Don’t Buy Someone Else’s RV Nightmare

Below you can read about four RV owners that encountered serious problems with their RV and how those problems got passed along to others. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a used recreational vehicle from a private party or a dealer, purchasing one of these problem RVs could turn the whole exciting adventure of getting a new RV into a nightmare.

Some old RVs are a treasure.  Some are an RV nightmare.  Get it inspected to be sure.      Photo P Dent
A home made For Sale Sign in the window of an RV
This sign tells you nothing about the real condition of this RV. That’s why you need to hire an inspector.    Photo P. Dent
RV bathroom toilet
A toilet in an RV is a convenience until it’s not.    Photo P Dent
Travel Trailer for sale by a dealer Photo P Dent
Even buying  from a dealer won’t eliminate the possibility of buying an RV nightmare. An extended warranty may provide peace of mind.   Photo P Dent

Case Study 1

We read about a woman of modest means, who bought a travel trailer that turned out to be full of mold, which made her and her two children sick. She couldn’t afford to have it inspected before the purchase, but once she bought it and knew about the mold, she was stuck with this RV nightmare.  Getting to the source of the mold would require expensive deconstruction. She and her children lived in the trailer, so finding suitable alternative housing and paying for the deconstruction (needed to locate and eliminate the mold) was not within her means.  They couldn’t live in it with the mold, but they couldn’t afford to get it fixed. They were literally caught between a rock and hard place.


Case Study 2

We spoke to another retired couple who bought a brand new 45’ 5th wheel and within a few months traded it in because it had so many unfixable problems, that the dealer and manufacturer were unable and unwilling to resolve under the warranty. They were tired of dealing with all the dysfunction, so they traded it in on a different model. Now their first rig became a used 5th wheel on the dealer’s lot. Unfortunately, someone else will buy this rig and get stuck with all the unresolved problems, but the new owners will have even less warranty protection than the first owner.


Case Study 3

Another example of how you might end up with someone else’s RV nightmare is illustrated by this family’s experience. To our horror, they told us that their brand-new travel trailer caught on fire within the first week of purchasing it.  They were able to safely get out of the rig and (with help from other campers) put out the fire.  But when they took it back to the dealer, neither the dealer nor the manufacturer were willing to acknowledge any responsibility for the damage.  They provided no support in determining the real cause of the fire, which they patched back together very poorly.  This family lives full-time in this trailer and they are concerned that it will catch on fire, again. They have no confidence in their RV, and they want to sell it and start over with a different brand.  If they do sell it, however, will the next buyer be purchasing an unsafe RV? Will the dealer disclose that there had been a fire?


Case Study 4

The final example of how someone else’s problem might become your RV nightmare is illustrated by our friends who bought a brand-new motorhome only to discover that the toilet was almost completely unusable.  Every time they took this new rig out on a camping trip, the toilet would get plugged up so quickly and so badly that it was unusable.   They tried to clear the toilet with wands and other tools, with little success and they took it back to the dealer, after every camping trip, but the dealer was unable to fix the underlying problem, because it was a design flaw in the black water holding tank’s location and design.   The dealer was unable to offer any viable solution, so this couple traded in that RV for a different one, and in the process lost over $20,000.  The point is they solved their problem by trading it in, but the cause of their distress was a poorly designed black water system, which was never resolved before that RV was moved to the used RV lot, where it (no doubt) eventually became someone else’s nightmare.

Even Buying a Used RV from a Dealer Can Be Dangerous

These are just four examples of real people’s horrifying RV experiences.  One notable feature of these examples is that three of the four RVs were new purchases from dealers. The dealers and the manufacturers of these new RVs failed to resolve the problems for the original owners.  A design flaw in the black water tank on a new 36’ motorhome, a dangerous fire in a travel trailer, and a whole set of unresolved problems in a 45’ 5th wheel, all resulted in those rigs being quickly turned into used RVs.

In a way, this works to the benefit of unscrupulous RV dealers.  They sell the RVs with all the problems, then either they can’t or won’t correct the problems, which results in the RVs being traded in on different RVs. The dealers profit on the first sale, on the replacement sale, and they profit again when they sell the used RVs, to unsuspecting new buyers.

Do Your Due Diligence

I am not suggesting that there is an industry wide conspiracy to create and sell dysfunctional RVs just to increase profits, but RV buyers of both new and used RVs need to be aware that some dealers, some manufacturers, and some brands are better than others. It’s imperative that you do your due diligence regarding the manufacturers, brands, and model of RV, that you are interested in purchasing. Additionally, if you intend to purchase from a dealer, you should use caution and extend that due diligence to the dealership, as well.  This is not as hard as it used to be now with the internet.  You can search RV forums and databases for information regarding brands, models, manufacturers and even dealerships.

Buying From a Private Seller

If you intend to purchase a used RV from a private party, having the RV professionally inspected for defects, to make sure it is fully functional, and that the condition of the rig is being correctly represented, is the best way to avoid buying one of these RV nightmares, described above.

If you intend to purchase a used RV from a dealer, asking for an independent inspection might be met with some resistance on the part of the dealer, but their unwillingness to allow for an independent inspection might, in itself, reveal important information about that RV and about the dealer.

If an RV deal seems to be “too good to be true” … very low milage, virtually new, no evidence of real use, a super low price… then ask yourself why the rig is being offered for that price. Is it possible there are undisclosed problems that made the previous owner sell it? Why not ask the dealer to provide contact information for the previous owner, so you could ask them directly if the RV had any problems? If they won’t provide that, ask for all the service records and for an impartial inspection by a third party. Be firm, it’s your money and if you spend it on someone else’s nightmare, you will be the one stuck with the problems, not the dealer.

a rainbow springing out of a 5th wheel

Very few used RV come with a rainbow. You’ll need to do some digging to find the real treasures. Photo P Dent

Owning and using an RV can be a wonderful life altering experience and if the rig lives up to your expectations it can be a source of years of fun and adventure.  But some RVs have a dark side, and you need to do everything possible to avoid buying one of those.  A great way to help you through this process is to use the professional “For Sale By Owner” representatives at National Vehicle.  These people are experts in the used RV industry.  They have extensive knowledge of the different RV types, they know about little idiosyncrasies associated with particular brands, or problems that affected specific years of production at one manufacturer vs another.  National Vehicle personnel know the value of any RV and they will help you get a used RV inspected regardless of where you are and where the RV is located.  Finally, National Vehicle can even assist you with financing, they will assist with the transfer of money and the title, and if needed, they can even have your newly purchased RV delivered to your location.

Do your due diligence, investigate the RV you’re interested in purchasing, check out the manufacturer, the brand, the model, and even the model year. Use internet searches and RV forums like, and use all the professional resources available to avoid buying someone else’s nightmare.

Finally, just to give you an additional layer of security and some peace of mind, you should consider adding an extended warranty to your RV purchase.  Extended warranties are available for almost all model years. They can be quite expensive, but if you do end-up buying a used RV with undetected problems, the extended warranty will be there to defray the bulk of the repair costs. We’ve worked with various warranty providers, and can confidently recommend Wholesale Warranties to meet this need.

About Peggy Dent

Peggy Dent is an author, writer and full-time RVer, currently traveling in the US and Canada. She's driven a motorhome more than 130,000 miles and learned the secrets, delights, and pitfalls of RVing through her own experiences. She shares her knowledge and insights in numerous RV industry publications. You can contact her through her website at