How to Inspect an RV for Water Damage

Hi, I'm Mark Polk with RV Education 101, and I’d like to welcome you to another segment of RV 101: Understanding Your RV. Today’s topic is how to inspect an RV for water damage.

Whether you're purchasing a used RV or you already own an RV, it’s a good idea to periodically inspect for any indications of water damage. If you catch a water leak early, it’s easier and less expensive to repair as opposed to a water leak that had time to spread.

Let’s take a closer look. I would list water damage as the number one problem with RVs. There are a couple reasons for this. When an RV travels down the road, all the movement and flexing can cause sealants to separate. Another problem is over time, sealants dry out, crack, and start to separate, especially when the RV is constantly exposed to the elements.

Inspecting your RV for water damage can save you lots of money if you find a leak early and take care of the problem. My goal today is to give you a logical process to follow so you can properly inspect your RV for water damage. The first thing you need to understand is that ever seam and sealant on your RV and anywhere the RV manufacturer cut a hole in the RV has a potential to let water in. It’s important that 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 internal damage to a tire. The outside of the tire looks fine, but the internal damage over a period of time causes the tire to fail without any warning. So, the outside of your RV could 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’s how I inspect an RV for water damage. To stop a water leak early requires thorough periodic inspections of all the RV roof and body seams and sealants. Always consult your RV owner’s manual and/or your local RV dealer for sealants compatible with the different types of materials and surfaces on your RV. Look for any discoloration and feel for any soft spots on the ceiling around all roof vents, air conditioners, TV antenna, plumbing vents, and any other openings that were cut into the RV roof. Discoloration and soft spots indicate there is already advanced water damage. Look for any discoloration or wrinkles in the wallpaper and feel for any soft spots on the walls around all windows, doors, slideouts, and any other openings that were cut into 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 on the inside of the RV and look closely for any indications of water damage around all of these openings.

Open all overhead cabinets and look into the top corner where the walls meet the ceiling for any discoloration and feel for any soft spots. This would indicate a leak at the seam where the sidewall and the roof attach. Some type B and type C motorhomes are notorious for leaks in the cab overbed 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 in the cab over section to look and feel for moisture, water, or soft spots.

Look in all outside storage compartments for any indications of water leaks or water damage. Replace any worn or damaged seals that allow water to get into these areas. Caution, always keep safety in mind when you're working on the roof of your RV. A slip or fall can result in serious injury or worse.

Check for any soft spots on the roof itself, especially around the roof’s seams at the front and rear of the RV. Thoroughly inspect all sealants on the roof around every opening. Look closely for any cracked or separated sealants that would allow water to penetrate the roof’s surface. Repair as required.

Look and feel on the outside of the RV for any signs of delamination. Delamination is caused by water getting between the exterior fiberglass and the RV sidewall. When this happens, the exterior fiberglass starts to separate from the sidewall of the RV. You can 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 any soft spots or air pockets. If you feel the exterior fiberglass move, it is delaminating. In most cases, delamination starts around openings that were cut into the sidewall like a window or the water heater. Repairing delamination can be very expensive, so inspecting these areas on a regular basis will help identify a potential problem before delamination starts.

When a component is installed in the sidewall of the RV like a window, a bead of sealant is added around the top and the corners to let water run off and prevent leaks. Inspect all of these sealants and add sealant as required. The key is to thoroughly inspect your RV for water damage. Take your time and look closely for anywhere water can potentially find its way past the surface of the RV and take the necessary measures to correct the problem as soon as it’s detected. In most situations when you find a crack or sealant that’s starting to separate, you can simply clean the area, remove any loose sealant, and add the correct type of sealant to the area. If you do these inspections on a regular basis, you can locate and repair the source of potential water leaks before it has a chance to develop into extensive water damage. To learn more about using and maintaining your RV, visit Happy camping.

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