Top 3 things to inspect before buying your first travel trailer or fifth wheel

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Choosing a Rig made for full-time RVing

We looked at a few different brands from Keystone, Heartland, Open Range, or Grand Design. We wanted a rig built more toward full-time RVing since these are made to last longer. When it came down to it, I liked the large U-shape couch the best on the Open Range and the ease-of-use layout of the Grand Design. I also could tell that the quality in the build was much better Grand Design, Open Range, and some Heartlands.

1. Towability

First, we would look at the towability of a rig. We wanted to make sure our truck could safely pull and break with the right weight restriction. If you have the truck already, the specs are usually located inside the driver door. On the right, is a picture of what that looks like. You can also call your truck manufacturer and they can tell you what you can tow. This can be pretty complicated to figure out since there are so many varying factors to look into.

Also, many times if you are buying a camper from a dealer, they will help to make sure you are pulling away safely. We ended up buying from camping world and they made sure all our numbers worked out. (We have an f-350 dually, which can pull MOST 5ers).

We made a tow-ability/payload calculator so you want add all the passengers that you’ll be carrying and their weights, the numbers from the stick above and then then weight of the travel trailer/fifth wheel to tell you if the truck is safe to pull the rig. You can check out the Payload Calculator, to help determine if your vehicle is safe for the road.

2. Durability for everyday use

Since we were looking at living in the unit full-time, we wanted to make sure it was durable. I felt like I could walk in most units and tell pretty quickly if it would survive two toddlers for a day ;). For example, one of my checks was to look at the cabinetry. I would knock on the cabinet door and open the cabinet to see if it sounded solid or not. I found that in the better-built rigs made for full-time rving, you would find solid wood doors.

3. Checking for water damage

If you’re buying used, make sure to check for the signs of water damage. On every rig, my husband made sure to look for any delamination on the outside surfaces. He would take a flashlight and shine it against the fiberglass to check for any bubbling. If there is bubbling, that is usually a sign of water damage.

Next, we would look on the inside walls for bubbling in the paneling. If there was any sort of smell of mold, mildew, or visual water damage we would not buy it.

While we were looking at used fifth wheels online, we used RV trader or facebook marketplace. We actually drove out to Connecticut to pick up a used fifth wheel. We had been speaking to the private seller for a week and did a video chat to walk us through the fifth wheel. Besides a few minor cosmetic issues, the fifth wheel seemed like great fit for us.

When we got there my husband started checking for delamination and quickly found some bubbling in the fiberglass with his flashlight. We drove back to Michigan empty-handed but glad we had done our due diligence before spending a big chunk of change. After we returned, we looked at the pictures online. You could tell that certain pictures of that side were not taken and that the angle of the pictures helped minimize being able to see the bubbling.

Overall, water damage is an expensive and lengthy fix that can come with health repurcusions if not properly treated. Definitely, something we did not want to toy with!

Not sure? Hire an inspector!

If you are not versed or comfortable with inspecting a rig, you can hire inspectors to walk through and check for issues.

The National Recreational Vehicle Inspectors Association operates a website that allows you to search for RV Inspectors in your area. Click on the link above and you should be able to enter your city and state to find an inspector near you.

I would just note that it is their job to find issues, so when they return with a long list, just know that there are issues you can live with, but if they find water damage that has not been remediated, I would not buy it!

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