have spent 50, 60, 100 thousand dollars or much more, and can’t get their RVs fixed. Folks who bought from dealers who just don’t care.
Also go to NHTSA, ARFC, and RVSafety sites to find out about recalls. I was surprised when I started checking on several we were thinking of buying. I also checked on # of recalls per brand. If it is a minor issue or easilyi fixable, I ask the seller specifically if they have records that the recall issues had been fixed. If it’s major, I don’t even look.
Beware of shady RV dealers that push you through the buying process before you have time to look over the rig you want.Also beware of shady corporations like Camping World with their fast buck tactics. Wise RV buyers will do their homework and research,,,research,,research the product before pulling the trigger.Once you buy,you are stuck with the problems that invariably prop up and when your warranty runs out…you better be able to fix a lot of problems yourself,or have deep pockets. The frame,running gear,tires and wheels are most important in my book as the entire rig is riding on this chassis. Beware of cheap frames and running gear…it will leave you stranded when you least expect it,and can least afford it.Quality control in the entire RV industry has taken a backseat and too many RV’s are being shoved out the door without proper testing and PDI inspections.I got took by one of these crooked dealers in Pasco,Washington and my nightmare never ends with this rig.
A very thorough inspection is very important before buying an RV or trailer. Having shopped for our new RV this summer, the quality differences between brands is striking! Even among some brands that are considered “higher end” I was able to find places where they were clearly cutting corners to save build time. If I could find things easily seen with my eyes, imagine what must have been going on in places we could not readily see. There is a lot of crap out there that looks pretty and is just waiting to ruin your vacation/life/investment because of shoddy materials or workmanship. Like is true in most things in life…you get what you pay for!
Curious, Marc, as to what unit you ended up buying?