RV 101 – How to Inspect your RV for Water Damage

RV with water damage repaired on rear wall and around the window

During my years as an RV sales manager, I inspected and appraised hundreds of RVs being traded in. One such RV, when I first started appraising units, had water damage I did not detect and it cost us thousands of dollars to repair. Needless to say, I did not miss any water damage during my inspections moving forward.

RV 101 Tip: I recommend inspecting your RV for water damage at least twice a year, and depending on where you store the RV possibly more often.

I would list water damage as the number one maintenance related problem RV owner’s are confronted with. RVs flex and move when they travel down the road, and sealants eventually dry out, crack and separate, especially when the RV is exposed to the elements. Inspecting your RV for water damage can save you time, headaches and expensive repair bills if you can locate and repair a leak before it spreads and gets worse.

This article is intended to give you a logical process to follow, so you can properly inspect your RV for water damage.

sealant around ventilation fan on RV roof

The first thing you need to understand is that every seam on your RV, and anywhere the RV manufacturer cut a hole in your RV has the potential to let water in. It’s important you take your time and really inspect all of these seams and sealants on the RV.

I always say water damage on an RV is similar to progressive damage to a tire. The outside of the tire still looks fine, but the internal damage, over a period of time, causes the tire to fail without any warning.

extensive water damage in RV

The outside of your RV can look okay but the internal damage caused by water over a period of time can result in the entire roof, floor or wall rotting away without you knowing it.

Here is a basic checklist to follow during your inspections:

Caution: Always keep safety in mind when you are working on the roof of your RV. A slip or fall can cause serious injury or worse.

  • To stop a water leak before it starts thoroughly inspect all RV roof and body seams. Consult manuals and/or your RV dealer for sealants compatible with different types of materials on your RV.
signs of water damage on RV ceiling
  • Look for any discoloration and feel for any soft spots on the ceiling around roof vents, air conditioners, TV antenna, plumbing vents, and any other openings that were cut in the roof. Discoloration and soft spots indicate there is advanced water damage.
Inspect for water damage on interior of RV
  • Look for any discoloration or wrinkles in the wallpaper, and feel for any soft spots on the walls around all windows, doors, vents, slide-outs, or other openings that were cut in the RV sidewalls.
  • Identify the location of items like the water heater, furnace, outside shower, potable water fill and city water inlet on the outside of the RV and then access those same areas from the inside of the RV. Look closely for any indications of water damage around these openings.
signs of water damage where the RV roof and sidewall join
  • Open all overhead cabinets and look in the top corner where the wall meets the ceiling. Look for any discoloration and feel for any soft spots. This would indicate a leak at the seam where the sidewall and the roof attach.
  • Check in all outside storage compartments for any indications of water leaks or water damage.
thoroughly inspect RV roof sealants
  • Check for any soft spots on the roof itself, especially around the roof seams at the front and rear end caps of the RV.
cracks in sealant
  • Thoroughly inspect all sealants on the roof . Look closely for any cracked or separated sealants that could allow water to penetrate the surface.
  • Some Type B and Type C motor homes are notorious for leaks in the cab over bed area above the driver and passenger seats. Look for any signs of discoloration and feel for soft spots. The best way to do this is to remove the mattress and physically get up in the cab-over section to feel for moisture, water or soft spots.
serious delamination on an RV with a fiberglass exterior
  • Look and feel for delaminating on the outside of the RV. Delamination is caused by water getting between the exterior fiberglass and the Luan sidewall panel. Stand at the front or rear of the RV and look down the side for any noticeable ripples or what looks like a bubble in the fiberglass. You can also press on the sidewalls to feel for air pockets. If you feel the fiberglass move it is delaminating. It usually starts around an opening that was made in the RV’s sidewall. Repairs can be expensive. Inspecting these areas can identify and stop a problem before it gets too bad.
Watch the video on inspecting your RV for water damage

The key to identifying any signs of water damage is to really inspect your RV. Take your time and look closely. If you identify a crack in the sealant, or if the sealant is separating from the surface have it repaired immediately. Regular inspections can detect water damage before it does lots of damage and costs lots on money to repair.

Happy Camping,
Mark Polk
RV Education 101

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